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College recruiting and admissions teams face new challenges presented by the COVID-19 pandemic as enrollment continues to decline — undergraduate enrollment is down 4.4 percent, and community college enrollment fell by more than 20 percent last year. According to a survey conducted by the National Association for College Admission Counseling (NACAC) in partnership with, 46 percent of four-year institutions of higher learning expect “substantial” impact on their recruitment ability due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“We’re seeing alarming shifts happening in education that have been accelerated by the pandemic, and specifically in the recruitment and admissions space. The decrease in both undergraduate enrollment and the number of first-generation applicants is a pressing societal issue,” says Nathalie Manlaind, senior vice president and general manager of Education Cloud at “Education creates pathways to social mobility and opportunities for innovation. Reaching and engaging diverse students and first-generation populations is more critical now than ever before.”

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As academic institutions face increasing competition for prospective students, data and the tools to manage it hold the keys to success.

Trust and equity

The key to recruitment and retention for many educational institutions is bridging the “trust gap” between students and schools. Salesforce’s Global Higher Education Snapshot is illuminating: 48 percent of students think trust is eroding between leadership and students.

Rebuilding that trust involves driving diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) initiatives. “The increased focus on DEI was already well underway prior to the pandemic,” says Margo Martinez, senior director of higher ed industry solutions at “Making sure that you are able to engage those students who are most likely to fall through the cracks so they actually have access is critical.”

Digital transformation

Addressing all of these issues — declining enrollment and retention, eroding trust, and inequities — is increasingly tied to how institutions handle data. In a digital-first world, that means technology is increasingly essential.

Students want to be set up for career success—but only a handful have access to helpful career resources from their institution.

“You have to start with a foundation of being able to be flexible and adaptable to change,” says Martinez. “In order to effectively leverage data, you need to not only understand the data and what trends are happening but be able to act on that data and use that data to transform.” has built Education Cloud, a higher-education-focused platform that leverages the company’s world-class customer relationship management (CRM) technology. The platform is designed to be flexible and extensible, but also comes with many out-of-the-box tools that allow institutions to begin using their data in new ways, like Tableau, a powerful data visualization product. “What Tableau affords is the ability to uncover patterns within the admission space, measure outcomes, and take action on insights,” Martinez explains.

Keeping students engaged

The key to driving recruitment and admissions in an increasingly competitive environment is leveraging data to keep students engaged. “When you are able to leverage data to know when that engagement is not there, and then take action and course correct, that’s critical,” says Martinez.

That requires real-time insight into the enrollment funnel, and that in turn requires a platform that can rapidly analyze data. For example, the newest tool Salesforce has developed for the higher education market is called Admissions Connect, an admissions CRM platform that unifies data and team collaboration to help drive applicant engagement and streamline application review.

With the current trend away from standardized testing, these sorts of data analytics tools become absolutely crucial. “The trend towards being ‛test-optional’ is likely to continue,” says Martinez. “Using data to have a holistic view of an applicant is going to be increasingly important.”

The pandemic has reshaped expectations of higher education—but it’s also created an opportunity for institutions to accelerate their digital transformation, and build resiliency in the next normal.

The need for these tools is only going to grow. “The future of admissions is very likely to look much more competitive than it is today,” notes Martinez. “Students expect to engage with academic institutions in the same way that they engage with brands and individuals online. The increasing move towards bite-sized education, micro-credentials — all these different modes of consuming education will also transform the admissions process.”

Keeping up with that transformation depends on building trust, and that begins in the admissions process. Better data tools mean better student experiences — and better institutional outcomes. “My hope is that it will be increasingly equitable and accessible,” says Martinez. “I’m very grateful the industry has equity at the core of its mission.”

Learn more about technology to support your Recruiting and Admissions team in this demo.

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