I’ve just finished reading a good background article from the Genius Recruiter titled "Universities Going Virtual To Attract Students". It’s all about examples of the move in Higher Education to virtual events and activities for student recruitment. It looks at a few brief case studies:
- Teesside University's award winning Postgraduate Virtual Open Day, which led to a 41% increase in applications
- IDP's Online Education Fair for Indian students interested in studying in Australia
- Unigo's virtual college counsellors
- University of Rochester's Virtual Residence Tours
- Virtual Agent Workshops in Norway.
It's inevitable that these things will continue to grow, as the economics of student recruitment drive them, at the same time as students become increasingly comfortable with making big decisions online, through websites and the advice of their peers.
And if you think that it's too big a decision to put make online, think about the change in habits we’ve gone through in making the biggest financial decision of our lives – buying a house. In the last few years there’s been a huge growth in the number of people who use the web for their shortlisting process – if your house doesn’t look suitable online, you never even get the chance to show a potential purchaser around it!
Some of these ideas could be easily created without investing pots of cash, or becoming too complicated, using the Microsoft software that you’ve probably already got:
Create a 3D Virtual campus tour for your Virtual Open Day
You can create a Photosynth of parts of your campus really easily, embed it onto your website, and have it show up in Bing Maps. All you need is a digital camera, and half an hour to take lots of shots (or, with the iPhone version of Photosynth, you can dispense with the camera, and create a panorama for the web from your phone). There are already quite a few University of Sydney Photosynths, including a 360-degree panorama of the quadrangle, and this walk-through Photosynth of the Sydney Uni Live event.
Virtual University Counsellors and Virtual Agent Workshops
Using Lync (from your existing infrastructure, or as a cloud-hosted service in Office 365) you can easily setup a system for prospective students to be able to talk with recruiting staff, academics or student ambassadors. So that somebody browsing your website could start a chat conversation from their screen. Using live chat, instead of a phone conversation, means that you can more easily serve different time zones, and your staff can be away from their office phone – making it easier for you to provide out of hours support. (You can also do this with Skype and Windows Live Messenger, and embed it onto your website too, but the benefit of using Lync is that you can keep track of all the conversations in your own system – making it easy to connect it with your CRM system – and also integrate to your telephony, video conferencing etc)