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Recruiting Intelligence

Working with Agents in a COVID-Era World

You didn’t think we’d forget about student recruitment agents in our COVID blog coverage, did you?

A word to the wise: many of those institutions that have weathered the COVID-19 storm best made strategic investments in enrollment marketing during past downturns while competitors snoozed.

We know that agents are top of mind for many of our readers. Our post on how much to pay commission-based student recruiters was #1 in our top blog hits of last year and continues to inform those seeking perspective and justification. Our agent management eBook has been well read (downloaded) for years (thank you, AIRC!).

Recent surveys of education agencies around the world paint a clear picture. Agents have been hit by the pandemic. Hard.

From the Federation of Education and Language Consultant Associations (Felca): 46% of agents surveyed in a recent study reported a 90% drop in business between February and August of this year. Nearly a quarter reported a 100% drop.

Our university partners around the world are feeling this pain as well. The international student recruitment pathway that produced so many great applications has become a trickle or stopped completely.

Some leading agencies predict agent use will soar post-COVID as some institutions double down on their in-country strategy and others begin honing their agent channels to make up for lost opportunities in traditional international recruitment travel and student fairs. Take that with a grain of salt. The near-term future is still exceedingly ambiguous. Physical gathering (conferences and fairs) remain a desired state, not reality. International travel, well, when was the last time you took out your passport?

Though we aren’t seeing the rebound we all want just yet, there are several indicators in the agent market that suggest the way forward. Agents have long been a reliable and valuable source of students (all caveats about vetting your agent network still apply. Thank you again, AIRC and ICEF!).

Read on for a look at the pandemic’s impact on agents and what it means for your institution’s international recruitment strategy going forward.

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The Data That Informs Us Part 3

Today we ask, “Right, what about international”?

Honestly, don’t even think about skipping this post. Long because: worth it.

With schools now publishing their actual fall 2020 international enrollment numbers, the proof is in the pudding for many.

Recent survey data offered up by Inside Higher Ed tell us fewer institutions are planning to recruit international students this cycle. While they might rightfully point to the market turmoil, travel restrictions and the like, the underlying concern for many, from our point of view, is a lack of confidence in what the institution has to offer.

So, where is the opportunity for international? The good news: student desire springs eternal. Below we consider recent SEVIS data and data on India, Nepal and China that point the way forward.

Speaking of the way forward, ever notice that those who anticipate opportunity and plan for it are in a vastly better position to capitalize? The opposite is also true. Fear of the future and planning for scarcity perpetuate the same.

To put it simply, you can’t harvest crops if you don’t plant seeds.

And yet, this perspective shared by an SIO of an important US public university in one of our recent email exchanges: Public universities always have their speed set to “caution”. When universities deal with a complex or unprecedented situation, they switch gears to “Halt”. If they are scared, they engage the public university turbo, a button that reads “Ignore”.

This scenario gives the proactive the opportunity to take tremendous leaps forward. So few take this opportunity.

The past two posts in this three-part series largely focused on the data that points to opportunities for domestic student enrollment growth and what to do next. Now, in Part 3, we speak to yet another student segment everyone is scratching their heads about.

Coming next week, more discussion about the latest research on Gen Z and their preferences to help reduce the head scratching about domestic student enrollment plans. Stay tuned for that.

Now, Part 3, what can we offer to international students to overcome the obstacles to enrollment?

The reality: managing international enrollment in the near term is going to be an uphill climb, especially if your institution was slow to develop a robust and flexible remote learning pathway for students throughout the spring and summer. Your plans now (seed planting) will set you up for future harvests as international students continue to seek education and adventure. They won’t be stopped, even if they are slowed. Know that we’re just a call away if you want help making those plans data driven and successful.

Note: if you’re still struggling with the faculty and student processes and fostering engagement, read our earlier post on global turnkey campuses for a clear path to flexible opportunities. Take steps to salvage the spring enrollment numbers within the next few weeks. We have a plan and examples from the 8 universities that innovated and are now reaping the benefits.

Read on as we dive into the latest international student data and what it means for your 2021 enrollment marketing strategy and beyond.

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The Data That Informs Us Part 2

In last week’s post we shared the findings from the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center’s latest report on summer enrollment numbers.

