With recruiters out on the road, it’s common this time of year to offer up advice to improve recruitment and enrollment strategies. But most articles are focused on high school seniors on the fairly traditional path toward freshman recruitment. That means the needs of the vast majority of students who fall outside of those parameters aren’t being considered.
These days, learners come in all varieties, and not all of them necessarily expect to get a degree in four years. That doesn’t make their value as an enrolled student any less. Institutions, especially those that cater to a high population of students outside of the traditional freshman path, need to make sure they aren’t simply recruiting students they can reach, but are actually reaching their “right fit” students—the ones that belong and for whom the institution can meet their needs. With that in mind, I’d like to think about recruitment for all students, especially those who are not high school seniors planning to enroll as freshman.
Work to cut through the noise.
One of the biggest challenges that we see schools struggle with—not just in terms of recruitment, but in general—is how to make sure students are engaging with their communications. It can be especially difficult when dealing with prospective students because they have no immediate obligation to pay attention. For instance, adult students probably have a lot of other responsibilities competing for their attention, like jobs, families, bills, etc. For that population, it’s not just about cutting through the noise of where else to get training and education, but also where else they can spend their time and money.
To overcome these roadblocks, your messaging needs two things: personalization and differentiation. Personalizing your message translates to right message, right channel, right time. Meanwhile, differentiation is where you use your highly personalized messaging to define the value of your institution and set yourself apart from the competition. That means pinpointing what a student needs and making sure that student knows you have it.
In order to do this, you’ll need to be armed with actionable data to achieve both of these things at scale, so unsurprisingly, that is my next tip.
Get the information you need (but only what you need).
You need to understand your prospective students in order to build those personalized communications, so you need to make sure you’re capturing all the pertinent details. But time is precious, so be wary of asking too much right up front.
For example, let’s think of the Request for Information (RFI) form on your institution’s website. Is it asking the right questions to help craft a meaningful introductory message that will resonate with an individual? You’ll need a student’s age, interests, and prior education experience, to name a few. Think of the things you need to know about a learner in order to start the relationship in the right channel, and then in subsequent interactions you can gather more information to drive ongoing targeted communications. If you frontload the experience with too many questions, you’ll end up losing prospects who may be the right fit for your institution, but simply don’t have the time to complete the form.
Don’t stop recruiting.
It takes a lot of work to turn a prospect into an applicant. And there is still a long way to go thereafter. The high-touch outreach should not stop after a student has pressed submit on their application. There is an entire enrollment funnel ahead of them, rich with interactions; it shouldn’t be purely transactional. At every stage of the process, you have an opportunity to remind your right fit students why your institution is in fact the right fit for them.
So don’t simply prompt students to register for orientation. Redeliver on your value proposition while you do it. For example: “It’s important to register for orientation, sign up for classes early, and get the classes you want, so you can ultimately meet your goal.” Whether the goal is graduating in four years or taking night classes to accommodate a day job, it’s an impactful message that will inspire action.
Don’t stop recruiting, even after they’ve enrolled.
Recruitment and engagement should continue even after enrollment. Particularly for students who are following a path outside of traditional freshman recruitment—students who chose to continue their education for any number of reasons that could change over time; students who have competing priorities and obligations. By their very nature, those students are at a high risk of not coming back. It’s up to the institution to continue to nurture the relationship that was built during recruitment, and re-recruit them every semester.
You need to follow the data story to understand the whole person, and then plan for each student’s success in a way that is individualized to them. That is what drives the relationship and creates a sense of belonging. Because the flip side of re-recruiting is that you lose a student you already have, and then have double the recruitment work ahead of you. Lack of retention—attrition—is expensive.
Use the lessons learned from the pandemic.
Over the past 18 months, we discovered how to increase access for different kinds of audiences by offering virtual experiences. For example, students who work during the day may not be able to find time to drive to campus for an in-person advisement meeting; however, a 15-minute virtual meeting is manageable. The in-person experiences are still important, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t also value in virtual online tours, virtual admissions counselor meetings, etc. Many schools are now struggling with how to properly balance a hybrid approach.
If you’re considering the needs of your students, you can align your resources accordingly. And your time is the most valuable and finite resource you have. So use those virtual avenues to assist the students you can’t reach any other way, and make the most of those one-on-one interactions by identifying what will help them make it over the finish line—whether it’s a little more financial aid, a lot more childcare assistance, or simply a listening ear.
One tip to rule them all.
Really, it all boils down to one overarching message: you need to meet your students where they are, in whatever way necessary, whether that is through communications channels, flexible advisement schedules, financial assistance, or other means. And if you’re doing that consistently, you can make this an effective recruitment cycle that becomes student success for years to come.
To learn how Anthology solutions can help you activate these tips, visit Anthology Reach.