Jul 01 2022

How Cloud Communications Technology Can Affect Higher Ed Enrollment

Integrating systems makes it easier to stay connected with students, a proven way to drive up enrollment and retention.

As college enrollment continues to decline, higher education institutions around the country are seeking new ways to attract students.

By adopting a cloud-based communications platform, schools can enhance relationships with prospective students and increase the size of their classrooms.

LEARN MORE: How 8x8 can deploy and scale an integrated communications strategy. 

Moving to the Cloud in Higher Ed

College enrollment numbers have been declining for years, and recent data from the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center shows that overall college enrollment fell 4.1 percent between May 2021 and May 2022. The center notes that the total undergraduate student body has shrunk by 9.4 percent, or 1.4 million students, since the pandemic began.

As universities and colleges compete for fewer students, those who can simplify their admissions and enrollment processes have an advantage. Prospective students now expect the same modern and accessible communication channels they find elsewhere.

Many universities quickly adopted cloud-based solutions in 2020 to support the shift to remote learning in response to the pandemic. As they have acclimated to more flexible modes of learning, more than half of students and faculty now say they prefer a hybrid learning model that combines in-person and online education.

Find out how one college ramped up cloud security to protect its most sensitive data.

However, many universities still operate with legacy siloed systems and lack updated communications platforms, says James Wiley, principal technology analyst at Eduventures. In one case, he says, the research and advisory firm worked with a school that discovered its students interacted with more than 17 different technologies during the enrollment process.

“They had one for the applications, another for financial aid, another for transcripts. Students were engaging with so many things,” Wiley says. “They were tired of logging in to so many things and being asked the same information to communicate.”

Creating Integration and Seamless Cloud Communications

Cloud applications can help tie these disparate systems together, making communication more seamless, says Wiley.

Since the start of the pandemic, some schools have upgraded parts of their enrollment and admissions processes, digitizing forms and applications and relying less on paper, in-person visits and face-to-face meetings. The best digital enrollment services offer a streamlined experience across multiple channels, from the web to text and mobile apps. This enhances the relationship and connection with students and supports back-office efficiencies that eliminate manual processing for admissions personnel.

Some schools are boosting enrollment by using cloud platforms to expand their online education programs, says Ron Gill, director of state, local and education at 8x8. Using instant messages, desktop chat and file-sharing, such schools can rework their traditional education models.

LEARN: The benefits of standardizing collaboration tools in higher ed.

“You can double or triple the size of your class just by offering a video meeting of that session,” says Gill. “It’s a way for them to expand their reach, providing more education to more people who couldn’t fit in that classroom today.”

Cloud-based communications providers like 8x8 help universities set up multichannel contact centers to engage with students through voice, video, chat and social media. Embedded analytics also enables higher ed institutions to track their communications and measure the effectiveness of channels and messaging. Offering multilingual web chat options, text alerts and other multichannel communications can strengthen the student recruitment process.

Expanding Programs and Boosting Enrollment

Carolina University, a private university in Winston-Salem, N.C., with approximately 1,000 students, recently set enrollment records after implementing an advanced communications technology. Terrill Gilley, former director of educational technology at the university, noted its phone system needed updating. The university also required a way to text students while keeping cell numbers private.

“Today’s students expect to communicate with universities in the same ways they connect with their friends,” says Gilley. “Our modern university was trapped in 20th-century communications technology.”

The school adopted 8x8 Work, a cloud-native platform with integrated voice, video meetings and team chat capabilities. The admissions office began communicating with students using text messaging and was able to save $50,000 the first year. The university enrolled most of its students in remote learning and added esports to its athletic program. It also adopted new cloud technologies that made it easier for employees to work from home and communicate more efficiently with students via text.

“We actually just had our highest enrollment yet,” says Gilley. “We just set a new record for fall admissions.”

A cloud-based communications platform can even help in recruiting international students. While international student enrollment declined during the pandemic, it is now rising again and remains an attractive market for U.S. higher education institutions. The 8x8 platform supports live chat in 22 different languages.

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