In the last of our blog series on maintaining and gaining students, based on our recently published whitepaper, we explored the ways universities are using technology to appeal to new students. 

Whether it’s getting new students through the door, supporting the ones already studying, or being able to keep operating during a global crisis like coronavirus, a digital first approach is key to maintaining and gaining students.

#1 Personalised recruitment

Personalisation has become the holy grail of marketing – creating customised content and experiences for users based on who they are and what they’re looking for.

Prospective students carry out their higher education research across multiple digital channels. They’re accustomed to multi-platform connected experiences that are unique and relevant, where they are recognised and their wants and needs predicted.

This is the Netflix generation.

In higher education, personalised content allows institutions to position themselves as the right choice for an individual student based on what they are interested in – subjects, extracurricular activities and so on. They can speak to individual students more personally, delivering tailored information according to their interests, how deeply they engage in a website and what point they are in the application process.   

Digital solutions make it easy to deliver completely personalised content across multiple channels – emails, blogs, websites, social media and more.

From initial touchpoint right through to application and acceptance, the ability digital technology offers to deliver relevant, timely communication is game-changing for higher education recruitment.

#2 Connected campus

The phrase ‘connected campus’ has become ubiquitous in recent years. In simple terms, it describes technologically advanced universities who are harnessing the latest digital solutions to deliver the best possible student experience.

A connected campus can incorporate any number of cutting-edge tech tools, including interactive classrooms and augmented reality learning.

But for many universities, the starting point is a robust CRM platform which enables them to manage the entire lifecycle, tracking and facilitating interactions and improving engagement and communication with past, present and future students.

Platforms like Salesforce start by offering a 360-degree view of individual students. At their simplest, they make it easier for both students and staff to process simple administrative tasks – enrolment, paying fees, and so on.

That represents an immediate and sometimes profound resource-saving, making it a worthwhile investment in itself for cash-strapped universities.

#3 Using analytics to support students

CRM platforms also have much more sophisticated uses when it comes to student recruitment and retention.

A single, end-to-end record of student interactions offers a wealth of data which can support their academic achievement, and improve teaching, learning and curriculum design.

Joining up data about individual students across the institution and employing predictive analytics also makes it easy to identify students who need extra support.

Whether it is because grades are slipping, attendance has dropped, or they’re facing financial hardship, proactively spotting and intervening before a student is in trouble can be the difference that enables them to achieve their potential – or even continue studying at all.

With some institutions reporting drop-out rates of up to one fifth, supporting students in trouble matters more than ever. Creating and nurturing personal relationships between student and institution is essential – after all, nobody wants to be just a number.

#4 Connection and belonging

Almost 80 per cent of students say that personal messages help convey that their institution cares. It helps establish a connection from before they arrive that, if universities manage it well, will evolve to last a lifetime.

Tailored support throughout the student journey can make a real impact on students’ overall experience and more importantly, their sense of belonging – a recognised factor in student drop-outs.

Technology platforms make regular, personalised communication achievable, even where student numbers run to the tens of thousands.

A supportive environment and access to help when it’s needed are all important factors influencing the sense of community and belonging students feel. And if today’s young people wanted the ability to access support whenever and wherever they are before coronavirus shook the world, now it’s crucial.

Again, it is enabled and made easy with the right technology platforms. Online communities, chat tools and text reminders are just part of the solution, helping students succeed and reinforcing their belonging and attachment to their institution.  

#5 Flexible learning

For a generation of digital natives, face-to-face learning remains highly valued.

Even so, the rise in alternative methods of delivering higher education means there has been a desire for flexibility in how and where to study for a while.

The outbreak of coronavirus has magnified that need. While the eventual impact of this global crisis isn’t clear yet, it’s certain that for some time, institutions will need to offer flexible and remote studying options if they want to operate at all.

And once students have become accustomed to that flexibility, it’s unlikely they’ll want to lose it – even without the threat of a pandemic.

Online classrooms, augmented reality learning and artificial intelligence are all only just beginning to show their worth in the higher education sector. Universities that embrace these newer technologies have the potential to transform the student experience.

It's not just for students

While students might expect the very latest in cutting edge tech, it’s not just for their benefit. Embracing emerging technologies improves the entire business and operating model – in higher education just as much as any other sector.

New technology offers opportunities to improve teaching and learning, research, and collaboration with global partners. Data collection and advanced analytics can be used to improve academic performance, student retention and employability after study. It makes institutions more agile, efficient, cost-effective, and market-responsive.

In a challenging marketplace set to get even tougher after coronavirus, embracing digital transformation is essential. 

To find out more about how universities can rise to the multiple challenges they face in 2020 and beyond, download the new BrightGen whitepaper: Higher Education, Global Competition and Student Numbers: How the UK’s Universities can Maintain and Gain.