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Recruiting Intelligence

Do You Speak Gen Z? Part 1

TikTok. Microinfluencers. Memes. Welcome to Gen Z.

There are now an estimated 1.2 billion Gen Z teenagers and young adults globally. So, yeah, they’re kind of a big deal, even if there’s no consensus on when exactly they were born (likely between 1996 and 2010) or what exactly to call them (iGen, Plurals, and Founders are among the other monikers that have been thrown at this diverse, tech-savvy bunch.)

But one thing’s for sure — Gen Zers are very different than the Millennials who came before them. And now they’re your student recruitment target audience.

You’ve heard the Gen Z generalizations: they’re inclusive and politically active. They’re anxious about their future, about the environment, about the economy. About, well, everything (cue melodramatic music).

But what exactly does all of this mean for your institution’s efforts to recruit and retain Gen Z students? 

In this two-part series, we'll be sharing the A-Z on Gen Z,  including the key traits of this new audience and how to tailor your institution's enrollment management and specifically, your digital marketing strategy to their 21st Century tastes.

Plus, if you want to learn even more from us at the AIRC Conference, read on for the scoop. 

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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 1

Today’s post has been eighteen years (and six months) in the making. 

Today we're talking domestic. Because: enrollment.

We had this this post ready to go at the start of the year – a look at Naviance’s inaugural Student Survey with data from over 1.1 million students from the Class of 2019 on when and how they search for colleges, as well as their greatest decision-making factors. Naviance, the college readiness tool from Hobsons, Inc. has been collecting data from its users since 2002, but this was the first survey report of its kind ever released to the public.  

And then COVID-19 happened.  

The when and how of students’ college search process has changed. Those decision-making factors? Well, they look a bit different now. Those insights and data from over 1.1 million students all made irrelevant overnight.

Or not.

Maybe Hobsons knew something the rest of the world didn’t when they decided to launch this inaugural survey research in 2019 BC (Before COVID). The survey, while no longer a guide for recruitment strategy in itself, has become an invaluable benchmark for new research on how students’ college search processes have been disrupted by COVID and what that means for your future marketing.

Hint: You’re not thinking of buying lists, are you?

Helpful: A planning resource we've just recently released -- The New Student Enrollment Playbook - COVID-19 Edition.

Our goal: rescuing students who are lost at sea as they weigh all their options.

Read on for the insights from Naviance and what they mean for your admissions and enrollment strategy. Spoiler alert: your path to success will mean using digital tools to provide students what they need, now.

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Perceived Value: Online vs. On Campus

What are your students willing to pay for an online education?

Here is what you are really after: given your brand reputation, the demographics of your student cohort and the potential to create a new service delivery model, what should you offer and how much should you charge for it?

Let’s get that answered!

Our primary message: custom research into what your student cohort is willing to pay for your brand on campus or online is invaluable. An important part of innovation is the upfront market research that points your team in the right direction.

Below we review some new pricing research that offers insights and a conceptual approach to getting this type of data for your institution.

The context: During a high school Zoom graduation ceremony we watched this past week (my niece got her paper!), the valedictorian shared the experience of his last day in high school in March this year – a day like any other, except that at the end of it, the principal quite suddenly told everyone there would be no school the next day. A mundane day that suddenly marked the end of all he had worked for. No celebration, no Senior Week pranks, no high fives, just, head home and, as it turned out, don’t return.

His comment at the close of his valedictorian graduation speech: Don’t ever doubt that the world can change in an instant.

Across the globe, students and institutions shared that experience. How will all those valedictorians and all their friends make decisions going forward. College? Job? Remote learning and a job?

Read on for pricing research perspective to get you thinking.

And watch this space over the next few weeks as we dive into the doing that is prompted by the thinking. We’ll be sharing detailed case studies of some of the successful digital marketing work we’ve been doing for a variety of institutions around the world.

Yes, even during a pandemic, especially during a pandemic, digital marketing will connect you with your target audiences. We will show you how and give you benchmarks to help you evaluate how you are doing.

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Investing in Growth, Looking Beyond Fall

Your institution’s mission has not changed.

Despite all that is swirling around us, you are still in the business of helping people improve and achieve. You are still helping them understand what to learn and how to learn it.

Resilience is Built

Many institutional leadership teams are demonstrating the very resilience their mission statements say they will instill in their students. Others are suggesting business as usual with little change to their operations beyond physical distancing practices.

Investing in adaptation and innovation builds long-term resilience. This is what students are doing by investing in their educations – building resilience.

