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Changing Recruitment Trends in Higher Education

  • 5 MIN READ

From career-readiness to focusing on nontraditional students and digital strategies, here are three recruitment trends being seen in higher ed.

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As the needs and wants of future students change, so should the recruitment strategies higher education institutions use to attract them.  

There have been several shifts over the past few years that have changed how potential applicants view higher education. Gen Z is driven toward career success after graduation. Upskilling has grown the pool of nontraditional students. Online, remote and blended learning have increased applicants’ expectations of a digital recruitment presence.  

These three areas of college student recruitment and how to strategically target them will be explored in this post. 

Student Recruitment Trend #1: Career Success 

In the study “Question the Quo” by ECMC Research, 40% of students surveyed said the most important part of college was building a pathway to their future career. They want to learn the skills they need to make them a desirable job candidate and ensure their educational return on investment. 

Luckily, most postsecondary institutions should have data on the success of their graduates. Highlighting the success of your alumni through rock-solid data is one way to show future applicants that your school knows how to get their students hired. 

Another more personable way to show future students the performance of your alumni is having your graduates talk about it themselves. Since trust in postsecondary institutions among Gen Z is also waning, having your alumni tell their success stories make them come to life. 

Creating partnerships with businesses and work-integrated learning experiences is another way to appeal to future scholars. York University’s Lassonde School of Engineering announced a new Bachelor of Applied Science in Digital Technologies program that goes beyond traditional internships and co-ops. In this new program, students are employed full time in paid positions while completing their four-year degree. Traditional academic learning takes up 20% of students’ time, being delivered during a five-day period every six or seven weeks. The rest of the time is spent working to apply the theory and skills they’ve learned. 

This program is a unique offering that can appeal to both recent high school graduates and employees looking to upskill at their current jobs. 

Student Recruitment Trend #2: Targeting Nontraditional Students 

Dwindling enrollment over the past few years has been cause for concern for many postsecondary institutions. The answer could lie in the shift being seen in the audience applying to higher ed. 

From high school grads who may not want to invest four years in a degree to employees who are looking to sharpen or broaden their skill sets, the pool of nontraditional students interested in higher ed keeps growing. 

While there’s still value in targeting students who want a four-year degree, broadening the scope of who your recruitment strategies are aimed at could offer a wider pool of interested applicants. 

Emphasizing options for continuing education can appeal to applicants already in the workforce and younger applicants who might want to work while earning their degree. 

Diversity and Equity 

It’s also important for higher education institutions to consider moving away from recruiting at the same feeder schools or looking to fill positions on varsity teams. By continuing to use traditional recruitment methods, more diverse pools of applicants—including those from less-affluent neighborhoods and high schools—may not be given the same opportunity as their peers. 

Research shows that white high school graduates are 5% more likely to enroll in college than peers from underrepresented groups. White students may find advantages by having family that graduated from their school of choice, being admitted for athletic reasons or by being connected to a school donor.  

As these advantages often have a link to higher income sources, applicants from marginalized communities can be excluded, leaving the equity of the admissions process on uneven footing. 

Student Recruitment Trend #3: Digital Strategies 

Since 2020, many colleges have introduced online student recruitment tactics into their repertoires. Despite many institutions reopening to in-person traffic, digital recruitment strategies now have a permanent place in higher ed. 

As research from YPulse says that 79% of Gen Zs can’t live without their smartphones, it’s safe to say that having a recruitment plan that involves online facets is a must. 

Times Higher Education highlights a few recruitment tactics to help bolster your online presence: 

  • Email marketing—Creating engaging, snappy email campaigns can help capture the attention of your prospective students. Use data you learn about your online student leads (like areas of interest, extracurricular activities or year they plan to begin study) to tailor your copy and improve interaction with your institution. 
  • Social media marketing—You’d better believe that Gen Zs are on their phones scrolling social media. Meet your prospective students where they are by creating profiles on relevant platforms (TikTok and Instagram, but maybe skip Facebook) and start sharing why your institution is a great choice.
  • Online chat—Using an online chat option creates another avenue for your prospects to connect with your recruitment team. Conversations can be tracked and those you chat with can become leads you can continue to connect with once your chat is over. 
  • Virtual experiences—Open house events are an excellent way to build in-person connections with your future students, but they’re not always accessible to everybody. By offering an online, virtual alternative, you can reach even more students with information about why your institution is top-notch. 

Adjusting Higher Education Recruitment Strategies 

Based on new and emerging recruitment trends in higher education, you may need to adjust your strategy for the next recruitment cycle.  

Your recruitment plan of action should be iterated upon annually using data you collect throughout the year. Backing your strategic recruitment with data will help ensure you’re making the right choices and doing what works best for your institution and future students.