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How a Great Back End Impacts the Student Experience at an Arts School

The EvoLLLution | How a Great Back End Impacts the Student Experience at an Arts School
Extended Studies divisions serve incredibly diverse audiences, but it’s critical to ensure that experience stands out to keep learners coming back and to ensure they’re getting the most out of their engagement.

Even at a world-famous institution like CalArts, delivering a great student experience is critical for student satisfaction and success. For CalArts’ Extended Studies division, the design of their back-end infrastructure made the delivery of such an experience difficult to achieve. Navigating their complex environment and managing a number of manual processes was hard work for everyone involved, but a new Customer Lifecycle Management (CLM) system helped right the ship. In this interview, the leadership team from CalArts Extended Studies reflect on some of the challenges the Destiny One CLM software platform helped them to address, and discussed some of the benefits of their new infrastructure.

To download the case study on how the Destiny One CLM platform helped CalArts Extended Studies, please click here

The EvoLLLution (Evo): What makes Extended Studies at a school of art different than the more traditional offerings of continuing and extended education divisions at other institutions?

Hilary Darling (HD): When I think of people trying to access education through an Extended Studies school, I think of more practical, textbook or skill-based classes and programs. What’s unique about what CalArts is offering through Extended Studies is that we’re offering something that is a luxury item.

I know that people can use their arts skills and their art practice for practical purposes, but really a lot of people look at art school extended studies as a nonessential item. As such, we have to focus on making it the most unique and inspiring creative education experience we can.

Evo: What kinds of demographics make up the students who are enrolling in Extended Studies programming?

Lisa Barr (LB): Currently we have pre-college students who are interested in applying to art schools and developing their portfolios. We also have college-level students who are at colleges elsewhere, maybe pursuing degrees in liberal arts or science, but they want some art classes. We’ve found they’re interested, in particular, in animation.

HD: One of the things we found this last year in our animation residency is a really high percentage of applicants who were coming from other arts colleges. They’re studying animation, and what you need to know in a CG-based animation program. What these students were coming to us for was an infusion of hand-drawn animation and design skills, which they don’t necessarily get at at their school. It’s not even a matter of better or worse or wanting to transfer. It’s an opportunity to infuse their goals and their missions with a little bit of the CalArts style.

LB: We also have international students coming in, through a partnership program we established with Hongik University in Korea. Students come to our campus for a month for intensive classes in graphic design.

Another area we serve is professional training programs for outside animation companies.

HD: Additionally, we have a very small amount of matriculated CalArts students that, whether they’re behind or trying to work ahead, are taking some classes in the summer.

Evo: What are a few of the most significant challenges you face as an extended education division creating programming targeted at a very specific demographic of students?

HD: One of the issues I grapple with, as the Director of Summer Institute, is that our audience sees Extended Studies as a more economical way of accessing education. The fact of the matter is that delivering art programs—whether it’s in a four-year matriculated degree program or whether it’s a four-week immersive residency—is expensive, because it’s high touch and often based on studio work and a workshop environment.

People think they’re accessing a discounted CalArts through Extended Studies but that’s not necessarily the case. Some of our programs do have credits attached and there’s value in that but we grapple with trying to create low-cost models that have the same high quality. We also bring tremendous value to our learners in connecting them to industry professionals and the skills they need to grow professionally.

LB: CalArts is a unique and storied brand. As a separate entity from the main campus, one of the other things that is challenging to us is branding. We’re a separate entity from the main campus at CalArts, which strictly offers residential matriculated degree programs. We face the challenge—both internally and externally—of explaining what we do and who our target audience is.

Evo: Before implementing your new CLM, you were reliant on the main campus system and had to engage in a number of manual “paper-and-pen” processes to make ends meet. How did this infrastructure exacerbate the challenges you were facing?

LB: We were able to use the main campus system only to a certain point. It became apparent that we couldn’t grow anymore. We really couldn’t expand our offerings because the way we were doing things wasn’t sustainable or user friendly. We recognized that our audience, which is not the four-year matriculated degree audience, really wanted more of a shopping cart experience, wanted a quick and easy way to make the transaction. In addition, there was no way to scale.

HD: Using the systems we had in place for the main campus enrollment was fine if you’re just signing up for your entire year at once and paying. However, if we needed the student to submit an application to be considered for our program as an Extended Studies student, it was a seven-step process.

