Q&A with Scott Jeff on RNL’s 2022 Online Student Recruitment Report

We’ve been friends with Scott Jeff, VP of RNL’s research for many years. Recently, we joined RNL’s Advisory Board in an effort to better understand (and possibly influence) the aspects of online education marketing, recruitment, and enrollment.

One of the advantages of serving on an advisory board is the opportunity to look at RNL research early. A newly published report (which we recommend you check out) is the 2022 Online Student Recruitment Report: 10 Challenges and Solutions to Engage Potential Online Students. We asked Scott to answer our questions about the outcome of the report.

Q. We noticed that this new report not only presents 10 challenges, but also what you call “solutions”. How do you go about this?

A. There are plenty of reports today to talk about the challenges facing higher education. But I know that when I present this kind of data, viewers always want to know what it means to them.

With that in mind, I gathered a team of my colleagues and asked each of them to choose one of the challenges and imagine that the institutional stakeholders had just read it and asked them “So what should I do about it?” This was the starting point for the solution.

Q: You wrote in the report that online program expansion has become essential for institutional growth. Why is that?

A. We started reporting here for a very intentional reason. There was a time when it was “good to be” instead of “of course” online, but now it’s gone. Although the epidemic probably accelerated it, it was created long ago. This first challenge presents data that indicates that was up to 2012 No. Undergraduate or graduate level – net year-on-year growth among students enrolled in classroom courses only.

All growth has come from new students enrolling in the “All Distance” course or the “One or More Distance” course. In both cases, “all distances” exceed “one or more”, so we must conclude that adding some online courses to the classroom program will not suffice, excluding perhaps the most prestigious – or most affordable – institutions.

Q. What was your most interesting search?

A. We asked respondents about the expected response time to an inquiry. Overall, expect a response within one-quarter of a minute, another quarter within an hour or so, and another 30 percent within one business day. Every time I present this kind of data to a group of listed leaders, I hear, “I don’t want a response in minutes,” “I think it’s awful,” or a similar response.

Okay, now we know why: when we divided this response data by the 5-year age block, over 40 percent of respondents over the age of 45 indicated that they were fine with a response that took longer than one business day. The message: We (those of us 45+ who usually lead the registration process) are not listeners.

Q. How does meeting the potential expectations of students contribute to the success of the institution today?

A. We asked the respondents two questions: What are the chances of you enrolling in the institution that first admitted you? Over 80 percent said they would most likely be enrolled in the first institution to admit them. But that’s not all. We asked them how likely they were to be registered with the organization that responded to their inquiry first.

More than half of respondents said they would probably or would not. Given that the rise of online (and its acceptance) has given students more choice than ever before, meeting such expectations has a real impact on enrollment growth.

Q. Why do you students put so much weight on this motion?

A. Today’s students in general – and online students in particular – really think of their higher education as one of the products they purchase. They’re thinking of higher costs than before, they’re weighing costs versus results (looking for carrier data on websites) in a way that looks like “ROI”. Let us not forget that we are now serving two generations (Millennium and Zenz) who have grown up in a “customized” and “instant response” world. They have the same expectations towards their organization.

So with these response time questions, they are equating colleges and universities with everything they have.

Example: Restaurants that do not respond to their misplace place orders at Grubbub will never be used again; Retailers that do not facilitate refunds will not be reused. They are not contacting any company why they expect good customer service.

This new report will be a major focus of the 22-session undergraduate and online track at the RNL National Conference in Washington, DC on July 14-16, where we will present the “Six Post-COVID-19 Provocations.”

There is still time to register.

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