Prompted by increased competition, colleges, universities, and business schools are looking to manage relationships with key constituent groups, such as prospective and matriculated students, alumni, and businesses, more effectively.
Recognizing the value of developing deeper relationships with prospective students, admissions offices were early adopters of CRM technology. Then alumni affairs and advancement offices took to CRM systems to strengthen relationships with alumni and donors. But CRM systems were still very limited on most campuses.
Today, many institutions have finally started moving forward with CRM implementations, either for the first time or to expand existing installations beyond the admissions and advancement offices to include areas such as student retention and external relations.
"There's lots of interest, lots of buying, and lots of RFPs flying out the doors to buy CRM systems," says Tim Copeland, CEO of DemandEngine, an enrollment, CRM, and marketing consulting services company helping colleges and universities plan and execute marketing strategies and nurture student relationships. "There's a buying frenzy going on right now" in the higher education segment.
James Wong, CEO of Avidian Technologies, a CRM systems vendor that counts many colleges and universities among its clients, agrees. "Schools are waking up and realizing that they can't wait for their IT departments to come in and manage their lists for donors," he says. "It's very early in the adoption phase, but these schools are just starting to see that they can do things on their own. These early adopters understand that they need to manage the donation and grants proposals processes like a sales process."
And while many implementations today are still tied to marketing automation and email campaigns for undergraduate student recruitment, "we're starting to see interest as well in applying CRM to current students for retention efforts," Copeland says.
But for higher education to fully realize the benefits of CRM systems, schools will need to start tearing down the silos that still exist between departments, Copeland states.
Further complicating things, many higher-education CRM projects often devolve into simple email communication automation rather than business initiatives that improve the student experience across recruitment, marketing, and service functions, he maintains.
"Higher education right now is making a lot of the same mistakes that the corporate world made in the early days of CRM," Copeland says. "A lot of these [CRM] systems are getting lumped on top of other systems, and these systems are not pulling data from other departments, like financial aid or the registrar. A lot of these systems are not integrated…just yet.
"If you look at where companies are today, they're looking for a more holistic approach. That's where it has to head in higher education," he continues.
But such a change will not occur overnight. Schools today face challenges with people, organizational structures, and processes. "The problem is getting people on campus to see beyond their one function to the whole life cycle of the student, from enrollment to graduation and beyond," Copeland states. "It's hard for people to see beyond the four walls of their individual departments."