Our Thoughts
Piyuesh Kumar
Drupal Practice Lead - Backend
24 January, 2022 20 MIN READ

21 Must have strategies for your Higher Ed Digital Experience

If you ask a student if they consider themselves a customer of their university, the answer will almost certainly be yes. Students expect a heightened level of service in exchange for their participation. They're used to brands wanting to form and maintain relationships with them, even when there's no monetary incentive. Students understand that they cannot be passive and must take responsibility for their academic performance, but they also expect to be partners in the process rather than subordinates. This calls for a student-first experience. 

 

Community colleges continued to suffer the most, with enrollment dropping by 9.5 percent or 476,000 fewer students

– Forbes

 

Here are a few more insights from Forbes:

  • Public four-year universities were down by 6 percent
  • Private, non-profit institutions saw an 8 percent decrease
  • Private, for-profit schools saw a 1.5 percent drop in enrollment

 

Higher education is undergoing a series of challenges and opportunities that will forever alter the institution’s course. The industry's digital transformation is aided by information technology, which is both driving and enabling. Education refers to digital transformation in higher education as "DX" and defines it as a "cultural, workforce, and technological shift." Trends and changes in technology are driving the Higher Ed industry, allowing for a new approach to everything from digital architectures to how campus leaders interact with higher educational digital ecosystems. These new approaches will create new opportunities and outcomes, such as increased student success, innovative teaching and learning methods, and new research capabilities. The transformation of our core missions will enable, if not necessitate, institutions to create entirely new business models.

Evolving expectations are a significant driver of higher education's digital transformation. Students, in particular, expect a personalized and seamless customer experience. They want a home base for their education, but they also want their institution to access a larger higher education marketplace. They want to be at a competitive advantage when they graduate, which means having job-ready skills and competencies and new and innovative learning opportunities.


Enhancing the Student Experience

University is about the experience and experiences matter

Casting aside the education aspect, which is essential, the university is about the experience, and experiences matter. For some, it goes beyond the fear of missing out; it's why the majority of students choose to live on campus; and it's why teams, societies, and student government play such an important role in university life. Experience is inextricably linked to students’ decisions and their overall university experience.

 

Make it a collaborative approach with the students

Digital transformation improves the student experience academically and how it affects their lives throughout their university life cycle. If you ask the people who will use the product or service, the chances of getting it right will increase. As students are experiencing this firsthand, it is critical to have a student voice on issues that will affect their lives and university experience.

 

Use technology as the enabler

Having a digital-first mindset is a great way to think about how digitalization can enable more incredible things and provide better experiences for digital transformation. Voice assistants, such as Amazon Alexa-enabled devices, are excellent examples of how digitalization can be introduced into student spaces, such as dorm rooms.

 

Adopt an omnichannel approach

As we fixate more on the student experience, adopting an omnichannel approach allows for a seamless experience between those online and in person. It will enable the online to improve the in-person experience and gather feedback at every step. It is becoming clear that a holistic approach is critical to student success. Institutions now have access to new and emerging technologies to help them.

 

How to adapt to ‘digital-first, customer-centric thinking

Undoubtedly, improving the student experience necessitates the collaboration of many roles and stakeholders, and digital is increasingly playing a significant role. Institutions that take a more strategic approach and involve their students in decision-making processes have direct access to their opinions. It can only benefit and improve their service. 

 

Importance of Digital Transformation in Enhancing Higher Ed Digital Experience 

Digital transformation's ultimate goal is to improve customer service and streamline business operations. Here, in higher education, students are the customers. They have several options to select from, including private vs. public schools, online vs. on-campus study, and full-time vs. part-time enrollment.

The National Centre of Education’s statistics shows that post-secondary schools in the United States increased by almost 10% from 2005 to 2016. College and university administrators are attempting to preserve a competitive advantage with the declining percentage of high school graduates. According to Forbes, high school graduates have declined yearly, with no rise expected until 2024. Even though there is less student demand and more learning options, colleges and universities can differentiate themselves and gain a competitive advantage by rethinking their technology and data processes.

