While Tambellini research shows that approximately 70 percent of US higher education institutions have either selected a leading recruitment and admissions (R&A) CRM packaged application or developed their own custom CRM application (primarily R1 and R2 institutions), the mostly mature offerings in this space continue to innovate and broaden their functionality to maximize their impact on enrollment numbers. Since R&A was one of the earliest functional adopters of CRM in higher education, corresponding solutions are feature rich and mature at this point. What started out as primarily constituent and campaign management, application submission, and review and decisioning has expanded to also support chatbots, event and travel management, low-/no-code form builders and portals, online applications with task lists, personalized communications, AI and predictive analytics, and more.
R&A CRM applications have also evolved in their ability to support more diverse and complex recruitment processes in institutions that comprise many different types of schools (e.g., engineering, law, medical) and support many different academic programs and degree types on a single platform. R&A CRM solutions are being adopted to support continuing education and executive education programs for which reach and revenue optimization are crucial and recruitment is managed very differently from traditional undergraduate and graduate programs. To support these varying requirements, R&A CRM solutions continue to evolve functionally and technically.
In the early days, R&A CRM solutions were usually selected and deployed at the departmental level by admissions offices without assistance from IT, often with multiple solutions being used in a single institution. However, institutions are now taking a more holistic approach to deploying CRM applications and considering longer-term enterprise CRM as part of their selection strategy. As such, R&A CRM selections are now being influenced by institutions’ enterprise CRM strategies, and IT is being involved in the decision-making process.
R&A CRM has a high adoption rate because institutions have proven the success of a number of packaged application or CRM paths through tangible improvements in student engagement, application submission, and acceptance rates. The exceptions tend to be those institutions that have not optimally configured their R&A CRM to meet the institution’s needs and/or did not invest in change management to facilitate user adoption.
Real-time, actionable insights are a key focus across R&A offices, with many leveraging technologies such as AI, ML, and bots. While most CRM vendors are currently marketing solutions that can track web behaviors, some are also working to include functionality that can identify which prospects are a good fit (academically and socially) for institutions and how campaigns and events impact application and acceptance outcomes. Having access to this type of data allows institutions to understand the impact of their specific activities and campaigns. Some vendors are using channel metrics to identify where best-fit students are coming from. The ultimate goal is to personalize communications based on students’ interests and likelihood of acceptance with a minimum number of touchpoints.
Most institutions are laser-focused on optimizing the student experience in order to keep candidates engaged in the process using several strategies. Some are using chatbots to provide 24/7 engagement with prospects via Q&A forums or automated redirection. Automation of online applications keeps students on track by sending application submission reminders using automated milestones to accelerate the process from application to acceptance. Online dashboards are available on the applicant’s self-service portal page that track application status and display checklists, and can be used to submit applications and receive admittance letters. Once an applicant has accepted, personalized onboarding helps admissions offices reduce summer melt. All of these strategies increase engagement on the applicant’s terms.
Institutions stress the importance of creating compelling student messaging, which takes personalized communications to the next level. This type of messaging leverages actionable insights to identify specific areas of interest for a group of students and is followed by data analysis to understand what worked and what did not. Most institutions are using communications metrics—including open rates, click-throughs, and view rates—to gauge the effectiveness of campaigns and inform future efforts. Some institutions are pairing this data with survey results to dive deeper into student preferences.
As with most technology platforms today, the next wave of innovations in the R&A CRM space of AI, predictive analytics, and automation aligns well with the increasingly complex and competitive needs of institutions to successfully deal with enrollment pressures and respond quickly to the evolving needs of potential applicants.
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