Part 2: Keeping the human touch in admissions–at scale

By Andrew Barbour
October 7th, 2015

In the hyper-competitive world of admissions, schools are seeking an edge by using tech solutions to engage prospective students one-on-one at scale

Part 1 of this story examined how universities are taking a more personalized approach to admissions. 

admissions-collegeWhile some colleges struggle to attract enough students to keep their doors open, others have been inundated by record numbers of applications. Today, admissions offices must work harder and smarter to recruit and enroll students who meet their institutions’ standards and values. And, in many cases, it means implementing sophisticated tech solutions to assist them.

Tracking Demonstrated Interest

In today’s hyper-competitive market, the ability to engage students meaningfully is key, but the job of the admissions office doesn’t stop there. Admissions counselors are also tasked with identifying those students who are serious about attending their institutions and with pulling together a student body that reflects their schools’ academic and cultural values. For both purposes, the ability to crunch data is critical.

Penn State deals with 300,000-400,000 prospects each year, most of whom will not attend the university. By tracking every interaction—known in the business as “demonstrated interest”— between prospective students and the university’s campuses, admissions staffers are able to narrow down the number of students who are truly serious about attending the school. “One of the most highly anticipated results was an improvement in the quality and reliability of our data,” said Kate Tornatore, CRM project manager at Penn State World Campus. “We know how many times a prospective student called, e-mailed, or chatted with us. We can start analyzing the data to determine how many or what types of interactions are going to lead to the best conversion rates.”

At Manchester University in Indiana, the admissions office also sifts the data to determine which interactions are likely to result in a student ultimately enrolling. “We assign point values to interactions to learn if one student perhaps is more interested than another,” said Adam Hohman, assistant vice president for enrollment and marketing.

But Manchester admissions officers also want to ensure that incoming cohorts reflect the school’s diversity goals, which “means many things,” according to Hohman. For example, Manchester takes into consideration where prospective in-state students live. “Many of our students come here from our home state of Indiana,” he explained. “We have a system where we assign students to admission counselors based upon the Indiana county where they live.”

Because this approach is not used by many schools, Liaison had to restructure the data to accommodate this need. Ultimately, though, the finished product gave the school the ability to slice and dice the data the way it wanted. “The EMP helped us to shape our class better,” said Hohman. “We’re able to engage new geographic regions, we’re able to grow enrollments in targeted programs, and we’re able to increase the diversity of our incoming class.”

Refining Recruitment Strategies

As staffers become familiar with the new systems, they are also able to use the data to improve their own recruitment efforts and the efficiency of their offices. “Data is now available at the push of a button,” said Tornatore. “For example, if the marketing office at Penn State World Campus sends an e-mail, we will know how many people took action from that communication, inquired about Penn State, applied, and ultimately enrolled.”

Indeed, the granularity of the data allows admissions officers to refine outreach programs to a remarkable degree. “EMP allows us to see when e-mails are most opened, so we can develop a trajectory knowing that an e-mail is best served on a certain day at a certain time,” said Hohman.

Equally remarkable is the fact that all of this can be achieved with less staff time. At Penn State, for example, the admissions staff was able to populate a report for an outbound calling campaign in just a few minutes, something that previously would have taken someone a day or two to complete. “Automated processes such as automated campaign delivery free up time for people to implement ideas and projects that keep Penn State competitive,” said Tornatore.

At the same time, Tornatore cautions schools not to look to the technology as some kind of turnkey miracle. “I can’t underscore enough how important it is to take the time to plan your CRM strategy and understand the resources and data necessary to support it,” she said. “The payoffs from which Penn State is benefiting now did not come easily or instantly. A CRM is just the technical application used to execute your CRM strategy. The better thought-out your strategy, the more benefits you’ll see from your CRM.”

Andrew Barbour is a contributing editor with eCampus News.

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