Five ways the best universities are using technology to appeal to new students

This blog is the last of our series on maintaining and gaining students. Here we explore how universities use technology to appeal to new students. This is outlined in more depth in our higher education report.

A digital first approach is key to maintaining and gaining students, whether it’s:

  • Getting new students through the door
  • Supporting students already studying
  • Being able to keep operating during a global crisis like the pandemic

Here are the five ways the best universities are using technology to appeal to new students.

#1 Personalised recruitment

Personalisation has become the holy grail of marketing. That means, 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. They expect to be recognised and their wants and needs should be predicted.

This is the Netflix generation.

Personalised content allows institutions to position themselves as the right choice for a student based on their interests. That may vary from subjects through to extracurricular activities. They can speak to individual students more personally and deliver tailored information. For example, information related to how far along 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, digital technology transforms higher education recruitment. It is the only way to deliver relevant, timely communication in the way students demand.

#2 Connected campus

The phrase ‘connected campus’ has become ubiquitous in recent years. 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. It should enable them to manage the entire student lifecycle. Universities should be able to track and facilitate interactions, improving engagement and communication with past, present and future students.

Platforms like Salesforce start by offering a 360-degree view of individual students. They make it easier for both students and staff to process simple administrative tasks, for example, enrolment, or paying fees.

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. That can support their academic achievement, and improve teaching, learning and curriculum design.

Joining up data and employing predictive analytics makes it easy to identify students needing extra support.

Spotting and intervening before a student is in trouble can be the difference that enables them to achieve their potential. Whether it’s because grades are slipping or they’re facing financial hardship, universities can prevent students from giving up.

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 establishes 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. More importantly, their sense of belonging is a recognised factor in student engagement.

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 influence the sense of community and belonging students feel. Today’s young people want the ability to access support whenever and wherever they are. In a pandemic, 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. They help students succeed and reinforce their belonging and attachment to their institution.  

#5 Flexible learning

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

Alternative methods of delivering higher education have driven a desire for flexibility in how and where to study. The outbreak of coronavirus has magnified that need. 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.

Online classrooms, augmented reality learning and artificial intelligence are 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. 

Want to find out more about how universities can rise to the multiple challenges they face in our changing environment? Download the new BrightGen whitepaper: Higher Education, Global Competition and Student Numbers: How the UK’s Universities can Maintain and Gain.