Attracting & Engaging Students in Higher Education

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Attracting & Engaging Students in Higher Education

Digital marketing strategies and online application portals are best practices as per industry experts in how higher education institutions can better attract and engage the right students. Cornell University and Brown University are currently utilizing their content/messaging on their websites to attract and engage the "right fit" of students.

Digital Marketing Strategies

  • Higher education institutions are today are incorporating digital activity in their marketing strategy in order to attract and engage students. Improved student mobility and education globalization has changed the nature of student recruitment.
  • Contemporary students spend a notable proportion of their time consuming digital media through various digital platforms. Online search has become a powerful tool utilized by prospective students seeking and researching about study options. Thus, universities have turned to digital marketing to reach these students.
  • Higher education institutions with high enrollment rates have a strong online presence and visibility. They have developed effective and intuitive websites that nurture trust and provide authoritative information to prospective students. The websites also help to create a strong brand statement that can attract students.
  • For instance, higher education institutions are using social media to distribute content and influence students to apply for courses. A strong social media presence coupled with consistent meaningful content that encourages users to make enquiries is vital to attracting and engaging new students. It provides the best platform to underscore new courses, staff, and facilities in efforts to attract more students.
  • Unlike snail mails or emails that are limited in both effectiveness and audience reach, digital marketing is more effective in attracting and engaging prospective students. For instance, inclusion of videos of an institution’s facilities in a Facebook advert has a bigger impact than just an email with a list of facilities.
  • Moreover, digital marketing reaches a wider audience considering that today’s students are active on digital platforms. The cost of using a digital marketing strategy such as social media advertisement is cheaper compared to using snail mails that involve a lot of paperwork and labor.
  • Digital marketing also offers personalized communication to prospective students. Thus, students can seek clarification, advice, and make other enquiries online. Personalized communication has also enhanced the application experience.

Online Application Portals

  • The higher education industry’s main consumers are the millennials and Generation Z. The two age groups are known to be technology-savvy, paperless, and mobile. Once they have made a decision to join a given higher education institution, they prioritize an online hassle-free application process.
  • Thus, higher education institutions have positioned themselves to address the changing needs of their target consumers by having online application portals. Through the portals, new students can complete the application process at their own time and pace. The portals also come with various online payment options.
  • The online portals also have interactive platforms where new students can seek help during the application and admission process. An online application process helps higher education institutions to enhance their conversion rate of preliminary enquiries.
  • Online application portals have corrected outdated communication channels such as call centers by eliminating the need for prospective students to call enquiring about the application process. They can easily access all the information they need about the application and payment on the portal.
  • Online application portals also eliminate the need to fill cumbersome paperwork to be presented at the institution for verification. Prospective students only need to fill an application form online and provide the requested details to complete the process.
  • Online application attains personalization by enabling students to complete the application process at their own time and pace.

Higher Education Institutions' Website Content/Messaging Case Studies

Cornell University

  • Cornell University website’s homepage takes a celebratory approach with information on the institution's latest classroom technology and recent graduates. Prospective students learn about the institution through the “Around the University” subpage. The subpage offers numerous images on campus life and the most exciting areas for students.
  • "Cornell Chronicle" news tab informs website visitors about the institution’s past academic achievements. Cornell University’s website was designed give prospective students a preview of what they expect once they join the institution. It also seeks to emphasize the university’s rich history of academic success in order to lure the 'right fit' of students.
  • Cornell University’s website messaging impact is visible in its large number of applicants in the 2018-2019 admission cycle. The institution received 49,114 applications, which is an indication of its high conversion rate.

Brown University

  • Brown University’s website content is rich with images and videos about the institution. The videos range from real classroom settings to its newly opened campus. The videos are also cleverly made easy to load for viewers. Video automation is also turned off.
  • The website’s content organization was designed to be mobile-friendly and optimally prioritizing what the institution wants prospective students to see. By providing rich content in a non-oppressive and mobile friendly manner, Brown University wants to ensure that prospective students learn about the institution through any device and conveniently.
  • Brown University’s rich website content and easy navigation has an impact on application rates as the 2018-2019 application cycle shows. The university received 38,674 applications, a testament of its ability to attract the 'right fit' of students.

Research Strategy

The research team dove into the higher education industry and media sources to identify case studies on higher education institutions that are using their website content/messaging to attract the ‘right fit’ students but quickly found that such specific information is unavailable. Expanding our search to third party digital marketing services providers was not fruitful either, as most of their case studies focused on other digital marketing strategies, such as social media. We also reviewed web sources on the best college and university websites to identify higher education institutions with the best websites with regard to content/messaging. However, the sources provided rankings with no direct link between the ranks and improved conversion rates. Thus, we leveraged other sources on universities' application and admission rates and linked them back to the top rankings.