CRM in Education: Vertical Markets Spotlight

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Colleges and universities, online course providers, and others in the education field use CRM systems to manage relationships with all of their customers (including students, alumni, parents, faculty, staff, and corporate partners) and connect insights from those interactions in a unified view.

According to CRM provider Element451, 64 percent of colleges today use a CRM system, while 42 percent of those without one are considering one.

Even though some colleges have yet to employ CRM systems, they have been in use in higher education for many years.

“Working with an online education tech company for over 10 years, we utilized a CRM to help with enrolling students in higher education certificates, degrees, and continuing education programs,” says Ebony Vaz, founder and CEO of Above Promotions, a digital marketing and public relations company in Florida. “We implemented Salesforce back when it was uncommon for those in the education space to use the platform to keep up with leads. The leads spanned from students to companies providing educational benefits to workforce development boards.”

With the CRM system, Above Promotions was able to incorporate advanced segmentation tools, allowing institutions to tailor communication and engagement strategies based on individual needs and interests, Vaz adds. “Educational institutions can seamlessly integrate with existing student information systems and other software, streamlining data flow, eliminating data silos, reviewing student participation, and identifying students at risk.”


The benefits of using a CRM system, particularly a cloud-based system, are significant, according to Salesforce, which includes among its products Salesforce Education Cloud. A Salesforce-commissioned study by Forrester Research found that a cloud-based CRM system could improve enrollment by as much as 11 percent, fundraising by 10 percent; student experience and retention rates by 15 percent; return-to-school enrollment by 5.5 percent; administrative and academic productivity by 12 percent; and alumni/donor engagement by 10 percent.

In addition to these quantifiable benefits, there were soft benefits of students better connecting with peers and mentors; alignment of staff long-term strategic goals with capabilities; better target marketing and budget efficiencies, and product process standardization, according to the Forrester report.

As in other industries, personalization is becoming a more important element for recruiting, retaining, and engaging students, alumni, and donors. “Personalization involves a level of clarity, both in your email marketing messages and in the lives of real students as they make major academic decisions,” according to Element451. From a data or marketing perspective, personalization means knowing these sorts of things, Element451 says:

  • Where on an institution’s website a student has visited.
  • The social media posts that caught a student’s attention.
  • Steps or actions a student has taken toward applying.
  • Personnel with whom a student has already engaged with at the school.

Educational institutions are using advanced CRM systems with artificial intelligence to drive these personalization efforts. Personalized sequences ensure that all prospective students hear from an education provider at the ideal time. Once the prospect responds in the preferred manner, the school can set up scheduled meetings or calls.

Higher education institutions must prioritize a personalized, flexible student experience that starts the moment a student first expresses interest in an institution, according to additional Salesforce data, citing the following internal statistics:

  • Of the surveyed students, those who had a great onboarding experience were 35 times more likely to have a great university experience.
  • Sixty-nine percent of students who had a great educational experience said their institution provides a personalized experience tailored to their needs.
  • Students with a great university experience were also 31 times more likely to be proud alumni and 51 percent more likely to recommend their institutions to family and friends.

The need for personalization and for CRM systems that take advantage of the latest advances in AI have CRM providers in this field constantly updating their technologies to offer the latest benefits.

Last year, Salesforce, EAB, and Element451 all announced major upgrades to their CRM for education offerings.

Salesforce introduced its reimagined Education Cloud with the following new features and capabilities:

  • A learner-centric data foundation designed to help institutions achieve faster ROI by providing education-specific insights, like grades, courses, and learner profiles, out of the box.
  • A capability model designed to break down silos to enhance services like appointment scheduling, application forms, and case management on an institution-wide basis.
  • A reimagined recruitment and admissions experience that provides personalized offering for prospective students and their families, recruiters, and admissions staff.
  • A smart prospecting feature to automatically group prospective students based on their interests, assign them to recruiters, and personalize engagement from the initial interaction. It also enables students to apply to multiple programs, track their application status, and engage with admissions teams.
  • The Care Plans feature to enable institutions to work with unified data to help staff truly understand what students need during critical moments in their journeys and deliver better onboarding with step-by-step guidance.
  • The ability to track key milestones in real time with automated alerts that notify advisors if a student is falling behind.
  • Updated analytics that provide dashboards and analytics templates pre-built for education to capture real-time insights and visualize progress toward key metrics.