 

21 Must-have Strategies for Your Higher Ed Digital Experience

1. Low Code

Universities and colleges have limited budgets, but they must make critical investments to compete for a shrinking pool of students. Traditional options can be both resource and time-intensive. Many schools have an aging portfolio of core enterprise applications such as Student Information Systems, Learning Management Systems, Human Resource/Payroll Systems, and a Finance ERP. To remain competitive and introduce new programs, they must change these systems. Initially, this can be difficult due to the high cost and scarcity of software developers proficient in their respective platforms. However, low code significantly lowers delivery costs.

Most schools have gradually built their workflow automation, using various options such as off-the-shelf software and custom-built solutions. Patches were applied to these applications as their requirements changed over time. As a result, the average student or faculty member interacts with multiple applications while navigating academic and campus life. 

In many cases, this results in a fragmented, discontinuous experience that necessitates reentering data and logging in and out of multiple systems. It can lead to lost productivity, data integrity issues, and an overall negative end-user experience. A low-code platform can serve as the glue that connects various systems in the background while providing end-users with a simple unified front end.

 

2. Multisite governance

A college campus is a microcosm of a larger ecosystem, including many miniature worlds within a unified identity. Besides their main website, most HEIs have several microsites and portals for each program and department. If each department uses a different content management system (CMS), the outcome is hundreds of separate websites with no common identity. Higher education executives want technology that allows for innovation without devolving into chaos. It will enable them to maintain brand consistency and guarantee that the information is accurate and connected with the university's overall mission and values. A unified platform with overarching governance and well-defined roles and duties establish a consistent standard across departments, teams, and campuses.

Using an agile and robust CMS like Drupal reduces confusion and annoyance while allowing users to make their required adjustments. Multisite management technologies enable teams to roll out updates to numerous sites and save time. 

Perhaps, establishing a sense of connection and harmony between the virtual higher education experience and the on-campus experience can also allow students to feel like they aren't losing out on life-changing memories and possibilities.

 

3. Enhance content delivery 

Students no longer communicate with educational institutions solely through traditional websites or in-person tours. They increasingly use mobile devices, tablets, and other technologies to obtain information and interact with colleges. Many students juggle several commitments, like employment or childcare, and they want access to content on the go. 

Students may want to submit an assignment or write a complete essay on their tablet during their daily commute. Universities must ensure that their portals and learning management systems are adaptable enough to support multiple device types and accommodate whatever new technologies arise in the future.

 

4. Providing better skills through digital capability

Digital transformation necessitates the development of new skills and competencies across the institution. Strategic sourcing, contract management, supplier relationship management, user experience and design thinking, product management, and enterprise architecture are just a few of the new technology-related talents in high demand. More developed data skills and the capacity to communicate and partner up will require the whole workforce. 

Human resources professionals and workforce managers will need to improve their talent management and workforce planning skills. All employees will need to learn how to manage, communicate, collaborate, and work efficiently in a hybrid work environment if the institution operates with a hybrid model office and work-from-home model company.

Institutions may be able to violate the ‘iron triangle’ rule, which states that only two of the three desirable outcomes – cost, speed, and quality – can be maximized simultaneously. Systems and data integrations are frequently used in Dx activities, resulting in cheaper pricing and improved services and experiences. 

They can offer a comprehensive picture of students, alumni, personnel, resources, and more to produce positive outcomes. New architectures make data and resources more accessible, allowing for improved insights into institutional products and services and faster and more accurate decisions. These improvements will pave the way for more affordable education, offering students the skills and credentials needed to obtain their chosen employment conveniently.

 

5. Student-first digital transformation

HEIs construct digital environments to fulfill students' needs and assist them in their studies and beyond as their expectations and demands vary. Digital revolution benefits students academically and how technology affects their lives throughout their university careers. Leaving aside the essential educational component, the university is about the experience – and experiences matter.

It's why most students choose to live on campus; it's why sports, societies, and student government play an important role in university life for many. Students' decisions and general university life are heavily influenced by their prior experiences. 

Adopting a digital-first attitude is a beautiful way to consider how technology may enable more incredible things and better experiences for digital transformation. Students must be supported in achieving their goals and ambitions, as mental health can impact their relationships, well-being, and learning and working at university.

 

6. Leverage alumni community groups

Building significant ties with alumni requires the same attentiveness from HEIs. What makes your alumni tick, and what types of information do they want to consume? Knowing the answers to such questions can help personalize your alumni engagement approach for each category and persona. You'll be able to segment your students once you've gathered crucial information about them to speak their language more effectively.

