hyper-personalization can help higher ed modernize

Why hyper-personalization is critical for higher ed

The higher-ed model needs modernization, and hyper-personalization provides a clear roadmap

We live in a hyper-personalized, Netflix, Uber, and Door Dash everything world – a universe of Amazon like same-day everything. 

All businesses—and especially colleges and universities—must leverage hyper-personalization to remain competitive, to grow, and to deliver on their mission within their communities.

Blunt speak: Those who choose to reject hyper-personalization are making poor decisions on behalf of their institution, learners, their neighbors, and the employers they serve.

Our realities: Understanding recent trends

Traditional degree enrollment has been falling since 2011. Recently, the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center reported that Fall 2021 saw the largest two-year enrollment decline in 50 years—with nearly 1 million fewer students than there were in Fall 2019.

No institution is immune. Since 2016, 71 colleges have closed or merged, including for-profits, publics, and privates alike.

What’s more, the people who are enrolling in postsecondary programs aren’t finishing. More than 40 percent of students won’t finish their degree. And they have the student loans to prove it.

We all know the higher education model needs modernization—hyper-personalization and customer obsession for the learner provides us the roadmap.

Hyper-personalization starts with acknowledging your students as customers

In the “same day everything” era, every customer-facing industry in the world is finding ways to make customers’ lives easier, largely by knowing them as well as they know themselves—by using data.

While many in higher education have historically avoided thinking of students as “customers,” there’s so much we can learn from the commercial world. Heather Chakiris, assistant vice president for student success at Excelsior College, puts it best:

“To my mind, ‘students as customers’ means we don’t force them through arbitrary processes that are intentionally complex,” she wrote.

And customers overwhelmingly want personalization. In the eCommerce industry, 91 percent of consumers say they’re more likely to shop with brands that provide relevant offers and recommendations. Further to that, 74 percent of consumers say “living profiles” with detailed personal preferences would be useful if they were used to curate personalized experiences, products and offers.

We must find ways to make every corner of the institution work for our learners to make sure we’re actually student centric.

We must create personalized flexibility. We must provide personalized ROI and career pathway information for each student. We must forge hyper-personalized pathways to support each student’s retention. And we must engage every student with personalized access to lifelong learning.

Positioning institutions for the realities of the modern world

The fact is that modern colleges and universities stand at a critical crossroads.

Down one path is hyper-personalization and same-day everything. Down the other path is the status quo—and in a hyper-competitive environment with declining enrollment, which is a losing hand.

It’s essential for colleges and universities to seek out technology solutions that allow them to deliver on students’ same day everything expectation in administrative and bureaucratic spaces so they can focus their time and energy on learning.

After all, that’s why they’re enrolling in the first place. Overcomplicated and complex administrative processes don’t “prepare students for the real world”—they simply add to the wave of reasons why a learner might stop out our drop out.

It’s critical to find ways to personalize the digital experience, and to link the course catalog with the website so students can easily navigate to the courses and programs that are right for them.

What’s more, higher education institutions should embed real-time labor market data on those program pages so students can easily understand the ROI, and they should automate course scheduling processes, so students don’t have to use paper, pencil and Excel to try to build a schedule that fits their complex lives.

Beyond that, colleges and universities need to leverage the rich and significant learner data at their disposal to provide personalized career advising and support to help prepare students for the workforce. And after they graduate, the institution should remain a constant in their lives. It should continue to feed relevant upskilling and reskilling opportunities to alumni to encourage them to continue to expand and grow their careers.

And finally, all this communication should be occurring through channels students themselves prefer. Plastering learners and prospects alike with generic emails doesn’t encourage them to engage. It’s critical to leverage a wide range of communication channels—including SMS texting—to deliver meaningful and personalized messaging at the right time to the right learner.

These transformations begin to reposition the higher education institution from an organization that has a short, transactional relationship with students to one that has an engaging and enriching lifelong relationship with learners.

As I mentioned, colleges and universities today can choose between two paths. For those that choose the path of innovation and transformation—for those who choose hyper-personalization—you’re choosing a pathway to long-term impact on learners’ lives.

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