“Higher education is at an inflection point, and leaders are rethinking traditional education models. We have reimagined Education Cloud to help institutions navigate these tectonic shifts and be future-ready while providing holistic, personalized support for students from the moment they start looking at a university to graduation and beyond,” says Bala Subramanian, Salesforce vice president and general manager of education.

EAB added numerous enhancements to its Navigate CRM solution and renamed the platform Navigate360, which now includes features and applications that help students prepare for post-graduate life, whether finding a job or pursuing more education.

The enhancements were built on the recently introduced expanded student recruitment features and AI technology. EAB is also extending its CRM to support alumni engagement and fundraising.

A new job-matching application, CareerAscent, is designed to connect students with employers and positions that align with their academic credentials and interests, building on EAB’s acquisition of Seramount, a provider of talent and workplace solutions.

“Over the past decade, we have worked with our 850-plus partners to combine cutting-edge technology with deep education expertise and rewrite the student success playbook,” says Scott Schirmeier, EAB’s president. “Recently, we added several features that enable students to signal when they need help so campus care units can assist them right away, and we built sophisticated campaigns that address common student challenges, such as missed classes and unmet basic needs. These advancements, along with the latest additions to improve postgraduate outcomes, represent a new chapter in our work to boost student success.”

And just this past November, Element451 released three different solutions:

  • The foundational package, Element Bolt, for institutions wanting to make a swift impact on digital-first learners. Featuring an AI chatbot, semantic knowledge base, and adaptable contact management, it delivers personalized, real-time responses 24/7.
  • Element Ignite, which offers AI-powered marketing and communication tools, student insights, and workflow automation to help institutions build connections that foster thriving academic communities.
  • Element Engage, a more comprehensive CRM platform built to unify the student experience. It includes tools that enable active student engagement, provide in-depth insights into their behavior, facilitate personalized communications, and enhance staff productivity.

“Element451 is spearheading a shift in student engagement, marketing, and success through AI. With our three AI-powered plans, we’re ushering institutions into a new era of interaction,” said Element451 founder and CEO Ardis Kadiu in a statement when these solutions were introduced. “Our advanced AI bots and assistants pave the way for hyper-personalized communications and a transformative engagement journey at scale.”


Modern CRMs with personalization and advanced AI will be more important than ever in 2024 and into the future, Salesforce’s Subramanian says.

“Due to changing demographics, colleges and universities in the U.S. are projected to see a dramatic decline in enrollment starting in 2025,” he wrote in a recent blog post. “To recapture the attention of prospective students, institutions will need a long-term vision for enrollment, rather than short-term tactical approaches.”

And Tom Green, industry adviser for strategic enrollment management at Salesforce, has noted that many institutions are looking at key enrollment indicators (KEIs) , the factors that help institutions understand complex enrollment patterns in the context of their culture and enrollment profiles.”

Subramanian adds that personalizing engagement with prospective students will help institutions improve yield, which is the proportion of students who actually enroll after being offered admission. Yield is a critical factor for institutions looking to hit or exceed their enrollment targets.

But AI’s influence on the educational market doesn’t end there.

Generative AI will create a new wave of personalized education, enabling teachers to generate content that’s aligned with a student’s interests and skill level, Subramanian predicts. “While it would be prohibitively expensive to scale such an idea using the large language models and tools of today, within the next three years we’ll start to see the proliferation of specialized ‘small language models,’ or SLMs. These specialized models will significantly decrease the cost of scaling personalized learning and enhance individualized instruction, getting institutions closer to the end-to-end personalized experience students are demanding.” 

Phillip Britt is a freelance writer based in the Chicago area. He can be reached at spenterprises1@comcast.net.

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