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    Embracing a Student Centric Approach to Higher Education

    Embracing a student centric approach to higher education will help you stand out from competitors and improve your student recruitment and retention metrics
    Last updated:
    July 11, 2023

    Embracing a Student Centric Approach to Higher Education

    The higher education landscape is becoming increasingly competitive, with universities driving more time and resources into attracting and retaining students.

    At this point, higher education institutions have already recognized the key role student-centric marketing can play in their success. A student-centric approach acknowledges that students are not passive recipients but active players in their education; they are individuals who look for personalized experiences and outcomes.

    Personalization is part of the fabric of digital life for consumers. From beauty brands to universities, organizations across every industry go the extra mile to understand their target market’s needs, preferences and aspirations in order to deliver messages, products and services that truly resonate.

    It makes sense that students who have a positive experience of the recruitment and marketing process are more likely to have a better experience of university overall. A university that takes the time to understand and address pain points is more likely to garner higher student satisfaction rates and a better reputation among stakeholders.

    Here are six ways universities can embrace a student centric approach:

    1. Understanding students’ needs

    A successful university marketing strategy is one that listens and learns about the needs of its target audience, and involves students in the process. If someone feels heard and understood, they are much more likely to respond to your call to action.

    To gain a deeper understanding of students’ needs, aspirations and preferences, you should conduct comprehensive market research and engage in dialogue with students to gather insights, and repeat this research cycle every year.

    The following three strategies can help you understand student needs on a deeper level:

    • Surveys and feedback – Conduct surveys with prospects, newly enrolled students, current students and alumni to find out about their experience at each stage of the student lifecycle. Focus on collecting high quality qualitative and quantitative data.
    • Social media listening – Social media listening can help you identify and evaluate, in real time, what is being said about your institution online. Monitor interactions on different platforms to tap into what students are talking about, what they like and what worries them.
    • Persona development – Use the information you garner during the feedback and social listening processes to develop student personas that represent different parts of your target audience. Your personas should be well-informed representations of  your target students.

    2. Personalisation and customisation

    Now that you have placed your students at the centre of your marketing strategy and have an understanding of students’ motivations, challenges and aspirations, you can begin to craft communications and messaging that resonates well.

    The aim here is to move away from a one-size-fits-all approach, and embrace personalization and customization to deliver targeted content and support services to individual students. Here are four ways to start driving results from personalization:

    • Recommendations –  Use personalization tools to suggest programs, resources or experiences based on the individual’s profile – including their academic history and interests. This will help you match students with options that align with their goals.
    • Customized website experience – Did you know there are digital tools out there that enable you to deliver a customized experience to each website visitor? Showing tailored content, such as relevant testimonials and courses, can help drive engagement with your brand…and this could result in better search engine rankings.
    • Workflow email campaigns – Use automation tools and features – such as those included in your online admissions platform – to send timely, personalized emails based on the individual’s stage in the application or enrollment process.
    • Chatbots and virtual assistants – Chatbot technology can provide personalized assistance and guidance to students, and save your department lots of time and resources in the process. They are a particularly useful resource when it comes to frequently asked questions and program recommendations.

    3. Transparency and authenticity

    ‘Transparency’ and ‘authenticity’ have been marketing buzzwords for a while now.

    At a time when content has never been more rife and readily available, there is a marked appetite for genuine and reliable information. What better way to achieve brand authenticity than by sharing the stories of your current students and alumni?

    As consumers, we often rely on peer reviews and advice when making a buying decision, and the same can be leveraged in a higher education context. Amplifying the voices of your student ambassadors can help prospective students envision themselves at your institution, and make the stakeholder feel like their experience is valued too.

    A student ambassador is a voice for your institution; someone who prospective students can go to for information and support. From blogs to vlogs and everything in-between, encourage and support your ambassadors to share their user-generated content (UGC) with you so that you can share it with prospective students to add value and boost engagement.


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    4. Engagement and two way communication

    As part of your student-centric marketing approach, you should strive to create high quality two-way touchpoints, both online and offline. Two-way touchpoints are interactions or platforms that facilitate conversation between the institution and individuals. They encourage dialogue and engagement with a view of enhancing the student experience.

    Here are examples of the most common two-way touchpoints in higher education:

    • With the right approach, social media platforms like TikTok, Instagram, LinkedIn, Facebook and Twitter can easily be leveraged as two-way communication channels. Regularly posting content and updates, engaging with comments and messages and sharing feedback can encourage dialogue.
    • Implementing a Live Chat feature on your website will enable students to have real-time conversations with representatives from your admissions or student services departments. It can be a fast and efficient way of answering questions and providing clarification at different points in the application journey.
    • Virtual events, information sessions and webinars can provide students with the opportunity to meet people and ask questions, regardless of where they live in the world. Virtual sessions like these can be particularly useful and valuable resources for those without the time or funding to travel to campus.
    • That said, don’t underestimate the value of campus events and workshops, which are still very popular. In-person events enable prospective students to ask spontaneous questions and communicate in a more organic way, while gaining a more layered interpretation of what life could be like at your institution.
    • Email is another common communication channel in higher education marketing. Well-planned call-to-actions can encourage students to respond to reply to your email or take the next step in their application journey.

    5. Holistic support and success

    A holistic approach is one that seeks to nurture and maintain in order to develop ongoing communication and build trust. You should be aiming for long-term relationships that result in positive work of mouth referrals and alumni engagement.

    With this in mind, be sure to look beyond engaging students and the application level. A student centric approach provides support and fosters student success throughout the entire journey, including at alumni level.

    This is where Student Journey Mapping can come in handy. Create a student journey map to visualize the student's experience from initial inquiry to enrollment, and beyond. This will help you to identify pain points and opportunities for improvement.

    It is important to collaborate with other departments, such as counselling, academic advising and career services. These services usually have direct communication with students and can provide you with valuable perspectives. To deliver a genuinely student-centric marketing strategy, you must be aware of – and understand how to communicate – your institution’s commitment to student wellbeing and employability.

    6. Measuring impact and continuous improvement

    To ensure the effectiveness of student centric marketing initiatives, institutions must establish KPIs and regularly assess their impact. Utilize the data analytics tools embedded in your online admissions portal to track trends and patterns relating to student engagement and behaviour.

    On a high level, you can track things like enrollment numbers and student retention rates, and compare them to previous academic years.

    However, getting more granular with analytics will enable you to fine-tune your student-centric marketing to get the best results. For example, analyze open and click-through rates on each campaign to find out what kind of messaging works best.

    Tracking enrollment numbers, student satisfaction surveys, retention rates and alumni success stories can provide valuable insights and help refine these initiatives. You can also get more granular by analyzing click through rates to see which call-to-actions generate the most engagement, and where you have the most room for improvement.

    Benchmarking is another useful tactic. Look at what competitor institutions are doing and think about how you can adapt some of their approaches for your audience. Which social media platforms are they using and what are some of their main content themes? Again, pay particular attention to the content that generates the most engagement.

    Maintaining a student-centric approach

    Adopting a student-centric approach to marketing will help you stand out and differentiate your institution from others in what can only be described as a competitive landscape.

    Embracing transparency, personalization and a whole lifecycle approach will enable you to identify and communicate the value you provide to students, and nurture long-lasting, mutually beneficial student communities.

    One of the most important things to prioritize in order to maintain your student-centric approach is being aware of the latest industry trends and tools. Education technology platforms can make it much easier to engage with students and identify their needs.

    What should I do now?

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