Any brand would find managing a social media strategy difficult. Since monitoring your campaigns’ performance is the only way to identify whether they are successful or not, you'll need a tool that allows you to learn from them consistently. You may start adjusting your alumni engagement plan once you understand where your audience spends their time and what content they appreciate the most.

One example of best practices for alumni involvement could be creating and moderating clubs or communities for graduates, depending on colleges within your university or your overall alumni association. Through these clubs, graduates can connect with people within their discipline or outside who may still have links to enterprises of similar interest. 

Searching for a new job is one of the few things that draws alumni back to their alma mater. While your university's internal database may provide job listings, 79% of today's job seekers use social media to find work. You can work with your career services department to give training sessions and build career groups on LinkedIn.

 

7. Ensure websites are optimized for mobile

Your school's website gives students their first impression. Key conversion points such as ‘apply now’ and ‘contact us’ become considerably more apparent when your website is mobile-optimized and gives a fantastic user experience. According to Pew Research Center, 30% of smartphone owners have used their devices to look up educational content or take online classes.

Students will leave you if you don't have a quick, mobile-friendly website. People expect results quickly – every second matters in the digital age. By chance your site takes longer than four seconds to load, you may lose as much as 40% of your visitors.

Widespread mobile phone usage has also gotten people accustomed to instant gratification. Users will hit the ‘back’ button if your page does not load immediately, navigating them to your competitors' websites in the search results. A customer is always only a few clicks away from abandoning your website. As a result, you must use mobile optimization to nurture conversions and increase brand engagement.

Google’s ever-improving organic search platform favors mobile-friendly websites. It will enable mobile-first indexing for all sites in search by default starting in March 2021. It's worth noting that Google currently uses mobile-first indexing as a ranking component, but this update will have a more significant influence. Thus, if your website is mobile-friendly, has SEO-optimized content, engages consumers, and loads quickly. It will be prioritized in search results. Schools can use increased traffic from mobile optimization to reach their per-cycle enrollment targets.

 

8. Generate high-quality leads with PPC next-gen advertising

Pay-per-click (PPC) services charge advertisers a fee each time a link in one of their advertisements is clicked on online platforms, including search engines. It is a fantastic option for HEIs to buy website hits rather than solely on organic traffic, typically slower. Higher ed institutions may create a large number of high-quality leads in a short time since PPC advertising narrows the target population down by age, interests, demographics, etc.

 

9. Search Engine Optimization 

Google's no-click search increased in 2021, resulting in a drop in organic traffic. Almost two-thirds of Google searches ended with the user not clicking through results (up by 50% in 2019). Come 2022, it is time for higher education marketing teams to collaborate with SEO specialists and develop strategies that focus on creating content that answers high-volume search queries and includes main keywords. Using keyword research and SEO insights to develop new content or enhance current content can help you get featured snippets, rank higher in SERPs, and drive more traffic back to your site.

Increasing student enrollment is usually the primary goal of higher education institutions. However, consider the big picture when building an SEO strategy for colleges because every institution has plans somewhere in the middle of ranking priorities. Most people only think about how to get more students into their schools. However, other crucial considerations must be made before optimizing existing content – whether keywords or phrases will best suit what people want from this site, if you require web pages mainly dedicated to those search terms, etc.

 

10. Increase usage of live video

The sky's the limit when it comes to generating meaningful information with sessions hosted by faculty members, current students, alumni, or the dean. It also communicates a different message about your institution: that you're an HEI that's up to date on technology and willing to engage with students in meaningful, convenient, and relevant ways. This belief is especially true for today's digitally connected generations.

Break up your full-length lecture into smaller videos instead of recording it as a whole. According to TechSmith's survey on video watching in 2016, most individuals like 6–15-minute-long videos. You can create videos based on specific subjects, sections, or other logical subsets of your lecture content. You can even record courses on topics that students seem to struggle with regularly. 

When educators must teach online exclusively, they have to go out of their way to connect with pupils. They can use brief videos to launch e-courses and introduce themselves to students personally. Each unit, or the week's topic, might be presented here to give students an idea of what to expect and establish the groundwork.

