Jessica: Welcome Jason! It’s a pleasure to have you as part of our Higher-Ed Tide Series. Please tell us about yourself? What is your role at the university?
Jason: I have been at Allegheny College since 1999, always in the Admissions Office. I oversee our marketing and communications, but recruitment is my immediate area. I visit schools and then am back in the office at some point. The majority of my time you’ll find me working with our print publications, email campaigns, and then with some digital marketing.
Jessica: That is great! Very well versed in the digital marketing world, then! How did you start at Allegheny?
Jason: I wanted to work with students and wanted to do something good in the world. I was a resident advisor in college and had a work-study job in alumni relations and enjoyed both, so admissions were one of the areas I started looking into. There are a lot of things you can do in addition to the marketing end of things. I’m comfortable with technology, so I’ve got involved working with our CRM, Slate.
Jessica: Amazing! Let's talk a bit more about technology and platforms. In addition to your CRM, you mentioned you also do email marketing campaigns. Do you do any other social media advertising efforts for the college?
Jason: Yes, we either work with our overall college marketing and communications office or work with some partners. We do have social media accounts, but in terms of paid advertising, we usually work with partners on that.
Jessica: Are these partnerships only done for paid ads, or do you outsource all marketing efforts? For example, email marketing, is that done in-house?
Jason: Yes, so email marketing is actually rolled into our CRM. So, depending on the program, when a student enters the CRM, they will receive welcome messages. Basically, we have different journeys set up in our CRM based on the type of students. For example, if they're a high school senior, they'll be on certain tracks. If, for instance, we have events coming up, we build separate campaigns for those and have a nurturing sequence encouraging our prospective students to attend our events.
Jessica: It sounds like you are right on track with email marketing and student nurturing! Let’s talk now about the topic of the last two years almost, COVID. COVID really pushed universities to prioritize the use of these digital technologies. It sounds like your college was already well-versed in adapting to new technologies, but usually, universities tended to rely heavily on one-on-one conversations, on-site representations, attending university fairs, etc. How has that affected your work in the last year?
Jason: [Laughs] You are giving us more credit than we deserve. We were not necessarily prepared, but we adapted quickly. If we were having this conversation two years ago, it will be different. We have an international recruiter in our office. He was doing some of what we're doing, like Zoom, for example on his own, but it was more one-on-one through managing his applicant pool, his students. The rest of the office just caught up. He would plan some events, connecting with his students all over the world. We also host an online information session weekly. We had three in-person open houses this summer and pulled back on offering as many online events, but we'll remain to offer convenient ways where people can schedule those info sessions or counselor meetings.
Jessica: Sounds like you’ve been doing a mix of everything in order to be fully available for students. Now that we are able to interact in person, it makes sense to start pushing back from the online event format. Let’s talk about the regions where your international students come from.
Jason: It tends to be Asian countries. I think Vietnam has been great for us, South Korea, Mongolia, Indonesia. The Middle East, to an extent. Our previous recruiter had experience in Latin America, South America. Our focus has shifted to those areas. We've reached out to Canada a little. When borders are open, students can easily travel from places like Ontario, so we'll get students from there, but we're not necessarily hitting British Columbia or something like that.
Jessica: It sounds like there is a presence internationally, which is great. You mentioned you also work with partners or third-party companies. Do you work with digital marketing agencies, or even agents, in different markets?
Jason: We have worked with agents but haven't renewed with most of these, we weren't seeing a positive ROI. We haven’t had the budget to explore more of the digital end, but we’re open to it. I think when we were traveling, we would get students from those areas, but it was based more on actual travel.
Jessica: You mentioned participating in certain fairs. A lot of companies have developed virtual fair offerings. Is that something you guys have also participated in?
Jason: We have. It’s online, and they're open to everyone. Some of those have had a higher international population than something that's offered through our state association or even the national association. But I’ll be way more honest, there have been so many online events happening all the time, and unless it’s one I was staffing. I lost track of what the audience was.
Jessica: Those fairs are tricky. It could be quantity but not necessarily the quality of students. You don't specifically know if they are your ideal student, so it is a gray area sometimes.
Jason: Definitely, from my experience, we've really focused more on lead quality or student quality rather than quantity.
Jessica: I couldn’t agree more! The focus, especially now that everything's online, is more on quality. We need to optimize people's time from both sides. My other question was regarding the digital marketing piece. It sounds like you guys have done a lot in-house. What has your strongest channel been bringing in students, either internationally or domestically? Has it been more your recruiters on-site or alumni networks?
Jason: For international, I would say recruiters on-site or making connections. I think our own students have been tremendous. When we have a student that's having a great experience, spreading the word to their classmates has been powerful.
For domestic, again, particular schools. We are either there virtually or in person. Some of our own efforts, like student search, are still reliable, getting names through the college board or ACT. We're talking about tens of thousands to get 5,000 applications, but those translate into 400 students we enroll, so we can't move away from those.
Jessica: What would you say your current challenge is at the moment, both in terms of digital marketing and admissions?
Jason: In particular, to focus on international students, it would be the inability to travel, but also our location. The closest major city is within two hours. Once students get to campus, they get it, but to get their attention and to stand out based on our location is a challenge for sure.
Jessica: Awesome, Jason. It has been a pleasure having you as part of our Higher-Ed Tide series. We thank you so much for your valuable time, I hope that Allegheny College continues to increase its presence in international markets!
Allegheny College adapted quickly to online recruitment thanks to its innovative use of marketing technologies and strategic partnerships. Their prospective students enjoy a personalized experience filled with all the right information and counseling to accompany their journey. No surprise, it's still one of the top choices for studying in Pennsylvania.
What is UniCentrico by Centrico Digital?
UniCentrico is a Canadian-Ecuadorian recruiting service and platform that helps North American universities identify and connect with prospective students from Latin America. UniCentrico uses digital marketing to help universities identify and qualify prospective students. For more information, please contact Jessica Luna, Higher Education Marketing Head at firstname.lastname@example.org.
To read more about other institutions changing their game in international student recruitment, read our previous Higher-Ed articles here!