As college enrollment rates across the country have declined in recent years, higher education institutions have had to get creative to halt the downward trend.
One of the tactics used is to harness the power of social media and analyze content effectiveness.
The enrollment cliff is a real problem at many universities. Enrollment at four-year universities fell 2.4% from 2017 to 2018, according to the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center.
Kent State has introduced new strategies for its social media pages, implemented across its Instagram, TikTok, Twitter and Facebook accounts.
Erica Collins, a digital and social specialist at Kent State, focuses specifically on the admissions and recruitment side of social media.
She manages the accounts on Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter, making sure the content is organized, engaging, and timely.
Collins also responds to student questions or concerns via direct messages on the accounts.
As social media is ever-changing, she tailors the content she creates and posts it strategically on specific platforms.
“Instagram and TikTok are the top audiences for college students,” Collins said. “Students really want to connect with us, see student stories, see bits of campus life, and see how they can expect their college experience when they come to Kent State.”
One of the newer recruitment and retention tactics is early student-to-student connection.
Erica Collins is a digital and social specialist. (Courtesy of Kent State University)
Sharing content where students talk about their experiences can help prospective students visualize their success at Kent State.
“We see a lot of attraction when we post a student story about a current student who had a really cool internship or when they do an Instagram takeover for us and they share something like a day in their life on campus,” Collins called.
While Collins and her team appear to have found a temporary formula to keep students engaged, she said reaching everyone within their desired audience was still a challenge.
In order to reach parents and students, content is posted on numerous platforms; However, parents do not always return the same student engagement.
“I think one of our biggest challenges we face, and I think that goes for any university, is keeping up with the frequency of algorithm changes and simply adapting our content and strategy to what is currently popular is and is working,” said Collins.
Despite the challenge of engaging parents, Collins encouraged student workers to become more involved in creating content that engages potential students.
This has helped create a line of communication between students, staff and faculty to simplify the decision-making process and the enrollment process for prospective students.
Work is also underway on the back end of student recruitment and retention.
Fatima Habbiyyieh, a data analyst in the Credentials Management department, works with her team to find effective solutions and organize data.
Habbiyyieh and her colleague collect data on students enrolling, graduating and transferring on a daily basis.
Looking at the enrollment cliff, Habbiyyieh examines trends for students divided into the 2022 and 2023 cohorts.
“Well, if it decreases, we’d like to look at why,” Habbiyyieh said. “So we look at factors like whether they’re an unrepresented student, which is usually a minority group, or whether they have a household income that’s on the poverty line, but the Financial Aid Department breaks that down.”
As universities work to flatten the curve, they’re constantly trying to find innovative ways to grab students’ attention.
“Make sure you follow trends,” Collins said. “Be willing to experiment and see where your current audience is actually engaging with you.”
Alex Zito is a reporter. Contact him at [email protected]