We also made a prediction — that the typical recession uptick in people trying to upskill will look a little different this time around. Remember that large drop off in summer community college enrollments we saw in the NSCRC data?

Yes, there will be market demand for new skills as the economic effects of the pandemic persist, but with the job market drastically altered by a new reality of virtual work and the decimation of roles (retail, restaurants, tourism) in the service industry, specific programs will have outsized interest in a way that we’ve never seen before.

In Part 2 of our data-focused series, we turn our focus to one of our favorite topics: non-traditional students. Or more specifically, the pool of 36 million individuals in the US who have some college, but no degree (SCND, as defined by the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center.)

We wrote the book on this back in 2018. Literally. (Don’t worry, a free copy of our non-traditional student eBook, complete with strategy recommendations and case studies from your peers is available for download below.)

This is an audience of 36 million potential students that is yours for the taking if you’re ready to get to work. And if you know how to recruit them. It gets a bit tricky as they are not all 18 years old and following a standard pathway from high school to college. Hence the term non-traditional. Our point: they are harder to target en masse.

And although their rate of enrollment during the pandemic is not yet clear, we have some predictions on how this is going to play out.

Read on to learn who these students are, what they’re looking for in the COVID-era, and what this means for your marketing.

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The Data That Informs Us Part 1

This just in: undergraduate enrollment at the George Washington University fell nearly 25 percent this year based on preliminary estimates. That decline includes more than 600 upperclass undergrads and more than 900 international students. A budget impact of ~$76 million

This is only the start of the pandemic impact figures from institutions set to roll in over the next few weeks. 

But there's no time to wait around for the bad news. It's time to work with the data we have now

Fortunately, the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center has preserved a crucial record of the last few months that provide a wealth of indicators of what is to come: summer 2020 enrollment numbers.

Today’s post is the first in a three-part, data-focused series in which we’ll be diving into the latest enrollment trends and early indicators of COVID-19’s impact — plus what these findings mean for your marketing, of course.

The web has been rife with clickbait headlines and data from student sentiment surveys since the early spring, each claiming to predict COVID-era student decision-making in the fall and beyond. Despite our love for data around here, you might have noticed that we haven’t given these surveys much attention on this blog. 

Think: when was the last time you accurately predicted your own thoughts and behavior six months in advance? What about the last time you predicted anything in the evolving economic, health, and employment conditions of the COVID-19 reality?

Chances are, many students don’t even know what they want for tonight’s dinner, much less what decisions they’ll be making in the months ahead. And any of those surveys regarding their stated future COVID-era educational plans from six months ago? Well, we hope you took them with a grain of salt.

So much of the planning we see being done by individuals and institutions is based on hoping that things will improve in 2 weeks, 2 months, 6 months. Hope is SO important to developing vision and inspiring the team, but when it gets down to academic and business planning to execute on the strategic vision, stability is what feeds accurate predictions. We are sorely lacking in stability these days, making predictions far less reliable.

We look for data that can support the work – data that is not based on point in time records of hopeful sentiments.

In the National Student Clearinghouse’s newly released report, which includes data from 7 million students enrolled in May-July summer sessions across 2,300 colleges, we have our first look at concrete, behavioral insights on the enrollment effects of COVID-19 across various degree levels, institution types, and demographic groups. This is the type of data that gets our marketing gears turning.

 Read on for these early enrollment signals and a few hints at what’s to come.

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What Your Students Need Now Part 2

Last week, we put your prospective students’ SOS call on your radar.

Today, we’re going to show you exactly how to answer that call.

(Those of you reading to the end of this post, we can feel your thanks. You're welcome).

From the Naviance data we covered in Part 1 of this series, one thing is clear: your digital strategy and shifts in messaging are crucial right now. With COVID-19 agitating the waters, many students (domestic and international) are lost at sea in the college search and decision-making process. It’s your job to throw them all a life jacket. Metaphor alert: that life jacket is: engaging, informative, customized digital marketing content.

Students will be receptive to your messaging this fall. They want your guidance. Do you know what to say?

With the help of more Naviance data and our own market research, this week’s post is all about the how, where, and what of your digital marketing messaging in this unfamiliar time of COVID-19.

