Community colleges leaning on tech to boost recruitment efforts

Enrollment in community colleges has lagged, bringing new tech-focused efforts into focus.

Charlie is 24-years-old. He’s interested in attending a local community college. However, he works two jobs and has a young daughter. He does not

Ardis Kadiu is CEO of Element451, an advanced AI-driven student engagement platform for higher ed.

have a lot of time to look online at much of anything. And when it comes time for paying the bills and balancing the budget, having a steady Internet connection comes behind food and housing costs.

The above story is not unique. Community college enrollment dropped by 13.2% in 2020, or by over 700,000 students. The reasons for the across-the-board drop are numerous, as lower-income people have been disproportionately hurt during the pandemic and must balance all sorts of needs in addition to being a student, such as job and family responsibilities. Plus, a wide digital divide (21 million Americans didn’t have access to high-speed Internet in 2019) also plays a role as many people struggle to handle the burdens of online course work.

These circumstances make it hard for people to find the time to research educational opportunities and financial aid options, submit applications, and take the other needed steps to enroll in a college.

As anyone who works in a college admissions department knows, the days of mailing a brochure in an envelope to every student who lives in a certain ring of zip codes are long over. It also takes a lot more work to get potential students to answer an email or respond to a text — even if they have asked for information about a college. This is truly hard to do because marketing budgets are tight, staff already find themselves overtaxed and students are finicky when it comes to what resonates with them at a personal level.

Further, college marketing departments have learned that today’s students have completely different expectations from past generations when it comes to influencing and capturing buyer interest. Today’s higher ed students have grown up with interactive, sophisticated consumer marketing and advertising campaigns that push products and services on their phones and other devices. Students are no different than consumers, and they expect to have the same type of relationship with a college attempting to woo them to campus.

So how is a college, particularly a community college, supposed to make this necessary shift to personalized student engagement marketing without a full-time IT resource and a team of 10 people? The answer rests with AI that can leverage behavioral analytics to automate and customize campaigns and other types of communications between a college and a student.

Some institutions are now using artificial intelligence and machine learning to leverage historic behavioral data to help find the candidates most likely to enroll in a community college. Further, these predictive models can be trained to focus on students who have taken, or will take, a non-traditional journey through the world of higher education.

Colleges that use this data can take the next step in their marketing. It goes beyond just knowing the likely areas where a college draws its applicants from. It reveals patterns and can lead to a more pinpointed approach when initially reaching out to applicants, along with following up.

However, what has shown itself to also work is an even bigger step by taking a personalized approach to the admissions process. Admissions officers have better results when they use the tools needed to directly “speak” with a prospective student via an email or SMS campaign. Studies from McKinsey & Company and Monetate show that email is much better at acquiring new customers than Facebook or Twitter, and that personalizing an email is even better than that.

It sounds incredibly time-consuming and costly. But using the aforementioned tools can help develop a personalized student marketing campaign in an efficient manner.

So, how is this done?

First, an admissions team can use “segmentation” to narrow its audience group down by type, interests, and demographics as a way to find the Charlie’s of the world. Then, they can use “dynamic content” to automatically tailor a messaging sequence at the individual level. An example of this for a community college might be to include a “Schedule Visit” call-to-action button to Charlie soon after he first explored a school’s website, followed by one that may say “Busy? Virtual Tour?” a little later if an in-person tour was not convenient.

As Charlie explores more of a school’s website, messages become more and more customized. For example, if he visits a financial aid page, he might receive a guide about managing school costs.

All of this can be done by using marketing automation platforms built for higher education. A college admissions department won’t have to write hundreds of individual emails; however, potential students will feel like they have still received one.

Reaching and connecting with people like Charlie is about so much more than a marketing metric.

As a first-generation graduate student at NYU Tandon School of Engineering, Ardis Kadiu worked with the graduate admissions office and saw firsthand the frustration of enrollment and admissions professionals with the CRM products on the market. While Chief Technology Officer at Spark451, Ardis designed what higher education professionals now know as the Element451 AI-driven student engagement platform, a higher ed marketing technology that leverages data and behavioral intelligence to engage today’s students with the hyper-personalized communications they expect.

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