College Kids Click Through: They're More Engaged With Email During COVID-19 Crisis

Here’s one sector pulling high opens and clicks in this year of COVID-19: Higher education.

The average open rate for universities has hit 34.3% this year, an 11.10% increase over 23.2% in 2019, according to the 2020 Higher Ed Email Benchmark report, a study by Emma. 

Moreover, click-through rates have risen to 6.80%, an uptick of 2.8% over 4% in 2019. And the average click-to-open is 19.8%, a hike of 2.6% over the 17.2% recorded last year. 

In 2019, prior to the pandemic, the average open rate was 17.8% for all industries, the click-through rate was 2% and the click-to-open ratio was only 14.3%, according to stats from Emma’s sister brand Campaign Monitor.

The current trends started in March, when countries began locking down and universities were switching to virtual classes and cancelling study trips.

Email open rates averaged 39.60%  —  up from 27.20% in March of 2019, a 12.40% increase. That’s also 10% higher than the February average. 



The click-through rate jumped to 6% versus 3.70% in March 2019, a 2.30% pickup. And the click-to open rate rose to 15.20%, compared to 13.60% in the prior year.

The explanation?

“University and college students were standing by at their inboxes around Spring Break to learn answers to questions like “Are we going back to campus?”, “Will all of my classes be remote?,” and likely, “What the heck is going on?”. 

This ephemeron continued throughout the summer as students watched for significant emails. 

“Because school plans continued to be announced and changed over time, students appeared to be glued to their inboxes to the point that not only did universities not experience a lull in engagement, they also continued to see the numbers rise,” the study notes.

Here’s one caveat — that this analysis covers emails sent for universities by CM Group brands. Hundreds of millions of emails were analyzed, but other companies might have seen different metrics. 

Still, it makes sense. 

Are you in charge of email at a school? Here are ten email campaigns universities should send this fall:

  • Welcome email — This sets up the email relationship.
  • Parent and family member email — Keeping families in the loop. 
  • Internal staff newsletter — Important, given that many team members may be working at home.
  • Student and alumni spotlight email — Increase engagement with donors and applicants. 
  • Student engagement email — To keep students involved even while social distancing. 
  • Emergency response email — Be prepared for anything from COVID-19 outbreaks to small earthquakes. Think about your crisis response email now. 
  • Athletics email — You’ll want to keep fans engaged whether your team is playing or not. 
  • Student feedback email — Find out from the students themselves how you can improve email communication. 
  • ‘We’re listening” email — This is for responding to student feedback with changes while letting them know you care. 


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