Higher Ed CRM Trends for 2012

Tim Goral's picture

A new year means new opportunities for colleges and universities to find and nurture the students that will help them thrive. Recruitment and retention are keys to the top institutional success, and schools are increasingly looking to CRM (Constituent Relationship Management) in all its forms to drive both. From first contact to alumni giving, effective CRM can be the difference between just filling seats and finding the best students possible. Here are a few ways that institutions will take advantage of CRM practices in the coming year.

Social Search

It used to be that institutions sent blanket mailings to prospective students, based purely on their completion of SAT or ACT tests. But as anyone who has been on the receiving end of these mailings knows, much of what is sent winds up in the recycle bin. And, since the US Postal Service decided to fight declining revenues and budget cuts by closing nearly 3,700 post offices around the country last year, these mailings are far more expensive—and wasteful—than many colleges can justify. 

These days, a school’s online presence is increasingly the prospective student's first point of contact. Social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter give prospective students a taste of what a school’s culture and personality are like without ever setting foot on campus. Students identify a few schools that interest them and then “friend” or “follow” the school. In a recent study by the University of Massachusetts-Dartmouth Center for Marketing Research, every one of the universities surveyed had a social media presence, most notably on Facebook (98 percent) or Twitter (84 percent).

But there are also ways for schools to be matched with specific students, much like the popular dating sites. High school guidance counselors are making students aware of commercial sites that act as virtual matchmakers. The student completes a questionnaire and is matched to a number of institutions that meet their criteria. The school, in turn, is notified of the interest and can follow up with more information, either by mail or email, specifically targeted to the individual student’s desires. Bottom line? A purposeful, potentially fruitful, contact is made. The school saves time and money by concentrating on a small target list.

Intelligent Decisions

Business Intelligence, or BI, allows institutions to make powerful, data-driven decisions for everything from resource allotment to energy management. It is also extremely helpful in the admissions process.

In a recent article, University Business contributor Vickie Powers, told of one institution that had always relied on anecdotal information in its enrollment efforts, and so didn’t truly know what was effective and what was not. Now, with a BI solution, the university can improve its enrollment strategies, determine which prospects are stronger than others, and focus limited resources on students with the most likelihood of attending.

“The BI tool helped us use data and trend analysis to prepare for larger classes and increased enrollment,” said the school’s dean of enrollment management. “We also were able to educate stakeholders, like academic affairs, so they could hire to prepare for increased enrollment.”

As a result of more targeted and personal communications, attendance at the university’s campus preview day increased 79 percent, and group tour participation grew 140 percent.

The Student Experience

But CRM is not all about numbers. It’s also useful in the effort to make the general student experience better and more fulfilling. For example, the generation of smart phone-wielding students entering schools today have at their disposal a variety of apps developed both by schools and by commercial interests, that make themselves) that use AR (augmented reality) technology to reveal hidden features of the campus. Aim a phone toward a building to see its name, hours of operation, and a phone number (which of course can be dialed by tapping on the displayed link).

Many schools are looking at QR (Quick Response) codes—those odd, block-shaped icons that are appearing with growing frequency on posters and magazine ads—as a potential marketing tool for their ability to quickly connect students with online resources. Places that these are being used include campus tours, application forms, financial aid forms, and more.

Once enrolled, CRM tools are especially powerful at helping retention efforts by identifying at-risk students. One system uses student data, gathered during orientation and registration to predict student success. A lower score will alert retention specialists to follow the progress of at-risk students and provide help where needed.

Faculty members using the system can note missed classes, limited engagement in class, or disruptive behavior—all signs that a student is having problems. Even something seemingly unrelated, like failure to register for classes by a deadline can be a “red flag” that a student is thinking of dropping out. A good CRM system will make it easy for administrators and counselors to act on this before it becomes a problem. Combined with a school’s retention program, CRM is a powerful tool to keep students on target for success.