At a time when the world of higher ed continues to shake, it’s no secret that colleges aren’t just competing with other colleges – they’re competing with alternate forms of education. Today’s prospective students are asking themselves questions such as, “why should I go to a four-year institution when I can go online and get a degree in six months on my own time?”
However, higher ed possesses an extraordinary differentiator which fosters unique student experiences not found in nontraditional alternatives: a sense of community. This crucial element is not only a deciding factor for prospective students enrolling but also the foundation that builds lifelong relationships they’ll want to maintain as alumni.
Unfortunately, many schools miss out on the opportunity to let their communities shine by not offering prospective students a digital reflection of their institution’s brand. In addition, alumni are often forgotten about except when it comes time to ask for donations.
Since the traditional student journey starts as a prospect and ends as an alumnus, building a community that facilitates a sense of value and affinity for your institution throughout the student’s life cycle is what gives you a competitive edge in terms of higher conversions and recruiters.
Here are the four best ways to ensure your community is inclusive of prospects and alumni:
Community Starts With Adoption
Creating a community starts with building a foundation that entices prospects early on so they’ll keep coming back regularly — even as alumni. In order to achieve this, your student portal should provide resources for prospective students at the start of the application process and stay with them throughout their student journey – and on to graduation.
By giving prospects a portal to share information about themselves to then push content relevant to their interests and connect with other like-minded applicants, they’ll perceive it as a valuable tool worth continuing to utilize when they leave your institution.
Furthermore, because they’re already using the portal, it’s a streamlined process of assigning prospects to alumni profiles once they graduate — making it easier to keep them feeling engaged than feeding them a barrage of emails.
Once students see that their portal includes a sense of continuity among the student body and faculty alike, driving adoption through utility results in community growing organically.
Encourage Conversations From Across the Aisle
Students are more likely to believe the word of their peers over what an institution has to tell them. Therefore, it’s crucial to provide prospective students access to alumni and other student ambassadors of various backgrounds. This not only garners trust but creates the best opportunity a school has to convince prospects to enroll there.
For alumni, what better way to gain the best sales reps for your school than by giving them a support system they so desperately desire? These are investments in the form of professional networking events, career services and opportunities to continue education. This makes it significantly easier to maintain relationships rather than rebuild them in the future.
Beat the Community Drum Often
It’s not enough to say that your institution cares about community. Students want you to prove that you care by following your words with action.
For instance, talking points should encapsulate themes of lifelong learning, strong support and what the reciprocity of giving back to the community looks like. Coupling those words with actionable steps that people take notice, such as:
- Segmenting outreach to ensure messages are personalized.
- Keeping a proactive up-to-date database on prospects and alumni to build a better sense of who they are as individuals, offering a personalized experience.
- Providing alumni and prospects with their own groups in the portal to help promote introductions and connections within the safety regulations of your private network.
- Allowing prospects and alumni to provide feedback by keeping open lines of communication.
- Educating faculty and staff about the importance of implementing new systems and practices to increase recruitment and conversion rates.
Bring the Community to Where They Are
In-person campus visits make less sense to prospective students weary of travel costs and the pandemic. Many alumni who have had unfavorable student experiences have little incentive to pay a visit. Institutions that want to remain competitive need more than a website to provide a digital reflection of their institution.
In today’s environment, students come with higher expectations of what investing their time and money will yield. Institutions adapting to time-saving options like placing virtual tours and webinars as accessible resources in the student portal will increase the chances of converting students.
Similarly, creating a platform in your network that combines the look of social media with the ability to engage in content and discussion will give your portal a more intuitive feel – making prospects and alumni come back for more.
No institution can afford not to focus its efforts on enhancing its community to better incorporate prospective students and alumni. Digitizing analog processes isn’t enough. A list of accreditations and accolades isn’t enough. If they are to stand out in an increasingly digital world and leverage community to convert, schools must implement strategies that transform the student experience into something unique to each individual.