Today’s student thinks and acts more like a customer than ever before. There are so many individuals all with specific goals enrolling at various institutions. There are adult students exploring non-credit options. 18-year olds looking for four-year residential experiences. Transfer student trying to figure out how to progress their education.
Every learner has a specific job to be done, and higher education institutions must understand and respond to their needs.
Delivering this kind of personalized, student-centric experience takes more than passionate staff and a can-do attitude! Success in the modern higher education environment requires a philosophical and infrastructural commitment to doing things the right way.
To help map your steps toward meeting learner expectations, our team at Modern Campus has developed this ultimate guide to meeting the expectations of your learners. From this eBook, you will learn what individuals want from your institution and how you can structure your college or university to respond to those needs.
Table of Contents
- The Complexities of Transfer Students
- Improving the Student Experience with Personalization and Integration
- Target Marketing: It’s all About Your Aim
- The Impact of Offering an Amazon-Like Experience in the Non-Credit Space
The Complexities of Transfer Students
Alicia Abney | Advising Manager for the College of Education, Middle Tennessee State University
Modified from an article originally published on The EvoLLLution
Transfer students fit all of the demographics represented within an institution of higher education. They comprise a mix of traditional-age and non-traditional-age students; first-generation students; students who are legacies at a previous institution with higher education embedded in their lifestyle; students of all races, ethnicities and genders. Some students transfer because of an articulation agreement between institutions; others transfer to be closer to home (or to get farther from home), or because of various life events. The one commonality among all transfer students is this: They all arrive at their new institution uncertain.
Despite the ever-changing climate of campuses across the United States, higher education faculty, staff, and administration seem to be complacent in their work, falling back on frustrating phrases like, “This is just how it’s done” or, “This is how I’ve always taught this course.” Today’s student is not the same student of ten years ago. Today’s student needs to know he or she has an advocate and someone looking out for their individual needs. In order for each student to know that we, higher education professionals, support them, we absolutely must make sure that we are slowing down to have meaningful conversations with each and every one of them.
The care and concern shown by staff and administration are highly effective in building relationships with students and, essentially, increasing retention and graduation rates. If students know that we all care and that we are all absolutely willing to devote our time to their goals and ideas, they are more apt to return in following semesters and become successful students.
Community College to Four-Year Institution: When Transfer Agreements Go Wrong
While transfer agreements are intended to help students smoothly transition between two universities, the actual transfer process often requires the student to complete a number of steps. It’s a fairly simple process to transfer; however, there are a set of requirements that must be completed prior to the transfer. If those requirements are not made clear to the student, or if the student fails to complete them, the transfer of credits becomes much more complicated.
I recently met with a small group of new transfer students that I knew had difficulty transferring to MTSU. The conflicts they experienced were no fault of our institution–rather, these conflicts came down to how teacher licensure was explained to these students at their previous higher education institutions. I learned of the impending conflict via email prior to their orientation after I requested confirmation of their majors and prior degrees. Regardless of who was at fault, I knew I was walking into a room with very frustrated students. Walking in was nerve-wracking; however, I knew that, in order to walk out of the room with happy students, I needed to be positive–and most importantly, empathetic. It would have been easy to walk in, point fingers at their previous institution for providing false information, or even blame the students for not being aware of their own education process. Doing so would have not accomplished much. Instead, I walked in the room, sat down, and said in a very casual manner, “So, what’s up?”
I felt the tension in the room dissipate. The new transfer students, one at a time, briefly discussed their frustrations. After they were able to purge their feelings, we got down to business. They asked questions; I answered. Since I had placed them in small groups, they were able to bounce ideas off one another. As a group, we problem solved. I provided students with pre-made academic plans and asked for their thoughts and concerns. We fixed what needed adjusting and moved forward with individualized plans that each student was comfortable with–and, most importantly, confident in.
