Even though technology has played an increasingly important role at universities, just four in ten technology leaders say they believe senior administrators at their institution have made digital transformation a high priority.
According to National education statistics, US enrollment rates have been declining for ten consecutive years. The coronavirus crisis has intensified this decline, also accelerating the digital experience and creating new learning paradigms that are not vanishing with the end of the pandemic.
Universities are now expected to offer an excellent user experience and digital environment in general, additionally to very clear career outcome opportunities. Marketing is a key factor to address these issues. Marketing teams should improve enrollment and attainment numbers and, with the right strategies and institutional support, they can certainly do so.
In 2022, though, higher education marketing is not about discovering the latest flashy marketing tactics, but focusing on deeper changes. Working with different departments and understanding the needs and limitations of the institution as a whole is more important than trendy advertising on Tiktok.
These decisive changes will take the form of setting a transformational Marketing Communications (MarCom) leadership as well as establishing marketing maturity through digital and data strategy.
It’s a high priority to inspect the challenges concerning the digital urgency that tackles all higher ed institutions as well as the credibility loss of universities, frequently associated with their disconnection with the job market.
Here’s how marketing leaders can make a real difference in their organizations, meeting these challenges and leveraging colleges holistically towards a successful future.
The Most Urgent Challenges in Higher Ed That Can’t Be Ignored
There is no way back: the COVID-19 pandemic changed the educational spectrum completely. What was already being announced by the general technological progress has struck higher education institutions like a missile.
The urgent idea of “digital transformation” is an important concept that might guide or hunt universities leaders. A project at Brown University defines it as a “cohesive digital ecosystem that provides” all students and collaborators “with the tools needed to support” university’s operations in an “optimally integrated” way that promotes “data-sharing and efficient maintenance.”
Certainly, many institutions still face obstacles to achieve this ideal and, while they can not fulfill the requirements, they keep losing their credibility among students and other stakeholders. Here are some of the most critical challenges that can’t be ignored.
Student expectation of the digital environment:
According to The Higher Education Digital Experience Report 2022, although every university has rapidly “gone digital” during Covid pandemic, there is still a huge digital experience gap between what students expect and what universities offer.
The research discovered that students require the quality of the digital experience offered by the institution to be as satisfying as that offered in-person. When looking at the ‘complete student journey’ starting from University selection, 50% of the Great State report respondents said that the quality of their university’s digital experience was a fundamental aspect in their choice.
Hybrid and online learning opportunities are also a clear demand of present students and certainly of the ones to come. In a survey developed by Localiq, 54% of the respondents affirmed to be more interested in a hybrid learning experience. Online-only degrees were the second most voted option.
The greater part of today’s students are digital natives and expert digital consumers. They demand a complete digital experience from their universities, not only focused on learning, but that can assist them holistically through the academic years and beyond.
Data collection, hygiene, and use:
Another alarming issue that directly affects enrollment and student satisfaction is whether universities use data to improve the user experience and the institution as a whole. Only 60% of the respondents of Inside Higher Ed’s Survey of Campus Chief Technology affirm their institutions use data effectively to inform important decisions or make data analytics a strategic priority.
The process and use of data can bring to the table two of the most valuable goods of the digital era: customer information and personalized content. Still, universities seem to be reluctant to invest in data integration.
Marketing strategies are almost entirely based on data that show prospects’ and consumers’ activities on websites, social media, and CRM platforms. Without them, it is impossible to achieve the level of personalization that drives customer engagement and, consequently, enrollment and attainment.
As stated in SimpsonScarborough report, most higher education institutions lack a cohesive website and marketing technology strategy. Although MarTech stacks can be extraordinary leverage points, it will be only a glamorous and expensive accessory without data integration.
While in 2017, the reputation of the university was the main factor for students when choosing a school, the Localiq Education report shows that, in 2021, job placement opportunities topped the list of factors. Nowadays, having a diploma, on the other hand, does not mean having a positive career outcome.
