Over the past decade, “cafeteria-style” program enrollment models have generally not been successful in guiding student populations to career pathways. As a result, the return on investment for the college degree has lessened, and student loan debt has become a common problem for today’s learners. However, new enrollment models incorporating a “massively personalized digital student engagement strategy,” have the potential to increase enrollments, retention/attainment rates, student earnings, and outreach opportunities.
Traditional Higher Ed Career Pathways
The traditional delivery of higher education has in many respects generated low graduation rates and unsustainable career paths. From a Strada survey, “only 7% of college or university students and 17% of community college students rate their institutions as ‘excellent’ or ‘very good’ at helping them connect their education path to a career.”
Community colleges, in particular, have historically enticed students to enroll in their programs and courses by offering “flexibility and choice.” However, a high rate of students “became overwhelmed by the variety [in course catalogs], choosing classes they were interested in but didn’t add up to a degree.” Based on a 2017 National Student Clearinghouse report, less than 40 percent of degree-seeking students nationally completed a certificate or degree within six years of enrollment. To help alleviate low retention and completion rates, colleges can offer “highly personalized pathways” to students that guide them towards desired careers and improve credential completion outcomes.
Digital Student Engagement
In order to connect students with personalized pathways, higher ed institutions must design integrated data systems and structures that provide information about student needs, credential/career outcomes, and the current labor market. According to Cheryl Hyman, author of Reinvention: The Promise and Challenge of Transforming a Community College System, colleges and universities “must align their systems and structures to provide each student with accurate information about both their programs of study and career fields with which they are affiliated” to support students on their paths toward meaningful careers.
Institutions that develop a “dynamic career and program explorer” that is accessible through an academic program’s webpages, can provide students with search tools that allow them to research educational and career pathways. Such a user web interface can rapidly deliver degree-specific information to a diverse population of students, giving them access to program costs, median salaries related to a selected degree-pathway, and other updated labor market information. This self-serve model allows students to attain real-time knowledge of the return on investment on a chosen educational pathway, empowering them to pursue a desired career(s). For institutions, this flexible enrollment model ultimately encourages increased student engagement.
When using web services, students expect to see personalized content based on their interests. Large streaming services like Amazon and Netflix provide immediate personalized content that simplify user choice. In today’s modern economy, this is a standard marketing model consumers are accustomed to. Furthermore, “six in ten students say that of all companies they engage with online, their college is the furthest behind in personalizing their experience.” To reach students, higher ed institutions must update their websites to be amenable to personalizing user experience based on “demographics, location, and career intent,” as well as any other information that better understands the student’s current situation and concerns.
Content Management System (CMS) as a Foundation for Personalization
“Having a flexible, dynamic CMS at the ready simplifies the integration of robust career pathways into flexible and market-responsive academic and program offerings.”
Four qualities of an effective CMS are:
- Simple integration with any third-party web application.
- Utilizes Search Engine Optimization (SEO) to streamline students’ career pathway search.
- Enforces accessibility so that everyone can engage with the website.
- Uses web governance tools to maintain brand consistency.
With an effective CMS, students can easily find programs they wish to enroll in. Further, by also embedding an “e-Commerce-enabled registration system,” students can enroll in programs directly from a college or university website. According to Ann Buchele, Vice President of Academic and Student Affairs at Linn-Benton Community College, “As long as all of your decisions revolve around what is best for that student, you’re going to do the right thing.”
Colleges and universities that develop a personalized registration strategy can expect increased student engagement and enrollment. By using integrated data and user interface systems, students can quickly commit to a desired career path, stack credentials and engage in lifelong learning.
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