Non-Traditional Transfer Students
Any higher education professional will agree that working with an 18-year-old student is much different from working with a 43-year-old student. In fact, working with an 18-year-old student can be much different from working with a 20-year-old student. I once had a professor tell me that the difference between a young student and an adult student has nothing to do with age, but life experience. The young student arrives in your office wide-eyed, terrified and excited, with very few expectations for the upcoming years. The adult student arrives in your office wide-eyed, terrified and excited, with strong expectations and goals for the upcoming years because of their life experience. The adult student, whether 37 or 22, has experienced something that made them grow up, be accountable, and accept future responsibility.
Non-traditional transfer students, as diverse as they may be, often have an established goal with some measure of a plan as to how they will achieve it. I have found the complication in working with non-traditional transfer students is a matter of time—many have been in and out of various institutions throughout their adult years and just want to finish. I have learned, in working with non-traditional transfer students, to remind them to focus on their goal, not on how long it will take to achieve it. If their goal is to earn their degree as quickly as possible, I can certainly advise them to explore majors in other colleges on campus. However, if their goal is to become a great, effective, state-licensed teacher, we can have a conversation about the whole process of becoming a teacher. I can also discuss with them how their life lessons and their personal life experiences will help them as a teacher and as a coworker in the educational system.
Private-to-Public School Transfer Students
As mentioned above, Middle Tennessee State University (like many other higher education institutions across the United States) has transfer agreements with various community colleges to accommodate students that wanted to start small before entering a four-year institution and/or those that want take advantage of the Tennessee Promise. However, there are no agreements or preparation plans for students who transfer from a private institution to a four-year state public institution. These students may have transferred for a number of reasons: because of tuition costs; to be closer to home; because of unexpected life events; or like me, they went to the private institution for a specific major and the major didn’t work out.
Students transferring from private to public are immediately overwhelmed. They are overwhelmed by the campus size, the registration process, the amount of classes offered, class sizes–everything. It is incredibly important to sit down with the student and have a personal conversation with them, to make sure they don’t feel like a number.
During my time working with transfer students, I have seen two types walk through the door when arriving on campus. One student is excited about the upcoming semester, ready to take on the challenges, and put their past experiences behind them. The other student sees transferring as a failure. They feel like they’ve failed because their initial plan at their initial institution, for whatever reason, did not work out. All students must have the opportunity to understand that faculty and administration will support, advocate for and guide each student to achieve their goals. In order for an institution to achieve retention, persistence and graduation goals, students must feel that we care about their higher education experiences. To do this, we must build a rapport with each of our students and genuinely invest in their future.
Transfer students come from a variety of institutions with a wide range of goals and concerns. However, when it comes to their expectations of the receiving institutions and the factors that stand out to them, they are more similar than you might think
Download this whitepaper to learn more about the needs and expectations of transfer students, and to understand how your website can help alleviate their concerns and show that your institution is a welcoming environment for them:
E-Expectations of Transfer Students 2020: Focus on Website Experiences
This research paper focuses on a subset of the results from E-Expectations® of Transfer Students: A 2020 Trend Report.
Improving the Student Experience with Personalization and Integration
Michael Hites | Chief Information Officer, Southern Methodist University
Modified from an article originally published on The EvoLLLution
I was watching a student presentation the other day, and they pointed out how difficult it was to schedule a study room. While many colleges and libraries have study rooms that can be reserved online, they are not necessarily reserved using the same tool, and you need to be a member of a specific community to use some of the rooms. There isn’t an Airbnb for empty conference rooms or other shared spaces. More often than not, spaces are managed by individual colleges, and resources do not share easily across departmental boundaries. This adds unnecessary work on the student’s end.
Universities must do a better job of redesigning their business processes to be centered on the person that matters the most in a university: the student. The student is the customer and main driver of the economic engine of the university. By redefining the business process around the student, we can change the bureaucratic experience.
Students want their interactions with the university to be simplified. There are already some vendors that sell integration and aggregation platforms that simplify processes. Nonetheless, it is rare that a student experience would include useful analytics about their current progress and their future job prospects in addition to easy ways to complete the numerous transactions. This is the goal, though.
