Student recruitment and admissions: Looking beyond COVID-19
- Students’ expectations will undoubtedly change. It is essential that institutions start thinking about how core processes and institutional practices may also need to change post-COVID-19 and beyond.
- Nurturing communications and having data readily available will be more important than ever throughout the entire prospect-applicant-student lifecycle.
- As institutions are unlikely to have data to support the modelling of how students will behave this year, they will need the right tools to ensure they are agile enough to respond to the unknown behavioral changes and be as responsive as possible.
On 3rd April 2020, I celebrated my (virtual) birthday party on Zoom. It wasn’t the birthday I had expected this year but I made the most of it—and adapting to the new normal during the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic has become a part of everyday life for me, as well as for my family, friends and colleagues.
Since the lockdown began, certain words have increased in popularity: unprecedented, quarantine and social distancing. Another word that has stood out to me is the word “pivot” and a quick Google search gives the definition “to turn or to twist”.
During these unprecedented (sorry, I will try to limit use of this word!) times, I’ve been reflecting on the twists and turns over the last nine months. After 15 years of working at Oxford Brookes University (OBU), I decided to join Ellucian in July 2019. At OBU, my role as Programme Assurance Manager was focused on supporting strategic change across the institution and previous positions also included Student Systems Development Manager and Senior Admissions Officer.
Now in my current role as Solutions Consultant at Ellucian, I continue to use my higher education experience and expertise—in particular around the student recruitment and admissions capability—to help institutions to pull together people, processes and technology so they can see the bigger picture and reach their strategic goals.
I pivoted from a role where I could occasionally work from home to now being a flexible, remote worker. At Ellucian, we’ve adopted new ways of working and connecting with our customers during the pandemic, such as delivering discovery and training workshops via Zoom which would normally be in-person. Although we’ve all adapted swiftly to this new way of working, once the lockdown is over we can’t wait to visit our higher education customers on-campus again!
In the space of just three months there has been a great deal of change in the higher education sector. I know many colleagues in the sector will be thinking about how they will ‘pivot’ and adapt to the new normal moving forward.
Adapting to changing behaviours
The impact of COVID-19 has had (and is still having) a profound effect on institutions and students alike. Students’ expectations will undoubtedly change and so it is essential that institutions start thinking about how core processes and institutional practices may also need to change. In terms of students’ changing behaviours, here is an idea of what we may expect:
- Change of focus and emotions about future studies
- The decision to defer or not to defer
- Re-consideration of study locations (more local vs. abroad vs. online)
As the landscape evolves, many institutions will undergo changes in the way they operate and interact with their students in light of these changing behaviours, and they may also start thinking about how technology can help to address their current and future challenges.
A highly competitive market (made more so especially as a result of COVID-19), and the uncertainty about students’ future plans, means that nurturing communications and engagement throughout the entire prospect-applicant-student lifecycle will be more important than ever. To drive a faster service to prospective and current students, there are some clear benefits to utilising a student CRM system to support your institution’s strategy.
Firstly, keeping all relevant information in one place—as opposed to using multiple spreadsheets or a paper-based system—enables easier access to information, no matter where staff may be working from (on or off campus).
Secondly, you can reach your target students in a timely manner—through automation and workflows—and personalise your engagement by building multi-touch communication plans to nurture prospective students. This enables you to visualise every prospect touch point—whether this is via phone, email or text—while tracking every interaction all in one place.
Aside from agile communications, having data readily available will also be crucial during the student recruitment and admissions lifecycle. As institutions are unlikely to have data to support the modelling of how students will behave this year, they will need the right tools to ensure they are agile enough to respond to the unknown behavioral changes and be as responsive as possible.
For instance, it’s essential to closely monitor patterns of deferrals/withdrawals during these uncertain times and to understand how prospective students are responding and what their concerns are. If your data is stored all in one place, live dashboard views from the CRM system will provide a big picture view of trends and in turn help institutions to prioritise their response and engagement with students.
So looking ahead, institutions will need to re-consider if their data, processes and technology framework in place will support student attraction and recruitment capabilities and whether it will give them a competitive edge over other institutions.
Looking beyond COVID-19
When the initial disruption subsides, institutions across the globe will face very similar challenges and questions that they need to address—you’re not alone. Many institutions will be starting to think (if they haven’t already) about the future and what that may look like.
For instance, will students be on campus in September or November 2020, or might it even be January 2021 and beyond? What challenges will this bring? What are the expectations of future students? Will face-to-face lectures still go ahead? For instance, Cambridge University has announced they will suspend mass lectures in person for the next academic year.
So, what can institutions do to be ready to meet these new and evolving needs and will COVID-19 actually help accelerate the adoption of technologies to promote new and more efficient ways of working?
Innovation and agility will be key to ensure institutions are well positioned to survive and thrive as the COVID-19 dust starts to settle. For instance, staff needs to be able to work in far more agile ways with more remote working. I believe this will increasingly become the new norm and will be driven at a much faster pace than before.
With many campuses closed still and administrative teams having to work remotely, delivering a consistent and responsive experience for existing and prospective students has never been more important. Solutions delivered in the cloud as well as a more connected mobile experience will be key to driving this transition.
One area that is of particular interest to us at Ellucian is how institutions can ensure they have the business capabilities that will allow them to adapt and take on new challenges in the future.
As the post-COVID-19 operational environment forces many institutions to re-evaluate their position, it has never been more important to identify and deliver business capabilities that support your institution and strategic goals in more agile ways. In my next blog, I’ll delve deeper into Ellucian’s digital transformation framework and how a capabilities approach—with a spotlight on recruitment and admissions—helps to underpin change.
In the meantime, listen to Ellucian’s Digital Transformation Team discuss key business focus points to support your institution going forward, including how the adoption of a digital transformation framework helps to underpin change.
Finally, going back to my word “pivot”: How is your institution adapting to the new normal and what new practices or new ways of working will you be taking forward?