Jessica: Can you tell us about your role and responsibilities at Mount Allison?
Mark: I am the manager responsible for international recruitment and admissions. I currently oversee all international recruitment. I started focusing on Latin America - that’s when we spoke with you, Jessica. I'm hopeful that we will be hiring an international admissions counselor later this year so that we can get a little bit more coverage because the world is big and I'm only one person.
Jessica: What did Mount Allison do in order to tackle the challenges brought on by COVID last year?
Mark: The biggest piece for us was being able to provide an environment for in-person learning. In Canada, the median institution size is over 20,000 students for an undergraduate university and due to the situation with COVID, we could not welcome them back to the classroom.
So, along with a very small number of other small universities here on the east coast-Maple League partners, we're now able to offer in-person instruction as a result of the low-case numbers in the region and the management regime. We're just over 2,000 students in a small town of 5,000 people, so we have the space to be able to manage.
It made it a lot easier for us to be able to offer them that in-person experience, while at the same time, offering an off-campus experience or an online experience. We've just now welcomed, this month, probably about 20 students who began online and were able to secure study permits and travel arrangements to come and join us here on campus. We had to be able to keep them involved and make sure that they're on the road to success.
Jessica: How did you get students to enroll online in September with you not being able to attend schools and meet students one-on-one?
Mark: The key thing for us has been being reactive. The model here at Mount Allison is all about student care and personalized attention, so that's not a big transition for us. Due to our national ranking and partly due to our reputation amongst those who know us, it's been more of a case of our students finding us before we have found them this year. We’ve continued to have one-on-one meet-ups with students online and focus on scaling health while providing that personalized experience for our students.
Jessica: Did you see a lot of students who decided to defer for a year due to the travel restrictions or were they still willing to enroll online?
Mark: We did have many students who wanted to defer, which actually, given the type of student that Mount Allison typically attracts, is pretty routine. We certainly supported that for up to a year. Also, in a lot of cases, students could not get their study permit although we would allow them to begin without it. But in most cases, I would say students were very keen to begin.
Kutay, my boss, initiated a program where students who began online, and entirely online are eligible for a tuition discount that is equivalent to three credits. So, we have about 20 students, I believe, who began online and have now come to be here on campus. Those students will be in line for a tuition discount, which would be equivalent to a little bit less than $2,000 Canadian.
Jessica: In terms of digital or virtual offerings, did you do any virtual fairs or do paid promotion on social media during this time?
Mark: We have a pretty strong alumni network and it's global. So we depend on analog recruitment methods. We did participate in a number of virtual fairs. We've participated in EduCanada fairs. We participated in CIS fairs because we offer significant incentives to the Council of International Schools students.
There are limitations to what can be done in the virtual platform so we're becoming increasingly selective about them, and also realizing that we're not tying a lot of our potential enrollments to participation in those fairs. They haven’t been as effective as we’d want them to be. We’re not finding the right students, our alumni network continues to be the stronger driver of students.
Also, we do have some ongoing social media efforts and there have been some locally targeted campaigns along the way.
Jessica: Definitely, with my clients, we’ve really been focusing on tapping into quality over quantity when it comes to virtual fairs. University recruiters often spend a lot of resources and time talking in fairs where they are a sea of lonely booths and spend hours speaking to students who may not even be qualified to attend their schools. We find only the right type of student for our clients via our lead generation and virtual event efforts. Now, in terms of enrollment numbers for international students and even if they were online, did you see a decrease this year?
Mark: They actually went up. At the onset, we didn't know how we would budget in terms of anticipating revenue. We decided to budget for zero international students. We didn't know if an international student would be able to come into the country. We didn't know if we should offer online at that moment, or if the Canadian government would even allow that to take place. And then as the summer unfolded, we realized that more Latin American students were actively looking for a better opportunity. Coming from other areas of the world, there's a bit more urgency associated with this need of finding a better opportunity. This urgency increased for these students, they were banging on the doors more than ever to get in.
We've also seen that because of the online offering, and because study permits are an issue in a normal year, let alone, this year, having that online piece sort of helped to bolster that. That was also the case domestically and that was due to the fact that now we are able to suddenly offer something that was very hard to find elsewhere, which was an in-classroom, on-campus residential living experience, which is not the same as the normal year but closer to the norm than we're seeing in most of our larger peers.
Jessica: Is college counselor engagement still as strong as it used to be?
Mark: I'm starting to look more at the quality of the students in a longer-term perspective because it's not just getting the students here. I really want the students to succeed and graduate. I don't want students leaving because they're unhappy or unable to continue their studies. So being able to have those relationships with the counselors is very important.
Jessica: Do you have a CRM in place that you work with to manage your prospective students?
Mark: We communicate with our students primarily through Salesforce. Our traditional model is that we can write a note to every student when they're admitted, but in terms of lead management and nurturing we rely on Salesforce.
Jessica: Was the transition to Salesforce challenging?
Mark: I was not particularly intimately involved with that process, but it seemed like it was a lot of work. We've invested the time to get it up and running and the students respond well to the communications that they receive via Salesforce.
Jessica: What would you say is the most challenging aspect of recruiting in Latin America?
Mark: I would say that, in Latin America, there is not a long tradition of people coming to, specifically, Mount Allison; we need to position ourselves better in that market. Resources also definitely become an issue in Latin America as our tuition creeps toward 20,000 Canadian dollars a year, which I understand is a bargain compared to most.
Despite facing challenges amid a global pandemic, Mark and his team at Mount Allison have successfully used a mix of traditional and digital recruitment methods to attract optimistic and dedicated students abroad. They’ve stuck to what was working best for them before COVID and adjusted their offering always ensuring they prioritize their one-on-one personalized offering for students. Thanks to their ability to utilize strong CRM platforms such as Salesforce CRM and techniques with an added personal touch, they are proof that student recruitment efforts can thrive in the unlikeliest of times.
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 email@example.com.