Enroll, retain, repeat: Student recruitment and retention strategies in higher education (Part 2)

Enroll, retain, repeat: Student recruitment and retention strategies in higher education (Part 2)

Welcome to part two of our student recruitment and retention series! Now that you’ve done extensive market and student research, it’s time to turn those insights into action.

 Addressing the full student journey

In order to scale personalized relationships with students, you’ll need a dynamic database to store evolving student information and get actionable insights. The solution? A customer relationship management (CRM) system.

A CRM is traditionally a technology that manages customer relationships, and in this context it stores student performance and outcomes. A key benefit of a CRM is that it streamlines communications between departments, capturing data points across the student experience.

For recruitment purposes, the CRM can be put to good use in audience modeling, the process of aligning data points to create a blueprint of your ideal audience. With plenty of demographic, interest-based, and behavioral data on current or past students, the institution’s marketing department can better define what prospects best match desired applicant characteristics.

Even for a small, close-knit institution, there is just not enough personnel around to cater to every student all the time. So you need a safeguard in place to determine when intervention might be needed. This is especially important considering  that there is no guarantee students will come to administration directly about an issue.

The predictive analytics from the CRM then becomes a safety net because it can synthesize historical student data to determine the likelihood of a student dropping out.

For these reasons, we recommend that an academic institution that is serious about optimizing its recruitment efforts, and minimizing attrition, invest in CRM software.

Adjusting your marketing channels

Now you know what kind of students you want to recruit, and therefore keep, so how do you go about reaching them? Surveys circulated from current students and touchpoints with faculty and advisors can help you understand what environments they live in. We would also recommend combining syndicated and custom market research to figure out which channels to use.

The seeding process often begins early for traditional day students, hence the offering of summer camps and career exploration workshops as early as middle school. While the sales cycle for adult learners is often shorter than that of traditional day students, the nurturing process does not entail less care. Therefore, there will need to be thoughtful messaging at every stage of the applicant’s unique journey.

While all students are going to have a key set of factors that they look for on the website, and will seek the same general information at one point or another, the best way to facilitate that application is ensuring that they receive the information when appropriate. Just as you wouldn’t try to sell an item to a stranger, it’s fruitless to deliver an ad encouraging a prospective student to apply when they don’t know about your institution. This is another opportunity to leverage your CRM as well.

One way to account for variances in the recruitment process is to produce ad sets segmented by student interest. While this varies between institutions, some general ad groups could relate to majors, financial aid, athletics, or academic prestige. Class size and faculty caliber, such as renowned researchers or seasoned industry professionals, are additional considerations.

Another way to segment prospects could be having separate microsites for prospective undergraduate and graduate students, as the two groups have similar needs but respond to different messaging.

We would also recommend highlighting online education if it is relevant to your institution, as that messaging will only continue to grow in favor as the higher learning process becomes more fragmented between remote and in-person interaction.

On that note, while you are communicating various selling points at once, we recommend focusing on one or a few messages per ad set rather than trying to inject all of those points at once. When the person seeing the ad is hit with too many messages at once, then you run the risk of diluting your original goal, which is getting them to click to learn more.

Final thoughts

Sometimes attrition is inevitable despite all institutional intervention. In these cases, we recommend conducting surveys of students who transfer or dropout to uncover additional obstacles to retention, and gain better insight into the key areas influencing this loss.

Summer melt, transfer rates, and a shrinking applicant pool culminate into a pressing issue for institutions large and small. Whether you’re trying to urge students to avoid taking a gap year or enticing current ones to stay, these strategies remain tried and true even in the most volatile landscape.