Higher education is changing. This is evident in what today’s typical student looks like, compared to a couple decades ago.
If the word “student” brings visions of someone just past high school age, dividing their time between attending lectures, playing on a sports team and going out for a good time, you would be correct – in 20% of cases. Today’s student is more likely to be employed, attending classes in between work shifts. For them, sports are an unnecessary luxury, and having a good night usually means sleeping.
The number of online courses is also increasing, and more students are taking advantage of this. Couple that with a recovering economy, and you have a great opportunity to attract and retain more students than before.
In the previous two articles in the series, you were introduced to the education marketing funnel, and how to widen its top. In this article, you will learn how to improve the bottom of that funnel and ultimately increase the percentage of inquiries you turn into students – in other words, how to decrease the ‘melt.’
Why Internal Communication Is So Important
No matter how big the campus was, how many active societies there were, or how many articles on the topic of cognitive economics my university produced, it didn’t prevent me from sleeping without bedding during my first night on campus. That was six years ago. I don’t remember my economics professor, but I do remember using my coat as a blanket.
This is my own example of how the accommodations office did not communicate well enough with the housing, marketing department and admissions office. Miscommunication leads to misinformation, which is understood as mistakes by your prospective students.
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In today’s extremely competitive market, any negative feedback could be detrimental. This is why external forces push your institution to change its internal practices. Globalization, technological innovation and changing economic needs all put pressure on universities to adapt.
Three main factors affect your institution:
- Globalization: It is easier than ever to obtain higher education. Emerging trade and travel partnerships facilitate movement, especially in Europe, where education is often free or sponsored. American universities face increasing competition from universities across the globe, alongside their traditional rivals and growing numbers of online colleges.
- Technology: Improvement in technological infrastructure allows people to obtain higher education remotely, without having to spend a single minute in a classroom. This can bring about many benefits for the student, including reduced costs and increased flexibility. Traditional universities struggle, as all large organizations do, to adapt to technological change.
- Economic change: Our national economy and our global economy are recovering. Both students and parents who postponed investing in higher education are now pondering whether higher education is the right step. People have been forced into being very cautious with their money and are highly selective in their investments, which includes education.
To compensate, your institution needs to be able to change and innovate.
One driving factor for innovation is communication. So how should you manage interdepartmental communication and task allocation? It starts with Service Level Agreements (SLAs) and discovering how they can help your institution. Prospective students will be more satisfied with their interaction with your institution and your enrollment rate will improve, enlarging the lower part of the funnel and reducing ‘melt.’
Communication Chaos and SLAs
Let’s pick up where our last article left us. You have successfully implemented the marketing & engagement tactics that work for you and you’re seeing an increase in applicants. Now what?
Every department needs to be well aware of the other departments’ work. In the unfortunate event of a problem, the source needs to be traced, so that necessary measures are put in place and no problems occur next time. SLAs are perfect for combining those two functions.
A service-level agreement is a contract between two divisions within an organization, describing the specifics of the service between them. These can include scope, quality, responsibilities, delivery time and more. Traditionally associated with IT companies, these agreements have become popular with all types of service providers.
SLAs need to be followed rigorously, or their usefulness diminishes. Weekly meetings are recommended to keep track of progress. This creates a cooperative culture within your institution. If different departments see and acknowledge how their work is facilitating their colleagues’ success and the success of the whole university, they will become more motivated.
Being part of something bigger is a motivational tool, and SLAs make it clear how you and your department fits into the picture.
Internal Communication and Prospective Students
Due to the nature of the enrollment funnel (slow and deep), it could take months for prospects to enroll – far longer than most purchases we make. Internal communication facilitates future students becoming a part of your educational institution. Every question needs to be answered correctly and efficiently, because if your university doesn’t provide the answer in time, another one will.
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In a demand-driven economy, your prospects can and will drop out of the enrollment funnel. The university’s job is to both increase the number of applicants (top of the funnel), and at the same time, reduce the number of lost prospects (bottom of the funnel).
Generally, you can say that your marketing team attracts the prospects, and your admissions team retains them. However, you’re likely to also have a registration office, careers office, disability services, international student support, student financial support, Blackboard support team or other offices assisting your students.
It is vital for your university to be able to share resources between these departments to accommodate a prospect’s query.
Interdepartmental Communication Problems
Look no further than the research for internal communication within organizations to see how poor communication breeds problems.
Four key issues may arise as a result of miscommunication:
- Lack of trust: Time is lost double-checking information from other departments when there is no trust between departments. This slows down productivity and reduces efficiency.
- Customer service: If you provide your applicants with inadequate information for their stage in the funnel, they might be put off by your university. Departments need to ensure efficient sharing of information to improve customer service.
- Conflicts: Whenever an emergency occurs, arguments tend to break out. Finger-pointing happens and progress is lost. An SLA keeps track of each department’s responsibility and can be effective not only at avoiding crises, but also managing those that occur.
- Efficiency: Reduced efficiency is the end result of a lack of communication. The next sections will talk further about practical solutions to increase efficiency.
How Will SLAs Help My University?
Service-level agreements are intended to ensure the successful completion of a project or delivery of a product. Your SLA can improve your internal communication and help you become more effective in recruiting students, by giving you a well-structured system that can be analyzed with monthly meetings.
You can see which department is the bottleneck, allocate resources appropriately, and note any changes in productivity. Feedback questionnaires can show you how your employees perceive the resulting changes or highlight other problems.
If any issues that arise are addressed appropriately, the division of labor and tasks will bring about a more cooperative culture based on trust. The end result may not become apparent immediately, but SLAs are an investment in the future.
Overcoming Political Issues in Implementing SLAs
You know most of the ‘why’ behind using communication systems. But the ‘how’ part can prove difficult. One of the main problems is that for your university to benefit from SLAs, every department needs to be on board with the decision. This means that many people at your level and above need to put in the effort, or at least give their approval.
An effective workaround is championing. You need to be able to ‘sell’ the idea to a single member of the board of directors, and to one well-respected individual from every department. These people will become your allies and push your agenda.
Watch Enrollment Numbers Grow
Whether you’re a small private college or the biggest university in the state, turning prospects into students can seem like a daunting task. No organization is immune to problems such as finger-pointing, free riders or the dreaded ‘melt.’
But with increased trust, service quality and efficiency, your institution will be capable of meeting the challenges of the next generation of students. Take advantage of service-level agreements and you will no longer ponder over responsibilities, timetables and deliverables. It takes time and effort from every member of every department, but seeing those rising enrollment numbers is absolutely worth it!
The process of getting the students from the home page of your website to entering a lecture room is long, tedious and frustrating. You will need all the help you can get and our agency can assist you with the top of the funnel – both the general marketing strategy and technical side of SEO.
You can find more information about the services we provide at our page dedicated to Higher Education Marketing.