Published on 2016/07/15
The EvoLLLution | Unlocking the Door to Student (and Institutional) Success
By effectively leveraging technological solutions and tools, institutional leaders can overcome some of the more common roadblocks standing in the way of delivering the experience today’s students expect.

As the shadows from the late afternoon sun filter through the blinds, the campus provost appears at your door. He regularly seems to be in constant motion, but today is different. Today, the look is one of deep deliberation and reflection.

As he approaches your desk, you know the topic—multiple years of declining enrollments and gaps in student support/student success. It’s not a catastrophic situation, but something different needs to be done to reverse that trend and enable your institution to grow and advance to new heights. You both feel great pride in the institution, and know it is a high-quality institution with great employees. It seems like things should be working.

You review the basics: the scope of your university’s marketing and communications presence, the level of outreach to your feeder schools and institutions, the sustainability of your enrollment funnels, your current leveraging of financial aid, the strength of your alumni network and your comprehensive retention efforts.

You banter back and forth to try to discover what is missing, and review the findings of countless committees and task forces. As you both do this, you finally begin to get a picture as to why things are not falling into place and accelerating.

You’re Encountering Silos and Disparate Data    

On some level, every institution deals with organizational silos and the natural consequences of those silos, which includes a lack of holistic viewpoint and disparate data. Those gaps complicate efforts to paint a broad and inspiring vision for where things need to move and make solid data-driven decision making nearly impossible. For many, overcoming these challenges is the missing key in serving students successfully and creating sustainable institutional growth.

Effective communication is at the core of these challenges. Leaders must clearly articulate university-level strategy and vision in a way that both validates groups and individuals for their contributions to the cause, while also encouraging an environment where necessary changes can be made while building consensus towards the common goal.

Another important aspect in facilitating this change involves the better utilization of technological tools such as Customer Relationship Management (CRM) software and Student Information Systems (SIS) data. An integrated technology tool set can lead to closer partnerships between departments across campus, allowing them to discard traditional “our office/their office” mentalities and see the student enrollment and student support processes from an institutional team-based perspective. Utilizing the same tool or knitting together the various tools currently in use helps engender feelings of shared responsibility and aids in creating an environment of greater mutual respect. In addition, this focus on aggregate data integration allows for a much more comprehensive and strategic analysis of what works and what does not, positioning the institution to be much more agile in adapting processes and procedures.

You’re Deep into the Age of Personalization

Students (both prospective and current) will be the natural beneficiaries of these efforts. An institution that better understands and manages the “big data” picture, can then utilize resources to dive deeper into the desires and needs of the individual student.

Year after year, the need for personalization throughout the student lifecycle has increased. For institutions that are using them effectively, CRM products are facilitating a new level of connection, interaction and understanding of the students they come in contact with. The information gathered in these interactions combined with any information that may be contained in the SIS, helps enable greater student support and student success because communication is enhanced and interventions can be timely and strategic.

You’re Seeing the Impacts of Technology and Personalization

In the scenario laid out in the beginning, technology and personalization can assist with:

  • Better identifying and understanding your prospective student population
  • Connecting with them in ways that build affinity for the institution long before an application
  • More precise lead scoring and detailed ROI in each stage of the enrollment funnel
  • Greater understanding of student’s “actual” financial need and economic circumstances
  • A student services experience that is pro-active and relationship-based
  • Connecting students to the critical resources necessary for student success

Many of these core principles and philosophies have been around for years, but we have to transform the way in which we connect with and serve students to thrive in this new age of higher education consumers.

How to React? Deliver on the Experience

In my current role, as the director of a university-wide Support Center, we have deployed a system (both technology and process) that allows us to monitor and track each interaction that we have with a student, helping us paint a vibrant picture of the student’s experience. We have connected our systems to pull in data from the SIS regarding potential problems that a student might encounter. Depending on the risk assessment level, those can trigger a pro-active outreach effort to the student or serve as an “alert flag” so that when the student calls in about another issue we can address the potential problem during that same interaction.

Learning how to effectively scale the delivery of personalized services has been especially critical, as we have experienced exponential growth in our online programs. Using these same tools, the Enrollment Intervention Team in our department uses personalized e-mails and scripted outbound phone calls to cultivate and maximize enrollments.

As more university departments partner with our area, we can leverage these technology solutions to provide an even more comprehensive response to each step of the student lifecycle.

Get Across the Threshold

The story continues. Just a year later, the provost stops by again, this time beaming with excitement and hope. He expresses his gratitude and appreciation for the steps that you have taken to truly analyze the issue, collaborate with stakeholders to better understand their needs, break down institutional silos, and inspire others to a shared vision of success. Enrollments are increasing, student success has improved rapidly, and the university is on a remarkable path to sustainability and success.

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