It’s the end of the year and planning for 2022 has been in the works for a while now. Planning always has two angles: putting proactive strategies in place for what is known and having frameworks for reacting to what is not known. In that vein, I put on my prognostication cap and started writing out a list of predictions for the coming year. Some are bolder or more wishful than others, but I believe all of them are important to institutions that want to thrive. Here are my six predictions for 2022:
Students will continue to base decisions on name recognition and brand.
We heard from students that in lieu of taking visits or adding more work for themselves in the form of researching and discovering new colleges, they were simply applying to colleges that they had already heard of. This is why it’s so important to have awareness campaigns and focus on SEO to capture the attention of students who are actively searching. Make it easy to find you and get to the point right away without proposing on the first date—tell them why they should care and how to learn more, don’t tell them to apply or visit right away. Inquiry comm flows need to be very efficient; you can’t afford to miss out on the students who do come to you and say they’re interested. If you aren’t a household name brand you can fight against this default behavior by starting early with branding efforts to students so they will start to recognize you. This is where Niche and your own digital marketing and awareness campaigns are so vital to put you in front of students, parents, and counselors where they are.
Student interest in the arts, especially outside of their major, will continue to increase. Colleges will start building recruiting machines modeled after athletics.
Student interest in majoring in the arts has not been increasing; however, their interest in the arts as consumers and creators has been increasing and now eclipses athletic interest. There’s a missing piece to the college response: Almost no colleges have dedicated recruiters for the arts. Colleges that can highlight the opportunities for fans and the opportunities to create art will stand out.
Relevance will replace personalization.
This is overdue and may be bold given that students have reported that outreach has been getting less relevant over the past year, but it will need to come true. Relevance and personalization may be used similarly sometimes, but there is a subtle difference I always highlight. Personalization means that you are making something, maybe an email or print piece, that speaks to an individual. Relevance takes that a step further and also ensures that it speaks to the matter, or stage, at hand. An email that speaks to a student’s intended major is personalized. Speaking to a major as well as what stage of enrollment they are at is relevant. Students, counselors, and families all need the right message at the right time.
Value and outcomes will move up in messaging as more and more students and parents eliminate colleges from consideration before applying due to the total published cost.
The most recent data Niche has collected indicates that 67% of parents and 75% of students are eliminating colleges from consideration before even applying based solely on the published total cost. In spite of that, almost every college raises tuition annually, cutting out more potential applicants. Some colleges have provided assurances with tuition resets, freezes, true-pricing, and even rethought college funding altogether. With salaries remaining static and more competition from entry-level salaries in a job market lacking employees, colleges have added external pressures. If the majority of students and their families say that they will only consider colleges with a “sticker price” of less than $40,000 we should listen. If you’re pricing higher than that, you will need to be darn sure you can back up why they should care. The market has changed—a high price is no longer seen as a signal of high quality, and promising generous aid isn’t as convincing as it once was. Pulling in your success stories and net price early in the awareness phase would be one way to help combat this if pricing cannot be affected.
The search will increasingly move online. Traditional visits will get smaller and more segmented.
Last year, 28% of students said that they did not visit any college prior to enrolling. For the class of 2022, only 45% of students said they are very likely to visit a college campus this academic year. A student’s college search process has increasingly moved online to platforms such as Niche, virtual events and visits, and looking for authentic student experiences on social media and in web searches. With fewer students visiting campuses, and those who are visiting fewer campuses in-person, the on-campus experience continues to evolve in 2022. A general “Get to Know Us” group visit event that is much smaller can have very different energy and might not be as enticing to students. Investing in virtual experiences that engage differently and make the best use of the platform will help you continue to recruit students. Successful in-person visits can be those that are more highly targeted and are intended to be smaller and forge connections for attendees both to those at the institution and to each other.
Colleges with the best mobile-friendly website experience will win applicants.
College search has moved online, and yet many college websites are not optimized for mobile. Taking advantage of tools such as Google’s Mobile-Friendly Test can help provide feedback on optimization. The worst offenders, however, might be forms and applications. Poor experience means fewer completions and more barriers for students. Every form—and yes an application is just another form—should be built for mobile-first. If it works on mobile, it will work on a desktop. Tell students they can’t apply from the device they always have in their hand and they will tell you they aren’t interested.