Higher education landscape

Is pandemic-driven digital recruiting here to stay?

Insights from Digital Student Recruitment — Disruptive Tech Solutions, presented by the PIE Live

Leslie Birch
May 16, 2021
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15 min read

The pandemic has upended university recruitment across the globe as travel came to an abrupt halt. As a result, many institutions quickly turned to burgeoning tech platforms to connect with international high school students when face-to-face recruiting events were no longer possible.

While COVID has been the primary factor driving a shift to digital, it won’t be the only one as we move forward. Other factors including budget cuts and Gen Z’s focus on climate change are prompting institutions to make long term investments in virtual recruitment.

As the world slowly returns to a post-COVID “new normal,” the trends indicate that there will be no going back to the “old ways of doing things.”

Innovative recruiting solutions like Cialfo are becoming must-haves for universities seeking more creative ways to attract international students in a highly competitive landscape. While this idea might be unnerving to some, this shift actually offers university recruiting programs countless benefits in light of shrinking budgets and travel cutbacks.

Our CEO, Rohan Pasari, recently shared his thoughts on these benefits and more with PIE (Professionals in International Education) CEO Amy Baker and a panel of other ed tech innovators during a PIE LIVE session titled: Digital Student Recruitment — Disruptive Tech Solutions. In addition to Rohan, the other 4 panelists included Jeremy Nguyen-Phuong, Co-founder of Udentity (China); Jane Armstrong, Senior Director, Education Industry Solutions International with Salesforce, Global; Craig Fernandes Chief Executive Officer / Co-Founder of Lock&Stock; and Meti Basiri, Co-Founder and CMO of ApplyBoard (Canada).

The session kicked off with each of the tech leaders sharing personal stories behind the history of their respective platforms.

The vision for Cialfo was inspired by Rohan’s own frustrating and overwhelming experience while exploring his post-high school possibilities. Without a clear vision of potential international programs to choose from, and no dedicated counselors at his high school to assist, his primary option at the time was to enlist the assistance of agents. However, the agents he turned to only added more confusion to the process by providing biased advice based on their locations or the universities they were trying to promote.

Ultimately, he found his perfect match when representatives from Singapore’s Nanyang Technological University came to his high school’s University Fair. Singapore was not even on his radar, but NTU’s presentation and personal connection inspired him to apply. The result of this chance encounter was a win-win for everyone — Rohan had an incredible education experience in the vibrant city of Singapore while earning a government-funded scholarship and graduating with two gold medals!

Drawing from his own experience, Rohan knew there had to be a better way to drive direct connection and engagement between universities and students at scale by harnessing the power of technology. Thus, Cialfo came to life, eliminating the need for agents or middlemen, and opening up unexplored paths to education for millions of students.

Each of the panelists went on to tell their own unique story and then the discussion turned to current trends in college recruiting and how universities can make the most of these powerful digital tools.

One of the most interesting exchanges examined all the ways that universities can leverage digital tools, like Cialfo, to increase their engagement and reach more students.

As Rohan noted, “Engagement is not a one-time event, it’s a process,” a concept that was also addressed in Inside Higher Ed. There will be a new focus for admissions staff to perfect the process of digital engagement with students in the same way teachers are learning to connect with their students on Zoom versus the classroom.

While in-person events can be inflexible due to time and space constraints, Cialfo provides universities creative ways to connect with students, counselors, and their families, and keep the conversation going to showcase their schools and programs in the brightest light.

Optimizing engagement and the ability to connect directly with students is just one of many benefits digital recruiting tools like Cialfo offer.

Some of the other key benefits for universities that the panel touted include:

  • Taking advantage of actionable data insights these platforms offer to help benchmark their brand and drive recruiting strategies
  • The ability to fuel more creative outreach with the use of customized content
  • Attracting more diverse applicants from often overlooked international markets that would otherwise be out of reach with face-to-face events due to resource and budget limitations
  • uilding more personal and authentic connections with applicants through multiple touch points versus a one and done brochure or emails that may end up in a junk folder

In addition to the obvious and not-so-obvious benefits of digital solutions, the panel offered many fantastic takeaways and insights into the future of recruiting — here are the ones we found most interesting:

  1. Universities will be able to maximize their budgets while reaching more international applicants by incorporating a mix of highly targeted in-person and customized virtual events. Rohan noted that we are now starting to see more long term investing in digital recruiting and the future of recruiting is “blended” at best. The technology offers admissions programs new ways to reach students across the globe by thinking outside the “virtual recruiting booth.” Multiple student engagement and re-engagement opportunities pre- and post-event keep students tuned in and interested, without the need for costly travel to vast areas of the globe.
  2. With direct access to universities and a streamlined application process using digital recruiting tools, students are better equipped to navigate the process. For international students, this means they may no longer be as reliant on education agents.
  3. The pre-COVID model of sending large recruitment teams to feeder schools around the world might well be a thing of the past. We are more likely to see centralized virtual teams engaging directly with students and counselors, while sending smaller numbers of face-to-face representatives to regional markets identified beforehand using digital data.
  4. Content is king. These technologies present universities endless options for creating unique content that can be tailored to the students or region they are working with. Udentity’s Jeremy Nguyen-Phuong emphasized the advantage being able to create custom content gives universities, saying, “Having more relatable content makes students, parents or even counselors see what makes a university unique and goes beyond just academics or studying overseas.”
  5. Leverage the data. For example, Cialfo’s Explore offers an end-to-end solution (from market exposure to receiving applications) that provides vital data insights from the more than 400,000 students currently using the platform. Salesforce’s Jane Armstrong emphasized her belief that as competition for students continues to increase, “it will be more critical than ever for universities to have data to make more strategic decisions while continuing to be agile. This data also allows them to be more innovative to pivot when needed” (sometimes instantly as we’ve experienced during the pandemic).

One of the key questions the PIE LIVE panel sought to answer was “is this type of pandemic-driven digital recruiting here to stay?” According to Rohan and his co-panelists of visionary tech leaders, the trends all point to a resounding “YES.”

The overwhelming consensus is that once the pandemic is a thing of the past, there will be no going back to “business as usual.”

Digitalization of education including recruitment is no longer the future, it’s the “now.” The world has been taking advantage of digital disruption in other industries like e-commerce and ride sharing for years — the acceleration has taken off in education as well. Schools that have already embraced these technologies are discovering the creative ways they can leverage them to access previously hard-to-reach potential applicants. Now that digital recruiting is here to stay, it’s the perfect time to make the most of the tools’ innovative capabilities and embrace all they have to offer.

Here at Cialfo, we’re looking forward to helping even more universities surpass their recruiting goals by connecting them with students from around the world.

The pandemic has transformed the way universities engage with and recruit students. Is the increase in tech adoption due to Covid-19 just a fad, or is it here to stay?

Image credits: Anna Shvets and Jody Hong

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