Most higher ed institutions are just weeks away from wrapping up their first semester and bracing for what many health experts are referring to as “the dark winter.” While an estimated 40 million Covid-19 vaccines will be ready for distribution shortly, the surge in new cases promises to only worsen in the weeks ahead.
Schools that aimed to open for in-person learning following Winter Break will likely need to reconsider their plans if and when local public health measures prevent a return from happening. There might also be additional logistics to work out regarding student housing, various contact tracing measures and potentially, even the distribution of a vaccine.
Prospective students will also be in limbo for much of the decision-making process, with most of the research being done online rather than experiencing the school’s sights and smells.
While there will be plenty of unknowns both to current and prospective students, next semester provides a mandate for higher ed institutions to provide connectivity and engagement.
In order to get through what’s sure to be an unprecedented second semester, here are some pointers to help you increase connectivity and engagement with students.
Embrace Omni-channel Communication
Students want to get the information that they want when they want it. And with a majority of students living off-campus for much of the semester, your information needs to be available in a self-service capacity.
Offering students this flexibility allows your students to get the answers they need at all hours of the day without placing an undue burden on your administrative staff.
This means you need to keep all basic content accessible so that students can get what they need regardless of where they’re learning, with the ability to escalate questions as needed. In order for students to successfully thrive this semester, your institution needs to be the same valuable resource virtually that it is when students are on-campus.
Create a Unified Student Experience
The days of walking a check into the bursar’s office are long over, but student services departments are still siloed like nothing has changed. While these silos make sense internally, it can provide a negative student experience and keep them from getting the support they need.
For example, a student might ask the Bursar’s office a question about financial aid, unaware that they’re run completely separate from each other and create unnecessary friction. Use this unique environment to break down silos and provide a single source of truth.
Given that everything from in-person learning to building closures will remain a fluid situation throughout the semester, students need the ability to get all of the latest information in one place.
Don’t Forget the Human Connection
While your students might be isolated from campus, they will understandably want some level of face-to-face interaction. Use functions like text or live chat to help students quickly find times that work for them to video chat.
If you have a bot, you might even be able to schedule time with the student automatically. Don’t let a remote environment keep your students from seeking out the connectivity they strongly desire during this time.
Keep Prospective Student Information Fresh
Remember that high school students are making their decisions within the next few months and won’t have any of the typical experiences that most prospective students have. If you have furloughed or laid off admissions staff, this semester might pose additional challenges.
Another challenge you might encounter is the need to communicate with students what they can or can’t do if they come to campus. Perhaps the student lives 100 miles away from campus and wants to tour the freshmen dorms. You don’t want to have them travel, only to find out they’re closed to non-residents and you also don’t have the time to constantly update the website.
This is where having technology such as a chatbot can keep students up-to-date so they can plan their visit with peace of mind while leaving no question unanswered. With the help of a chatbot, students can get all the information they need to make their decision even if your staff is working remotely.
Although this semester promises to be a trying time for institutions, now is the perfect opportunity to embrace higher ed’s future. Even when the pandemic is contained, it’s safe to say that life won’t go back to the way it was in 2019.
Instead, higher education will need to create an experience that blends a physical and virtual environment while giving students the ease and connectedness they always wanted.