By Peter Greaves, Head of Collaboration at Portal – the business and technology consultancy
Today’s universities are facing a dual challenge: not only do they have to compete for student footfall, but they must also secure revenue by retaining students post-enrolment. To make matters more complex, the way in which students select their educational institutions is rapidly and dramatically changing.
The days of universities relying on their inch-thick prospectus landing on the doorstep of eager and apprehensive A-level students to fill their recruitment targets is long gone. Today, students want to maximise the return on their educational investment. As a result, prospects are increasingly evaluating colleges and universities based on their ability to deliver a differentiated experience across the whole of their student journey – from recruitment and enrolment through to graduation and employment.
Data plays a critical role in this process, of course, but data itself doesn’t drive student engagement. The real secret lies in integrating systems of record with systems of engagement so that universities can achieve a virtuous circle of insight, personalisation and rich engagement. With this approach, universities can transform the relationship between the student and the university in order to create an Exceptional Student Experience.
To this end, universities should use social media marketing and rich personalised portals to progressively engage prospective students early in the prospect’s journey; social media marketing is preferred to traditional tools, such as email and static web sites. Success will typically require a three-step process : developing an intimacy with the prospect by sampling social media, using leading digital marketing techniques and tools; analysing that data to create insight; and using that insight to personalise the prospect’s experience with a broad range of rich content.
Universities can use this kind of data – about prospects as well as existing students – to transform their overall web experience, with personalised portals and rich content. This personalised experience, informed by a prospect’s declared and often undeclared preferences, creates a stronger relationship at an earlier stage and therefore improves the likelihood of enrolment.
Experience like these will not only encourage and facilitate the enrolment process, but will also kick-start the process of engagement. As an example, by analysing Facebook and social media, Seton Hall University increased conversion of new students in admissions by up to 18 per cent, resulting in an additional $29m in revenue, an increase of up to 25 per cent in tuition deposits and improved agility in marketing and enrolment forecasts.
Increasing student admissions is only one part of the story, however. Universities are also beginning to realise that students who are well matched to organisations through this process are expected to have better retention outcomes. Attrition rates of 15-20% are not uncommon, and can have a devastating impact on a university’s budget. Even a 1% reduction in attrition can have a very significant benefit on course profitability and financial management, and is the reason why this is a critical issue on the executive agenda for Vice-Chancellors.
For all these reasons, student retention and, more specifically, student engagement are becoming a key focus for many universities. In the end, success in both of these areas will depend on the university’s ability to provide personalised learning paths for each student, which in turn will drive successful career pathways and employability outcomes. In order to achieve this goal, however, institutions will need to develop a student experience that is not only exceptional, but which is also capable of supporting of a single user’s lifelong relationship with the university.