Over the past ten years, there has been significant interest and growth in the adoption of best-of-breed recruitment and admissions (R&A) solutions to augment standard student system functionality. There is also a growing expectation that the constituent relationship management (CRM) that is inherent to R&A solutions should extend into other areas of the student lifecycle to ensure student success, as well as into the advancement system to cultivate donor relations. Vendors have started to respond to these demands with the development and availability of new solutions.
Institutions that are evaluating the replacement of their R&A solutions should consider the overall CRM strategy and future administrative systems when evaluating their options.
There are two general ways that vendors deliver R&A solutions. The first method is functionality delivered as a module of a core student system. The R&A module is not a stand-alone solution; nor is it to be used outside of the core student system. Examples of these solutions include
The second method is through a stand-alone, best-of-breed platform that integrates with core student systems and ancillary administrative applications. Such solutions include
There are also vendors that provide enterprise-wide CRM products that can span the student lifecycle from inquiry through graduation and beyond and can support relationships with non-students, such as corporations and external donors. While these products are often broader in functionality and address additional needs, such as student pathways and donor relations, they still offer some of the same communication and outreach components that are inherent in best-of-breed recruitment and admissions solutions.
Some vendors with stand-alone R&A solutions are beginning to broaden their functionality to student success CRM and advancement CRM. As these products mature, their features will create benefits that include consistency of the student experience, robust data history for personalized engagement, sharing of appropriate data to ensure meaningful engagement, and a shared data model. However, they will also create challenges to ensuring appropriate segregation of data and individual privacy protection.
R&A solutions include some of the following features and functionality:
In addition to the technical and functional requirements, it is important to assess the vendor’s track record. This includes retention of existing customers, how well it funds its research and development, and how it delivers on its product roadmaps. It is also important to understand the implementation plan and process, including the human resources requirements, training needs, and the project timeline.
Some of these solutions are starting to leverage artificial intelligence (AI) for social listening and for using CRM and other external data to understand student behavior and predict outcomes, among other uses. Higher education has lagged behind other industries in leveraging AI, but COVID-19 has heightened the need for the insights that AI provides. This need will hasten the maturity of AI as vendors broaden its functionality in their software.
The benefits of modern, automated R&A solutions are indisputable. All institutions leveraging these products note a significant increase in the quantity and quality of prospects and applicants and the quality of enrolled students.
The market is seeing an increase in the number of institutions looking for products that extend CRM across an enterprise and include R&A features. However, the number of possible software combinations and options can be overwhelming. The primary question to consider is whether the institution has or will adopt an enterprise-wide CRM strategy. The answer depends on many factors: IT staffing and skills, existing data oversight and repositories, the extent of IT governance over software acquisition, and the campus culture.
At the moment, there is a trade-off. While deploying and integrating best-of-breed, stand-alone solutions can provide richer functionality, their scope is narrower, and integrating them into a unified experience and data repository requires additional work. A solution that provides significant functionality or that is well-suited to the campus culture can be worth the effort of the extra integration work. Enterprise-wide solutions provide a consistent user experience and typically require less integration, but their functionality may not be as rich as best-of-breed solutions. There may be a need for custom development to meet institutional requirements. The gaps in these two approaches may narrow with time.
In closing, each approach has its benefits and challenges. The most important considerations in selecting an R&A solution, and any other CRM solution, is that of the institutional vision, how well the vendor understands and can fulfill the vision, and the interim trade-offs.
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