Self-Service Enrollment Platforms for Post-Traditional Students

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When COVID hit, almost all our students became post-traditional learners almost overnight. This transformation revealed a lot about the student experience.

At many schools, degree-seekers — especially non-traditional students — find themselves coping with multiple systems and departments that may not speak to each other. 

What would it take to create a self-service enrollment platform — to imitate the Amazon experience in a higher education setting?

Lesley Nichols, Executive Director of Professional Studies at Emerson College, returned to the Enrollment Growth University to talk about both the student and administrative friction removed from moving to a self-service enrollment platform for their continuing education programs.

How a Self-service Platform Benefits Students and Staff

A student working on a professional program may not have the same access to registration, payment, billing, and other services that an on-campus student would have. The self-service platform was Emerson’s attempt to create an Amazon-style shopping experience. 

With this platform, someone who does not have previous experience working or studying at Emerson College would have access to the type of services they need in a friendly format. 

It’s not just about students, though. Emerson’s platform removed many of the manual tasks staff members have historically had to undertake due to having multiple systems of record. The self-service system integrates with some of the backend systems that the college uses. Having one point of entry for curriculum and student information reduces errors and creates a more streamlined workflow for staff members.

How Emerson Built Its Self-Service Enrollment Platform

It took a team. Different departments across the college collaborated on the project. One of the biggest challenges was figuring out how to make the workflows more efficient for each office and for other partners.

Consequently, the team took a hard look at how Emerson does business — from how it collects information to how easy it is for everyone to access the data points they need.

The nuts and bolts of starting a project of this magnitude involve purchasing, negotiating contracts, putting together an IT team to determine how long the project will last, and then pulling together all the different stakeholders.

The Amazonification of Higher Education

We asked Lesley: Are there benefits to making enrollment comparable to the e-commerce experiences that adult students use when traversing the rest of the internet?

(She said, “Yes.”)

Prior to the launch of this self-service platform, it was hard getting the data to make identifications of success.For instance, Emerson used to have a completely separate content management system for posting courses on the website. Now, they’ve moved that system into the self-service platform and combined it with registration and payment. This approach makes the data better, and it improves student experiences. 

Under the old system, if a student found a course they were interested in, they would have to click a link that took them to a totally separate payment site to process their credit card. The school had no way of gathering data from that process. Did clicking a link actually mean making a purchase? Were students abandoning the cart? No one knew.  

Now, the team at Emerson can see how many people abandoned a course purchase. And the system can be programmed to send out automatic emails to students who have items in their carts much like what Amazon and other online retailers do.

Similarly, in working with their digital ad agency, Lesley and her team can get real tracking data to see how effective their advertising campaigns are. Are they resulting in click-throughs? What’s the ROI?

Now they know.

Next Steps to Creating Self-Service Enrollment Platforms

Two major things:

  1. Look at your platform(s) from a customer’s standpoint. Sometimes in higher ed there’s a reluctance to view prospective students as customers, but ultimately they are comparison shopping. They are looking not only at the curriculum, the price point, and the reputation of the institution, but they’re also looking at the experience. How easy is signing up for a class or finding information, for instance? These things matter to post-traditional learners.
  2. Look at how you do your work. How do you manage the registration process? How many people or departments are involved? What kind of data do you collect? Most importantly, is there a better, more streamlined way?

Your primary question is: How can we use software, not simply to replicate the way we’re doing things, but to improve our lives and make us more productive and effective?

This post is based on a podcast interview with Lesley Nichols of Emerson College. To hear this episode and many more like it, you can subscribe to Enrollment Growth University.

If you don’t use iTunes, you can listen to every episode here.