69% of admissions officials from community colleges and 55% from private colleges are very concerned about meeting their institutions’ goals for new students. This comes as student enrollment plummets. In 2022, 4 million fewer people in America enrolled at a college than ten years ago, and this trend doesn’t seem to be changing.
As schools come to terms with the new state of student enrollment in higher ed, they’re coming to understand that the old methods of attracting students aren’t enough. Marketing strategies to increase enrollment need to put today’s students at the center. Their needs and expectations have changed, and digital communications such as live chat and bots have become an essential tool in student enrollment.
In this blog, we’ll dig into the state of higher ed admissions today and explore strategies for increasing student enrollment, concentrating on what today’s students want and expect from schools.
On the face of it, the latest enrollment figures paint a bleak picture. Since 2017, total US postsecondary enrollment has fallen every year, resulting in a 9% overall drop. This equates to over 1.09 million less students in higher education today than there were 5 years.
However, as this guide will show, there’s much to be optimistic about. As well as examining the current landscape and key challenges that Admissions face, this guide explores new technologies and recruitment strategies that can enhance every stage of the admissions funnel and increase enrollment.
There are signs that higher education is recovering from the effects of the pandemic and enrollment is stabilizing. In the latest Current Term Enrollment Estimates published by the National Student Clearinghouse, freshmen grew by 9.2% from spring 2022 to spring 2023. This follows an even larger increase the previous year of 10.6%.
However, despite these early signs of improvement, the picture is still tough for higher education admissions. When looking at these figures through a longer-term lens, we see that this recent increase follows several years of greater decline. From 2017-2022, freshmen enrollment dropped by 22% at two-year institutions, 2.9% at four-year public institutions, and 1.8% at private four-year institutions.
Total postsecondary enrollment across all sectors also fell by 0.5% from spring 2022 to spring 2023. It still sits well below pre-pandemic levels, down by around 1.09 million students overall.
The result? Schools are fighting over a reduced pool of potential students and must improve engagement throughout the admissions funnel to succeed.
Find out the figures behind the college enrollment decline, with the latest enrollment data broken down by sector, region, gender, and major.
Across North America, diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) has become a central focus within recruitment as schools strive to ensure equitable admissions policies and practices and try to foster an inclusive educational environment. Recent data suggests that this work is not going to waste, although much more can be done.
The representation of all racial and ethnic groups increased on college campuses between 1980 and 2022, except for the majority group of white students, according to 2022 data from the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES). White students made up almost 84% of the undergraduate population in 1980, but only 54% in 2020. In contrast, the Hispanic and Latino/a population shot up from 4% of the student population in 1980 to just over 20% in 2020, and Asian and Pacific Islander from 2.4% to almost 8%.
However, despite recruitment efforts, there are still significant disparities in enrollment among different groups. For example, when analyzing enrollment by family income, there is a 31%-point gap in college enrollment between 18- to 24-year-olds in the highest and lowest income quartiles.
However, more recently a new and potentially far-reaching policy has begun gaining traction among US colleges and universities – removing compulsory standardized testing in the admissions process. The pros and cons of standardized testing are numerous and varied. Many believe that these tests disproportionately affect underrepresented minority students, and so in their place are adopting a more holistic approach that takes other factors into consideration such as extracurricular activities, community involvement, employment, and family responsibilities According to FairTest’s website, there are 1,843 colleges in the US that offer test-optional or test-free policies.
It is perhaps too early to tell what impact this will have on DEI, but many believe that it could play a significant part in recruitment. According to Bob Schaeffer, executive director of FairTest, colleges that didn’t require standardized tests for students arriving in fall 2021 “generally received more applicants, better academically qualified applicants, and more diverse pools of applicants.”
To help navigate social distancing measures during the COVID-19 pandemic, colleges and universities across the world adopted new digital systems and tools to help them connect with prospective and current students.
While many of these technologies were firmly on recruitment’s radar before the pandemic, the circumstances rapidly accelerated adoption – and they aren’t looking back. While many assumed that the hastily-adopted technologies would be dropped after the pandemic, this has not been the case. Many technologies that were initially seen as ’stop-gap’ solutions during the pandemic have remained because of the clear popularity among students and effectiveness for recruitment.
