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CRM Grows Up

Reaching beyond admissions to cover the entire lifecycle
University Business, October 2012

In its infancy, constituent relationship management technology was confined to the admissions and development offices. Campus administrators realized the system was a great way to communicate with prospective students and potential donors, but didn’t realize it would play well with other departments on campus. With a little more maturity, CRM made its way to the alumni relations office, a natural progression from development office technology.

Now that CRM has been on campus for a while, it is stretching across departments to gather the entire student life cycle into one engagement platform. “Schools are starting to think about it in a more holistic way,” says Matthew Schnittman, president, co-founder, and CEO of TopSchool, a CRM provider. Technology is responding by spanning the entire lifecycle.

Read on to learn how campus leaders are maturing their communication efforts through CRM.


“As you think about lifetime engagement, the [person] doesn’t change,” points out Alan Walsh, functional chief for lifetime engagement at Indiana University, Bloomington. “Their context changes from prospective, to enrolled, to alum, but they don’t change.”

Using Talisma from Campus Management, campus staff are able to smooth the transition as students move through the various stages and don’t have to start from scratch in each department. “It isn’t like we’re meeting them for the first time,” says Walsh. “We already have a long history and we’re sharing that history.”

The institution is seeing the biggest impact in the admissions office, where despite contacting “tens of thousands” of prospective students to create a class of 5,000, they can still provide a personal touch. Because of the data stored in the system, staff members can see a picture and facts about a student when they call, rather than scrambling for information. The technology is still being deployed in the advancement and alumni relations departments, but based on the experience of the admissions office, they expect “great things.”

The staff at Hunter College, part of the City University of New York system, is also seeing the benefits of improved communication by using Hobsons Connect, even as the recruiting office goes paperless, which some on the team had been concerned would negatively impact recruitment. Staff members use the portal to guide prospective students through the application process to committing. 

“We’re meeting our goals earlier,” says Amanda Fuentes Lorens, manager for CRM and special projects at Hunter. “Before implementing Connect, we were at about 50 percent of our target enrollment by July 1. But after implementing Undergrad Connect, we were closer to 100 percent by July 1,” she shares. High-achieving students are being attracted, Lorens adds.

Staff at Dixie State College of Utah using Enrollment RX are seeing similar success, with freshman enrollment up 7 percent over last year so far.  “It made things happen a lot sooner than they did in the past,” says Josh Sine, director of new student programs and services. “We don’t have to focus on the initial contact and prospecting. Now we can focus on the back end. We can get students to apply sooner and keep robust contact with them.”

A CRM system improves workflow by allowing both staff and supervisors to track next steps and needed follow-up, says Deborah Gelch, CIO at Lasell College (Mass.), where Enrollment RX is the system of choice.

The ability to track contact by phone, email, and letter enables the day and evening staff at Transylvania University (Ky.) to coordinate their activity, explains Johnnie Johnson, associate director of admissions. Their Ellucian Recruiter system also allows them to quickly import and begin communicating with a list of new students. By contrast, a paper-based contact list could take weeks to organize and contact, he says. The ability to segment prospective students based on interests or location is another benefit of the new system, adds Bryan Conover, assistant director of admissions.

Being able to create one-on-one communication through targeted messaging is powerful, agrees Risa Forrester, vice president for admissions and marketing, Oklahoma Christian University, another Ellucian client. “The difference is that it used to take weeks,” she says, from requesting the list from IT through meeting with the marketing staff to designing the message. “Now we can accomplish it in minutes.”

A CRM system provides not only faster communication, but also better communication. Implementing Enrollment Rx gave the staff at Lasell the ability to provide a portal that allows prospective students to check the status of their application.

Their old system was very paper-based. While a home-grown solution provided a limited connection to the student information system, “other information had to be physically carried over to the registrar,” Gelch says. “Now the information will be available to the community. There won’t be a database sitting there with important information that people can’t access.”

Information collected during the admissions process is often critical for the student’s success on campus, she points out.


As the admissions office has success, other departments start to take note. “It’s a push-and-pull scenario,” says Brent Ramdin, vice president of product management at Campus Management. As staff members realize the power of CRM, they start applying it to other areas. “You end up with a gentle push from one department that causes another department to look at what they are doing.”

