September 3, 2022

Marketing Firm Alleviates Enrollment Crisis For Universities Through Virtual Tour Technology

According to the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center, college enrollment has continued to deteriorate this spring, with total postsecondary enrollment falling to 16.2 million — a one-year decline of 4.1 percent. Even as the workforce has recovered to pre-Covid levels, colleges and universities have now lost nearly 1.3 million students since Spring 2020, with undergraduate enrollment accounting for most of the decline. The Research Center further notes that the US undergraduate student body is now almost 1.4 million students smaller than it was before the pandemic.

These are unprecedented times, and it’s difficult to assess what effect — if any — the President’s recent student loan forgiveness will have on future enrollment. Some prospective college students will question the worth of a degree; others may wait for more clarity on how much of its cost they will be responsible for going forward.

On top of all this, Gen Z has developed notoriously short attention spans, which may explain the phenomenon of “student melt,” or the motivation to attend college “melting” away, primarily during the summer between the end of high school and the start of college. It’s also possible that, because of Covid, more young people are choosing to take a gap year to better plan their futures, mimicking parents and others who have been reassessing priorities and career paths throughout the Great Resignation.

However, the demand for university degrees is only one side of the issue; the other is the supply. According to Jonathan Clues, founder and CEO of StudentBridge, colleges, and universities were not expecting the challenges of attracting a new generation of students solely through virtual means. “Admissions teams,” he says, “are typically stretched thin or underfunded,” causing students to struggle to learn about what a particular college offers. Meanwhile, colleges struggle to attract students because they typically don’t have a strong back-office team to market their campus effectively.

StudentBridge aims to alleviate these problems by creating virtual campus tours, interactive campus maps, and video viewbooks for universities and colleges.

“Approximately 95% of students research their college choices online, yet the anonymous nature of web surfing means that over 60% of the time the schools do not know who they are until they apply. We know that nearly two-thirds of students list the campus visit as the most influential factor in enrolling,” Clues says. “Some universities have the built-in advantage of being located within a desirable city or region, but most can’t piggyback on the name recognition of a Boston or New York City. Making this data all the more crucial for admissions teams to have to attract students.”

While some institutions of higher learning have resorted to using big data to get in front of students first, Clues warns that doing so won’t necessarily affect a prospective student’s final decision. New National Association for College Admission Counseling guidelines, for example, allow schools to recruit students even after they’ve accepted admission to another institution, so being first doesn’t necessarily mean finishing first.

“It’s ironic that colleges and universities have so often been at the forefront of technological advances while they’ve fallen way behind in figuring out ways to keep prospective students engaged and interested,” Clues says.

Clues’ solution is a digital process that anyone can use in their own time and on their own mobile device. And unlike college applications — which can now run in excess of $100 per institution — StudentBridge’s products, including GPS-based virtual campus tours, are free.

“Ideally,” Clues says, “virtual tools should be as accessible as possible and enable a college or university to enhance the enrollment experience for the better.”

Covid changed the way we shop for a lot of things, including postsecondary education. Tools like The Common App, for instance, allow students to apply to far more schools, though they see far less of their potential college picks in person. The annual “college tour,” once a rite of passage, may have permanently fallen victim to the increased cost and difficulty of travel post-pandemic, but Clues believes that tools like StudentBridge may actually change things for the better.

“Technology like ours empowers universities to effectively demonstrate the value of enrolling in college by showcasing all they have to offer in a number of engaging ways,” he says. Part of StudentBridge’s mission is to show students how attending college isn’t only about academics. It’s important for colleges to highlight student experiences to show aspects like student life, athletics, and community. “All of these are major decision factors for finding the right fit. Ultimately, that should help prospective students get the most out of their college or university experience.”

About the author 

Elle Gellrich

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