“Students face an increasing disconnect between college curricula and the real-world requirements of the modern workplace,” writes Lila Thomas, Chegg’s Director of Social Impact, “In other words, the education sector as a whole has not been listening to what students and graduates need from higher education. This has to change.”
To overcome this lack of graduates with the needed skills, companies are creating their own courses. Microsoft and Linus have teamed up with edX to provide free online training that can be easily updated. Along with it, there is an emergence of courses that are cheaper and more focused on the job market, setting up a new kind of competition against universities.
Many higher education institutions still lag in technological infrastructure in a digital-first world, which not only impacts the learning experience but also compromises career opportunities. All these factors combined have increasingly contributed to the credibility loss of these organizations.
Face The Real Villains And Be Your Institution’s Hero
Higher education institutions have the capacity of transforming their students for the long term, and when they do so, they will last as a priceless reference for the alumni they have supported and encouraged.
When considering their own transformation, universities mustn’t forget they are here to stay and to create life-changing opportunities that will get back to them in the future.
In order for these institutions to increase their enrollment and attainment rates, their marketing teams must carry out customer-centric strategies that will enable their organizations to continually improve over time. For that to happen, they need the right resources, institutional support and the determination to transform.
Transformational MarCom leadership
How does higher ed MarCom evolve from a cost-center to a revenue-driver? That is the essential question raised by SimpsonScarborough’s State of Higher Ed Marketing Study. According to the research, the answer to it is transformational leadership.
Such leaders understand the challenges and goals of the institution as a whole instead of leading a disconnected operation in the marketing department. Although, in order for this to happen, including Lead Marketers in the President’s Cabinet is a key tactic.
Lead marketers holding a cabinet position report having significantly more involvement in strategic discussion than their colleagues without a cabinet seat. There is an opportunity for these leaders to advocate the urgency of cross-campus data strategies and the net impact of marketing’s performance on achieving institutional goals.
A transformational MarCom leader, thus, is adequately resourced, understands the challenges of the higher education industry, has great digital acumen and leads a data-driven marketing organization and performance-focused brand.
Marketing Maturity: Digital & Data strategy
The State of Higher Ed Website & Marketing Technology Report found four aspects that mature martech organizations have in common: they measure; they iterate; they integrate; they report into Central MarCom. Testing, measuring, analyzing and reporting are critical practices that improve resourcing to enable systems of continual assessment.
A vital initiative to leverage a university is to have established key performance indicators (KPIs) for its website. According to the report, martech organizations with KPIs are more than 3x times as likely to be utilizing tools for UX optimization and nearly 60% more likely to use analytics to inform content strategy and development.
The further step is to integrate CRM and CMS. Amplifying connectivity allows for deeper UX optimization and content personalization. Universities that do so are notably more likely to be assessing KPIs correlated to institutional goals rather than just optimizing web performance measures.
As stated by BCG’s Digital Acceleration Index, Higher-education institutions that reach for digital maturity can achieve better results in student success, operational efficiency and innovation in learning. Digital solutions can improve the student journey and establish the university’s credibility.
Making Your University The Dream Of Any Student
A university may play a crucial role in a person’s life. It may enable people to acknowledge and develop their talents, it may truly prepare them for the career they dreamed of, it may empower people to completely change their social and economic status. Higher Ed marketing teams are the ones capable to tune in to this public, inform their needs and expectations to institutional leaders and regularly improve their experience.
Reaching for digital and marketing maturity must be a high priority for higher ed institutions and it is the path to overcome the credibility loss and the enrollment and attainment decline of the industry. The universities adjourning to face this reality will fall off the radar of digital natives and aggravate their own financial crises. For the institutions willing to prioritize these crucial transformations, while solving the recession of their business, they will acquire the know-how needed to offer the best education this and future generations can dream of.
This is an original piece of work from Isadora Bellavinha Maciel, B2B writer. Find Isadora on LinkedIn.