How to improve retention and yield during the COVID-19 crisis

Posted: April 30, 2020

Dana Cruikshank

Estimated Reading Time: 5 minutes

An Experience Worth Talking About

Let’s say your school is home to a marquee business professor. She is the author of a best-selling book and has nearly half a million followers on social media. Her TED-talk worthy lectures balance Yoga principles with wartime analogies and satirical wise-cracks, amassing her a considerable fanbase across your campus community. 

Using a flipped classroom model, each video lecture functions as a socratic discussion on real-world topics that were raised by the course material. Students finish each lecture with mantras to live by and ideas ripe for conversation. Her course itself has a long waiting list, and students fall in line early just for the chance to grab a seat. 

Find Opportunities to Connect 

Now, let’s say your school invites prospective students to catch a glimpse of this thought-leader in action. 

You create a flier that positions the event as a can’t-miss virtual learning experience. You send out a Zoom invite to a selected list of aspiring entrepreneurs — that is, those enrollment leads in your CRM who are considering a degree that will give them the skills they need to start a successful business of their own. 

The event itself is a viral success. Attendees flood their social media feeds with the event hashtag, continuing the rich conversations that were sparked during the class itself. Your admissions team is struggling to keep up with new requests for information as prospects pound the door asking how to be part of classes like this. 

The best part? You spent zero dollars on advertising. 

Now Is the Time to Get Creative 

This virtual trial class concept is one of many improvised recruitment marketing tactics that our higher education clients are using. And it speaks to the strategic moral of the story: use what you got. 

COVID-19 has turned the enrollment marketing game upside-down. Stay-at-home orders and travel restrictions have thrown traditional rulebooks out of the proverbial window, making experiences like on-campus tours and recruitment events impossible to pull off. In the midst of these challenges, two priorities bubble to the surface: retention and yield. 

Keep the Students You Have

As society continues to battle through the pandemic at-hand, along with the economic damage left in its wake, students may errantly put their pursuit of a degree on the back-burner. Some will choose to alleviate the financial hardship by jumping straight into the workforce. Others may pivot away from a traditional four-year college experience, opting for accelerated online courses and other low-cost learning alternatives. 

Priorities will get rearranged, and many higher education institutions may experience a drop in enrollment numbers. Despite these antagonizing forces, you are presented with an opportunity to strengthen the relationships you have with your current students through constant and frequent communication

Natural disasters reveal the true nature of who we are. In that same light, the COVID-19 crisis is your chance to reveal and reaffirm to your students who your institution truly is, and more importantly, how you can help them get through these times to achieve their goals for career success in spite of the challenges ahead. 

Ideas for Improving Retention

  • Rethink your messaging strategy. Getting students in the door and keeping them from walking out are two different ballgames. 
  • Build solidarity among current students in the same way you would approach your alumni. 
  • Use your data to understand where the points of stop-out are in the post-enrollment journey. Meet your students there with personalized communication tailored to their needs. 

Transcending the In-Person Element

If retention is priority number one, yield is priority 1A. There is now an even wider gap between the marketing and admissions sides of your house, largely due to the fact that your admissions team is now much more limited in the ways they can support in taking leads to the finish line. 

However, with Generation Z being as technologically savvy as they are, there is an ocean of opportunity to meet prospects in their natural habitat. Challenge your marketing and leadership teams to find new ways to engage them with immersive digital experiences that can substitute for, and even improve, your ability to turn leads into enrolled students. 

We are fortunate to live in a digital era where countless platforms and technologies like Zoom, Instagram Live and other interactive channels have brought the world closer together. Leveraging these tools, you are still just as poised to build strong relationships with your prospects and create the type of personalized, brand-driven experiences that will ultimately influence their enrollment decisions.

Ideas for Improving Yield

  • Invite your prospects to interactive virtual recruitment events and trial courses with your most charismatic professors. 
  • Strengthen your social media strategy and produce the type of content that prospects are searching for to aid in their decision-making. 
  • Create communities of engagement between current and prospective students as an ambassadorial extension of your campus culture. 

Use the Situation to Your Advantage

In the spirit of using what you got, COVID-19 may likely free up extra funds with the postponement or cancellation of major campus events, conferences and other flagship initiatives. 

If possible, advocate for repurposing these idle funds toward long-overdue wishlist projects that will support your retention and yield strategies. Train your in-house team on advanced CRM functionalities. Build an organic content strategy that will drive unpaid traffic to your key program pages. Re-configure your analytics set up to provide you a clearer, data-driven picture on the students’ enrollment journey and inform smarter decisions on where to invest your marketing dollars. 

This “unprecedented” time is just wartime in disguise. And adversity itself has a tradition of bringing forth revolutionary solutions. 

There is a saying in fighting: to change with change is the changeless state. If you can adapt to your surroundings, you’ll thrive.

VisionPoint Marketing has extensive experience in higher education consulting and developing integrated marketing plans for higher ed organizations. If you have questions or want to start a conversation about how we can help – especially in terms of any of the tactical recommendations in this article – please visit our website or reach out to our team. We’re on a mission to help higher ed institutions succeed and find solutions in the face of every crisis and challenge.