As enrollment management professionals, we know how the recruitment cycle works. We get inquiries through name purchases, college fairs, events, and high school/community college visits. Then we get prospective students to apply, yield, and (if all goes according to plan!) matriculate onto campus.
In most cases, we're using the same tactics and recruitment ideas from 10+ years ago with a few minor tweaks. Maybe you've made your website “mobile friendly,” began utilizing broadcast texting, or created some sort of social media account to represent your institution's unique brand identity. But is that enough to effectively recruit today's students?
It's no secret—we're recruiting the most savvy generation to date. Generation Z was born with technology and smartphones as a way of life. Studies show that Gen Z teens describe themselves as 'responsible and independent,' so it is imperative that admissions offices engage with this student population in a thoughtful and meaningful way.
Taking this all into consideration, here are five practical ways that your college or university can better engage with this rising generation right now:
1. Online Chat
How many times have you been on a company's website with the sole purpose of finding an immediate answer to a question, whether it's for your credit card, phone bill, or health insurance? Today, there are two options: call a customer service phone number or chat with a representative online. Phone calls often take a while to get a live human on the phone since you have to get transferred to a few different people before getting the help you need. Online chat, on the other hand, is fast and allows you to get the information you need instantly.
The same is true when visiting a college website—constituents should have more than one option to get answers to their immediate questions. So, if you don't already have a live chat feature on your website and rely solely on RFI forms, it's time to implement one. You hired your recruiters and admission counselors because of their energetic, authentic, and helpful personalities, so let them shine on your website! Online chat tools, like UChat, can truly revolutionize the student experience once they first engage on your website.
Joyce De Jong, Director of Recruitment at Washington State University, uses UChat to connect with students that are already active on the WSU's website and answer their questions right away. "We're providing a better service to our students. As opposed to them emailing our general inbox, they're getting a real-time response" says De Jong.
Speaking of responsiveness, our 2017 Social Admissions Report found that 53% of students expect a response within 24 hours of contacting a college rep. However, in this year's report, nearly half of the students surveyed have lowered their expectations to receiving a response from admissions offices from 24 hours to within a week. Students should not have to lower their expectations regarding outreach from an institution once they've already raised their hand! This is an opportunity for higher ed to do better and improve the student experience on college websites with features like online chat tools.
When students are able to get answers to the questions they have, when they have them, they are infinitely more likely to progress through the admission process with your university—making you a trusted partner.
2. Segmented and Personalized Communications
Five years ago, this meant that we needed to merge a student's [first name] into an email greeting or subject line, but we now know this tactic doesn't quite achieve 'personalized communication.' The idea of segmenting and personalizing communications today is based on identifying the needs and interests that are genuinely specific to a student and tailoring your messaging accordingly.
93% of students agree with the statement, ‘I would like to receive communication from my college admissions office tailored specifically to me.’ Need we say more?
With help from a robust CRM solution, you can send tailored communications to different student populations (senior, junior, transfer, etc.) that also address their academic interests, extracurricular interests, and even housing preferences. By leveraging dynamic emails, interactive student portals, and targeted print publications, you can make a student feel known before they even step foot on your campus.
This is how you can stand out from all the noise and differentiate your campus from competitor institutions. By messaging students based on their unique interests, needs, and motivations, you are showing them that you want them at your school— and that you want them to succeed at your school.
3. Individualized, 1:1 Text Messages
Please, no more “apply now” text messages! Students want more personalized and responsive texts. It's the way the talk to their peers, and is often times their preferred method of communication. Bulk, or mass, texting leads to high opt-out rates and the student feeling spammed. Blast text messages are easily abused, causing more harm than good in terms of efficacy. But, incorporating 1:1 texting into your recruitment strategy can win a student over. Plus, it generally receives a much higher response rate than bulk texting. If you choose to text students individually, make sure you and your team are ready to respond since they expect quick correspondence upon reply.
When texting with prospective students, it's important to capture that correspondence so that you can measure the efficacy of texting as a yield tool and improve a student's overall experience with your office. Our pro tip: make sure the higher education-focused texting platform you are using today or are looking to implement in the future offers tight integration with your current CRM. (Pro tip #2: many CRM solutions for higher education already have texting baked into their offering, so you may already be able to take advantage of this!) That way, all SMS communication is automatically captured within the student's record in your CRM so you never lose track of which messages a student has already received and where the conversations left off.
4. Mobile-First Website, Not Just Mobile Friendly
When was the last time you tried to inquire, apply, or find an event on your institution's website using your cell phone? Everything, and we mean everything, should be designed mobile-first. Students no longer use desktop computers for their college search, inquiries, or even applications—in fact, 8 in 10 students accessed a college website from a mobile device in 2017 alone. This means that every form, application, and event registration should be easily accessible via smartphone and supported by all platforms. According to Gene Begin, VP of Marketing & Communications at Wheaton College, “we need to pledge to focus less on how digital strategies, tactics, and designs ‘look’ on desktop, and focus more on if and how they perform on mobile."
Long gone are the days of pinching to zoom on a website's homepage, or flipping your phone horizontally to see text better. Your institution's web pages must load quickly, your visuals should make an immediate impression, and your content needs to utilize proper heading structure and be easily scannable. For more on how to enhance the student experience by incorporating a mobile-first mantra within your digital strategy, check out our earlier post on the TargetX blog here.
5. Events Designed For Your Students, Not Your Staff
Do you have any events that you've been doing for years? If so, when was the last time you looked at the schedule for that event, its offerings, any student survey feedback, and attendance trends to predict enrollment themes? Let’s do us all a favor and remove the phrase, “this is the way we have always done things,” from our vocabulary.
You should always be looking at data to reevaluate how things are being done and what students really need. It's common knowledge that if a student visits campus, they are exponentially more likely to yield. So, take the time to evaluate, track and monitor your recruitment events. Using a robust events tool, like the one offered in the TargetX Recruitment Suite, allows you to not only manage event attendance, but track true first source, interaction, visit, and other key data points so that you can best predict who will yield at your institutions. Plus, having actionable data and intuitive dashboards at your fingertips empowers you to continue to refine and adjust your strategies, as higher education is ever-evolving.
For more ways to better recruit and engage today's students, check out our "Redesigning the Student Experience" eBook! You'll learn that simply shifting your institution's perspective and approach can help eliminate departmental silos and provide the best possible experience for students.