A lot of things changed in higher ed. in 2021, thanks (or no thanks) to the pandemic.
As we start off the new year, we proffer our annual look ahead at the ideas and challenges we see higher ed. will need to conquer in 2022.
Here are the six trends ED believes will shape higher ed. marketing and communications efforts in 2022 — and how your institution can come out on top in recruitment, enrolment and retention.
1. Better serve the (increasingly empowered) international student.
Now more than ever, international students have more choice and growing awareness about the shortcomings of away-from-home schools — and they’re speaking up. Lose them, and you lose out on more than students you’d be proud to have as alumni.
Take the 2021 COVID-19 vaccine rollout as an example. Many international students had to seek inoculation information on their own — through foreign systems they were unfamiliar with and in a language they’re still learning. While citizens were all wondering what was next from the comfort of our homes, so were they. Except, on top of it all, they were thousands of miles away from home, and in some cases, living in substandard housing.
This disservice is reflective of the broader needs of international students that have been neglected for too long. There needs to be a focus on better serving international students, not just relying on them for padded tuition.
Guaranteeing that your institution supports all students equally is the right thing to do. And your marketing and communications can help you articulate this to your audiences.
Better serving your institution’s international contingent may look like:
- Focused communications throughout the semester. You’re likely doing this on some level, but emphasize it. Don’t just send out emails at the beginning and end of the semester and call it good. Send targeted emails with inclusive messaging that offers support groups, health and wellness resources, and other information that will answer the questions they may not know where to go to ask.
- Connect to other students, communities and groups. One recent study found that a lack of connectedness between higher ed. domestic and international students “is a perennial concern that negatively impacts the student experience.” Then there’s the isolation brought on by the pandemic. Linking your international students to local or regional clubs, groups, or religious institutions can only help their transition to your campus and community. You may be the only inherent social network and support system they have. Help them to grow it.
- Recruit talent based on international student demographics. Look at the demographics of your international students and recruit faculty and staff accordingly. For example, if you have a large student population from Thailand, recruiting Thai or Thai-speaking staff is a start. Even connecting faculty and staff who are familiar with the culture and country helps. Connecting faculty and staff members to international students bolsters their — and your — community.
- Take a page out of the campuses that are working on it. King’s University College recently launched a partnership and platform to support international students who wish to pursue a career in Canada called the customized international student career platform. This winter, Sheridan College will convene a summit with local leaders in public health, police and fire services to “help international students transition to life in Canada, receive academic and social support, and ensure they feel a sense of purpose and belonging.” And Princeton University launched the Native American and Indigenous Studies Initiative (NAISIP) to help increase awareness and understanding of the cultural traditions and experiences of local and international Indigenous people.
International students now have more power and awareness than ever of what they do — and don’t — have, when studying abroad. If your higher ed. institution doesn’t take care of them, they will find a campus that does.
2. Focus on mental health — for everyone in higher ed.
University or college is a time for freedom, exploration, and new possibilities for students. It’s also a time for mental health issues to come to a head.
And it’s not just students. Faculty and staff are feeling the need for mental health services, too — especially after the trauma of the pandemic.
The stigma around mental health is finally being dismantled, and resources around mental health are growing. Higher ed. institutions who embrace caring for the mental health of students, faculty and employees are not only doing right by their stakeholders, they’re making names for themselves as places where mental health matters. And that is huge.
You could take a page from the University of British Columbia, who joined many other campuses this fall by offering students, faculty and staff three days off — to read.
International students are more prone to face mental health issues. Ensure your institution has the programs in place to support them. Having multilingual and culturally-aware mental health resources is crucial, such as Tufts University, which has a “culturally-sensitive generalist clinician” on its health and wellness team who counsels in both English and Mandarin.
It’s also advised there’s ample access to counselling services, be it in-person or over Zoom, at any time of the day or night.
Mental health issues are here to stay. But your institution must put systems and programs in place to make students, staff, and faculty feel cared for around the clock.
3. Increased higher ed. competition for recruitment, retention and funding.
We know. It seems impossible. There’s still fuel in the competition tank?
