How to convert more Applicants into enrolled Students

    Leading universities through change in today’s digital world

    Learn how to lead your university through change in today’s digital world, while attracting and retaining students and employees
    Last updated:
    February 15, 2024

    In today’s fast-paced and ever-evolving online landscape, it’s never been more important for higher education institutions to position themselves at the forefront of digital innovation and change. Technological advancements are disrupting both learning and operational models, and there are a multitude of opportunities to leverage.

    As digital integration and delivery becomes the norm, universities must focus on their pedagogical, infrastructural and cultural transformation strategies. In this article, we’ll explore how universities can navigate digital change, and how university leaders can use new and evolving technologies to enhance both the student and employee experience.

    Focusing on the student experience

    It always comes back to the student experience.

    The student experience should be at the heart of any digital transformation strategy. The student experience refers to the entire student journey, from the moment an individual shows their interest, through to application, enrollment, study, graduation and beyond. The student experience includes everything from the recruitment and admissions process, financial aid and enrollment support, degree planning and student advising, the actual learning as well as the formal and informal learning spaces whether it’s on campus or online. After graduation, the placement and career management and alumni experience will continue to be a big part of the student experience and impact the way students feel about their learning experience.  

    Universities should be constantly improving the student experience and consider factors such as curriculum innovation, technology integration, student engagement, mental health support, inclusivity, faculty development, learning spaces and facilities (online and on-campus) and student feedback mechanisms adapting the student experience to evolving learning styles and addressing students needs will continue to be crucial.

    Driving digital transformation

    Embracing technology and digital transformation is vital for universities who want to stay competitive. Today’s students expect their educational institutions to deliver a digital experience from the moment they reach out – paper processes are no longer fit for purpose. This extends to the classroom, with multimodal learning, virtual classrooms and online courses making higher education more accessible for a wider range of learners.

    Collaboration should be at the forefront of your digital transformation strategy. Partnering with other organizations and businesses can help you set your plans in motion, boost your academic reputation and leverage more opportunities for growth.

    Recently, the Hartree Centre awarded £4.5 million to Cardiff University, Ulster University, and Newcastle University to become regional digital transformation hubs for small-and medium-sized businesses (SMEs). These universities will utilize their expertise and industry engagement experience to facilitate the exchange of knowledge into UK businesses.

    Enhancing administrative efficiency

    In today’s higher educational settings it’s important for departments to be able to collaborate, share information and have a bird’s eye view of the student journey. Departmental silos exacerbated by outdated systems act as roadblocks that impede change.

    Without the right administrative technology in place, it’s hard to evolve as an institution. (For instance, you might lack departmental synergy if different teams are relying on disparate systems that don’t integrate with each other.)

    However, digital tools such as Customer Relationship Management (CRM), Admissions and Enrollment Platforms and Student Information Systems (SIS), together with other cloud-based solutions, can streamline tasks, facilitate collaboration between teams and contribute to better service delivery, improved student experiences, and cost savings for the institution.

    The benefits of implementing a CRM for higher education:

    • Personalized communications: As well as being able to collaborate more effectively across teams, a unified CRM will enable you to easily collect and manage student data, and boost engagement by customizing messages based on variables such as their academic progress, interests and geographical location.
    • Streamlined admissions: When it comes to online processes, simpler is often better - a CRM enables your students to apply, track their application status and receive updates in one place (their customized online portal)
    • Academic mentorship/advising: Academic advisors can log in to access student profiles, including information on academic progress and career ambitions. This enables advisors to give more informed academic and career advice to individuals.
    • Better student support: Integration of functionalities facilitates the centralization of student support services, including counseling and financial aid, helping to ensure that every student receives a consistent service throughout the lifecycle.
    • Effective communications: CRMs also include communication modes, such as email, Live Chat and SMS, providing students with a variety of ways to reach out, depending on their preferences.
    • Early interventions: Timely access to data and analytics means that universities can identify any students who might be struggling, and reach out to provide support.
    • Reduced administration: CRMs take the administrative burden off admissions staff, enabling them to focus on more strategic tasks. For example, a CRM simplifies and automates many aspects of the application process for students and staff.
    • Accessibility: A CRM can be used to provide students with access to online resources and platforms to support multimodal and independent learning.
    • Alumni engagement: A CRM can also be used to store and manage data on alumni, enabling you to keep in touch with former students and grow an engaged network of graduates.
    • Data-driven decisions: Reporting and analytics functions will enable you and your teams to make more data-driven decisions, identify trends relating to student behaviors and spot areas for improvement in your student experience offering.

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    Embracing lifelong learning

    As we’re all aware, the digital landscape is changing rapidly with new technologies emerging and evolving every day. Lifelong learning is an essential skill that will enable university students and staff to adapt and thrive in their roles in the long-term.

    Speaking with Times Higher Education, Bhavin Bhagalia, EMEA partnerships director at Coursera, said “graduates will see somewhere between five and seven careers in their lives so having a kind of narrow band of learning no longer works. The old model of graduating from university, taking those skills and getting a job no longer fits. You have to be mindful and cognisant of the need for lifelong learning and continuous professional development.”

    Today’s students and staff need to prepare for and embrace continuous upskilling and lifelong learning. Universities can help to meet the need for upskilling and foster a culture of lifelong learning by providing accessible online courses, workshops and development programs for students, staff – and alumni, who will become more connected (or reconnected) with your university, and thus more likely to support it.

    As well as making sure that stakeholders are equipped with relevant skills, promoting lifelong learning will pave the way for innovation and creativity in research and problem solving at your institution.

    Students and staff are likely to become more motivated and confident when it comes to exploring new ideas and collaborating across subjects, resulting in new developments and discoveries. Creating a space where learning and creativity is outwardly celebrated could also strengthen your ability to attract and retain the best talent.

    Prioritizing cybersecurity and data privacy

    Although digital innovation opens up opportunities for change, it’s important to prioritize cybersecurity and data privacy along the way. After all, universities handle large amounts of sensitive data about students, staff and research, so robust measures are crucial.

    To maintain stakeholders’ trust and safeguard information, it’s also critical to work with vendors and partners who have robust data protection and privacy measures.

    Data privacy regulations are always subject to change and vary in different countries, so it’s important to research and verify your institution's requirements. As well as data processing, you may have additional laws and regulations to meet and consider when undergoing digital or operational change, such as those relating to intellectual property.

    One example of a data protection regulation is the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), a comprehensive data protection regulation that governs the processing of personal data of European Union (EU) and European Economic Area (EEA) residents. GDPR came into force in May 2018.

    Another example is the California Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA). Applying to higher education institutions in California – or those dealing with the personal data of California residents – the CCPA grants certain privacy rights to California consumers.

    By focusing on the student experience, driving digital transformation, enhancing administrative efficiency, embracing lifelong learning and prioritizing cybersecurity and data privacy, universities have the power to shape and drive change in higher education.

    It’s easier to instigate change in a space that invests in innovation and embraces technology for organizational efficiency. Adopting an all-in-one CRM or integrating your existing systems can take the administrative pressure of employees while improving the student experience – both of which will help set you up for change and success in today’s digital world.

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