The systems that we put together took a huge amount of time just to process enrollments. The lag-time may have caused students to consider other options outside of CalArts. Why would you want to sign up for a technology-based class at an institution that could not manage to sell a class in one fell swoop? It’s not a good sign. People would get frustrated and I understand why they would get frustrated. I could be buying a book online right now while we’re talking and that’s how easy it has to be to sell our classes. It’s not even just the ridiculousness of the processes we had before.

Additionally, if we wanted to scale up we couldn’t because there was no way I could process more students at a faster rate. The drain our processes were putting on our registrar’s office was problematic, and was taking their energy away from serving the matriculated students. We needed something that would allow us to help our students and help them.

Evo: What were some of the key functions you were looking for in a new system?

LB: One of the things that we like about Destiny is the ability to control the look and feel of our outwardly-facing site. The back end was important, but the fact that we could, out of the box, create something that was visually pleasing and easily understood was a huge benefit.

HD: It was really important that people come to our website and see something that looks good because of the nature of what we’re selling.

The old system was labor intensive and time consuming, Having done all this really laborious processing of students, one thing that I found frustrating with our old system was having to have go through all these gatekeepers to do what we needed to do. They tried really hard to help our office, but the fact of the matter is they had other work that they had to get done before us, so oftentimes we would end up waiting.

I wanted a product that would enable us to have the power to do things for ourselves, to be a self-service registration and payment system. It was very clear in conversations with our registrar that our information couldn’t just live on our system, it had to able to speak to the main campus’s information system, so that was also really important.

We also needed a system that had the ability to accept application fees and portfolio submissions. When you’re selling an art experience to someone, you don’t want someone to come in who’s going to fail in the class—you want them to succeed. It was really important that our new system could process applications and portfolio submissions.

Mary Moylan (MM): I was fairly new to the department when this process began. When I started, Jen, Hilary and Lisa were working on a wish list of what they were looking for in a product. For the most part, the Destiny One out-of-the-box product had pretty much everything they were looking for.

Evo: How does the Destiny One CLM ameliorate some of the issues you experienced working with the main campus?

Jennifer Hutton (JH): We now have access to data at our fingertips, whereas before it was usually only available through a request—we would have to request certain reports, or the data was delivered in a way that wasn’t useful to us or made it very difficult to migrate it into the forms that we needed.

Now, we have complete control over our student records within the system.

HD: If you could see the look on one of our Associate Registrar’s face when she realized that so much of what we were asking her to do before, we were going to be able to do ourselves. She had the biggest, most wonderful smile on her face.

LB: Additionally, our schedule doesn’t necessarily align with the academic calendar, the schedule of the registrar’s office, or the schedule of the accounting offices. Being autonomous in this way takes a huge burden off of them.

HD: To that point, one of the crunch times for us is in spring when our graduation for the matriculated students is coming up. Under the old model, people were scrambling to make sure their transcripts were in order and that they had the credits they needed to graduate or advance.

I don’t mean to imply we do everything last minute, but it’s a rushed time at the registrar’s office because they’re processing grades for people who are graduating and making sure everyone’s academic progress is in order. That was happening right when I needed my summer students to complete their registration and payment. This created a bit of a registration bottleneck in that office, because they don’t have infinite time to do everything.

This way we can avoid burdening them, and we also don’t have to compromise our deadlines based on their workflow.

Evo: How will the new CLM help to improve back-end efficiency and the student experience?

LB: Like in many institutions, Extended Studies here at CalArts is a place where you can experiment with new programs much more easily than you can with the degree programs. There’s a nimbleness and flexibility that’s required in order to be able to turn programs around or pilot programs quickly and effectively and efficiently. Destiny allows us the ability to do that.

We can build a class, set it up and mobilize it very quickly, whereas in the past we hadn’t been able to do that. It allows us that autonomy to be able to test things quickly.

JH: From the student perspective, there are major benefits. We’re working with a group of students who, prior to this, did not have access to their grades or have an understanding of what their course schedule was. Now they have a portal where they can log in and have control over that information.

LB: The data Destiny One houses is key to us being able to make decisions. Prior to this, we haven’t had ready access to our own data.

Additionally, with the flexibility of the system we now have a place where we can really point our marketing towards. Whereas before we were buried in the main campus website, now we have user-friendly URLs that we can push out to market new programs.

HD: We just went through our first significant enrollment cycle. We’re still learning how to use this tool, but what I see is this bright horizon in front of me where I’m freed up from managing enrollments in a really tedious way to really being able to focus on programs.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

To learn more about how the Destiny One CLM system helped CalArts Extended Studies improve its back-end processes, transform customer engagement and manage its online identity, please click here.