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4 Innovative Ways Higher Ed Is Adapting in the Age of Coronavirus

Recently, Salesforce hosted their first-ever virtual Higher Ed Summit, bringing together top minds and thought leaders from universities across the globe, to share their insights on how higher ed is adapting to the new circumstances with COVID-19, and leveling up the ways they engage all of their constituents—from prospective students, current students, alumni, faculty, and beyond.

Whether a school has chosen to remain virtual for the foreseeable future—or is bringing their students back to campus—all higher ed institutions are having to rethink their student engagement strategies, revamp how they recruit new students, provide new levels of flexibility for all types of learners, and pivot their operations. 

Below are some of the most innovative ways that higher ed institutions are leveling up their constituent experience:

1. They’re creating a shared vision.

It’s no secret that the higher ed experience has often felt disjointed for many—no matter what size your institution is. Between alumni organizations, colleges within universities, admissions, and campus groups, there are often many voices trying to speak to your constituents at any given time. While each group is sharing different messages, constituents are likely overwhelmed by the multiple messages and call-to-actions. And they likely see it as all coming from one place—your institution—rather than all separate engagements with the individual sub-groups.

When it comes to your institution’s brand on the line, having a unifying strategy across your entire organization is of utmost importance to ensure you’re providing a positive experience for all.

The most innovative higher ed institutions, such as Indiana University (IU), are ensuring that their vision of the student and alumni experience are shared by all. IU has over half-a-dozen campuses across the state of Indiana, nearly 100,000 students across their multiple campuses, and more than 1,000 Salesforce users across the entire institution. 

To ensure that all users were being guided by the same “north star,” IU created a Center of Excellence (CoE) that oversees how the entire university uses Salesforce, and guides the strategy for creating a cohesive experience. The pillars of their strategy are an integrated constituent experience, measured success, channel and campaign management, messages and creative, insights and infrastructure, and culture. 

Not only is IU’s CoE ensuring that all of their Salesforce users are working towards the same goal, they’re also ensuring that all users feel empowered on the platform. To do this, they’ve created a tight-knit user community that spans the entire institution. This user group is able to share best practices and disseminate knowledge, and play a bi-directional role in advising and executing against their roadmap. 

2. They’re investing in technology.

Innovative higher ed institutions are investing in technology to help them scale their operations and achieve their goals. Investing in unified technology solutions to enable the end-to-end constituent experience is the most critical piece of the higher ed digital transformation journey, and leveraging technology like the Salesforce platform enables higher ed institutions to support every lifelong learner.

Tools like Education Cloud support both learner and institution success—including recruitment and admissions, student experience, alumni engagement and advancement, and institution operations. Education Cloud integrates across the Salesforce platform and can be leveraged in tandem with tools like Marketing Cloud, Community Cloud, and Tableau to engage constituents and measure success.

In the Higher Ed Summit, IU also shared an example of a graduation journey built with Journey Builder in Marketing Cloud to engage graduates and get them excited for their futures—even without a traditional graduation ceremony due to COVID-19. They’re also using Datorama to measure marketing success across their platforms and have a centralized data source.

Boston University is using Community Cloud to create personalized applicant experiences by feeding applicants targeted content based on which majors they applied to, which content they’ve engaged with, and their admissions decisions within their applicant portal. They also adapted their content strategy and user experience within Community Cloud to account for the increasing use of mobile devices by applicants to access the application portal. 

University of Arizona is using Social Studio to create a unified voice across their institution. Higher ed institutions can also use Social Studio for social listening to know what their constituents are saying about them on social media, respond, and engage with them on a new level.

IU is also using Tableau to have a unified source-of-truth and democratize their data. They leverage data in Tableau to help shape what majors they offer, evaluate course offerings, and forecast revenue by credit hours.

3. They’re revamping their processes.

Schools like Vanderbilt’s Graduate School of Business are completely rethinking their recruitment and enrollment strategy by first looking inward. Through outlining deficiencies in their current operations, they were able to identify manual processes, disconnected data, disjointed constituent experiences, and lack of insights and tracking as main roadblocks in being able to achieve their enrollment goals.

Through reflecting on what might be hindering their progress, they were able to make a plan to overcome these roadblocks. First, they developed their roadmap. They dared to dream big, and imagined the possibilities of how they could leverage technology to improve their processes. After identifying where they wanted to go, they started to dig into how their platforms will be implemented, then began to prioritize and plan out the activities needed to get where they want to go.

They also leveraged a Salesforce partner to ensure they were following best practices and feeling completely enabled on the platform.

Through implementing Pardot and integrating it with Salesforce, they saw a 24% increase in prospect volume—which they attribute to cross-team collaboration to better integrate their applicant experience across their digital channels.

4. They’re putting learners first.

It’s no secret that we, as consumers, have higher expectations than ever. Per a recent report published by Salesforce, 75% of consumers expect companies to use new technologies to create better experiences, and 84% of customers consider their experience with a brand or company to be just as important as the products or services they provide. Yet, only 51% of consumers believe that most companies generally meet expectations.

Higher ed is no exception to this notion, especially as we welcome Gen Z—or the digital native generation—to higher ed. Now more than ever, higher ed institutions are putting increased focus on offering flexibility, providing value, and creating a seamless experience. By putting their learner experience at the core of all that they do, higher ed institutions can think critically about the experiences they’re providing to their constituents—both online and offline. 

The best way to put the learner experience first is by implementing personalization across the entire constituent experience. Leveraging personalization can majorly impact engagement and brand affinity. Personalizing experiences for every learner helps achieve the goals of improved flexibility, shared value, and seamless experiences by adapting to each learner, providing a 1:1 experience in a place where it can often feel 1:many, and making each learner feel valued within your institution.

Higher ed institutions are at an exciting point in their evolution as they continue to rapidly advance the ways they engage with their constituents and provide value. Leveraging technology, revamping processes, focusing on the constituent experience, and creating a shared vision will all remain key focuses for any innovative higher ed institution looking to stay ahead of the curve.