Much of higher education is still based on a step model where you progress from grade school to high school to college, and then to better employment. While the education system treats the process as a step-by-step, that is not how people think or learn. In the wide world of education, students participate in online courses, continuing education modules, certificate training, short courses that result in badges, educational gaming, mentorship opportunities, and full degree programs. Furthermore, once you have one of these credentials, you need to prove to an employer that you achieved it. Some institutions are looking at blockchain to solve the credential puzzle. Rather than add a new line to your resume, your achievements can be added to a decentralized digital ledger. Education providers can make an entry when the student finishes an achievement, and that student can give permission to others to view it, which not only helps the student but also the HR office.
Personalization is prevalent outside of the university, and students are used to progress bars, tracking accomplishments, and self-motivation. After I buy Florida Georgia Line tickets for my daughter, I can guarantee that I’ll know about every country concert in the greater Chicagoland area. Every day, data are aggregated for students, and their mobile device tells them hundreds of bits of personal information. If we could combine this level of personalization with college registration data, grades, the degree audit system, and the career center, then I could give it to Watson. I’m certain that Watson would love to help students find the perfect job based on their personalized education path.
Would a student be willing to let personal information travel between departments and between internal and external education providers? Would they allow people to determine how their experiences ranging from extracurricular activities, scouting troop participation, high school education, college education, and work history could be translated into a better job or a higher salary? I’ve worked with many who say there is no way we could possibly violate a student’s privacy in this way. Meanwhile, that same student clicks away privacy on social media and playing mobile games. If you could click a button that said, “Share my data to improve my salary at a job I love”—would students do it? Yes, I think they would.
I’d like to see a dashboard for the student that provides not just the daily facts like assignments and due dates, but also personal and comparative progress bars that show how they are similar or different from their peers. We already have the data available to tell a student that 75 percent of the students that had their course load this semester graduated on time. We might be able to tell them the most likely employers for people with their current GPA. With mobile phones and beacons, we know who is studying where, and while it borders on creepy, it provides a way to find the right place to study any time of the day.
In higher education and in government, there is often a different group of administrators for each function. The same state government knows my driver’s license, registered vehicles, LLC information, professional registration, yet I must know either the physical location or the website for each of these so that I can do them separately. My son attends two colleges, so he has registration, financial aid, advising, ID card, payment, learning management systems and all sorts of other services duplicated. This unnecessary duplication drives students crazy.
Shouldn’t all of the available services be available to the student in one location? This does not mean to simply make a portal or a list of links. It means integrating the data so that it can be used together. There are already companies that use near field communication for payment in the cafeteria, and if Hilton can let you open the door with your mobile device, then why not residence halls? Theoretically, I should be able to register for class, transfer my financial aid to the bank, receive my football tickets, and open my door from the same device that I just used to ordered dinner and an Uber.
We need a concerted effort to empower students to use their own data to personalize their higher education experience inside and outside of the classroom.
Delivering the personalization students need and expect in the digital era starts with your web presence. After all, the modern campus is now truly online.
Target Marketing: It’s all About Your Aim
Davia Rose Lassiter | Director of Marketing in the College of Continuing and Professional Education, Kennesaw State University
Modified from an article originally published on The EvoLLLution
If the term “enrollment funnel” is a foreign concept and effectively reaching your target audience is a constant challenge, keep reading.
Many marketers take aim, but they don’t always hit the bullseye. This isn’t due to an absence of ideas or resources—more often, it comes down to a misalignment of strategy toward a particular group.
For example, I frequently receive this question: “Who is your target audience?
I used to answer, “Everyone!”
We offer professional certificates and digital badges for our 25 to 50 year old professionals; OLLI programs for adult learners aged 50 years and older; personal enrichment courses; executive education and digital badges via a partnership with our business school; and educational summer camps for youth ranging in age from 6 to 18.
