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Higher Ed & Virtual Learning: How Colleges and Universities Can Bolster Enrollment and Stand Apart

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Universities and colleges, students, teachers, and parents have been adversely affected by virtual learning. Depression, anxiety, boredom, frustration, concern, and lethargy are just some of the words students are using to describe their experiences. Limited socialization, lackluster technology (or too much of it), and young adults being sent back home to live and study causes strain on peer to peer, student to teacher, and parent/child interactions and dynamics.

High school seniors, too, are struggling. They are trying to decide on which school to attend – a decision heavily dependent on whether classes will be conducted virtually or in person – or whether to start college at all. In-person campus tours led by their peers can be a deciding factor for most students. Without that, they lose confidence in their higher ed selection, and this uncertainty breeds apprehension and anxiety. As more and more schools are on full- or part-time remote learning schedules, many students are worried they will be unable to attend once again in the fall and have a “true college” experience.

With the change in campus life and academics, many students are choosing to stay closer to home or at home to avoid paying out-of-state tuition or to avoid virtual learning altogether, which now is practically impossible. In the Best 386 Colleges July 2020 Administrator Survey conducted by The Princeton Review, colleges and universities across the nation are seeing more in-state students when compared with 2019. In addition, 39% of schools are reporting a decrease in enrollment in 2020 when compared with the previous year.

As vaccinations are not 100% effective and are rolling out slowly, higher learning institutions must rely on communications and marketing, including social media, to overcome COVID-related issues and obstacles. This means utilizing the social media marketing, video, and creative promotions/activities to build school spirit, highlighting campus features and aesthetically pleasing elements students migrate to (as an aspirational symbol of hope). This could be the grounds, favored sports team, rathskeller, architectural element, or other unique features.

Higher ed institutions need to focus on their students. Understanding their students and their needs is most important. If your current students are unhappy, this will translate to attrition and missed enrollment opportunities.

Virtual tours are now going to be heavily relied on. According to Inside Higher Ed, Texas Christian University created a landing page for their admitted applicants that gives them the option to tour the school virtually. They need to be extensive, showing everything you would see on a typical tour and depicting student life on campus despite limited interaction due to social distancing.

Target prospective students based on your current student demographics, particularly those that are growing or have the potential to and use your social media to connect. Recognize that student population demographics often change. As more students attend school closer to home, showcase your commuter student activities and how your university’s surrounding area is an ideal place to be. The market share of in-state enrolment is limited so use digital strategies to help attract incoming students, both first years and transfers. This not only includes social media (particularly Instagram, YouTube, Snapchat, and TikTok), but search engine optimization (SEO), online advertising, and video marketing. Your social media is an inside scoop on campus life and your school’s differentiators. Using videos in your social media campaigns, on your website, and in email, campaigns to boost engagement and create a compelling school image. Students who are tagged in posts and tag their school or location help new students see what campus life is like. Reposting and sharing your students not only shows you care but also markets yourself to that student’s followers.

Colleges and Universities around the nation are going to have to change their focus and enrollment practices to meet the needs of their students and the virtual learning environment students were thrust into. It’s not too late to develop a strategy and a handful of tactics to execute and test.