What is the story we tell students and parents? “Take the risk. We know it is a lot of money, but you’ll be better off in the long-term.” We tell students to invest in a 4-year growth plan, and we reinforce it along the way, “Don’t be deterred! Finish in 4 years!”

Are academic leaders following that same advice to build resilience for their institutions? Or are they crying poor, just like the students they are trying to convince to spend savings and take on debt for future gains?

Here’s the thing: institutions rarely stick to their own 4-year plans.

Example: Enrollment marketing initiatives often start with 3-5 year plans. The team acknowledges that real returns won’t materialize in years 1 or 2. And then, turnover in senior administrators and other outside factors suddenly defund the growth plan and little to no progress gets made. The planned investment halts after just 12 months.

I’m sure you’ve seen this happen all too often.

What To Do?

Develop the vision. Build the buy-in. Invest in the execution. Stay the course.

We will be adding a new set of research and resources available to our Intead Plus members over the next 8 weeks to help you do just that.

Read on to take a look at where forward-looking institutions are making these investments for longer-term growth (case studies are available).

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Connecting the Dots for Enrollment Success

Let’s pause for just a minute or two and take a few deep breaths. The pace of all that is going on, right?

With this post, we are going to connect a few dots. Reconfirm the why’s and how’s of what we are doing in the enrollment management arena.

Right now, we see civil unrest around us that is the expression of communities not understanding each other. Lack of cultural understanding, lack of connection, lack of empathy, all leading to severe consequences. This is an age-old struggle and we, in the education sector, pour our hearts into changing the underlying factors that contribute to the mess we find ourselves in.

Getting our work right really does matter. Education IS such a huge part of moving our communities in the right direction.

For most of us, maybe all of us, recent events make it crystal clear why we do this: every mind opened, every cultural connection built, is a win.

To achieve loftier goals, the academic institution must remain economically viable. And we need the students to enroll.

We know, looking ahead, more dramatic change is coming as we navigate various immigration decrees and virus news. We’ve all been working really hard to maintain the pace and make smart decisions. So, let’s just pause and reflect for a moment and connect some dots.

In short, the process is: view the data, assess the tools, make a plan, execute. Sounds simple, right ; -)

Our Intead Plus library of recruitment content and worksheets has supported so many. It’s out there if you need it. Below we review our process with some helpful lists to get you thinking, considering.

This is such an important time to plan and act.

Often, as the team here begins our projects with a new client, institutional leaders apologize for the many silos across their campuses that hold information and work far too independently. We are often tasked with gathering the necessary information and bringing as much unity to the siloed teams as possible.

Deep breath.

And again.

Getting our important work done the best way: There are so many approaches and so many adjustments that are necessary as circumstances and the people involved shift. All of our talents for listening, embracing and connecting ideas, all of this is needed from all of us.

There are underlying processes to how we do enrollment marketing that are essential and consistently required regardless of the circumstances. These processes adapt as situations change. 

Knowing where your processes stand, and which dots might need more attention has real value. Read on and consider whether your enrollment management system’s dots are functioning holistically.

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Going out of Business: Many Institutions are Struggling. Notice Any Red Flags?


If you follow the trends of higher education, you’ve no doubt heard the prediction that 50 percent of the country’s colleges will be bankrupt in 10 to 15 years. And that perspective has been touted for the past 20+ years, so…we need to take it with some salt.

Still, we have seen an uptick in closures and mergers of late. This is worth looking at because, there is some truth to this prediction and we’d be fools to simply say, “Never gonna happen.”

There are plenty of industries that have gone through these kinds of retrenching or refocusing. In the world of Mergers and Acquisitions, any business is broken down on paper for its assets and liabilities. Assets are considered for liquidation – the idea of “selling off the parts.” This is happening in academia as well. Harsh but true: profitable departments or schools within an institution are being “adopted” by other stronger institutions while the rest of the weaker institution is shut down.

Before we all consider our college diplomas to be rare antiques, is there any way to safeguard against this trend?

Below, we share some perspective on different options being considered and some resources you may want to access for a deeper dive. Here’s one of them: Our non-traditional student recruitment ebook: Quality. Cost. Convenience. The extended edition on Intead Plus gives you marketing planning insights, sample personas along with case studies from nine very different institutions.

Next week we'll be talking about long-term vision and growth. But before we get there, we need to understand a bit more about where we are now.

Do you want the good news or the bad news first?

(Read on)

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