How to convert more Applicants into enrolled Students

    Top 10 Challenges in Higher Education Management and How Full Fabric Addresses Them

    Last updated:
    April 5, 2024

    The landscape for universities and higher education is changing every year. In many ways this is a good thing, but it also creates new challenges and it becomes increasingly difficult to keep up.

    And in such a competitive market, universities need to keep up.

    From higher student standards to outdated technology, you need to find a way to overcome these challenges and stay relevant. But before you can solve these challenges, you need to first understand exactly what they are.

    By the end of this post you’ll have a better understanding of the challenges you do and will face, and have the knowledge to start making a plan of action.

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    1 - Enrollment Management and student retention

    Even if your university is managing to attract plenty of qualified students, you still have a challenge when it comes to managing the enrollments and retaining those students. 

    With traditional methods, enrollment can be a slow and resource-heavy process for the staff, and sometimes even the students. And once they’re enrolled, it can be tricky to identify students at risk of dropping out.

    Using world-class tools for your enrollment management makes it easy to enrol students at scale. This includes prospect management, virtual tours, and application management.

    This can also help with retaining students, as Full Fabric gives you an early warning system to identify students at risk of dropping out. You can also use surveys, polls, and forums to gather student feedback and foster a sense of community.

    2 - Students have higher standards

    There’s no escaping it, students simply expect more from a university than they used to. Their standards have gone up over the last ten or so years, and it’s hard to argue that’s not a good thing.

    Students are putting their lives, education, and careers in the hands of universities. And as consumers, they’re used to a higher level of service and technology. So why shouldn’t they expect the same from their education provider?

    It's no longer acceptable to send an email to a university and have to wait five days for a response (if they get a response at all). They expect a quick response, and they expect someone to answer the phone when they call.

    If they can’t get the information they’re looking for quickly, they’ll just move on to a competitor.

    The way to address this challenge is by updating your processes, and changing how you communicate with current and prospective students.

    You need to stop looking at students as just people who will come to you to learn. They’re more than that, they’re customers you need to nurture and market to.

    3 - More competition

    Competition is a huge challenge you need to be aware of, and not just because there are more universities than there’s ever been.

    There are more alternatives in general than there’s ever been before. You’re now competing with bootcamps, micro-credentials, professional certifications, and a huge swathe of online training providers.

    Prospective students are now comparing you to other universities as well as LinkedIn Learning, SkillShare, Udemy, and hundreds of other training providers.

    These alternatives might not offer the same type of service and experience, but they’re fragmenting the market and contributing to a decline in enrollment.

    So you need to find ways to compete with these alternative methods, as well as other universities.

    This isn’t as simple as trying to match every competitor like-for-like. You need to take a holistic view of what you currently offer, and identify areas you can tweak and change to appeal to what students are looking for.

    Speaking of which…

    4 - Focus shifting from degrees to ‘experiences’

    Previously, the way to compete with other universities was by presenting yourself as “better” than your competition. This could be better professors, better facilities, better ranking position, or higher average grades, etc.

    But that’s not what most students are looking for nowadays. Now, they see university as an experience, not just a place to learn.

    This is a huge shift, and creates huge pressure for universities to change not just how they run their institutions, but also how they market them.

    But while this is a challenge, it’s also a huge opportunity for the education providers that embrace the change and focus on delivering these experiences.

    In order to change how you’re perceived, you need to change the way you communicate with your prospective, current, and past students.

    You do this by focusing on the experience when marketing the university, not just the branding. By actively working on leads to bring more quality students to your university, and looking at new pricing models such as subscription-based.

    It’s about providing lifetime value, rather than focusing on short-term profit margins. This is how you nurture long-term relationships with your students, and give your reputation a much-needed boost.

    Related: Elevating the Applicant Experience at IÉSEG School of Management

    5 - Embracing technology and digital transformation

    Another huge challenge for universities and higher education is with the technology they use.

