The Big Pivot: Top 4 reasons higher ed needs to focus on mobile enrollment technology

Digital transformation of recruitment and admissions is the key to reaching prospective online students in their environment.

Addressing the growing enrollment divide between traditional and distance education forums existed long before Covid-19, but was accentuated by the pandemic’s influence on the delivery of education. Traditional brick and mortar higher education institutions have struggled with enrollment declines for nearly a decade, while at the same time, a surge of interest in online education was emerging. As more and more institutions recognize the viability of launching online degree offerings, they are faced with a new challenge of overcoming an increasingly competitive landscape while navigating the changing communication preferences of today’s prospective students.

Patti Franz is VP of Student Engagement & Enrollment Solutions at Perdia Education.

More than half of today’s online college students are digitally native millennials. According to a recent survey by the Strada Center for Consumer Insights of respondents aged 25-49, 42 percent said that if they were to enroll in postsecondary education in the next six months, they would prefer an online education or training program. This preference for online or hybrid options would remain strong even if Covid-19 weren’t a threat, with 31 percent saying they would prefer a hybrid option in that scenario, and 28 percent stating a preference for online-only coursework.

Addressing the challenges—and opportunities—created by the demand for online education is critical for survival. The question is: How can institutions best attract, enroll, retain and graduate adult students seeking online higher education?

Digital transformation of recruitment and admissions is the key to reaching prospective online students in their environment. A study by the Pew Research Center found that 92 percent of millennials own smartphones, and additional research shows millennials prefer to use online messaging software or emails, avoid face-to-face interaction and they don’t answer phone calls. Therefore, to attract this population, migrating the entire enrollment cycle of an institution to a mobile modality to recruit, admit, and retain students becomes a 24/7 solution to work with students from their initial inquiry to their first day of class and beyond.

Top 4 reasons why institutions need a mobile-focused enrollment solution

  1. Institutions must stay viable in a hugely competitive market. More institutions may recognize the potential for growth that exists in online education—but make no mistake, the competition is fierce. Today, over 1,500 degree-granting institutions in the U.S. offer online programs, and the number of online programs (associate through doctorate) totals more than 26,200. This means that if your institution offers online programs, or is planning to launch new online programs, your first, and perhaps greatest, challenge will be to attract and enroll students within a crowded field of competitors.
  1. Legacy enrollment systems and third-party OPMs don’t provide long-term solutions. Traditional enrollment and retention systems are proving to be dead ends for the online student demographic. CRMs, student information systems, and learning management systems were built to solve traditional recruitment and enrollment needs. They are not built to address the requirements of new online student acquisition and retention. These existing systems are inherently ill-equipped to deliver the integrations and analytics required in the successful promotion of online higher education programs.

Online program managers, or OPMs, are the other conventional solution for institutions seeking to grow their online offerings. These third-party providers take over institutions’ online processes, including enrollment, admissions and retention. But they come with long-term contracts and “black-box” procedures that result in the loss of control and transparency for institutions and higher costs for students. This approach is not a long-term, sustainable business model.

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  1. Mobile is the preferred technology for students People now want to have everything they need in the palm of their hand, right on their phones. In fact, mobile use has become so ubiquitous that 69 percent of respondents stated they would rather use their phones to text, rather than talk to an in-store employee. And 85 percent of smartphone users prefer mobile messages to calls or even emails. Research has also shown that the best way to communicate with prospective students is through digital platforms. Higher education leaders can no longer afford to ignore the communication preferences of today’s online students and should be focused on enhancing traditional enrollment processes with mobile innovations that combine new tools and modalities.
  1. The digital transformation of enrollment is essential To offset declining campus enrollment numbers and to effectively meet student needs, institutions must adapt – and digitally transform. Related to the recruitment and enrollment process, digital transformation is more than simply putting your catalog in an online format or putting your application for admission into a mobile app. What we must recognize is how digital transformation can add valuable insights about new student demographics, help institutions further understand the needs of this population, and guide students effectively (in a digital medium) through their decision-making process. Ultimately, this means using mobile technology to deliver the right communications and engagement at precisely the right time and in the right way.  

The clear—and growing—preference shown by students for mobile and online solutions is converging with the COVID-19 crisis to drive pressure on institutions to seek these new digital recruiting, enrollment, and retention processes. At some point, of course, the pandemic will recede, but the drive for mobile solutions will remain a dominant theme in higher education. And institutions will need to address the fundamental shifts in technology this entails. Customizable, AI-powered mobile solutions that can interview, qualify and advise students through their inquiry, enrollment and retention experiences may well be the pathway for institutions seeking to grow their online programs.

Patti Franz is VP of Student Engagement & Enrollment Solutions at Perdia Education.

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