Solving Post-Pandemic Data Challenges in Higher Education


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As many industries have had to do, higher education has weathered numerous shifts and changes in light of the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Many updates to campus life and administrative processes were quick and enduring. Not only did colleges and universities have to find new ways to offer what they’ve always provided (world-class academics), but campus leaders have had to adjust to a modernized data landscape that poses its own unique issues and requirements.

To combat these challenges while meeting other important goals, such as enrollment and recruitment, higher education needs practical data solutions that deliver real results. 

If your school is still trying to navigate a “new normal” in the post-pandemic era, keep reading to learn how better data processes can alleviate that stress.

Top 5 post-pandemic challenges 

Prior to the global pandemic, higher education was already grappling with things like declining enrollment numbers, shifting student expectations, and pressure to deliver relevant resources throughout the student lifecycle

While the pandemic may have simply added an extra layer of challenge for schools that were already proficient at solving these challenges, it likely exacerbated underlying issues for schools that were struggling to maintain a status quo. 

Even as higher education leaders now learn how to support and nurture relationships with a new generation of learners, reliable data strategies can reduce growing pains. To help you understand the many data-related nuances for post-secondary institutions, we’ve rounded up five significant challenges that colleges and universities must overcome. 

1. Expanding online learning opportunities 

Online courses and hybrid learning models already existed prior to COVID-19. But their permanence as a necessity for degree attainment wasn’t quite set in stone. When online course offerings became essential during times of quarantine and social distancing, colleges worked quickly to expand online learning and course materials.

While online courses promote flexibility for learners, they also introduce new challenges to many institutions. These challenges can include:

  • Adequate onboarding and training for instructors
  • Student engagement and activity in courses that never meet physically
  • Student privacy in online forums, file sharing, and discussion platforms
  • Expansion of course material into digital formats
  • Increased marketing budgets designed to advertise digital offerings

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Robert Ubell, author of Staying Online: How to Navigate Digital Higher Education points out that modern schools must be prepared for online expansion. In an interview with Inside Higher Ed, Ubell points out that this is new territory for most institutions and requires “up-to-the-minute digital magic, sophisticated pedagogy to keep students glued to their screens, and dynamic leaders, keeping the online ship floating and flexible.” 

2. Solving data quality issues

One of the most significant problems plaguing higher education today is poor data quality. Whether this happens in the form of data that’s poorly entered in the first place, or because different departments have siloed access to the data they need to use, the quality of data content makes a tangible difference at colleges and universities.

Unfortunately, data quality errors often happen very early on in the interest (or top of funnel) stage of the student lifecycle. Because colleges and universities can purchase large batches of student information for recruitment purposes, it’s possible to start using data that is not correct in the first place. This can lead to misplaced opportunities and lackluster marketing efforts.

When higher ed personnel have access to smart web forms, conditional questions, and field verification, it’s easier to gather clean and organized data that’s correct from the first interaction. This improves communication with students, enhances cross-departmental data sharing, and breaks down barriers to better support.

3. Maintaining strong data security policies

Despite the fact that today’s college students are “digital natives,” their familiarity with online education outlets doesn’t mean that their personal information deserves any less protection. When research institutions have conducted surveys among this generation of college students, results illustrate students’ concerns about how their information is stored and used.

In higher education, data security and privacy are multi-layered. This means that your institution must develop a comprehensive strategy for approaching security at many different touchpoints, including admissions, financial aid, and in the online classroom setting.  

Protecting student’s data privacy (and ensuring a high level of security) is often governed by legislation like FERPA or the Gramm Leach-Bliley Act. Under these regulations, schools must meet or exceed the industry standard for data protection according to federally-instituted rules. Failure to do so can contribute to fines, penalties, and a breach of student trust.

4. Fighting enrollment dips

Even at the start of the pandemic, colleges and universities were battling a declining number of new students during the traditional enrollment season. These decreases were particularly pronounced at community colleges and among international students. 

With the rapid shifts brought on by the pandemic, students were faced with difficult decisions about whether to enroll or re-enroll. To combat downward trends, college leaders need accurate and reliable data to forecast new enrollments and confront issues before they become more significant to the school’s long-term growth.

Colleges can confront declining enrollment with data in a number of creative ways:

  • Gathering more personalized information from students who choose to enroll
  • Connecting interested students immediately to the best point of contact
  • Nurturing student relationships over time to increase retention rates
  • Analyzing student enrollment trends over time and mobilizing resources as needed

Although many enrollment factors are based on the culture as a whole, there are practical ways that schools can take advantage of the data they have to keep engagement high.

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5. Providing personalized marketing 

Student data is especially valuable to schools that want to connect with students on a more individual level. When students have tailored support, they can experience what it feels like to be more than just a number, and instead feel like a valued part of the campus community. 

By taking advantage of more complete and up-to-date data, staff and personnel can do things like:

  • Provide personalized recommendations to students who need advice
  • Generate timely messages to students at key milestones or deadlines
  • Follow-up on student requests and inquiries
  • Deliver better messaging that meets students where they are on their journey
  • Personally invite students to events or exclusive opportunities
  • Stay connected to alumni after graduation

When schools use data to personalize all aspects of the student journey, it’s more likely that personnel can deliver an exceptional experience. This helps colleges and universities stand out in a very crowded market, in which students have access to plenty of comparable options on where to attend and spend their tuition dollars.

Solve higher ed challenges with FormAssembly

As institutions of higher education shift back to slightly more “normal” procedures in a post-pandemic world, thinking proactively about data challenges is critical. Enterprise businesses aren’t the only ones that need modern, streamlined solutions for tackling some of the most significant data concerns of the last few years.

As we collectively enter a new chapter, it’s time for colleges and universities to serve students and to build better communities through the use of powerful data solutions. 

Choosing a platform like FormAssembly for your higher ed institution isn’t just about creating temporary fixes—it’s about leveraging the power of secure, reliable data to grow and evolve.

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