However, further examination led me to adjust our marketing strategy to better serve this broad population.
Our Course Catalog provides a comprehensive overview of our programs, whether they be professional, executive or community-focused in nature. Despite being presented in a single catalog, we market these three program areas using different strategies—as we should.
Think about it like a family tree: The branches represent different families, while the tree represents the entire lineage. The similarities are just as important as the differences.
With this concept in mind, there are various ways to attract, nurture and persuade people to enroll in your university or college for a specific program. This brings us to the enrollment funnel, which is outlined below:
Before adult learners enroll in your programs, they need to know you exist! Your awareness strategy will serve this purpose by casting a wide net to grab prospective learners’ attention. Methods will vary based on budgets and resources. Examples include billboards, PR, broadcast, direct mail and targeted Facebooks ads. Ideally, you would like to capture every person you seek. Realistically, you won’t—which brings me to the next level.
Due to your awareness efforts, someone will form a connection in the form of value recognition. The content they engage with—a news article, a social media post, an advertisement—will resonate with their personal goals. Next, they will indicate a particular interest in what you are offering via a phone call, email, subscribing to your email list or even making an appointment. They are moving smoothly through your funnel, but what comes next is essential to keeping them there.
This what I like to call “dangling the carrot.” Not only is this prospect in your funnel, but they are also in your competitors’ funnels. Adult learners are smart. They want the best value and outcome for their investment. This is where you come in. Universities offer similar programs, but what makes your program unique? (Seth Godin’s Purple Cow should come to mind.)
The quality of your program is important, but so is the experience a person will have once they select your organization for their educational and training needs. Your “carrots” should be tools to nurture these leads by illustrating the added value of your program as opposed to others. (Bonus tip: Mentioning these perks should also be part of your awareness strategy.) Examples include exclusive discounts, free webinars, tours of the facility, access to job and internship listings and networking opportunities.
The efforts you put into developing the first three levels of the funnel have incentivized your prospect to enroll. Congratulations! However, be mindful that the nurturing should still continue. All of the items that spurred your customer to convert—discounts, job postings, support staff—should be part of their student experience, which will be key to the next (and final) level.
Word of mouth is powerful. Having brand ambassadors is an effective way to market your programs. In relation to the funnel, incorporating your graduates into your marketing strategy is an effective way to garner awareness about your product—thereby bringing you back to the top of the funnel.
Your brand—how people hear about you and their experience with you throughout their customer journey—is also key to your marketing strategy and exceeding your ROI goals.
Your enrollment funnel depends on making sure the right prospects can find the right programs in your catalog at the right time. And in order to structure your website to drive them to you, you need to make a conscious effort to design your SEO strategy.
Download this whitepaper to learn key best practices behind a successful SEO strategy, and to understand the impact your CMS can have on its success.
Increase Enrollment with SEO: An Action Guide for Higher Ed
Search engine optimization (SEO) must become an essential part of your website development and maintenance plan, and it must play a leading role in your overall marketing strategy.
The Impact of Offering an Amazon-Like Experience in the Non-Credit Space
Brandon Gregory | Senior Director of Professional and Continuing Education, University of San Diego
David Kaplan | Director of Enrollment, Business and Student Services in Professional and Continuing Education, University of San Diego
Uyen Nguyen | Information Technology Manager in Professional and Continuing Education, University of San Diego
Modified from an interview originally published on The EvoLLLution
Students today—both traditional and non-traditional—have extremely high expectations of their universities when it comes to the digital environment and experience. These expectations are shaped by the experience crafted and delivered by other organizations, be they banks or online retailers. For higher education leaders in the non-credit space, where the majority of enrollees are working professionals looking to advance their skills, it’s incredibly important to meet students’ high expectations to ensure they enroll and continue to come back to the institution for their ongoing education needs. In this interview, Brandon Gregory, David Kaplan and Uyen Nguyen share their insights on how technology plays a central role in meeting the expectations of non-credit students.
