The effects of the COVID-19 pandemic have fundamentally changed the way higher education institutions attract, enroll, educate, and retain students.

Online learning was once just an option at many universities. Now it’s a requirement.

The implication of virtual learning for universities is significant, giving rise to major shifts in the higher education business model. 

Take Harvard for example. In early July 2020, Harvard announced that all fall undergraduate courses will be taken online and that only 40% of the student body will be welcomed back to live on campus. 

Despite the change to virtual instruction, the university made it clear that tuition will remain the same. This has caused many students to question whether or not that Ivy League badge of honor is still worth the near $50,000 a year price tag.

Many universities are struggling with the same dilemma; how do we communicate our value proposition and maintain enrollment when everyone is going virtual?

While higher ed institutions across the globe scramble for answers, high school graduates and professionals out of work are looking for their next step. 

The place they’ll go to first? Your website. If you want your university to be more than a blip on their radar, you have to get a handle on your website.

Aside from the technical requirements that need to be airtight, there are four core components that your website must have in a COVID-19 world.

Read: Website Page Speed: Why It’s Important and How to Improve It

4 Things Every Higher Ed Website Should Have During and After COVID-19

1. Frequently Updated Content

People are looking to your website for information  — not just about your programs and degrees, but also for information about how you’re handling the pandemic and adjusting accordingly.

This goes beyond your typical emergency alert banner, too.

Higher ed institutions need to make their website content a top priority, even after the worst of the pandemic is over. Current and prospective students need to feel they can use your website as a trusted source of information. If they don’t find what they need, they will go looking for that information elsewhere — or even worse — choose an institution that does prioritize their content.

Universities are getting creative with the ways in which they communicate updates, playing with design layouts, newsletter and email blasts, and robust COVID-19 content hubs.

Take the University of Virginia’s homepage as an example.

The university’s homepage features a hero image related to the coronavirus and clearly communicates that instruction has been moved online. They then provide coronavirus information relevant to specific groups of website visitors: students, faculty and staff, and university operations.

It’s no secret that the COVID-19 pandemic has affected nearly every aspect of higher education, from on-campus living arrangements and instructional formats to university athletics and events. No matter how you choose to structure your website, your university should address every single one of these components and give students as much up to date information as you can.

2. Transfer Program Resources

If there’s ever a time for universities to up their transfer content game, it is now. 

Around the same time that Harvard announced it would shift all instruction to an online format, federal immigration authorities set forth new guidelines declaring that international students must leave the U.S. or transfer colleges if their university’s coursework is offered online only. 

That policy has since been changed, but even before the announcement, transfer search volumes were up 119% over the last six months.

U.S. students may have a desire to be closer to home for fear of a second wave, or an unwillingness to pay $50,000 for online instruction (ahem, Harvard). Either way you look at it, students are looking into alternatives, and historically, the burden of transfers has been put on the students themselves.

The universities that provide the resources and guidance that transfer students need will likely be the ones that see an influx of transfer students. 

FREE White Paper: How to Devise a Full-Funnel Higher Ed Digital Marketing Strategy

3. Virtual Community & Events

Creating a virtual community in higher ed is now more important than ever.

And it doesn’t stop at enrollment events. In addition to virtual tours and Q+A panels with admissions officers, universities should prioritize creating virtual experiences for accepted students, currently enrolled students, and alumni.

Take Wilkes University’s Virtual Accepted Student Week as an example. In addition to encouraging incoming students to share their school spirit on social, the university also provides students with faculty welcome videos, academic major overviews, and student health and campus safety information.

The investment in virtual community building will pay dividends long after the COVID-19 pandemic is over. Gil Rogers at Inside Higher Ed echoes this notion in his article about the “new normal,” stating that virtual events are here to stay.

“Just like there was a time when everyone was launching their website or deploying a CRM for the first time, virtual events will forever be part of the admissions landscape. The ones who do it well, just like traditional events, will be the ones who win and stand out,” Rogers writes.

4. Communication Around Key Drivers

By this point, you know that updating the content on your website has a significant impact on enrollment, retainment, and engagement.

But it’s even more important to prioritize the subject matter that your students actually care about right now.

There are four core themes that prospective students will be looking for as they search for their next academic home:

  • Flexibility: How much can I customize my education and mold it to fit my financial, personal, and professional needs?
  • Financial Aid: How can the university help me pay for my education?
  • Quality of Instruction: How is the instruction delivered in a way that engages students’ interest and critical thinking in a meaningful way?
  • Institutional Viability: Is the institution able to survive long-term given the financial challenges of COVID-19?

If you incorporate key messaging around those four categories into your website content and marketing and social media channels, prospective students are more likely to view you as a trusted resource and quality educational institution.

See it now: Silverback partners with eCornell to improve keyword rankings by 382%

Work With Marketers Who Know Higher Ed

Whether you need help refining the technical elements of your website or creating quality online content, we’re here to help. Contact us today or call us at (571) 234-5784. 

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