Yes and it will be even more so in the years to come. Because now, students and potential students have been introduced to learning online from anywhere. Your institution has to stand out more than ever if you are to increase enrolment rates – and we know those whose brand identities are loud and clear have a distinct advantage.
Of course, that’s without the added pressure of finding ways to offset costs due to a lack of government funding that Canadian schools experience. Every student’s tuition matters.
But wait… there’s more. Four-year universities and two-year colleges are competing with one another now, too. Today’s students are weighing their options, finding a more affordable – and quick – entry into the job market by attending a two-year college or polytechnic. One with a guaranteed pipeline to the workforce.
Four-year universities inherently lack a linear path to the job market, perhaps making it feel more like a fun house to some. If potential students and their parents can’t see an overwhelming value add in attending university, a college or polytechnic option sounds pretty good. That’s because it is good.
So, how are you going to stand out?
Then there’s the international student, whose tuition is roughly 3 to 4 times that of a domestic student. The first two sections of this article carry a lot more weight now, eh? Recruiting them has big pay-offs, but keep in mind that to do right by them institutions need to put the right support systems in place.
Stand out with your digital media strategy, or focus on recruiting the just-right student who’s less likely to drop out. But whatever you do, don’t sleep when it comes to your competition. It’s growing while you figure out what to do.
4. Tech stacks are forcing higher ed. institutions to level up.
You’ve heard about a marketing tech stack. But what about an overall tech stack? Schools that don’t adopt interactive, state-of-the-art tech will certainly lose students, staff and faculty to those that do.
Especially since online learning has taken center stage, your tech stack needs to be pronounced. Building a robust tech stack not only ensures your students are equipped to learn from the best in science and technology, it can also serve to connect, challenge and catalyze everyone on campus.
A tech stack includes, but isn’t limited to:
- Virtual reality (host a virtual open house)
- Artificial intelligence (from research labs to lecture halls)
- Texting software (for crucial campus alerts)
- Chat bots (bonus points if they’re multilingual!)
- Personalized marketing (segmentation is your friend!)
- Mobile-friendly websites (Gen Z won’t bother with a non-mobile friendly site)
- Free live streams of classes, webinars, and events (Making content accessible is also a great marketing tool.)
If you don’t invest in tech that supports students’ learning then they might not enrol for a second term. This goes for supporting teachers and staff as well. And if you can’t take care of these three groups can you really expect donors to invest in you?
5. Walk the talk when it comes to sustainability and the climate crisis.
Though there are still plenty of skeptics, everyone needs to come to the table on climate change, sustainability efforts and climate action. And now.
For higher ed. institutions, this means taking action on two really big things:
- Making your campus more sustainable.
- Clearly communicating your efforts.
Institutions should examine their sustainability efforts in terms of academic curricula, co-op programs, work placements, organizational partnerships and alliances, and research.
If you’re an institution that values sustainability, you better be ready to prove you invest in clean energy, offer courses in climate science, and have environmental policies in place.
And all of this needs to be talked about — in creative stories, in compelling stats, and in no uncertain terms, that your institution means business.
After all, Gen Z is paying attention.
The generation that’s looking at your school’s website right now cares more than anybody else about climate change. If you can prove you care about it too (and that you’re doing something about it) you have an edge.
And don’t kid yourself — this is a positioning statement. And while it may not be a leading wedge, it has the potential to become one.
6. Humanize your higher ed. institution.
Humanizing your institution means getting your leaders to step out from behind the curtain and open up about who they are, what they do, and what they’re trying to achieve. The easiest way to do this? Get your president on social media and to participate in public talks, media conferences, and other events to talk about the good, the bad, and the ugly, and to explore topical issues in real time — with humanity.
After all, it’s your leaders’ voices your students and other stakeholders want to hear when things are going well, and especially when they aren’t. Presidents should be visible and accessible as a voice of reason, empathy, inspiration, encouragement and information.
We think these five higher ed. presidents are owning the social media game right now. Learn their playbook, and put your institution’s twist on your content and style. It matters to your students to know that the head of their institution is interested in and cares about their higher ed. experience.
Whether we’re right on our trend forecasting or not, it’s standing out, doing right by your students, faculty, and staff that matters. And we’re pretty sure that will never go out of style. Now, go ahead and rest on your laurels. You’ve earned it.