When you combine the speed at which Gen Z is evolving, along with the removal of cookies, you realise that leveraging your data is more important than ever. But what do we mean by that? Understanding your students and continually questioning what your institution can do to improve their experience with your brand. And, with our latest real-time insights, you can do just that. 

So, how do you use your data to help increase student loyalty to your brand and, ultimately, retention? We take a look at the key takeaways from our recent webinar. You can catch up on the session here.

The current landscape 

Let’s begin by looking at where the students are at right now. From lockdowns to online learning and teacher-assessed grades, students have been through a tumultuous period during the Covid-19 pandemic. But the good news? Dropout didn’t reach expected levels in 2021. In fact, students weren’t left with many options so, in the main, stayed with their courses. 

However, post-lockdown we saw staggered returns to university affecting students’ social lives, alongside restrictions lifting on international travel and return to work. All of which raised questions around whether higher education was the right option during Clearing 2021. Enrolments were down and institutions were left with unfilled spaces. On the whole, grades were up but some students decided to take a year out, opt for other routes or simply wait to make their decision (namely the older cohort). 

Now that the new academic year has started, the dust has settled a little, and students are in situ. But that doesn’t mean those concerns, questions and what ifs aren’t lingering. And with the higher education sector bracing itself for heightened dropout rates over the Christmas period, we’re here to look at what retention strategies you can put in place now to prepare for the months ahead.

Firstly, how does the UK compare to other countries in terms of completion and retention? 

The UK has the best completion rates for Bachelors degrees compared to other developed countries, but this poses the question: are UK institutions being too selective and not taking enough risks when it comes to who they enrol?

Widening participation has the potential to skew the results, as students from more disadvantaged backgrounds have various different external factors that influence their decision to stay. In fact, selective higher education institutions have lower non-continuation rates than their non-selective counterparts.

While this may not be insight that is immediately actionable, it’s something to note as the sector as a whole works towards being inclusive with their student intake. It’s also important to note that you must employ different retention strategies for different demographics of students as various groups will be more vulnerable to drop out than others. More on that now…

Which students do you need to keep an eye on?

There are many factors that influence a student’s ability to complete their course. Although you can’t control the external factors and personal circumstances, there are ways to support your students and you need to be signposting these services to them. 

Gender, ethnicity and commuting time all stood out as considerable contributors to non-completion. In addition, mode of study was significant as part-time students are more likely not to complete than full-time students.

So, what do you need to do to retain and engage students?

1. Foster diversity and equality

To close the gender and ethnicity gap, champion neutrality and inclusivity in everything you do - from the first advertising message your prospective students see, to their involvement in societies, to their graduation day. And listen to them when they need support. Dropout comes from places of disconnect and disengagement, if students see themselves in your success stories, that connection can grow.


2. Make better use of your data

In 2021, we’ve seen that connection and personalisation are key. Use your data to segment your student groups. Work out what each group needs from you, which are most likely to drop out and build personalised comms strategies for each of them.  Speak to your students and get to know them. Find out what their challenges are, find out what they want and how they want to be communicated with.


3. Offer support

22% of students said they don’t have one real friend at university. It’s this sense of isolation that can lead to drop-out, and this has only been heightened due to the pandemic. In the survey, one student commented:

“Universities could promote integration during orientation week, have group activities which force people to communicate and work together. I think it could have sparked a number of friendships.”

Simply by listening to your students, you can work with them to offer the support that they truly want.


4. Create a sense of belonging and connection

Not only do you need to create a connection between your students and your institution, but also to their studies, to the community and to their life at university. Bring in ambassadors and alumni and get your faculty staff and admissions officers to engage with your students. 


5. Put the students first

Employ a student-centred ethos to your student journey mapping. Design student services for your students’ needs, rather than around your internal processes. By #thinkingstudent, you can empathise with their challenges and continually optimise your approach to keep them interested and engaged. 


6. Tailor your long-term nurture strategy

With progressive profiling, you can create consistent, tailored messaging from initial enquiry to post enrolment comms. Not sure what progressive profiling is? Read more about it here. And of course, always automate your processes so you can focus on creating that connection by keeping in touch with your students. 

Remember, you’re still in control. The students value your communications with them. In fact, your institution and its communications are the biggest influencer over student decisions, followed by family. It’s time to listen to your students’ concerns and implement strategies to support them throughout their university experience. And it all starts with data.

If you want to speak to an expert about your nurture funnels, data capture or recruitment strategy, then get in touch.

Article by

Nick Willmer

Head of Marketing