    Most universities’ infrastructure is plagued with ancient tools and tech, limiting what they can offer their students.

    ​​This puts them at a massive disadvantage and plays into the hands of competitors that do offer online programs. This has become especially important since the pandemic, and this expectation is never going away.

    These limitations also affect how you communicate with your students.

    Without the right tools, it becomes so much harder to stay in touch and foster relationships with both prospective and existing students.

    You should be looking for better tools to modernise the way you track your student relationships, enrol new students, and communicate as an education provider.

    6 - Building relationships with students

    The 4 entries so far all have one thing in common — they are all key parts of building lasting relationships with your students. 

    You do this by providing excellent communication and service at every stage in the student journey with your university.

    You need to track leads in a CRM and have modern landing pages and forms to capture their information. You also need to be organising events to bring people together and build a community under your banner.

    Improving how you communicate and respond to students with workflows and automation will also make a huge difference. As will sending tailored and personalised emails to students to keep them engaged and up-to-date on everything you’re doing.

    You’re not going to achieve this overnight, but by making small changes across all of these areas will quickly make a huge difference. Using a specialist higher education tool like Full Fabric will also help you get there much quicker. 

    7 - Decreased public funding

    Decreasing public funding squeezes higher education institutions like a vice. And with less money, universities struggle to offer quality education at affordable prices.

    The pressure often leads to increased tuition fees, further burdening students and exacerbating social inequalities. Ultimately, decreased public funding threatens the very mission of higher education: creating an accessible, well-rounded, and impactful learning experience for all.

    But there are a few things you can do to address this.

    By improving your efficiency, you can save time and resources, freeing up funds for other areas. You can do this by streamlining the student recruitment and enrollment process, and by centralising your data into one CRM.

    You can also enhance your fundraising efforts to bring more money into the institution. This is done by sending targeted emails to students and alumni, and putting on more fundraising events and campaigns.

    8 - Rising costs of education

    As we’ve already touched on, it’s increasingly difficult to offer education at affordable prices. Decreased public spending, increased operational costs, and limited scholarship funding are all making it difficult for institutions to offer competitive pricing.

    We’ve already talked about ways to reduce your spending with efficiencies, but there’s another way you can address the rising costs. 

    This is by adopting new and varied business models for your university. This could be in the form of new pricing structures (such as subscription-based), or even offering alternative forms of education.

    This could be things like offering micro-credentials and online learning, opening your institution up to a whole new range of potential students.

    This is beneficial to you because it’s cheap to deliver, and great for students because the programs are more affordable and accessible than traditional degrees. 

    9 - Faculty recruitment and workload

    Just like there is high competition for quality students, the same is true for recruiting talented employees. Top faculty are in high demand, which makes it tricky to attract and retain.

    The key to attracting the best talent, though, is to make your current employees' work lives as good as possible. Which can be tricky if they’ve got an endless workload to worry about. 

    Removing as much friction from your process as possible can make their lives much easier. This can be as simple as digitising your processes and bringing them under one tool like Full Fabric. 

    The happier your existing team is, the more likely you’ll attract other fantastic employees.

    Related: How an integrated admissions and CRM platform can transform the student recruitment process

    10 - Inclusion and diversity

    Universities face a complex challenge in achieving inclusion and diversity. While representation matters, true inclusivity extends beyond demographics. 

    Socioeconomic barriers, lack of support systems, and unconscious biases create obstacles for marginalised groups, and universities must address these challenges systematically.

    This is only possible by modernising your recruitment processes, so you’re able to identify underrepresented groups and provide personalised communication. Universities also need to analyse their existing student data to identify areas that need improvement.

    It’s also important to ensure students from underrepresented groups feel supported throughout their study. Building inclusive communities and holding events are both great ways to do this.


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    Tania Roquette

    I am the Head of Solutions at FULL FABRIC. I am passionate about education and technology.

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