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This analogy will help you develop a high-performing student engagement strategy

Gecko SVP for North America Todd Tribble unpacks the biggest challenges to student engagement in the US, plus 5 dos and don’ts for taking a customer-centric approach...

“If you work in higher education in the US then I’m certain the year 2025 is drilled into your head. That’s the year HE enrollment is set to fall off a cliff. You’ll also know that current college enrollment numbers are down coming out of the COVID year, with community colleges bearing the brunt.”

“One of the other biggest challenges in the higher ed landscape in the US right now is the cultural shift in regards to the value of higher education. In the US, an average of 63% of students coming out of high school will go onto college. However, the reality is, the perception of higher ed is changing for some people.

“There are young people who are looking at the job landscape and thinking; I could go and get certified in a skill and then go straight into the job market, I could join the military, or take a “gap” year to make sure I know what direction I want to go. In these situations, you may have prospects on the fence wondering if college is for them.”

Gecko
If you want to deliver on student engagement you have to keep your customer front and centre at all times, the same as you would in any other industry.
Gecko
Todd Tribble
SVP North America, Gecko

How do you develop great student engagement?

“Institutions often don’t always want to go down a more sales-focused route because it feels more corporate. However, when prospects are looking at your institution, because they are looking at you, they are making buying decisions. If you want to deliver on student engagement you have to keep your customer front and centre at all times, the same as you would in any other industry. My ‘house’ analogy will help you do that.

1) DO apply this analogy to avoid engagement disconnect

“If you picture a house, there are multiple ways to get into the house. The back door, the front door, the side door, the windows, the garage door. If you apply this analogy to higher ed, it’s the same. HE institutions may have sound communication strategies or workflows that work well at certain touchpoints. But if they’re not covering all their windows and doors consistently, then what you end up with is an engagement disconnect.

“You might be really great at student engagement at the front door, but if you’re missing it somewhere else – because students are coming in the side door and they aren’t getting that same experience – then all of a sudden, boom, you’ve lost them.”

2) DON’T forget technology can be the key differentiator

“Here’s an example of how technology plays a key part in student engagement. My daughter is 14, a freshman, and we recently did some college visit days in the US. At the first school, we walked up to the table to do a self-guided tour. We filled out some details, they gave us a piece of paper, and off we went on the tour.

“However, there was no follow-up communication. She’s the class of 2025, going to college in 2025, so alarm bells should be going off. This institution knows her name, her major, and her year, but there was nothing else from them apart from an email a couple of days later. For the next school, it was a completely different story and it was all digital.

“We were only 15 steps away from the table to do the tour and, ping, all of a sudden, my daughter received a text from them with a welcome to campus message, map, details on talks about the major she’s interested in. They immediately captured her. And whose sweatshirt is she wearing the following week? In comparison, the other school falls away.”

3) DO be outward-looking - not inward-looking

“Let’s talk about the CRM piece. When you’re looking to bring in a new CRM to an institution, most of the conversation that takes place is internal. You’re talking about the internal look and feel, how it’s going to make the admissions office more efficient, and how it’s going to help people do their job better or faster through workflows and automation.

“What people don’t realize, often until it’s too late, is that there are gaps in all CRM platforms. But often those questions don’t get asked because people aren’t in that mindset. Then you’ve bought this massive piece of technology, you’re in a five or seven-year contract, you don’t have the engagement strategy you necessarily want, and you settle.

“If you’re driving your student engagement strategy based solely on the technology or platform you currently have, and that’s all you’re doing, then you’re missing. Because you’re not looking at it from the perspective of your customers, the students coming in.”

Gecko
“If you’re driving your student engagement strategy based solely on the technology or platform you currently have, and that’s all you’re doing, then you’re missing. Because you’re not looking at it from the perspective of your customers, the students coming in.”
Gecko
Todd Tribble
SVP North America, Gecko

4) DON’T let legacy technology shape your comms strategy

“One of the other big issues with CRMs is that all the communications and workflows that institutions set up in them are almost completely predicated on using lower touchpoint mediums such as email. They’re weighted towards what’s going out from an efficiency standpoint, but that doesn’t necessarily resonate with the prospective student. So when those communications don’t “hit”, you’re in trouble.

“My son isn’t an email person and will only look at a school if they meet him where he is. So he’ll look at a text, or a social media post, or a 30-second video that engages him. If something comes into his eyesight he’ll engage with it if the media speaks to him, but the key thing is, he’ll add credibility to a school that is able to do that with him.”

5) DO leverage your current students to gather key insights

“One other action – and I think schools sometimes forget about this – is that your market is literally on your campus. Your study group or your control group is on your campus – or they’re at least reachable to you online if you’re not a brick and mortar institution.

“What some schools do is that they pull their inbound freshmen in to ask really specific questions about their social media use, how they got there, and so on. If you have that data for a freshman, sophomore, junior, and senior year, you can use that data set to inform decisions about your student engagement strategy going forward.”