Staying connected: Proactive, personalized outreach matters

Careers in the 21st century are rapidly changing. As a result, today’s university students are focused on getting the specific skills they need to succeed and advance in their chosen career fields.

Gone are the days when the “typical” college student is 18 to 22 years old, studying full-time and living on or near campus. The number of post-traditional students — adults who attend college later in life, often while working full-time and with family obligations — has been growing steadily. According to a 2017 report from the American Council on Education, this student population now comprises roughly 60 percent of today’s undergraduates.

And the delivery method they’re increasingly choosing for their entry or return to higher ed? Online. The convenience and flexibility of online programs best suits their needs, allowing them to balance work, family and other obligations of a busy life.

But the convenience of online education also comes with challenges.

Connecting with the course materials, connecting with the professors and connecting with the other students can all be an issue when students are scattered around the world, not gathered together in the classroom. For many students pursuing degrees and credentials online, access to adaptive, on-demand learning may come at the expense of active participation in a school community.

Old Dominion University realized that to provide the best possible educational experience to online students, in addition to excellent educational content, it needed to offer convenience and connection in equal measures.

In partnership with InsideTrack, ODUOnline developed a new approach to recruitment that engages prospective students quickly and deeply by providing support tailored to a new generation of learners.

Maximizing the online experience

The idea is simple: Providing tailored support to online students before they even set foot (or click) in the digital classroom positions them for success down the road — both in academics and in their career.

“When the Office of Distance Learning began preparing to shift all distance programs online, one of our primary goals was to maintain our high-touch, best-in-class support services provided to prospective and current ODU students at a distance,” said Heather Huling, assistant vice president, planning and development for ODUOnline. “With that goal in mind, we partnered with InsideTrack to develop an in-house online student coaching team and strategy modeled after their proven approach.”

The partnership started with a thorough assessment that evaluated the strengths of Old Dominion’s online program and looked for areas of potential improvement. The assessment affirmed that ODU had expert faculty and knowledgeable staff, and also uncovered potential opportunities to build on this dedication by providing enhanced outreach to prospective students.

InsideTrack immediately began to provide coaching for new prospects while training ODU staff to provide this coaching themselves. A coaching manager and coaching team were hired to do outreach to prospective students using a customized communication plan.

This phased approach enabled ODU to immediately enhance student engagement while building a sustainable and highly scalable program to support future growth.

“A meaningful and substantial impact”

Each month, hundreds of prospective students receive personalized outreach via phone, email and text, targeted to their specific questions, needs and concerns. Through purposeful communication strategies, the ODU team can support the right student at the right time, guiding students from initial inquiry until they are ready to start class.

“Learning how to assess each individual student’s values, goals and motivations for the degree they are seeking helps me to work with them in a more enhanced capacity,” said Liza King, enrollment and operations coordinator for ODUOnline.

Students aren’t the only ones benefiting from the new approach. A new quality assurance and development program is also supporting ODUOnline staff with ongoing training, professional development and recognition.

“One student was so appreciative of my assistance and support that she sent an email to the associate vice president for Distance Learning in order to recognize the ‘quality of advisory skills and services’ that she had received. The InsideTrack approach to coaching definitely has a meaningful and substantial impact on my ability to support the students that I work with,” said King.

Coaching for the 21st century

ODU’s success at providing personalized support at scale is powered by InsideTrack’s uCoach® Platform. The uCoach Platform enables coaches to communicate with students using email, phone or SMS — whichever channel is most effective for the student and the situation.

Through the platform students can access self-directed digital guides designed to prepare them for a successful academic experience.

“The uCoach Platform provided ODUOnline coaches a system for managing communication plans and tracking ongoing engagement with prospective students. Using data from the uCoach Platform, managers can report on individual coach and overall performance to inform processes and training plans,” said Huling.

“When we began our partnership with InsideTrack, our organization was undergoing significant change. InsideTrack worked with us to develop training plans that met our specific needs and helped us shift our staff to a contemporary, online coaching approach,” Huling continued. “Today, we have a dedicated team of coaches providing personalized, proactive outreach to prospective ODUOnline students.”

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