April 30, 2019 UX Best Practices

The Importance of Digital Story Telling in Successful Higher EDU Recruitment

By: Carlos Alcala
A recent survey of admission directors revealed a growing concern about the image of higher education, the declining value perception of pursuing advanced education, and the shrinking pool of prospective college students.

Close to nine in ten say higher education needs to do a better job explaining the value of earning a college degree, while two-thirds believe media reports of college graduates struggling to find adequate employment in their chosen field. They believe these factors along with the reality of accumulating astronomical student debt are discouraging students from considering higher education. In addition, the survey showed that eight in ten admissions directors-and an even greater proportion at private institutions-say their colleges are losing potential applicants who want to avoid student loan debt.

Interestingly, the survey also revealed that admissions directors are largely satisfied with their own institution’s efforts in Customer Relationship Management (CRM) for admissions and their associated marketing strategies. What I find interesting about this data, is that those who voiced concern over the significant lack of value perception of a college degree, are the same individuals who are satisfied with their own institution’s marketing and messaging efforts. This leads me to conclude that a misconception, or perhaps a gap in understanding the ownership, place and purpose of digital story telling exist amongst higher EDU institutions, whose job it is to engage the prospective students and their parents.

Title IV of the Education Act has contributed to many institutions being apprehensive, cautious and perhaps avoiding value-based conversations all together in their storytelling. However, this presents a problem for recruiting efforts as data concludes that prospective students and their parents are seeking this value story content quickly, and contextually at the digital properties of each school in their consideration set. This is where they expect to find it.

In fact, our data as well as a recent usability study of higher education prospects (18-25 years of age) revealed changes in behaviors that constitute critical success factors for digital prospecting including:
  • Their heavy reliance on search.
  • Their dislike of animation and sound effects.
  • Their desire for quick access to answers and reduced patience for complicated interactions
  • They are easily distracted.
  • Trust is challenging to establish as they are very critical of any content that lacks authenticity.
In addition, we are finding shifting digital behaviors and expectations demonstrated among candidates of Graduate programs, which include:
  • Interactivity such as comparison tools, calculators, configurators and video content is appreciated and engaged only when it serves a purpose and contextually supports their current task.
  • They are highly sensitive to tone in messaging and imagery.
  • They prefer content that is easy to scan, accommodating quick eye-tracking behavior, with longer form content provided as support.
Our experience in supporting Higher EDU institutions’ digital recruiting and marketing over the past 20 years has revealed that each and every school has a unique story to tell. They each have their UVP, their purpose and why they should matter to the prospective student, parent, and other personas including donors and alumni. This content needs to be articulated and displayed throughout the prospects’ digital journeys and experiences contextually and within a tested, optimized user experience. When this approach and perspective is employed, we see our EDU clients achieve measureable engagement lift as well as increased enrollment.
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