With a year of virtual engagement trials and triumphs under its belt, the higher education sector now finds itself at a crucial inflection point. Should enrollment and admissions staff shift their focus back to planning in-person engagement, should energy be re-envisioned and altered to a virtual environment, or is the best solution one which incorporates both, creating an entirely new form of engagement? Many enrollment and admissions leaders have debated this question. A fair number have advocated for a new normal to emerge from the ashes, while some have opted to return to legacy strategies. While there may not be a correct answer, Babson College’s Courtney Minden advocates against a return to the past, believing that institutions that grasp the value of online programming and embrace virtual options will see immense improvements in recruitment and yield.

If we want to create a new hybrid formula for admissions and enrollment success, what types of virtual engagement are worthy of our focus? In other words, what works and what doesn’t virtually? A crucial component of this work must be considering who our audience is- Generation Z. This is a generation that spends almost half of their days on a screen and wants to feel as though the content they are consuming is authentic, trendy, and focused on social responsibility. Yet to do so, should we start middle parting our hair, throwing out our skinny jeans, and eliminating the laughing face emoji from our vocabulary?

What if instead, we find new ways to leverage the Gen Zs that we already have in our communities and on our campuses, current students. According to Carnegie Dartlet, recent surveys have shown that engaging with current college students is one of the most desired connections for rising seniors, second only to admission counselors. Think of your current students as your brand ambassadors, and your university as a brand/company that you want these ambassadors to highlight. Utilizing your own set of influencers, specifically in virtual student panels, you will allow prospective and admitted students a glimpse into the life that could be theirs if they attend your university.

Many of our partners have already begun to catch on to and champion this transformed strategy. During our Spring Forward panel, when Beth Wolfe, Executive Vice President of Enrollment Management at the University of Charleston, was asked what her plans were for the Spring, she explained with enthusiasm:

“student panels… [they] have been really effective for us when we have done virtual events and have had [current] students answering questions. We have seen really good engagement from that. So that is where I think we are going to put our eggs in the basket and really rely on our current students to seal the deal with admitted students.”

Even though hosting student panels in and of itself isn’t a new strategy, how can we use this asset in a legacy initiative differently to make these experiences more engaging and impactful?

Tune back in next week for specific strategies gleaned from running over 6,000 virtual events in the last 18 months.