2021 Will Be the Year of the CRM in Higher Education
Technology-enabled relationships will rule in our new, remote world
Part 1 of a 4 part series
Higher education has been an industry ripe for disruption for quite some time, facing a litany of threats that predates the pandemic: the coming decline in high school graduates over the next decade (the so-called “enrollment cliff”), declining international student enrollment, and increased competition for research funding. More than 50 colleges and universities have closed or merged in the US since 2015, and experts expect the trend to continue.
Recent research highlights how precarious the situation may be:
- The Hechinger Report created a Financial Fitness Tracker that put over 2,600 US schools through a financial stress test by examining key metrics including enrollment, tuition revenue, public funding, and endowment health. More than 500 colleges and universities showed warning signs in two or more metrics.
- NYU Professor Scott Galloway plotted 441 of the top US schools against axes of value and vulnerability, establishing quadrants defining schools that are predicted to thrive, survive, struggle, or be challenged. Those that find themselves in the low value quadrants of “struggle” or “challenged” are facing existential threats.
Enter an unprecedented global pandemic. With physical campus closures, unexpected shifts to online learning, egregious budget shortfalls, elimination of programs, refunding of room and board fees, and reductions in faculty and staff, institutions have been forced to adapt—and quickly—or risk becoming casualties themselves.
CRM Tech: A Budget-Conscious Necessity
The challenges presented by the pandemic—including the imperative to leverage technology to create digital experiences that now replace those that used to be in-person and on-campus, coupled with a stagnant market for other core campus technologies—produce a perfect opportunity to introduce or more broadly deploy CRM (Customer Relationship Management) technologies within an institution. These technologies form the essential foundation for bringing institutions and its constituents together while we obey social distancing guidelines to keep one another safe. Add to that the ever increasing expectations for seamless, immediate, personalized experiences that delight, and the case for employing CRM is even more compelling.
Budget reductions and deferral of investments are forcing institutions to pivot. With the planned replacement of core applications like the SIS (Student Information System), which is often accompanied by an eight-figure price tag, now is the time to make a budget-conscious and ROI-friendly investment in CRM technology. CRM solutions can extend the life of these applications while advancing initiatives that have the potential to keep institutions afloat by increasing enrollments and driving improved retention and student outcomes.
An investment in a CRM solution is effectively future proof as it can remain in place even when the institution eventually replaces its SIS.
Such an investment can even reduce the scope of an SIS replacement in the areas where they intersect, like streamlined and personalized communications to students.
Defining the Student Experience Starts at Admissions
The admissions office is generally where institutions begin their CRM journey. CRM capabilities are well-suited to support the admissions process, and Traction on Demand has gone a step further by fine-tuning the Salesforce CRM platform to better support this essential university function. With enrollments at risk or declining as a result of the pandemic, competition among institutions has intensified, and the need for technology to improve and streamline the experience for prospective students is ever more apparent.
“Colleges will need to apply a more personal touch to recruiting for the foreseeable future.”
Nanci Tessier, Senior Vice President, Art & Science Group LLC
In a piece published by the Chronicle of Higher Education, Tessier goes on to detail an experience she had working with an admissions office that met its enrollment goal and net revenue goal for the fall despite going fully online. As she explains, this happened by “totally rerecruiting this class student by student over the course of the summer.” She hypothesizes that keeping contacts and connections “really, really close” may be the new normal for college admissions. Keeping contacts close depends on maintaining robust profiles of prospective students and applicants, as well as the ability to engage them in a meaningful way—both areas that depend on a CRM technology.
In order to be competitive in this climate, institutions that have not yet implemented a CRM solution to support the admissions process will be forced to do so. And those that already have one in place will likely look to marketing automation solutions next. These solutions will help them better segment their prospective student population and deliver targeted, personalized communications via the most effective channels. Additionally, with artificial intelligence, such as Salesforce Einstein, being embedded in the CRM solution, gone are the days of elaborate spreadsheets for modeling admissions yields. They have been replaced with real-time solutions that update as decisions are made or criteria change.
Next up in this series, I tackle how student success and retention can also benefit from CRM, so stay tuned…
Traction on Demand Welcomes Geof!
Geof has over two decades of experience in large-scale transformational technology initiatives with an emphasis in higher education and healthcare. Geof was the Vice President of Higher Ed Development at Oracle where he led product development, supported early-adopting SaaS customers, and drove cloud adoption. Prior to that, Geof served as the Deputy CIO and Associate Vice Provost at Johns Hopkins University where he led technology strategy and large-scale transformation initiatives in education, research, and healthcare and served as an inaugural member of the Salesforce.org Higher Ed CIO Council. Geof holds a BS in Computer Science and an MBA from Johns Hopkins.
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