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Three Trends Shaking Up Admissions

Admissions departments must adapt to meet the changing needs and expectations of students
University Business, August 2013

Non-traditional learners, the move away from education based on ‘seat time’ and the increase of students who expect options from their institution are all shaping the way admissions offices find and recruit students. This web seminar, originally broadcast on June 25, 2013, featured experts from Blackboard Education Services, who discussed these trends, as well as best practices and strategies admissions staff can employ to meet the challenges of this new era.

Senior Director of Financial Aid Solutions
Blackboard Education Services

There are three meta-trends in higher education that are shaping best practices in admissions. The first is the increase of non-traditional learners. In the mid- to late-1990’s, there was a split of about 90 percent traditional and 10 percent non-traditional students. That small percentage drove and funded the growth of for-profit institutions; these students typically attended school at night. Today, we think that split is at 70 percent traditional and 30 percent non-traditional.

This growing population of non-traditional students needs a new service model. Some will never set foot on their campus before completing their requirements. Many higher ed experts are saying that by 2020, that 90/10 split from the 1990s will completely flip and 90 percent of students will be non-traditional. That doesn’t mean that 90 percent of your students will not be present on campus. “Non-traditional” refers to what students are thinking, how they look at choice, and how they’re approaching their educational goals.

The second trend is composed of two parts:

  • The rise in student expectations
  • The rise of consumerism in students today

Many think millennial students are responsible for the rise in expectations and consumerism. While they certainly play a role, all of us, regardless of the type of service, have high expectations. What we’re seeing now is a very large and powerful group in the millennial generation. These students are very unique. Their desires and needs are also driving the non-traditional middle age students who are looking at going back to school. The millennials are driving those older students’ expectations up. They are the largest single group of students since the baby boomers and they have grown up their entire lives with choice. That sounds like a simple concept, but many of us have never had the amount of choices they have had concerning where to go to school, what degree to earn, and what career to choose. They are used to choices and demand that those choices be presented to them and not made for them.

We are all resistant to marketing today. It is easy for us to detect and be suspicious of a sales pitch. So millennials and this growing group of non-traditional students are looking for authenticity. The authentic approach of saying, “here is what is being offered,” with both the positive and negative being presented, is what people want today. Students today also expect messages to be personal, and customized to their individual needs. If it isn’t, we will immediately reject that message, even if the message is powerful and engaging. What is also interesting is that concept of impatience. All of us desire immediacy. Now is good, later is bad. Students are saying they want to chose the where, how, and when of their education.

This is an interesting dynamic that is new to higher education. Students want to come to an institution with an amalgamation of credits that may come from three or four different institutions. The students then want their new institution to accept these credits and build them into a unique path. They want their past credits to count and be part of their continued learning experience. The key with the consumerism movement is that it’s being driven by choice. The first level of choice is “count my previous history.” The second level concerns the fact that many students may not be seeking rigid degrees any longer. In this consumerism-focused world, students will say they want to skip certain requirements. While these things may sound disturbing, the student is driving where education is going. They are driving it by the choices they have; they are insisting on choices and will ignore institutions that will not give them choices.

The third trend is the movement toward competency-based education, or moving away from “seat time” education. Students will come in and say they want credit for previous work experience or time in the military. We are moving away from the concept of needing to be present, in a seat, and in a lecture hall to learn and pursue a degree. Students are thinking that a classroom-based degree is not as critical. Employers are beginning to demand more specific, experience-based certificates rather than broad degrees. As most students value degrees as means to the end goal of getting a job, the focus now is on learning the skills that are usable in the job market, rather than degree acquisition.

Senior Director, Enrollment Solutions
Management Blackboard Education Services

The first trend we see is that schools that are struggling with their admissions tend to make very quick investments in their marketing plans. They believe the best way to get more students is by spending a lot of money in marketing. However, what’s really important is making sure you’re seeking balance in your marketing and recruiting efforts. Marketing money that’s spent without additional resources allocated to recruitment is money that is wasted. You can generate interest and inquiries, but then what is the point if you do not have anyone around to answer the phones? Have you invested in staff training? Does everyone understand how to have the best conversations with prospective students? Does everyone feel empowered to lead the admissions process? Have you looked at your hours of operation?

This can be a very easy opportunity for schools to bulk up recruitment efforts. Non-traditional learners will respond to marketing when they have time—be it during a lunch break, the evening, or on the weekends. Are you staffed at those hours? So when someone sees that online ad at 8 pm and is ready to move forward, is there someone there on the recruiting end to engage them via chat or phone right in that moment? Do you have the right CRM and tools in place? Do you have systems that enable you to track the activities your team and applicants are doing? Do you have the right visibility into those processes? Do you have the right contact strategy?

There has been a lot of buzz about the optimal contact strategy when dealing with prospective and enrolled students. What is too much, what is too little? The key with CRM is to simplify. Many schools have over-complicated processes by tracking too many phases and stages. Admissions departments are not focused on tracking the key milestones throughout the application process. Your CRM is really the map that brings together your marketing efforts, your enrollment outcomes, and everything in between. It’s going to give you the right visibility to be able to understand what’s going on at your school intelligently.

To watch this web seminar in its entirety please go to