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Students say digital presence is key to enrollment decisions

By Ronald Bethke
April 29th, 2016

Self Service Carolina is part of a six-year, $75 million overhaul of the school's software.

Digital presence via campus websites and social media can all majorly impact college decisions this year, say students.

According to a new report, student survey data reinforces that higher education institutions must place greater emphasis on their digital presence, engaging students with digital communications that are most in line with their preferences in order to boost enrollment.

The report, titled “The Digital Search for Education,” was commissioned by G/O Digital and is based on the results of a 2016 survey of over 1,520 U.S. adults enrolled in either full or part-time classes. The research study was conducted to understand how learners interact with colleges and career schools prior to enrolling, and how those interactions influence their decision to communicate with, and enroll in, a particular institution.

The report comes at an appropriate time, with many universities and community colleges suffering from recent enrollment declines and more and more students using mobile devices to seek out and engage with education institutions. Since digitally savvy prospective students usually have access to a massive amount of information on institutions thanks to the internet, it is more important than ever for colleges and universities to gain insight into what the choices and preferences of learners are.

Enrollment 101

According to the report, institutions must first understand what draws a student to enroll in higher education. According to the survey, 37 percent of students said that career enhancement is their top motivator, and that the programs offered at a school were the most important deciding factor. 17 percent said that cost of the program was most important, and 14 percent said location was most important.

With those factors in mind, an institution must then strive to be clear and consistent with their digital presence and communications, emphasized the report. Numerous prospective students are always at some stage of the decision-making cycle, the report points out, with time-to-decision varying greatly: 21 percent of students take more than 12 months to make a decision, 14 percent take less than one month, and the rest fall somewhere in between.

(Next page: The digital preferences of prospective students and what institutions should do to boost their digital presence)


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