Using CRMs in higher ed recruitment

Colleges and universities are increasingly tapping a number of companies to redesign admissions

In higher education, students are customers. It’s no surprise then, that colleges and universities are increasingly turning to customer relationship management tools long used in other industries to structure communication and outreach. When it comes to admissions, saving staff time is just the beginning of a long list of benefits.

The Seattle School of Theology and Psychology first turned to a CRM for its fundraising initiatives, and Jason Best, director of media and IT, said they backed into using it for admissions. In 2010 when the school was considering the shift, few other colleges or universities were tapping the power of CRMs for recruitment but Best said they were confident enough in the platform, they decided to give it a shot.

“It was very quickly that we saw the dividends,” Best said. Immediately admissions staffers were able to access the platform from anywhere and from multiple devices. The team had previously employed a client server product that required complicated remote access. Shifting to a cloud-based solution provided quick, key wins for recruiters.

Also right away, admissions officers could start automating tasks, tracking communication, and integrating the CRM platform with email and other tools.

“Because time was saved on those processes, it really allowed our staff to spend more time doing the human contact of being on the phone or being at the event with these people and relating to them on a very personal level,” Best said.

More authentic connections provided for better recruitment outcomes. Retention improved as The Seattle School enrolled students who better fit with the institution. Overall applications quickly increased and the number of students applying after inquiring into the graduate school programs also rose.

Salesforce, The Seattle School’s tool of choice, bills itself as “the world’s #1 CRM,” and has seen major growth in the portion of its clients coming from higher education over the last five years. Its foundation offers steeply discounted products to colleges and universities across the country. Also serving this sector is TargetX, which just acquired Uversity to further pad its student enrollment and retention support services offerings, marketing itself as the CRM of Education. And EnrollmentRx, which runs on the Salesforce platform, serves higher education institutions interested in redesigning their recruitment, enrollment, and student communication processes with traditional relationship management in mind.

Bigger schools with more substantial budgets have created entire student portals using CRM platforms. These schools offer a place for prospective students, current students, and alumni to ask questions and seek out services in what quickly becomes a familiar environment. Cornell University saw 2,700 posts and comments on its virtual community in a single 10-week period, a substantial boost in interaction among students and other school community members.

St. Norbert College in Wisconsin reduced the amount of paper in its application process by 88% through the use of Salesforce. It also cut the application processing time from approximately three weeks to three days. Like at The Seattle School, St. Norbert’s staff benefited from automation opportunities that take data from online forms and feed it directly into a tracking system, skipping the need for human data entry.

One piece of advice for schools considering a shift to using CRM tools — Best recommends institutions slow down implementation to assess the needs of the wider organization. At The Seattle School, several additional departments have started using Salesforce beyond fundraising and admissions, and had the original project development team considered these wider applications early on, they could have saved themselves some later design trouble.

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Higher Ed Technology