Digital communication is a key area in this technological adoption as schools embracing it are significantly improving both application and enrollment figures. Rather than relying on in-person fairs and open houses, recruitment are reaching prospective students via virtual events, online resources and on-demand presentations. Alongside this, schools are increasingly expanding their digital communication offering, particularly via live chat, social media, and chatbots.
By transitioning towards online engagement, schools are increasing their reach both domestically and internationally. The popularity of live chat among students, for example, is helping admissions to connect with more prospective students and develop a relationship with 1-1 support. When surveyed on their preferred communication channel, current students voted live chat number one.
To better understand what today’s students look for in higher education institutions, Comm100 ran a prospective student survey. In this report, students studying at higher education institutions across the United States and Canada were asked what matters to them when they are choosing which school to join and how they expect to be engaged.
In this chapter, we’ll look at some of the report’s key insights to reveal what students want and start learning how to increase student enrollment. For a full breakdown of the report’s findings, download the report below.
Discover what prospective students really want during the pre-enrolment phase and how your engagement strategy can sway them into choosing your school.
Asked what matters most to them in support, students chose digital communication above all else. It’s little surprise then that their preferred support channel was overwhelmingly live chat at 38%, followed by email at 27%.
These results demonstrate that to meet the needs of today’s students, colleges and universities must embrace digital channels, and live chat in particular. The reason for live chat’s popularity becomes more apparent as we look at other student insights from the survey.
Having a choice in communications proved very important to students, with 88% agreeing that they want the option of different channels for connecting to their school.
Students want the ability to choose how they reach out. Providing a variety of channel options for students ensures that the majority of student needs are met. Omnichannel platforms allow schools to offer more value in their services by connecting all support channels to deliver excellent service however students choose to reach out. With every channel connected through a single platform, agents can easily respond to messages from one console.
Next to digital communications, speed is tied for the second-most important factor for students in support communications. Asked when they think their school should respond by, 53% of students said that they think their school should respond within an hour.
This desire for timely responses highlights how important support speed is for students today. In recruitment, slow responses can decrease engagement and enrollment. To increase student enrollment, channel options matter, and live chat allows school admissions teams provide quick responses and real-time support.
As much as fast and convenient digital communications matter to students, it’s important that students also feel valued by their school. When asked about personalized support, 92% of students agreed that it’s important to be treated like an individual.
Omnichannel support can provide this personalization by connecting channels together to provide agents with new student insights. By having a complete picture of the student journey, agents can provide the most personal and helpful support possible.
When asked how important they think it is for schools to offer 24/7 support, a nearly unanimous 99% of students agreed that it’s at least somewhat important, with 58% saying that it’s very important. When looking for ways to increase enrollment in college, introducing 24/7 support should be a priority for higher ed admissions.
This survey result shows that students want to receive support on their own terms when it’s needed, at any time of day. The only cost-effective way that schools can offer this kind of around-the-clock support is with a chatbot.
For more information on these survey results, see the full Higher Education Admissions Report – Prospective Student Survey. Otherwise, keep scrolling to learn how to increase college enrollment with proven strategies.
Discover what prospective students really want during the pre-enrolment phase and how your engagement strategy can sway them into choosing your school.
In the last chapter, we saw that today’s students expect fast, digital support across a variety of channels, available whenever they need it, 24/7. In this chapter, we’ll look at the top strategies for increasing student enrollment in higher education, using their preferred digital channels and technologies:
If you’d like to dig deeper into this topic, check out this blog on strategic enrollment management that gives even more insight into boosting enrollment.
Students prefer live chat over any other channel for support. Why? Because live chat is fast and convenient, allowing students to quickly ask questions and get answers in real time. Students don’t want to sit on hold or wait for an email response.
Live chat is also familiar to Gen Z students that have grown up surrounded by technology. Gen Z spend 74% of their time online, meaning that using messaging apps for communication is commonplace, and live chat is a natural extension of that.
“Live chat is the perfect connection tool for our university. We’ve seen that our students now more than ever would rather chat to us online than come and visit us face-to-face or call. With live chat, we can connect with students that we simply wouldn’t have been able to and make sure that we are there for them when they need support.”