Our goal: helping you create messaging that will guide your prospects through those choppy waters…right to the safe harbor of your institution. Don't worry, we’re done with the ocean metaphors now. 

Read on for the digital tools and key topics your prospects need this fall and how to incorporate them into your admissions and enrollment strategy. 

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Short Form Video Players Set For a Showdown

When it comes to marketing, content is king – but distribution is queen and the right channel matters. Smart marketers know to go where their target student audience lives, learns, and connects online. 

With recruitment travel off the table for 2020, it's time to get creative in how you reach (attract) and convert student leads. Up-leveling your digital efforts will be essential as you plan for your Spring and Fall 2021 cohorts. Your challenge: translating those engaging IRL recruitment experiences, think on-campus tours, student fairs, sample lectures and the like, from people to pixels

Luckily, your Gen Z prospects have a particular penchant for a certain type of  content that lends itself very well to the digital reproduction of in-person experience: video.

According to Think with Google, 71% of Gen Z teens spend 3+ hours per day watching videos online. Competition for eyeballs is fierce, to say the least, especially in the newly crowded short form video arena. TikTok is the it-app. Instagram wants its Reels to be the vanguard of viral video tomorrow. Or, wait, will it be YouTube’s Shorts? Or Bytes? Knowing which content belongs where is key to brand awareness and conversion. 

We don’t have a crystal ball, but we do know a few things for sure:

  • Online video consumption is incredibly popular—232 million digital video viewers just in the U.S., in fact. And internationally? Consumption of video in China, many Middle Eastern countries and in South Africa, for example, are off the charts. as compared to other digital channels.
  • Video sharing is widely used not only to entertain, but to educate and inform. Several institutions that hopped on the short-form video bandwagon early are already using social platforms to engage their prospects with an authentic, #nofilter look at campus life. 
  • Considering your domestic recruitment channels, digital video penetration in the U.S. is projected to reach almost 84% in 2021, according to Statista.

We also know that the student recruitment and enrollment marketing rules have changed as of 2020. So, of course, we wrote an insightful ebook full of perspective and recommendations. The downloads have been pretty steady since we launched it a couple weeks ago. If you are not among them, click here.

There is no question that video is the future, but predicting where that video will live is still uncertain. Will TikTok users quickly adopt Instagram Reels? Maybe. Where should you invest your ad dollars? That’s a larger discussion. 

Read on for our perspective on each of these video-sharing platforms to help you weigh your options. 

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Deliver Ads That Deliver Value

You have your smiling student photos, a brief headline, and a budget — what could possibly go wrong?

Reality: if creating an effective student recruitment ad campaign were as simple as “insert pretty campus photo here,” digital marketing agencies like ours would be out of a job. And we know what happens when that pretty campus/smiling student photo gets in the way of effective advertising…those in control stem the flow of dollars to your digital marketing budget. Will the challenges to your student recruiting ever end?

Why is it so hard?

Content drives interest, from the first point of contact (attraction) to the conversion events that drive student enrollment.

Your prospective students face an onslaught of information. In a recent Facebook survey of its global users, 43% of Gen Zers reported that they find it difficult to choose what to watch, listen to, and read. With brands clamoring for digital attention on all sides, it’s harder for you to stand out and harder for your target audience to make sense of all this noise. Enrollment marketing is a highly competitive sport.

All the more reason that your ads need to add value to your audience. Your ads must capture the attention of the high-quality leads that convert, not those that click and go nowhere.

And in case you've missed our most recent publications (providing more ways to leverage that digital marketing budget effectively), you can download our latest eBook, The New Student Enrollment Playbook: COVID-19 Edition, as well as our recent digital marketing case studies (performance benchmarks for your digital marketing campaigns) for free. 

Read on for our 3 top tips for creating ads that resonate. We love talking about this stuff, so if you’re looking for more help on refining those campaigns, you know where to find us.

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Do You Understand You?

How well can you talk about you?

Quick! Give us your institution’s elevator pitch! Easy, right?

What if the other person in the elevator is a 28-year-old from Milwaukee? Now a 17-year-old from Miami. Now you’re in an elevator in Shanghai. How about Mumbai? Ho Chi Minh City? Bogotá?

