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Three ways to improve your college’s recruitment program

Colleges’ recruitment efforts are based on large amounts of student data.

In today’s competitive climate, institutions face a significant conundrum: the need to simultaneously increase student enrollment and reduce student recruitment costs. This challenge has motivated institutions to stretch beyond their traditional recruitment boundaries.

In fact, admissions offices across the U.S. are taking a deep look into how they manage the student enrollment process. In many cases, institutions have adopted a business approach to enrollment management.

The admissions offices at these institutions apply a robust set of tools within their Constituent Relationship Management (CRM) system to assist them with targeting and reaching specific student populations, often outside their traditional target population.

One of the biggest benefits campuses derive from CRM is the impact of data reporting and analytics.

Innovative admissions offices leverage deep and revealing data reports to provide clarity of both enrollment progress as well as the need for shifts in enrollment strategies, so that they can truly manage the enrollment process and reach their institutional goal.

Higher education CRM has historically been viewed as technology alone, often times delivering capabilities not found in institutional legacy information systems. Marketplace confusion exists around the link between enrollment management and CRM.

It would be difficult at best for institutions to meet enrollment goals without effectively supporting interactions with students, or to realize value from their CRM without developing a strategy for managing recruitment and retention. In fact, enrollment management and CRM should be tightly linked.

Pave the way for a successful implementation

Consider these best practices to ensure a smooth CRM implementation:

1. Integration timing is key: Some organizations are so concerned with meeting set deadlines that  they begin the integration process prematurely – before the configuration is complete or the technical requirements have been truly identified.

Ideally, complete your system configuration before moving onto integration. This can avoid the need for unnecessary backpedaling for everyone involved and help the team reach its go-live date.

It takes a village: Successful implementations involve ongoing engagement between outside partners, the enrollment team, and IT experts. Your CRM implementation champion serves as the system integration project owner. Teams that foster dialogue throughout the process typically experience the smoothest transitions.

2. Testing pays off in the long run: Nobody likes to stare at rows upon rows of comma delimited fields looking for inconsistencies or errors. But the CRM project champion knows the data best, and therefore ownership of testing process must lie here, as even a minor error leads to bumpy roads.

Again, this results in backpedaling, cost overruns, and a huge lack of confidence in the data among end-users which begets user-adoption issues. Testing is a detail-oriented process, but your vendor can provide guidance around a testing plan and best practices for ensuring all scenarios have been thoroughly reviewed before go live. Be thorough up front, as it can haunt you later.

3. Take an incremental approach: Don’t try to do everything at once. The best CRM projects are incremental – by enrollment department, student segment or process area. Find areas with eager users and clearly defined processes for initial projects to build support for broader initiatives.

A successful CRM strategy begins by first focusing your efforts on the customer – the prospective student. With this customer focus, reexamine your enrollment process from end-to-end (marketing and outreach through first day of class). Consider questions of customer experience, information sharing, and key milestones.

When and how is the prospective student first “touched” by your institution?  How does this first contact develop into more meaningful interaction that provides both the student and institution more clarity of a potential “best fit”?  How are key customer data collected efficiently and then shared within the institution and back to the student for process/progress transparency?

The question is how to move from this vision of a customer-centric enrollment process to reality? Creating a customer-based CRM plan begins with the identification of enrollment goals and supporting objectives that tie to success for the institution, and its students.  

Tie technology to your goals

Over the last few decades in the business arena, CRM evolved as from a “nice to have” to a must have. Witness to this success, campus leaders recognize the power of CRM and must learn how to do it right.

CRM success is primarily a function of people, process and clear business goals and, only secondarily, about enabling technology. The potential of CRM lies not in technology itself, but in the process of using technology to support organization goals, processes, and people.

Essentially the technology should provide your institution with an in-depth understanding of your prospective students and drive unique, valuable interactions through the entire student lifecycle, beginning with prospect.

In order to better recruit and retain students, institutions must devise CRM strategies that go beyond technology.

If executed properly, a CRM initiative should provide your institution with growth toward enrollment goals, enrollment process efficiency, customer experience quality and deep intelligence about what’s working and not working.

Ultimately, these CRM benefits will, in fact, enable your admissions office to better serve its student base.

Todd Gibby is the president of higher education for Hobsons.

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