Five years of falling application numbers is hard to swallow in good times, but when the economy turns sour, as in recent years, the situation goes from disappointment to outright concern.
Such was the case at Wayne State University, in Detroit. The late-2000’s recession struck Michigan especially hard, and with the state unable to maintain prior funding levels, the university’s graduate admissions woes came into even sharper relief.
The retirement of the graduate admissions director, the implementation of a new customer relationship management system, and the end of an $80,000 annual contract with a third-party vendor to manage grad applications set the stage for Wayne State to consider overhauling its process.
“All of those things brought us together,” notes Kathy Lueckeman, director of graduate admissions and senior CRM director, “to say we need not only to bring up the level of technology used in the admissions process, but also to use the best practices and experiences we learned through implementing the CRM system.”
Working off of Salesforce.com’s CRM system, the Wayne State team built a new graduate application that was customizable, intuitive, and much, much quicker.
The new tools greatly streamline application workflows and make applications transparent throughout the university, giving all reviewers easy access for commenting, tagging, and reporting purposes. Smooth integration with Banner Student allows application data to be recorded error-free. And an automated communications function allows status updates to be delivered to prospects, applicants, and admitted students in a timely fashion.
A new graduate admissions application process helps a Detroit school reverse several years of decline.
The new application takes just five minutes to complete, thanks in part to an intuitive process through which answers drive subsequent questions; in this way, applicants see only those questions that pertain to them and the program in which they’re interested. This was key, since many grad programs have unique admissions requirements over and above institutional requirements, as well as academic reviewers in addition to admissions staff. On the institutional side, manual processing has been virtually eliminated, slashing average processing time from 30 minutes to two.
The implementation of any new technology will have glitches, of course. The university built that consideration into its revised application process.
“One of the things we did to mitigate some of those bugs was to put a direct line of support into our development team so that when we did encounter problems during the application process, applicants themselves sent emails to a group address that went straight to our developers,” says Robert Thompson, director of computing and information technology. “They did a great job in addressing the problems that arose very, very quickly, sometimes within minutes.”
Cost savings have reached more than $150,000 annually, and graduate applications doubled from 2010 to 2011. Wayne State hopes to take the lessons learned and apply them in other areas.
“It’s a tool that was designed for specific needs, but has broad application,” says Daren Hubbard, senior director of computing and information technology. “We can leverage both the technology and the relationships we developed within the graduate office and some of the other programs to extend out the things we learned and provide additional value to other departments.”