By Alicia Brazington / Campus Technology
The right technology can help admissions offices better communicate with prospective students — and can ultimately lead to higher enrollments.
Recruitment is an expensive business: In 2010-2011, the median cost to recruit an undergraduate was $2,185 among private colleges and universities, according to Noel-Levitz, an enrollment management consultancy. In these tough fiscal times, admissions departments are under pressure to keep those costs down even as they pursue higher enrollment and better-caliber students. To meet the challenges, schools are increasingly turning to tech solutions to give them a competitive edge. Here are three tech tactics that are gaining traction on campuses:
1) Mine Data Efficiently and Use It
Without the ability to put student data to good use, it’s hardly worth the effort to gather it in the first place. This was the problem facing the Sage Colleges (NY). A powerful admissions application tool was collecting enormous amounts of information, says Bryan Lester, director of enrollment information and admission processing, “but to input all that data into our student information system was extremely time-consuming.”
To make the jump from collecting data to using it for targeted communications, Sage adopted TargetX’s Student Recruitment Manager (SRM)*, a cloud-based customer relationship management system for admissions offices, with data integration provided by Informatica.
Today, Sage is doing a better job of communicating with prospects. Administrators mine data from the SRM and use it to customize e-mail and print campaigns for specific audiences (according to extracurricular interests, for example).
Sage is also communicating with prospects’ parents — something the institution has never been able to do before. The SRM’s e-mail campaign tool allows the school to e-mail parents directly or simply copy them on e-mails to their children. Since launching the SRM in 2009, Sage’s overall application and enrollment numbers have increased each year. Internal processes have shifted from mostly manual to nearly fully automated, allowing the institution to handle the increase in applications without additional staff.
Cedarville University (OH) has also embarked on a drive — literally — to streamline its collection of admissions data. Admissions counselors are on the road at college fairs for several weeks at a time. Traditionally, gathering, sorting, and sending information back to the admissions department have been a slow, manual process. By the time the admissions office followed up with prospects identified during these fairs, the students’ interest had often waned. Now, counselors use digital pens that instantly transmit data gathered at recruitment fairs. This unique approach came about after Mark Weinstein, director of admissions, tasked the IT department with finding a way to quickly connect with prospects following campus trips. Digital smart pen and paper technology from ExpeData proved to be just the thing.
When written on specially patterned paper with a ball-point-type digital pen, students’ data is stored and then routed to a database via USB or Bluetooth connection. With students filling out one-page forms, each pen can capture information from 200 prospects. “We’re communicating in real time,” notes Weinstein. “We’re not letting distance hinder us.”
Thanks to an internally developed analytics tool, the data captured by the smart pens is separated into categories — such as major, extracurricular interests, or other salient attributes — so customized communications can be delivered speedily.
The biggest advantage of the smart pens, says Weinstein, is the turnaround time in communicating with students. While admissions officers used to take as many as six to eight weeks to contact students after a college fair, they now communicate in just four to five days. As a result, a larger number of prospects are visiting campus.
While it’s too early to know if the pens are having a positive impact on enrollment, Cedarville is on track this year to having one of the highest freshman enrollments in the university’s history. “Whether we see a higher enrollment or not, having the smart pen technology is making a difference in our communication plan and campus visits,” concludes Weinstein. “Students want to be communicated with and they are impressed when we do so in a timely and personal way.”
2) Harness the Power of Peers
Forging early connections is a significant factor in whether a high school student will commit to a particular college, says Diane Gayeski, dean of the Roy H. Park School of Communications at Ithaca College (NY). With that in mind, the school has completely changed its approach to social media. IC Peers was once a private social media page reserved for those Ithaca College students with acceptance letters in hand. Today, all college applicants are invited, with the result that membership numbers have exploded from 9,000 to 14,000.
The site is powered by SocialEngine and integrated with Ellucian’s Banner Student system. Members can engage with other applicants, recent enrollees, present students, and faculty. In addition to gleaning useful insights from their peers, prospective students sometimes meet their roommates through these interactions, too.
Furthermore, all of these interactions are visible to college administrators, providing them with valuable intelligence on prospects. “There’s a wealth of data available when you have the ability to listen to a conversation,” says Bonny Griffith, director of recruitment marketing. “Plus, we’re providing a service where students want it — online.”
Tracking and analyzing 100 variables, such as the number of logins and activity level, also help Ithaca to predict enrollment levels.
Grockit, a maker of online test prep products, takes a different approach. It combines users’ test scores and other data with information mined from Facebook to suggest compatible schools to students. Using the company’s School Match tool, students can see which schools their friends have attended, are attending, or are interested in, and receive recommendations about schools they might like.
First, School Match weighs Grockit practice test results, public data from colleges and universities, and Facebook Social Graph data. Next, the system factors in a prospective student’s relationship to specific schools and their admissions requirements. The student then receives profiles of suggested schools, along with the names of friends and potential classmates who may share a connection with them. Students can also solicit school reviews from friends and alumni.
While Grockit is oriented more toward students than admissions offices, it can reduce the amount of time and money that schools spend on recruitment. For instance, School Match allows users to request information from schools with the click of a button, giving colleges and universities direct access to potential students with a proven interest in the school. “Having this kind of knowledge allows schools to tailor their recruitment efforts,” explains Farb Nivi, founder of Grockit.
3) Offer an Unforgettable Campus Tour
As a campus tour leader, David Meyer was once told that if tour-takers retained just 10 percent of what he shared, he’d done his job. Now as owner of CampuScene, a start-up developing an augmented reality (AR) tour app, he’s hoping to increase retention to 90 percent.
At schools piloting the technology — including Brown University (RI), Duke University (NC), and Tufts University (MA) — tour-takers can point their smartphone or tablet cameras at campus landmarks and have informative graphics, video, and sound layered on top of the image. For those prospects unable to visit in person, a virtual guided tour of the campus is available online. All users can save information to a personal dashboard for future reference, a handy feature that keeps schools from blurring together.
For colleges and universities, the true value of the AR tours lies in the information collected. Each data point features a feedback area where students can comment and tag locations on social media. A back-end administrative system automatically tracks users’ stops, records which locations are showing best, and analyzes what visitors are thinking. Armed with these insights, schools can target their communications better to engage potential students.
AR tours that rely on software’s ability to recognize campus buildings face some difficult technical challenges. A potentially easier way to educate prospects about what they’re seeing is via QR codes. That’s the approach taken by Bob Rafferty, former director of new media at Wittenberg University (OH) and cofounder of Knowble Media, a provider of web, mobile, video, and multimedia campaigns for colleges and universities.
“Admissions offices need to be focused on experience-based media,” insists Rafferty. “Creating memorable experiences for campus visitors is of the utmost importance.” Last year, with that aim in mind, he identified points of interest at Wittenberg, uploaded content that complemented the university’s media strategy, and deployed QR codes on buildings campuswide, creating what was touted by the university as the first-ever smartphone campus tour—based on Knowble’s Q.R. Campus platform. When scanned by a mobile device, a code launches a website that displays video, photos, and text descriptions about that location. The only downside is that users need to download a QR reader.
Whether schools provide such tours via QR codes or more dynamic technology, the ramped-up experience provides universities with an innovative way to educate prospects and sell them on the school — even when the admissions office is closed. Plus, usage reports help schools improve the tours and more important initiate a relationship with prospects that they hope will last a lifetime.
*TargetX has updated the name of the Student Recruitment Manager (SRM) to Recruitment CRM which is now part of an Enterprise CRM set of solutions for colleges and universities.