 

11. Take PR strategies online

Traditional public relations isn't gone; it's just had a makeover. Some PR principles will never change. Building ties with professors, reporters, and editors is one of them. Professors can provide you with cutting-edge research as well as entertaining quotes or tales. Media personnel are your best bet for getting that research and those stories out to your target audience as news or editorial material – especially when they're about current and sensational themes. 

Another traditional online PR strategy is strategically positioning advertising or content on sites most likely to be viewed by the students or organizations you want to reach. Start with a brand awareness ad introducing your higher ed institution to obtain the best results. Follow up with a retargeting campaign showing new ads to those who clicked on your previous ad.

 

12. Harness the power of influencer marketing

So you thought influencer marketing was solely for makeup and boots? Think again – higher education is a prime candidate for influencer marketing. You'll want to start by looking at your social media platforms and any places where your institution's hashtags appear. Examine people talking about your institution, their reach, and the number of times they have been mentioned. Do you have any questions on how to proceed? Take the assistance of experts – it's worth hiring a digital marketing agency to assist you. Influencer marketing may be incredibly beneficial for HEIs when utilized as a part of a well-thought-out digital marketing strategy.

Create a strong network of people willing to share their post-graduate experiences and opportunities with potential students. You may screen these alumni to ensure that they'll be good spokespersons. Then, allow them to moderate the discussion online so that it's a true reflection of your program. 

Today's millennials trust an influencer on social media over other sources of information by a whopping 52%. Gen Z wants to see the truth from someone they can identify with, not just hear about it from professors or admissions counselors. Because influencer marketing isn't going away anytime soon, now is the time to use it strategically to increase enrollment.

 

13. Responsive ad placements

Responsive advertisements are ad units that scale your campaign's assets to match the different limits of different devices and platforms. You can upload numerous ad formats, headlines, copies, and images when designing responsive advertisements, and Google Display Network will automatically offer a version to match the demands of the user's platform or device. When employing numerous headlines, descriptions, and images with responsive display ads, advertisers receive 10% higher conversions at the same CPA, according to Google's research

Moving from static to responsive ad units resulted in increased impression volume and higher clickthrough rates in our experience executing college enrollment marketing campaigns. Recognizing the performance potential of responsive ad units while planning your display advertising strategy for 2022 could help you generate more relevant leads and boost conversion rates.

 

14. Conversion-driven content 

What is a niche or area of expertise where you have enough knowledge and resources to influence thought or action meaningfully? Utilize your in-house knowledge to find and direct your material. Allow specialists to write if they can or if their byline draws attention, but keep the right to edit carefully for style and consistency. Above all, ensure your content provides value to the user. 

Then decide which method is most effective. Is it a blog, or is it something else entirely? Is this going to be a video show? What is the best use of your resources? What is a reasonable frequency? What kind of content will you plan? How will you assist content creators in ensuring quality, consistency, and timeliness?

 

15. Course offerings

Online education has become quite the buzzword since 2020. It gives students the freedom to study when and how they want. The majority of students have adopted this way of learning. In the meantime, international institutions are already attempting to mitigate the impact of education disruption on people from low-income families who are not tech-savvy.

Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) are low-cost, short-duration courses designed for the general public that can be accessed from anywhere at any time. Over 180 million people learned online in 2020, with 2800 courses, 19 online degrees, and 360 micro-credentials. 

These classes are a fantastic opportunity for students to improve their talents. Learning isn't confined to those who can afford higher education, thanks to the convenience of MOOCs. Apart from the short-duration sessions, which allow students to learn more in less time, this is one of the critical benefits of these courses. 

 

16. Brand awareness 

In the context of higher education marketing, it's difficult to overestimate the significance of brand awareness and equity. The overriding feature differentiating an academic institution from competitors is its brand, including everything from the university motto and crest to design elements, educational programs, and campus identity. In this sense, branding is crucial for higher education marketing initiatives to succeed. 

Consistency is also necessary for maximizing the influence of branding in higher education. At this level, academic institutions must maintain brand consistency across all media and campaigns. Higher education institutions' digital transformation should communicate the same brand across all digital, traditional, social media platforms and other marketing efforts.

 

17. Multichannel social media presence 

According to Hootsuite's annual digital state of the union report, social media has 3.8 billion active users – 49% of the global population. This figure is projected to rise further. Make sure you don't get left behind. 

