Defining the 5 phases of a student engagement strategy

Defining your student engagement Strat
Lauren Panaswich

March 12, 2021

At AdmitHub, we partner with hundreds of colleges and universities to drive positive student outcomes. Based on our work with these partner institutions, along with new research and a thorough review of existing frameworks, we have developed a proven student engagement maturity model

This model makes it easy for colleges and universities to determine their current student engagement strategy’s level of maturity, which enables them to align their next steps with their institutional goals and long-term student success.

Defining the 5 Stages of Student Engagement Maturity

The people, tools, and objectives that make up a student engagement strategy can vary widely from one college or university to the next, and every institution’s strategy is unique. However, there are certain characteristics that many strategies may share. Those characteristics can help define the stage of maturity a student engagement strategy fits into at any given time. 

Our framework enables you to classify those attributes within your strategy, so you can easily identify the next steps you should take to effectively drive positive student outcomes. 

What Factors Determine My Strategy’s Maturity Level?

Your strategy’s maturity level depends on how it ranks across each of these categories:

  • Student-centricity
  • Communication processes
  • Technology
  • Alignment with objectives

Let’s explore the definitions for the five levels of student engagement maturity to see how these student-centricity, communication processes, technology, and alignment with objectives play a role in each: 

Student Engagement Strategy Definitions

What Is an Unstructured Student Engagement Strategy?

Unstructured Student Engagement Strategy Definition: A reactive communications plan that is intended to engage students through mass communications and is carried out by individual contributors or siloed departments. 

If your institution is operating with an unstructured strategy, it may feel like your student communication efforts are in “survival mode” most of the time. Staff members may be overwhelmed by having to repeatedly answer the same questions — leaving them little time to prioritize more complex student challenges. Your students may also feel the effects due to being bombarded by a high volume of disparate communications from multiple campus offices.  

Starting at the unstructured stage is not necessarily a disadvantage — it just means your student engagement strategy has room for improvement. If your institution is in this phase, we recommend reading “Engaging Generation Z,” as a first step to learn how you can communicate with students in ways that will capture their attention.

What Is an Aware Student Engagement Strategy?

Aware Student Engagement Strategy Definition: A roadmap for student engagement that is based on a basic communication process, an established organizational structure with the right people in the right roles, and adequate technology to drive some basic student outcomes.

Institutions with aware strategies can function well, but they are not generally optimized for success. One hallmark of aware institutions is that they tend to focus on individual projects instead of collaborating across departments — which may keep them from seeing the bigger picture.

If your institution’s strategy is in an aware phase, we recommend reading “So, You Think You Need a Chatbot?” This guide explores how behaviorally intelligent chatbots can help you build a foundation for a more mature student engagement strategy. 

What Is a Proactive Student Engagement Strategy? 

Proactive Student Engagement Strategy Definition: A comprehensive approach to student engagement in which institutions track student success metrics and apply their insights to drive positive outcomes throughout the entire student lifecycle. 

Colleges and universities that are at the proactive level rely on their relevant experience to execute tried and true processes. These institutions generally integrate their student communication technology across multiple departments to collaborate and provide students with streamlined information channels. 

If your institution has a proactive student engagement strategy, we recommend reading, “How to Text Students.” This guide examines why SMS text messaging is one of the most effective ways to engage today’s students, and how you can use texting to drive positive student outcomes.

What Is a Consistent Student Engagement Strategy? 

Consistent Student Engagement Strategy Definition: A comprehensive set of student engagement processes that are executed by qualified, cross-functional teams who use world-class technology to measure insights and drive positive student outcomes. 

Institutions with consistent strategies have innovation woven into their culture. They place a constant emphasis on finding new ways to improve results, and all aspects of their communication processes involve cross-departmental collaboration. It is imperative that their technology solutions enable all of their teams to collect and share student insights in real-time. 

If your institution’s strategy is consistent, we recommend reading “The Road to Inspiring Student Engagement.” This white paper examines ways to optimize your student engagement strategy ways that directly align your business objectives with student success.

What Is an Inspiring Student Engagement Strategy? 

Inspiring Student Engagement Strategy Definition: An aspirational strategy for student engagement characterized by a centralized student advocacy and communications function that enables the institution to maximize predictive analytics and interventions to drive student success.

As of today, we have not yet seen a university fully realize this level. However, institutions that achieve inspiring strategies would be entirely driven by — and aligned with — their student’s needs. Cross-functional collaboration that leverages world-class technology across the entire institution would be a normal practice. These colleges and universities would also have a student advocacy program in place, and every department’s work would be cohesive and built around a single, comprehensive plan for student success. 

How to Take Your Student Engagement Strategy to the Next Level

Knowing what type of student engagement strategy you’re employing today can help you determine both your immediate next steps and your long-term plan for driving student outcomes. For example, as your strategy matures, it will advance through the framework, and the ways you will use technology like behaviorally intelligent chatbots will evolve. Your communication process, your focus on student success, and the ways your strategy aligns with your objectives will also become more mature. As your strategy changes, your ability to meet your objectives will improve, and all of these factors will directly impact your institution’s ability to drive positive student outcomes. 

Understanding your strategy and clearly defining what you’re striving to achieve is the first step.

Learn More About AdmitHub’s Student Engagement Framework

The Road to Inspiring Student Engagement

Download our free white paper, “The Road to Inspiring Student Engagement,” to evaluate your existing communication strategy, identify realistic objectives, and begin planning for the future of student engagement at your institution, today. 


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