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Changing Rates | Current Trends in Higher Education

In the pandemic’s wake, a multitude of changes have come about across various verticals and industries. Higher education is one such sector. While perhaps the most significant public-facing change has been the way in which students are instructed and learn, there have been many other changes. The application process, the mental and physical well-being of students, affordability, and other elements of higher ed life have evolved and seen significant shifts over the course of the past year.


According to the Boston Globe, about 60 colleges have gone test-optional for the fall 2021 admissions cycle since March of this year. These colleges joined more than 1,110 that already do not require standardized test scores for entrance into the higher ed institution. In addition, the Fiske Guide to Colleges announced about a month ago that it will stop reporting average SAT and ACT scores for colleges in the guidebook.


This begs the question – what is the impact on application numbers and acceptance rates as a result of these new policies? For starters, there has been a significant rise in applications to some of the most competitive schools in the country. In addition, acceptance rates went down substantially across the board and school waitlists have grown to ensure that classes will be completely full after a financially tumultuous school year.


With changing acceptance rates, waitlist rates and virtual learning options, the way in which higher ed institutions engage with prospective students must change as well. Through some of the technological innovations developed within the last year, it is now up to marketers and admission teams to reach future students in effective, personalized ways and better the education landscape for the future.



On the Cusp of Change


Higher education’s business model is poised for an overhaul. An overhaul that is being spurred by shifting values and needs by higher ed-goers. A recent report by McKinsey & Company showed that 49% of students who have decided not to pursue a full-time bachelor’s degree still plan to attend part-time or pursue a two-year degree, while 57% of students who are now considering a full-time bachelor’s program were previously planning to attend a part-time or two-year program.


As forecasts for application numbers have become increasingly challenging to put together as there is little predictability on how prospects will view higher education post-pandemic, there is plenty of room to tap into new demographic and geographic areas of potential students.


The “traditional” higher education or postsecondary student had been evolving pre-pandemic from the fresh out of high school teenager, to slightly older adults looking to attend school while working full-time and professionals looking to make a career change. Education that is flexible, easily accessible and a great investment are key factors when one is deciding to apply or enroll. While this was almost an exclusive need for this slightly older applicant pool pre-pandemic, it is now a need and a desire for all applicants, regardless of life stage.


For marketing and admission teams, delivering a fine-tuned, highly targeted message that addresses prospective students’ needs is the crucial next step in the evolution of marketing within the education realm. Through creative services, digital marketing services and web services, enacting a change in an institution’s marketing approach is now easier than ever. Much like online learning, such tools have been lurking in the background for some time, and as a result of the pandemic, their value as products have been brought to the forefront.



Communicate Consistently, but with Customized Content and a Plan to Capture Leads


Higher education institutions are extremely unique – their current and prospective students are unique, their majors are unique, campus past-times are unique and the list goes on. As such, the subject matter of the content created to promote a higher ed institution should be equally distinctive. Based on the various mediums different audiences engage with, a variety of formats such as social media, email, blogs, video, brochures, etc. should be created. Subsequently, these pieces of content should be dispersed on diverse channels.


Already doing that? Awesome! You’re a few steps ahead of the curve. But how are you measuring interest and capturing leads for your admissions team to follow up on? Every ~unique~ marketing campaign should have a concise method for lead capture. Forms are the most efficient way to capture lead information. Since a form has a direct influence on how many leads you generate, here are a few helpful considerations:


  • Location of form – make it immediately visible!
  • Number of fields included – keep it short!
  • Necessity of fields included for your admission team – obtain the bare minimum information!
  • Descriptive, call-to-action and form button – explain what value a lead is about to receive (i.e. a brochure delivered to their inbox, a video providing a look into life on campus, school swag giveaway, etc.)!
  • Privacy – ensure lead information is secure!
  • Be fun – make filling out information worth the time!


Now, what do with those leads? Follow-up with nurture communication tactics. Keeping the line of communication open with potential students after they have expressed interest in some manner allows your institution’s brand voice, culture and value to resonate in an educational manner… no pun intended.


Wrap Up


As individuals are concerned about their future and their finances, reassurance that the monetary and time investment in education is worthwhile is crucial. Developing marketing content based on who you are trying to reach will help your organization establish trust and build rapport with prospective students. And one last thing… don’t forget to track campaigns ROI!



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