“Following the lifecycle itself is a natural way to approach [deploying CRM],”agrees Walsh. “As we deploy it into admissions, they naturally say, ‘we have to do a hand-off to orientation or registrar’ and want to get them involved. It happens without having to prompt people.”

CRM is by definition a relationship management tool, points out Schnittman. “That relationship doesn’t end when they enroll.” Information about a student’s goal and academic career can be housed in the system and used to help meet their needs.

“We are a public institution and we work hard, but we just don’t have the human resources to follow up [with everyone],” laments Lorens. “For recruiting and retaining students, that is key.”

In the fall, Hunter will be piloting an early alert function that lets faculty advisors know when a student is struggling. The institution has also seen increased participation in campus events. “For new students, after implementing Connect and Retain, we saw about a 20 percent increase in transfer [student] participation in orientation.” This points to better engagement, since orientation for transfers is optional, she explains.

A pilot program last year encouraging students to opt-in to automatic reminders from the registrar’s office led to a 50 percent increase in attendance at degree audit workshops for upcoming and rising seniors, as well as a 50 percent increase in graduation fair attendance. The automatic messaging and enhanced reporting “has definitely saved time and allowed us to direct our efforts elsewhere,” Lorens says.

“To do a great job at retention, you need the enrollment data associated with the student, such as academic progress, GPA, and attendance,” says Ramdin. While that information is often housed in the SIS, updating and accessing it can cause delays in identifying when students are having problems. CRMs often provide a more real-time view, and automatic alarms, for faster response. “A trend we’re seeing for retention is to emphasize and reward positive behavior instead of focus on at-risk,” he relates. “You can have the system send out SMS or badges when an achievement is reached.”

‘We are a public institution and we work hard, but we just don’t have the human resources to follow up [with everyone].’ —

When virtual handoffs are established, each department can see just enough information to get a holistic view of the student to address issues that develop, while respecting privacy laws. For instance, an advisor might approach absenteeism differently if he or she can see the financial aid office has an alert on the file, suggests Gelch. Under the current system, they have to request a report from IT of students who are falling behind, which is then emailed to advisors for follow up. “We’re on top of it, but it’s very manual and laborious,” she says.

Also in process: establishing minimum standards of communication in Enrollment Rx to trigger an alert and required actions when a student misses three classes. “We’ll be able to track the outcomes of those activities,” Gelch says. “These are things that we’re doing now but will be able to do better when all the information is housed in one system.”

Administrators are often surprised by the uses they find for their CRM system. “We’ve seen it be so successful we’re moving to using it in events,” says Sine. “The CRM allows you to keep a lot of information in one contact profile. It makes sense to use it. I could see it being used in other departments, like the registrar.”

Alumni and Career Placement

There is growing interest in CRM from campus career services departments for maintaining relationships with both students and employers, says Schnittman, adding that there’s the same need to maintain a database of contacts and easily communicate with them. “Career services is looking at it in a comprehensive way and starting to see it as an alumni relationship issue, as well.”

At Indiana U, the quest to be more strategic in communications to alumni and other external constituents began in 2007, says Walsh. “We were worried we were over communicating and bombarding people with information.” They were already thinking about the entire lifecycle when they selected Talisma in 2009. The system is helping them break down silos to create coordinated communications. “You have to put yourself in the recipient’s shoes,” he notes. “They will view the university as a whole as uncoordinated. If they get two emails in a row, they’ll think that the departments don’t talk.”

Gelch relates seeing another institution where the Enrollment Rx was set to scan existing advancement records for matching names when a student applies so connections can start to be made. “We’re looking for those types of connections,” she says. “Whether they are attending an event on campus or other activities, we want to capture that and have it on record as they move through to being an alumni.” The new system will ensure such information is not lost.

Beyond the Technology

“So many things are happening in the average student life that it needs to be captured somewhere,” agrees Ramdin. “CRM exists to ensure a sticky note is never lost.”

But don’t expect a CRM solution to solve all your problems, cautions Lorens. “We have found that our successes were a direct result of the collaboration among multiple offices that implementing and utilizing the CRM products enabled us to pilot and execute. ... It is about the people, not the technology.”

All the small amounts of information collected during a student’s lifecycle combine to provide a comprehensive view and the basis of the relationship with them. “They enrolled with your college for a reason,” reminds Schnittman. “When you pull all that information together, it can be a powerful thing. It’s our responsibility to understand our students and flex our services to meet their needs.”