Protecting your enrollment pipeline from Covid-19
By Suzan Brinker, PhD
These are unprecedented times in higher education. Covid-19 has not only disrupted enrollment management methodologies, evicted students from campus, and forced a mass migration of academia to online courses, it has also led Moody to downgrade the entire higher ed sector’s outlook from stable to negative. Colleges and universities will need to mount strategic and well-coordinated responses to mitigate the damage to their enrollment pipelines and institutional budgets.
I have spent the last few weeks glued to my computer, pouring over emerging data sets, observing institutions’ responses to the virus, and connecting with other enrollment leaders. Based on the insights I have gathered, I share the following tips for protecting your enrollment pipeline from this pandemic:
Many colleges and universities have revised their deadlines and policies to help their prospective students better navigate the uncertainty of this time. The following interventions can relieve stress for your prospects and applicants and make them more likely to stay interested:
- Push acceptance deadlines for admitted students from May 1 to June 1.
- Make tests optional. If your institution is not able to do that, let prospects know that the College Board delayed this year’s ACT and SAT tests to June and that TOEFL and GRE testing can now be done online.
- Waive application fees. This is a compelling offer to students who are on the fence about pursuing higher education at this uncertain time. Promote this waiver via emails to your existing prospects and update your digital ads to reflect it, as well.
- Offer rolling admissions.
Go Virtual and Maximize Engagement
Just because in-person campus visits and admissions events cannot happen for the time being does not mean students are not eager to engage with you. Many campuses have switched to:
- Virtual admissions events and open houses.
- Video chat appointments with admissions counselors, advisors, faculty, and other student service officers.
- Virtual tours can help students imagine themselves on your campus.
- Student ambassador programs can facilitate authentic peer-to-peer interactions.
- Customizable digital viewbooks can serve your prospective students with highly engaging and visually appealing content and help you know which prospects are engaging and most ready to convert to the next stage of the funnel.
Now more than ever, your prospective students and applicants value authentic and engaging interactions. If so far, you have focused your digital strategy on the standard platforms, like paid search, Facebook, Instagram, and LinkedIn, now may be the time to engage with GenZ on Reddit, SnapChat, Tiktok, and YouTube. The most important thing here will be deviating from stiff ad copy and putting your students’ voices first.
It is only natural that, in a crisis, the best laid out strategies fall by the wayside and we grab that fire hose and run towards the biggest fire. But now is not the time to become entirely reactive.
- Build social listening into your daily routine and inform senior leadership about what students and other key audiences are saying about your institution.
- Map out the stages of your enrollment funnel, from lead generation to applications to enrollment to retention, and consider how your customer journey has changed due to Covid-19. For our hand-picked list of tools that can help you plan for all four of those stages, you can download our evolving spreadsheet.
These are unchartered waters for higher education, and we are all in this together. A strategic approach to this crisis can strengthen your institution well beyond Covid-19. As always, let us know how we can help.
Suzan Brinker, Ph.D., has dedicated her career to helping higher education initiatives build strong value propositions and communicating them to the right stakeholders.
Having served as Director of Marketing at both Penn State and Northeastern University, Suzan has led marketing strategy and web initiatives for over a dozen higher education units, targeting both degree and non-degree seeking learners. She has specialized in lifelong learning initiatives, internationalization, and online education.
Suzan holds a Ph.D. in Higher Education from Penn State, a M.A. in Communication from Marquette University, and a B.A. in English from St. Norbert College. Having grown up in Germany with a Turkish father and German mother, she holds a deep commitment to global citizenship, diversity, and inclusion.