The EvoLLLution (Evo): Why is delivering an Amazon-like experience particularly important to students on the non-credit side?
Brandon Gregory, David Kaplan and Uyen Nguyen (BG/DK/UN): Amazon has set the standard for eCommerce engines. Non-traditional, adult learners, expect an Amazon-like experience since they are searching for, and purchasing, courses online.
Amazon has successfully made their user interface easy-to-use, even for non-tech savvy users. Features such as recommended products based on user search intent, purchase history, and cart reminders make an Amazon-like experience very powerful for an organization. The ability to find what you want, choose it and get it (register, pay, etc.) with a few clicks (after you are in the system, of course), is the expected “customer” experience in today’s marketplace, no matter what you are selling.
The easier we make their experience to get into our classes, the better opportunity we have to obtain and retain those students. On the other hand, if we make the system onerous or cumbersome, they will simply choose to go elsewhere, as they have options in their continuing education.
Evo: What does it take to develop a lifelong learning retention strategy that brings non-credit students back?
BG/DK/UN: The strategy to retain lifelong learners over the long-term is multi-faceted. There has to be a quality product available at your institution, whether that is built upon content, expertise, delivery methodology, high quality facilities and technology or all of those things (as it should be). There has to be an awareness of you and your product.
Through marketing and branding efforts, students should recognize your name, logo and offerings, and associate them with high quality, yet good value. You have to listen to them and solicit their input in order to ensure you are moving them forward along with your programming. This is important so you stay in the right lanes for your development of new or extended programming in the areas you are working in or on.
It is also important that you at least try to meet the students where they are. This means you need to have options and be flexible in your scheduling, programming, locations, delivery methods, etc. It also takes a strong, responsive and robust back-end system to assist the institution in supporting these things:
- User experience
- Website usability
- Product recommendations
- Customer Service
- Flexible scheduling
- Top-quality offerings
- Diversity of offerings
- Innovative offerings
- Multiple course formats
- Brand/product loyalty
- Top of mind awareness
Evo: What impact does market responsiveness with new offerings and certificates play when it comes to being competitive in the non-credit environment?
BG/DK/UN: Without staying competitive and offering innovative and current curriculum, course formats, and more, we would lose market share and no longer be able to support continuing education programs. The impact can either put you ahead of the game or set you back. If you swing and miss too often with your programming, then you are consistently in the hole and have to work even harder to get back to square one.
However, if you listen to what the market is telling you, respond to that by offering the programs that are being requested, and have the right tools—including the right support system like we have with Destiny One and our personnel—then you can move ahead of the competition and solidify yourself as a respected leader in the continuing education arena.
Evo: What are some of the traditional challenges to getting new non-credit programs to market?
BG/DK/UN: Inspiration and delivery are the biggest challenges to getting new non-credit programs to market!
Some of the challenges faced for new non-credit programs include (but are not limited to); development costs, subject matter expertise on the topic, marketing efforts (getting the right audience targeted, getting the right mix of mediums, cost of production, etc.), and making certain the “What’s In It For Me” question (WIIFM) is answered by the proper people.
Evo: How does your customer lifecycle management software help you and your team to meet its strategic goals on the non-credit side?
BG/DK/UN: Destiny One has allowed for a consolidated user interface for both staff and students. It has also provided accurate financial and enrollment reporting to allow our team to measure results. As a hosted web-based system, Destiny One is an easily accessible platform across diverse program areas. It has provided a sense of security that the data we need is there, safe and secure and easily retrievable whenever we need it.
Since Destiny One was designed with continuing education in mind, we do not have to be concerned with trying to make the square peg of continuing education fit into the round hole of traditional postsecondary academia.
Continuing education is more like a business than traditional college and Destiny One helps us run our business more efficiently and effectively.
Modern students’ expectations are shaped by their interactions with eCommerce leaders like Amazon. And central to the Amazon experience is seamlessness.
Download this whitepaper to learn how to take the friction out of your students’ interaction with your institution.