– Sue Rolland, General Manager, Deakin University’s Student Association
Colleges and universities can also introduce additional tools like a knowledge base and AI-powered agent assist to make live chat even faster and more efficient. These tools help agents find and provide answers quickly, without having to switch screens or leave the live chat console. They also reduce typing time and errors, making agent responses quicker and more accurate. With these tools, live chat becomes the ultimate support channel for students who value speed and convenience. The bottom line – if you’re looking into strategies for increasing student enrollment, then live chat should be at the top of your list.
We know that live chat is the channel most preferred by students, but most schools can’t afford to offer this service around the clock. With colleges stretched for resources, how can they provide help for students outside normal business hours and improve availability to increase student enrollment?
The solution to providing cost effective, 24/7 chat support is with chatbots powered by AI. Compared to standard chatbots, AI chatbots can handle more complex and varied questions. These chatbots can take over when your team is offline and answer 80% or more of queries without any human intervention. In higher ed admissions, around the clock availability is especially useful for engaging international students in other time zones.
During times when agents are available, chatbots reduce waits and shorten queues by answering common questions that allow agents to focus on more complex requests and tasks. Unlike human agents, a single chatbot can handle unlimited chats at once while providing faster responses.
When a question requires a human touch, chatbots save time by gathering basic details from students before passing them to an agent. With this added insight, agents spend less time asking clarifying questions and more time helping students.
Best of all, 95% of students that we surveyed said that they’re at least somewhat open to receiving support from a chatbot. As newer generations of students are more comfortable with technology than ever before, chatbots have become a preferred channel for students to self-serve. If you’re asking how to increase college enrollment, chatbots may well be the answer.
When asking how to increase college enrollment, you must begin by asking what students want. Today’s students use a variety of apps and channels and so want support to reflect this.
To increase enrollment, schools must provide support across a range of channels, and omnichannel technology is the only way that this can be delivered efficiently and cost-effectively. can deliver the seamless experience that students expect. Omnichannel software allows students to connect to their school using their channel of choice, and then switch to another channel and seamlessly continue the conversation. For example, a student can begin a chat with live chat on their school’s website and then move to a social platform like Facebook Messenger without needing to repeat themselves.
Omnichannel also allows agents to manage every channel from a single unified console. This allows agents to work faster and more efficiently, as they can access all of a student’s information and history without needing to switch applications or screens.
“Everybody has their preferred way of communicating. Some people want to reach out via live chat, some social media, and others via email. The beauty of Comm100 is that every channel can be connected into one platform so we can connect with and support more students, more efficiently.”
– Lachlan Todd, Communications & Systems Coordinator, Thompson Rivers University
By offering omnichannel, schools can more easily support all their students’ preferred channels. This allows schools to be more agile in their support capabilities, providing support from Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, WeChat, WhatsApp, and any other platforms that may emerge. By unifying the experience across all these channels, omnichannel also enables a highly personalized experience, which we’ll look at in the next point.
74% of Gen Z say that they “prefer personalized products or services.” Omnichannel creates new opportunities for personalized support by combining every channel through a unified agent console. With more information available about students, agents can provide more helpful support that demonstrates an understanding of students and their needs.
“Providing personal and genuine support to our students is really important to us. We want all of our students to feel that we care about them as individuals and Comm100 Live Chat lets us do just that. The people we speak to on live chat also really enjoy the more casual and colloquial nature of the support, which helps us to build relationships while still being informative and helpful.”
– Alison Caruso, Manager of Student Recruitment at Cambrian College
Omnichannel support enables past chat transcripts to be accessible across every support channel, providing insight into the entire student journey. Using just a click, agents can easily switch between live chat, email, social media, and SMS support. This seamless experience allows students to feel treated like an individual, all while making the agent experience more effortless.
Knowing how to increase college enrollment comes down to adopting modern technologies that meet the needs of today’s students. By introducing digital channels that students want to connect with, schools can see improvements to student engagement that can increase student enrollment.
To learn how you can engage with more prospective students and discover strategies for increasing student enrollment, download our report – Higher Education Admissions Report – Prospective Student Survey.
There’s a lot more where this came from!
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Kate is the Content Marketing Specialist at Comm100. She has extensive experience in content creation for technology companies across the world, including the UK, Australia and Canada. She specializes in B2B messaging, branding and soccer trivia.