Episode 014

Bringing Traditional Institutions Into The Future With UPCEA’s Chief Researcher

The education industry is changing dramatically, but many traditional institutions are stuck in the past. Their marketing materials and enrollment processes have not been updated to accommodate Generation Z. Instead of relying on their reputations to drive enrollments, institutions must evolve to prove that they understand the needs of their students. After all, nothing turns off a prospective student more than a university that apparently believes it’s still catering to Generation X.

In today’s episode, we’ll cover:

  • Why traditional institutions cannot afford to resist change
  • The biggest problem with traditional lead forms and applications
  • How marketers can prepare for the AI takeover

This week, I spoke to Jim Fong, who is the Chief Research Officer at the University of Professional and Continuing Education Association (UPCEA). For most of his career, Jim was an analyst who studied data from the past. Over the past five years, however, his attention has shifted towards the future, and how higher education will be affected by the next economy. Today, much of Jim’s work involves sounding the alarm for traditional institutions who have yet to make the connection between user experience and enrollment growth.

Why institutions cannot afford to resist change

When you consider all of the changes taking place in education, most of them have at least one thing in common: taking prospective students away from traditional, 4-year institutions. Coding schools and bootcamps are on the rise, largely because they offer courses and concentrations you can’t find anywhere else. Aside from the STEM fields, the importance of a Bachelor’s Degree is decreasing in a multitude of industries. The point is, many students who would normally attend traditional institutions are instead seeking other options.

If traditional institutions do not mimic certain qualities of their competitors, Jim isn’t sure they will still be around in ten years or so. This includes offering online courses as well as certificates or badges for students who are interested in a very specific skill set, and have no use for courses outside of their concentration. In order to attract more types of students, institutions must make their most valuable courses more accessible.

The biggest problem with lead forms and applications

Many institutions are constantly updating their physical appearances with new dorms, fitness centers, or dining facilities. Their digital appearances, on the other hand, don’t seem to be getting the same amount of attention. Jim often sees landing pages that are extremely generic, outdated, and ultimately less welcoming than a prospective student would expect. Their lead forms and applications are also unnecessarily tedious.

In fact, Jim and his team recently conducted an experiment where they filled out lead forms for 20 institutions. Every single one, he said, was geared towards Generation X. For example, the form would ask for very personal information like previous employment or the student’s full address. Is this information really relevant? A lead form geared towards Generation Z should probably ask for nothing but a first name and an email address.

How marketers can prepare for the AI takeover

Jim believes that the automation of certain marketing processes will give marketers more time to focus on the creative aspects of their work. The advertisements that stand out will not just be especially stimulating or visually pleasing. They will tell a story and establish a real connection with their target audience. In other words, the education marketers of the future must focus on their most “human” skills. College is supposed to be a life-changing experience, and it’s up to education marketers to communicate the “story” of this experience to every prospective student.

It all begins with hiring the right people

There’s no way around it: traditional institutions have a long, rough road ahead of them. To ease the tension, Jim recommends starting small by hiring more of the right people in departments like marketing, admissions, or student affairs. In the coming years, these investments will likely prove to be far more lucrative than new campus infrastructure.

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