As I write this post from my home office, the governor of Virginia is on television announcing that schools will be closed for the remainder of the school year. My daughter is in tears that she’ll miss fifth grade graduation. My son is celebrating with his friends via headset in the middle of another round of Fortnite. If you asked me to commit to plans in September, I would probably say, “I’ll get back to you.”
That is the challenge facing every higher education recruiter in the nation: convincing busy adults confined to their homes, many with children, that they should commit to pursuing a degree in the fall. Our Adult Learner Recruitment partners have been asking us: How can we convince these students that earning a degree should still be a priority in an era of uncertainty?
Here are a few tactics your recruitment teams can use in conversations with prospects during these unsettling times:
Validate student concerns
Like all of us, prospective students of online, graduate, certificate, and degree completion programs are facing new concerns and uncertainties. Recruiters should listen to understand, not to respond. Truly understanding and repeating back the student’s concerns allows you the opportunity to move the conversation forward. Almost every recruiter I have had the pleasure of meeting on campus is deeply passionate about how their program can meet students’ needs, and validating students’ concerns opens the door for that valuable conversation.
A wise colleague once told me your goal should be to get to the question behind the question. If a prospective student is telling you one thing, ask them to clarify. Ask them, if a certain variable changed, would that alter their decision? This will help provide clarity to the student in their decision-making process—and help the recruiter better position program attributes and outcomes.
As students navigate disruptions in employment, childcare, and other changes to their routine, email can be a great way to reach out to students, allowing them to answer your questions on their own time.
Articulate value in multiple ways
Recruiters need to talk about value in different ways to different prospects. Asking questions that get to a prospect’s concerns is critical. For instance, if they are worried about completing their degree while balancing work and parenthood, share a student story about juggling school and family. If a student has some reservations about committing to a program, highlight your program’s part-time option or pathways from a certificate to a degree.
With economic uncertainty looming, the ways we recruit and serve career changers will be especially important. For young professionals who might not have been in the workforce for the 2008 recession, can you connect them with one of your alumni? Or better yet, profile that alum and share his or her story with prospects widely.
Share student concerns and responses with your team
Communicating with your recruitment team has never been more important, especially when you are not physically together. During this crisis, your recruiters are likely hearing different in-kind concerns from prospects. Sharing information gathered from all student interactions will help your team identify key themes and develop responses quickly. In a small team, consult with and leverage deans’ and faculty expertise for a fresh perspective on addressing student concerns.
On any given weekday (and often weekends), recruiters who support adult, professional, or graduate programs are convincing adults with dozens of priorities to come back to school. Today, those dozens of priorities are compounded by dozens of concerns. Our recruitment teams can play a small but important role in helping navigate these big decisions.