A commitment to reaching out and meaningfully connecting with its students has prompted Chicago-based DePaul University to implement a customer relationship management (CRM) tool traditionally used by businesses to generate more customers. The university’s well-known entrepreneurial spirit is one reason underlying the initiative, but there are other equally - if not more - compelling reasons:
“We want to take a more proactive approach on managing individual relationships rather than leaving it up to the student to find his or her way through our [decentralized] services,” says Andy Drefahl, manager of CRM and Knowledge Management Technologies at DePaul University. “We want to treat them like individuals, not like numbers.”
The university’s focus on the individual is paying off in quantifiable benefits for many of its 23,600 students. Since October 2003, when the university began its implementation of PeopleSoft’s Online Marketing within the Students Together Are Reaching Success (STARS) program to improve retention and positively enhance the overall student experience, the result has been a four percent lift in student retention, according to the university’s Student Affairs Division. The Multicultural Student Affairs department runs the STARS program.
“The program matches students with peer mentors who act as guides and resources for accomplishing goals, whether it’s academic, personal, or professional,” says Gazala Siddiqi, project manager with Student Affairs. “If the peer mentor identifies a student in a crisis, they will take the problem to the appropriate staff person to resolve the issue.”
The first email campaign was a survey that identified students who were experiencing stress during their first year. Receiving a 50 percent response to the survey, the university was able to use the information to identify students who were considering transferring or dropping out of the university. This information enabled the staff to intervene immediately to get students back on track.
“Students are in a constant quandary,” says Audrey Bledsoe, CRM craft leader for the university. “They have to think about where to find their classes, what they might do for a career, securing financial aid, and other issues. It makes for a stressful experience if the institution that they’ve entrusted their future to is very decentralized. We look for ways to make it easier for students to take advantage of our services ? and improve their experience while they’re with us.”
In fact, what the university found was that this powerful CRM tool could be successfully used for targeting at-risk students and much more, including generally improving the quality and quantity of communications with all students. In fact, the university chose to implement Online Marketing because it saw the capability to introduce this two-way dialog with students as missing from the higher education landscape. “I would say that DePaul University is ahead on the business side of things,” says Joe Salwach, associate vice president of Information Services. “I think this application can expand across different areas of our institution - and we definitely plan to - so it naturally becomes a differentiator for us.”
Siddiqi says that the project has begun to reach its goals, and the staff is identifying more ways to use the application. “From what the staff say, it’s providing another channel to interact with these students,” says Siddiqi. “Students are responding, and the staff is very enthusiastic about this tool. They’re already thinking of new ways that they can communicate with the students because it’s a two-way dialog.”