Digital Transformation in Higher Ed Marketing to Weather Enrollment Challenges

The promise of a new way of working in admissions and recruitment is on the horizon, waiting to take hold in many colleges across the country. Digital transformation is the buzzword on many lips, yet it is poorly understood. While many institutions have implemented digital tools in their communications, most have not yet fully committed to digital transformation.

The challenging environment for enrollment necessitates using all available tools to reach the best prospective students. With the looming enrollment cliff coming in 2025, it is ever more essential to utilize the personalization and segmentation of marketing that digital transformation promises.

Today’s students have high expectations for exceptional digital engagement, and enrollment departments are the first experience prospects have with your college. Therefore, marketing and recruitment efforts must embrace digital tools, processes, and culture to enroll the technologically sophisticated students of today.

What is Digital Transformation?

Like many concepts, digital transformation is a bit slippery to define. The term is often used when anything technological happens in an organization. Modest initiatives such as shifting to cloud computing are signs that the process has begun, but they are just steps along the way towards the more robust transformation of an institution. We can more appropriately call these steps “digitization” rather than transformation.

While there are many different definitions of digital transformation, common elements are a digital shift in customer experience, business processes, and the organizational model. The changes reflect new expectations from consumers (students, in this case), process overhaul for staff, and foundational change in how the organization sees its role in society.

Has Your School Reached Its Digital Transformation Goals?

Digital transformation is a process with no defined beginning or end. But colleges actively pursuing the goal of transformation will be many steps into the process. Not only are they using digital tools, but they are allowing the organization to change from the core. New relationships are forming between technology and people, shifting what college looks like and how institutions function for students and staff.

Assessing where admissions and marketing fall in the transformation process—and your institution as a whole—can help you position your efforts within the context of the resources and organization-wide implementation available. Digital transformation requires overhauling many parts of the institution–marketing alone cannot make it happen. Yet an honest assessment of your situation can help you to strategize the next steps towards a fuller transition. 

Enrollment Marketing and Digital Transformation

The process of digital transformation is happening in many facets of higher education. Most higher education marketing departments use digital tools like social media, SMS messaging, and PPC ads to reach students. Many also have automated student outreach and communication processes and have begun using data analytics to help target their efforts to potential students and families.

The Covid-19 pandemic sped up the adoption of digital tools, putting many institutions on track to transform operations and culture along with technology. The massive shake-up in higher education helped push the process for admissions departments, and many of the new implementations have proven to be indispensable. Video tours, digitization in applications, more automated communication, and many more examples found a ready audience and met with success. Going forward, recruiters must maintain and update digital resources while bringing back face-to-face interactions that still provide value to prospective students and families.

Working Across the Institution

The mindset shift for admissions professionals is more natural than for other parts of the university, as marketers constantly explore new ways to reach their target audience. However, as we focus on the student’s journey from inquiry to graduation, enrollment professionals are required to collaborate more and more with their colleagues in the academic and service departments of the institution.

Not only does coordination and collaboration between departments help improve the student experience, but it also helps to pay for the tools needed for effective technological implementation. Many tools now exist that can help you to integrate different parts of the student experience into a smooth interface for busy students. In the background, though, this involves investment in technology, training, staff buy-in, and shifts in processes. The cultural shift away from siloed departments is a large part of the transformation experience for higher education institutions.

Next Steps in Digital Transformation for College Enrollment Professionals

The next steps for your department need to reflect your current stage in the process of digital transformation. If you have not fully implemented digital marketing tools, data analytics, and process changes, here are some things to keep in mind:

  • Assess, Then Strategize: Figure out where you stand and order your priorities. Involve other departments and administration personnel in your planning.
  • Omnichannel 24/7 Communication Tools: Students expect communication to be there whenever they need it. Integrating chat, SMS, email, social media, and live options for full coverage is the norm.
  • Data Analysis and Privacy: Be mindful of data privacy and ethical concerns as you implement enrollment automation and AI applications. Use best practices and take careful consideration of students’ sensitivities.
  • Training and Job Shifts: Your plan must include training for employees and the possible changing of job roles and responsibilities. Change is hard, so involve all stakeholders in the process.
  • Collaboration and Integration: Digital transformation is bigger than your department, and you must work well with other internal partners. The culture shift towards collaboration and integration of systems will ultimately benefit students and the university.

Most colleges are overdue for increased digital transformation in communications and marketing. Though the pace of technological change is a challenge to us all, college marketers need to keep up with the expectation and needs of a changing student population. Of course, there is no point where digital transformation is complete, but the incremental improvements of this process will reap big rewards for your enrollment efforts.

If you would like help with digital marketing, we can support the digital transformation of your enrollment efforts. Please contact us for more information.

If you’d like to learn more about how we can help you adapt to the evolving education marketing landscape and ramp up your efforts, please contact us today.


The Prospective Student Journey:

Reaching Traditional College Students

We have identified four specific points in the journey where schools can make small changes that can increase the number of incoming students. Learn how to implement these changes and optimize these opportunities.

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