Education

Jessica Luna

Dalhousie University Develops Relationships With Higher-Ed Companies Globally

We sat down with Alyson Murray, Associate Director of Recruitment at Dalhousie University in Nova Scotia, Canada, to learn more about how her team transitioned quickly and successfully from pre-COVID to virtual recruitment. They included virtual tours, webinars, and online advising for students around the globe with a focus on Latin America. 

Alyson is responsible for engaging with undergraduate students in all markets to promote Dalhousie University. Alyson and her team work with students throughout their entire university selection journey to connect, advise, and support them and their parents.

 

Jessica: It's wonderful to talk to you again, Alyson! Thank you for your time. So, given that COVID shifted the game for international recruitment and pushed universities to seek other solutions to recruiting that were not in-person, how Universities have been looking for other solutions to recruiting that were not in-person?

Alyson: I think we continue to learn a lot and evolve our approach to this. Early on, we quickly pivoted to online tools and platforms. For example, we started offering online advising appointments, virtual campus tours, Zoom, or other virtual presentations to schools. We began to invest in longer-term solutions and look for longer-term partners. For example, we partnered with an outside organization that brought a technology-based solution paired with local market knowledge. So we've leaned into the digital space in ways that we hadn't before. And I think we'll continue many of these practices, even when it is safe to travel again. 

Jessica: With your primary focus being Latin America, what would you say is your main challenge when recruiting students in this region?

Alyson: I believe our main challenge was to continue educating students and supporters in Latin America and bringing general awareness about Dalhousie. But often, families in the Latin America region may not be familiar with Eastern Canada as an option for post-secondary studies. So I think part of the challenge has just been educating and building awareness. We have been doing that for several years, and we are starting to see the work results. But we also never have enough time or staff to go to all of the communities that we would hope to visit in Latin America.

Jessica: Definitely, generating that awareness takes time, but when done right, you can see the return on that time commitment. Let's talk about lead generation. What lead generators do you prioritize to capture students? 

Alyson: Relationships have been a considerable part of Dalhousie's success in Latin America. We have some great champions in Ecuador, in particular, and through our alum, through key counselors. I think Dalhousie has often taken a more niche approach, focused on building relationships with key stakeholders and supporters instead of more extensive tactics that might generate a high quantity of leads. But with COVID, we have also had to shift that approach. We cannot be there connecting with those partners and fostering those relationships. So we've started to continue to engage in new partnerships that would help us raise awareness. We also embedded lead generation forms into our websites and worked with our digital media to optimize lead generation there, and we also implemented an integrated email strategy.

Jessica: I know that pre-COVID Dal didn't have a vast social media presence. Has your use of social media changed in recent times, or have you shied away from it?

Alyson: Social media is going to continue to be an essential part of our recruitment plan. We're leaning into social media in two ways. One is through our channels, working to have campaigns like our DalBound campaign. There, accepted students are, through contesting, encouraged to share and generate content on our channels. And in terms of outward promotion, we are working with a couple of niche partners in critical regions. We wanted to make sure that we are culturally responsive and that we are on appropriate channels for the different regions we're targeting.

Jessica: Has COVID drastically changed your enrollment numbers in any way?

Alyson: Certainly, the numbers are looking healthy, leading up to the deposit deadline of May 15th, but we do know that students have some really big choices ahead of them and that there's still a lot of uncertainty over the summer months. So we're going to continue to work hard to keep students engaged and make sure that we're responsive over the summer because we understand that students have been researching more schools than ever before, casting many applications. So early signs are positive and healthy numbers, but we also recognize that there's no roadmap for this kind of enrollment cycle. We've never had an entirely virtual, emergency measures sort of enrollment cycle. So we're cautiously optimistic.

Jessica: Given the optimistic view on enrollment, have the lead generation channels remained the same for your strongest channels? For example, did students come more from the digital efforts, or did they still come from your network, college counselors, etc.?

Alyson: I think we were fortunate with the students we've been working with for September 2021. Thankfully, we had the opportunity to connect with many of them in person during their junior year. We've been really out of travel for over a year now. So I think we are going to start to see the leads for the following year, 2022. Of course, we're going to have to rely more on additional channels than we have in the past, whether that's digital, virtual recruitment events, additional marketing, as well as relationships, and brand and word-of-mouth referrals. 

Jessica: I would like to get a sense of what you would like to see from these partners, higher education companies, or higher ed marketing companies seeking to work with universities like yours.

Alyson: I always appreciate vendors who can and are willing to discuss the unique needs that we're facing at our institution and who can tailor their product or solution to meet our needs. So I hope that companies will continue to think about niche approaches to client service and product offerings that can be tailored because the needs of Dalhousie could be very different from the needs of another university, even within our city/region.

Jessica: Yes, indeed. Finally, I would like to ask, given our latest relationship, do you have any feedback, advice, or suggestions regarding my uni groups?

Alyson: Gosh, well, I've been nothing but pleased. So I wouldn't say I have a lot of sort of suggestions or anything of that nature. I think my comment on tailored and niche approaches reflects one thing that I've so much enjoyed about our partnership so far. I felt like the team at MyUniGuru did take the time to ask really smart questions from the outset to understand what we're trying to accomplish. It didn't feel like we're trying to fit Dalhousie into your solution. It felt like you were an equal partner trying to tailor your offering to help us solve the challenge we were facing. So that's been wonderful. 

While following health protocols, keeping up with the ever-changing climate during COVID, and making sure they are culturally responsive while engaging students, Dalhousie has proven to continue to seek out students internationally by partnering with companies specialized in student recruitment in each region. Dalhousie University is prepared to do the work and seek out third-party support to help students in Latin America and across the globe feel supported before and throughout their entire university journey. 

 

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 jessica@centricodigital.com.

 

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