2021 has arrived at long last, and many of us are wondering what the distant, post-COVID future holds for student recruitment.
With a few viable vaccine options but still no clear end in sight, we’ve collectively continued to hedge our bets on all things virtual until a more certain timeline emerges. But just how much of a reversion to the status quo should we anticipate when that day finally dawns?
If these past ten months have taught us anything, it’s how to get comfortable with uncertainty, and how to adapt as needed. That being said, I have a few predictions.
In-person learning over in-person recruiting
In a recent article for Inside Higher Ed, John Kroger projects that COVID-19 won’t “permanently alter or disrupt higher education,” but more universities will permanently offer online courses. He ultimately expects demand for traditional in-person education to bounce back robustly, and I don’t disagree.
In-person learning is invaluable, and it will rebound just as it should. Student recruitment, however, may be a different story.
When US lockdowns first began back in March, universities sprung into action to fulfill the new needs of their scrambling admissions departments. They delivered by beefing up their means of virtual engagement with peer-to-peer chat options, virtual events and more.
In that month alone, Unibuddy saw a 250% increase in our number of live events. By July, that figure was up to an astounding 4682% for the year from 2019. Though this kind of growth is, well… “unprecedented,” I’d argue that the massive push to adopt such efficient features is bound to shift the landscape of higher ed student recruitment in a lasting way.
Virtual events will add value
Through the COVID-19 learning curve, little victories and key insights abound for some university admissions officials.
“Our transition to virtual has given me an opportunity to connect with students in a way I didn’t do prior. Therefore we will keep digital events around no matter what the new normal looks like post-pandemic,” reported Jennifer Spirer, Sr. Associate Director of Admissions and Recruitment at The Information Networking Institute at Carnegie Mellon University.
The hybrid events model is advantageous for several reasons: the unique experience of something totally separate from your in-person events, guaranteed engagement for any prospect seeking it, and the on-demand nature of it all, of course.
We won’t be forced to rely on digital events forever, but blending them with in-person activities may just be the secret sauce that’ll bump your post-COVID recruitment strategy to the next level.
Chat is here to stay post-COVID
Even once prospects can meet student ambassadors in person again, digital communication is likely to remain a useful supplemental tool—and I don’t mean via chatbot.
Peer-to-peer connections that happen online are the way of the post-COVID future because the issue of accessibility is gaining traction.
No matter their schedule, location or socioeconomic background, prospects can have their most specific questions answered in a mere matter of keystrokes, then get on with their day.
But does this quick fix really yield results? Marymount Manhattan College Admissions Counselor John Versaci noted, “One student asked a question, got an answer, and half an hour later they deposited.”
Gen Z has shown us how keen they are to embrace innovation, especially in the tech sphere. It’s in our best interest not to ignore this mounting evidence.