There is no denying the challenges many institutions have faced during the COVID-19 pandemic. Higher education experienced an accelerated growth of already-ongoing trends, such as test-optional admissions, value-forward marketing, and outcomes-driven decisions by consumers. Looking past the Fall 2021 enrollment cycle, colleges and universities have an unparalleled opportunity to expand on certain policies and practices implemented due to the pandemic. In fact, we firmly believe that with the right planning, institutions can not only survive—but thrive—long beyond the pandemic.

Here are a few key things enrollment managers like yourself should keep in mind when planning for the long term:

1. Continually innovate ways to identify new leads

In the last year, the shift in test requirements for admission and test-source list availability left many schools scrambling to supplement their normal name purchasing strategy. It will be imperative to expand and pioneer ways in which you build your enrollment funnel with sources outside of the typical name buy.

To get started, meet students where they are—online. Digital media lead-gen campaigns and influencer marketing are both great ways to capture new leads.

2. Promote contemporary career-focused programs

Capitalize on what’s hot. Pandemic-driven lockdown inspired many to explore ways in which they could help not only our first responders, but also help our world overcome the challenge we were collectively facing. This movement really resonated with Gen Z students, who have been described as “highly focused on having a positive impact on the world, which may be even more important than their jobs,” to shift their major and explore new careers in areas such as health care, nursing, public health, even politics. Many are even returning to school for a second degree in those disciplines.

To tap into this movement, try creating a multi-media and dynamic recruitment plan for trending careers. Utilize student outcomes stories and highlight job placements to connect with prospective students through storytelling. Make it clear how the degree programs you’re highlighting provided these individuals the credentials and experience to make an impact in their area of focus.

3. Keep your delivery formats nimble

After a year of hybrid or online learning, students expect institutions to implement virtual delivery formats seamlessly. At the same time, many students are itching to be in person on the campuses they love. When planning for your new normal, make sure you know your specific audiences and have the data to understand which learning methods they desire so you can meet their needs.

4. Don’t completely shift back to “what we used to do”

When the world shut down, so did all traditional recruitment tactics such as travel, campus events, etc. (all of which can carry a pretty hefty price tag). To compensate and carry our institutions over the Fall 2021 recruitment finish line, most enrollment managers reallocated their budgets and invested in non-traditional tactics such as ramped up digital media efforts, unconventional mailing touchpoints, and list buys from newly identified sources.

Now, as the world starts to shift back to a bit of normalcy and traditional recruitment activities resume, be sure to analyze the effectiveness of those non-traditional survival tactics and think twice before jettisoning them for the sake of regaining your travel budget. Leverage performance analytics and showcase the ROI they provided during a time of uncertainty and advocate for additional budget, if needed. In your effort to thrive, consider maintaining a mixed approach of traditional recruitment efforts and your most successful “survival tactics.”

Let's Plan Together

As your enrollment strategy and marketing partners, all of us at Spark451 are here to help you determine specific tactics that will keep your enrollment funnel full of qualified students for years to come.

Reach out so we can discuss specific ways your institution can prepare for the post-COVID recruitment era.