Imagine a potential communications student, and consider how crucial it is to develop a solid internet profile to draw them in. Why should people consider attending your institution to learn about media best practices if the school itself is behind the times? Meeting your target audience where they are is also a cost-effective and straightforward approach. Creating authentic content (and sharing plenty of user-generated content) is easier than ever, thanks to the popularity of Stories on several platforms and Instagram's recent Reels launch. 

Fit is a crucial concern for students who want to live on campus; on-campus trips often feel scripted. Prospective students want to picture themselves in a dorm room with their buddies, watching a game at the stadium, or getting a cup of coffee in the campus library. Consider more innovative approaches, such as a student social media takeover (which should be approved before being published) to highlight some of these more personal aspects of campus life.

 

18. Engage 24/7 with chatbots

As technology advances, accessibility implies being reachable whenever and however your audience requires you. Do any of your programs cater to professionals looking to advance their careers? Live chat might be impossible at 11 p.m. on a Saturday. However, your target audience is most likely surfing at that time. You still have to provide solutions to their inquiries from a conversion standpoint. 

Chatbots, or virtual chat assistants, are increasing in popularity. Customer service chatbot usage has climbed by 23% in the last three years. For university websites, they're increasingly becoming a must-have. Quick replies to a student's inquiries from your website could mean the difference between making it into their shortlist or not.

 

19. Invest in world-class websites

Your institute's website is a chief component of your enrollment marketing plan. It provides you with a devoted platform for nurturing leads and educating prospective students about your brand, programs, and educational offerings. However, creating a world-class website requires thorough knowledge of your target demographic and implementing an SEO-friendly content marketing plan. 

Having the correct combination of these top-performing content kinds can significantly enhance your website traffic and engagement metrics, especially given the rate at which students consume program-related research content. As a result, your school's brand will get more recognition, authority, and additional enrollment chances. 

Finally, a great user experience makes it easier for future students to find information. That should, of course, be your priority. With the popularity of voice-search functionality in devices like Alexa and Siri on the rise, don't overlook voice search optimization as a way to boost usability and accessibility.

 

20. Create engaging video content 

36% of universities report a dip in campus visit requests. With the number of campus visits and tours projected to fall, video is better to raise brand recognition and engage prospects. The following are examples of possible topics:

  • Responding to the most commonly asked questions at school 
  • Offering student tour guides for mini-tours of the facilities 
  • Tours of the university via video 

Nearly every social media platform features short-form videos, which are more engaging. Over half of the viewers watching short-form videos (under 90 seconds) finish them. 

Consider using short-form channels like TikTok and Instagram to reach prospective students' feeds for awareness and remarketing campaigns in 2022. You can connect these brief videos to longer videos with more information. According to a Hubspot survey, YouTube videos influenced the enrollment choice of 27% of potential teen students. YouTube can increase brand exposure, improve SEO performance, and support other digital marketing activities. 

Long-form video can also be an effective promotion technique on a program level. Having student program ambassadors talk about their experiences or film quick ‘day in the life’ videos can provide prospects with valuable information and improve your brand's overall storytelling. New tools also make it simple to assess your video's effectiveness with audiences before releasing it.

 

21. Create education apps 

Many institutions are developing applications to allow mobile users to access their websites and constructing mobile-friendly websites. Moreover, the apps have functions that aren't available online for laptops or desktops. University apps, for example, frequently incorporate high-resolution visuals. Universities' designs for assisting mobile users in accessing the university website are frequently available for download on the website itself. They are, however, often available for download on third-party websites, too, like App Store and Google Play.

 

Conclusion 

HEIs and educators, besides students, can improve their skills by digitizing the learning experience to establish an active educational process. With online learning, intelligent schooling, student assessments, tailored learning experiences, and online examinations, the digital revolution in education can be implemented in various ways.

QED42 is among the top providers for Design and Drupal globally. Currently, Drupal powers more than 70% of the world’s top higher education institute’s websites including Oxford University, Harvard University, MIT, UCLA, etc. Over the past 11 years, QED42 has worked extensively in the higher education space, focusing on content delivery, portal development, and helping Higher Ed institutes innovate and adapt. Learn more about how we create Digital Experiences for Higher Education Institutes

 

Piyuesh Kumar