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The Top 5 Struggles in Online Student Recruitment

Updated 10/23/2023

We recently engaged in a discussion about online recruitment challenges with a potential client interested in online student recruitment. As we discussed student recruitment channels and strategies, we explained how the services offered by Enrollment Builders could enhance their online student recruitment strategies. After discussing the services we could provide for her organization, and right before we hung up the phone, our prospective client wanted to know just one more thing: "Are we normal?" she asked.


Since her online student recruitment challenges were some of the most common that we face while speaking with prospective clients we thought that it would be good to share our list of the Top 5 Struggles in Online Student Recruitment. If you’ve been struggling with online student recruitment, it’s more than likely one of the following problems, and we’re here to help.  

1. Inquiry Response - Many institutions are able to generate high-quality organic leads. Some also use performance-based marketing strategies to generate paid leads. However, the challenge comes in being able to respond to students in a timely manner, and in ways that are most appropriate for their programs. In general, most institutions have at least a rudimentary constituent relationship management (CRM) system with which they can program and distribute automated email responses. Most institutions do call their inquiries. However, very few call with enough frequency or quickly enough after the student inquires. Nearly all of our prospective clients were sending a digital print piece and automated email series in response to an inquiry. Overcoming this gap in communication time is an online recruitment challenge that every institution eventually has to deal with, as studies continue to show that the first institution to respond to a potential student has a far higher likelihood of completing that recruitment than their competitors. At the end of the day, you can’t create a real relationship with a prospective student with a print piece or email series. Relationships require a real conversation.

2. Marketing Management - Since higher education has shifted from billboards, print ads, and radio spots towards paid search, cost per inquiry, and search engine optimization, institutions are still struggling to make the connection between their marketing spend with the students that eventually enroll, as learning how to recruit students online is a process that every educational institution has had to go through in the past 10 years. This makes it hard for them to optimize their media spend because they are unsure which marketing channels are most effective. While inquiry volume is increasing and admissions funnel metrics are improving, many institutions don't know where the inquiries are coming from and how much it is costing to enroll students through each student recruitment channel.

3. Data, Reporting, and Analytics - As alluded to in the paragraph above, many of our prospective clients have difficulty tracking data effectively, reporting on that data, or analyzing it in ways that can lead to strategic decision-making. Readers should not be surprised to learn that many institutions do not have a clean, complete, or comprehensive set of records for their prospective students. For those institutions that have data, it is common for institutions to have aggregate funnel reports; some also report by recruiter, program, and marketing channel. Analytics such as descriptive statistics and predictive modeling are relatively rare. Online student recruitment strategies revolve around this data, so ensuring that your data is accurate is one of the biggest pain points to overcome for measurable success. 

4. The Hand-Off - The hand-off from recruitment professionals to retention personnel is also a struggle for many institutions. Often, after students indicate their intent to enroll, students are "thrown over the wall" to academic advisors, coaches, or other student service professionals. While contact histories and data files are sometimes shared, students are often left to explain their goals, challenges, and special needs to someone else at the institution. A poor hand-off also results in missing documents, low student satisfaction, and manifests itself in low capture rates. At Enrollment Builders, one of our key differentiators is the “Warm Transfer” method, which sees students sent alongside their stories and data to your admissions team. We’ve found success with this method, but every institution is different, so we’d welcome your call if you’re in need of higher education call center services or the strategies that power them.

5. Inadequate Technical Support - Online enrollment management requires a higher level of technological support than what is typically provided to our prospective clients. There are marketing media, lead generation platforms, CRM tools, student information systems, learning management systems, document management tools, case management tools, and a host of other technical systems that need to be managed and supported in order to run an effective and efficient online program. Unfortunately, many of our prospective non-profit clients are woefully underfunded and under-supported in the area of technology. Generally, in situations where it’s unlikely for the funding for technology to come through in the near future, our first recommendation is an outsourced higher ed admissions service so those leads are able to be captured without needing a full technology upgrade and all the training that comes alongside it.  

Give us a call at 859-963-3851 or request information if you would like to learn more about how Enrollment Builders may be able to help your institution.