If you’re an admissions rep covering one of these places, chances are you’re well-practiced at spinning up your strongest differentiators for your given audience. But for enrollment marketing staff and administrators looking at the big picture, understanding each of your target markets gets a little harder. We know, that whole “only-24-hours-in-a-day” thing makes it difficult to keep up with the entire global student population.

A little thing called COVID-19 hasn’t made things any easier for those of us in enrollment marketing. Your institution’s value, and how you deliver that value to your students, has changed. What your students, both domestic and international, want, has changed. Maybe just for the foreseeable future. Maybe for much, much longer.

Loyal readers of this blog (and Intead clients) know this: the most effective messaging is targeted messaging. Without a deep and nuanced understanding of your institution’s unique value proposition and which elements of that proposition speak to your segmented target markets, you are missing significant student recruitment opportunities. In fact, some of your marketing efforts are likely a complete waste of time and money. And if you don’t believe us, an analysis of the ROI on your digital ads will speak for itself…

Your institution’s journey to effective messaging begins and ends with an understanding of who you are.

Now before you spiral into an existential crisis, remember: as enrollment marketers, we’ve been leading these journeys of self-discovery for a long time. Read on for (some) of our secrets to understanding and communicating your value, no Eat Pray Love required.

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Leading Global CEOs: From India with US Degrees

The world’s largest democracy with dominant film, agriculture, and livestock industries has the third greatest economy in terms of purchasing parity around the globe. As a fast-growing global economy, their educated, English-speaking workforce has a strong desire to work in tech fields. They boast the world’s second-largest population of 1.3+ billion that will surpass China’s population in 2028 by current UN projections. And really, 2028 is sorta near-term at this point.

We are talking about India – the second largest source of international students in the US.

There are plenty of reasons to be concerned about international student mobility in the near term. And every reason to be confident about the future of the education industry.

Human aspiration does not disappear due to strife, especially among young people.

Academia has struggled through and adapted to changing consumer needs and demands for centuries.  Our colleagues at IIE have the historical data demonstrating the ups and downs of international education for the past 80 years or so. Now is the time to take the innovations the industry has been wrestling to implement (truly engaging online learning, truly engaged alumni networks, digital marketing and audience segmentation, artificial intelligence powered student support, etc.) and make them a reality.

Today, let's take India as an example of why international student enrollment is something important for your institution.

So many Indian students aspire to a US education. And there are tangible examples of success motivating those dreams. Let's talk about why your Indian students will be coming back to your institution, eventually...with the right enrollment marketing initiatives.

Take a look at the global tech companies that innovate with real power – IBM, Microsoft, Google, Adobe. There are some non-tech global dynamos as well. They are turning to Indian talent to lead them. Consider that many of the talented Indian CEOs playing leadership power roles on the global stage were trained in the US.

Read on to find out what academic programs were the steppingstones for these once-upon-a-time students to head some of the largest, most respected companies in the world. Is your institution on the list? Can your institution appeal to the next set of global leaders?

Here is a key question from a student recruitment point of view: Are your amazing alumni part of your international student recruitment efforts? There are ways to make your global alumni network become the inspiration for students’ hearts and minds…to raise awareness, kindle passion, and draw them to your academic programs to fulfill their dreams.

And yet, so few institutions develop and leverage their international alumni network to help future students make a really smart decision. You can change that.

Read on. 

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The Student Journey Re-Imagined

Customer journey mapping is an important thing as you build a digital marketing plan. How do customers first become aware of your brand? What do they consider along the way? What can you deliver to them to speak convincingly to those considerations?

We’ve done quite a few posts about micro-conversions (from our NAFSA session last year - among other posts). The idea is that you give your digital prospects the information they want at the right time to take them to the next step or next consideration in the process. You don’t just push the “apply now” button at the get go.

So, with all that is going on with enrollment issues right now, why are we talking about customer journey mapping? Because the decision-making process for your students – both prospective and current, both international and domestic – has changed. A lot.

This is the right time to re-consider how your digital marketing (website, ads, social media) are speaking to your many student segments about what you have to offer, before they defer for the next year and the connection you’ve worked so hard to create dissipates and then disappears, along with the tuition payments.

Read on for tips and perspective on why this is so important.

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