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Schools Need to Rethink Their CRM Approaches
Many colleges and universities are only using CRM for marketing, ignoring vital service and sales components.
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While many colleges and universities have deployed CRM, they are not taking full advantage of the technology.

CRM can bring so much to the higher education market, according to Tim Copeland, CEO at DemandEngine, a CRM consulting and interactive marketing services firm dedicated to colleges and universities. Copeland adds that many schools have deployed CRM systems "for all the wrong reasons."

Copeland asserts that at many schools, CRM is just a tool to help send more email to prospective students. "That's not true CRM," he says.

According to DemandEngine's research, the goal for CRM deployments at most U.S. schools is to simply boost enrollment (67 percent) and automate communications with prospects (65 percent). Other purposes include measuring marketing results (46 percent) and reducing the overall costs of marketing and recruitment (27 percent).

Sadly, while improving the student experience was cited as one of the top three goals in 48 percent of deployments, and retaining more current students factors into 19 percent, few schools are using CRM to do this, Copeland says.

Brian Niles, CEO and cofounder of TargetX, a provider of CRM systems for the college and university market, agrees. "Higher education has typically not been very good at maintaining relationships with current students," he says. "[Colleges and universities] need to maintain information and be more proactive to keep the student enrolled at the school."

Resistance from users, unfamiliarity with the technology, poor planning, and a lack of support from top executives continue to be the biggest barriers to expanding CRM systems at most schools, according to DemandEngine's research.

These factors are compounded by the organizational structure at most schools. "No one department owns the student when he is enrolled," Niles contends. "It's part student services, part financial aid, part residential life, part the registrar, etc."

Each of these offices and departments could potentially be using a different system, further complicating matters.

What's at stake? The simple answer is that colleges and universities could find it harder to compete. Over the years, recessions have eroded states' contributions to public colleges and universities. In fact, states are spending 28 percent less per student on higher education nationwide in 2013 than they were in 2008, when the Great Recession hit, according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. Today, the cost of a college degree is so overwhelming that 71 percent of American families are worried about how they will pay for it, according to a recent poll by GfK North, conducted for TheStreet's Mainstreet. As a result, more families are questioning the value of higher education, forcing schools to change how they attract and keep students.

The Tide Is Turning

Southern Polytechnic State University (SPSU), based in Marietta, Ga., gets this and is responding by leveraging its cloud-based Recruitment CRM system from TargetX to affect every stage in the recruiting process. It includes a tool to create student profiles, tools for email broadcasting and helping students file forms online, and an event manager for scheduling campus tours. Recruiters can run their own reports, generate letters and labels, and produce prospect lists for department heads, all with a few mouse clicks.

We're doing much better connecting with the right students, and our CRM is a big part of that," says Gary Bush, SPSU's director of admission and recruitment. "It's really nice to have everything in one spot to connect with the right students in the right way."

The application, he adds, has made recruiters more effective, the call center more efficient, and communications with prospects more targeted. As proof, SPSU last year saw a 28 percent increase in freshman enrollments, a 25 percent increase in transfer students, and a 16-point jump in the academic profile of its freshman class. This year, the school expects to see at least a 10 percent increase over last year's new student numbers.

Taking it a step further, universities are expanding their use of CRM as an admissions tool to a retention tool. Bob Stutz, corporate vice president for Microsoft Dynamics CRM, has begun to see several large colleges and universities use Dynamics CRM "for the students' full four years at the university...for everything from customer service to tracking grades and more."

"Schools are looking at taking care of students [who] are already in the door," says Joe Burkhart, director of higher education solutions at Oracle. "There's an increasing demand for services to existing students."

This evolution has picked up steam in the past 18 months or so, and involves taking systems beyond the admissions office to include everything from financial aid and class schedules to dining halls, dormitories, and even parking, according to Burkhart.

"Schools are now planning and thinking about [using CRM for] managing the entire student life cycle," he states.

At SPSU, Bush has identified that as a goal in the not-too-distant future. While his TargetX system is still only used for recruitment, "we are looking at expanding our retention efforts with it," he says. "It could also go into our alumni relations."

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