Enrollment Technologies Attract Students

A recent survey of 1,000 college-bound seniors — sponsored by OmniUpdate and the National Research Center for College & University Admissions, among others — reveals some profound shifts recruiters can no longer ignore:
  • 88 percent of students say if an institution’s Website content doesn’t meet their expectations, they’re disappointed and might consider dropping that school from their search.
  • 57 percent say if they notice the content or text on a school’s Website is out of date, incorrect, or unhelpful, they will probably take it off their list.
  • 70 percent feel universities should create a presence within social networks or communities to promote their programs.
  • 75 percent want institutions to create their own private (invitation-only) social networking communities for students.
  • 70 percent prefer completing an application online.
  • 60 percent would like the ability to communicate online with current students; 50 percent want that option with faculty.
It didn’t take a survey to convince Florida Keys Community College (FKCC) it was on the wrong path. Sure, the demographics in the Florida Keys changed, the cost of living rose dramatically, and the hurricanes in 2005 drove off a lot of the feeder populations. But the fact that the school had no real approach to managing enrollment — recruiter Elizabeth Love worked out of a three-ring binder, with sticky notes on various pages — translated into 30- and 40-percent decreases over several years.

“Pretty abysmal,” summed up FKCC’s IT director Bryan Gilchrist.  He decided to turn the situation around by investing in a central resource management program (CRM). It went live on April 1, 2009, after roughly eight months of pilots.

The applause is coming from as far away as California Polytechnic Institute on the West Coast. CalPoly has always been on the cutting edge of recruitment technology, when it shifted its media to CD-ROMs in the early 1990s. By 1999, Assistant Vice President James Maraviglia had kicked direct mail to the curb to focus on Internet outreach strategies and enrollment applications. Green living hadn’t yet come into fashion — it was strictly in response to student demand, he said.

“Our focus groups of 16- and 17-year-olds told us that we had seven seconds to capture their attention, and you’re not going to do it by a letter or brochure,” Maraviglia reported. He’s never run into a disadvantage over the decision, particularly since these days, he even communicates daily with his daughter living in a hut in Kenya with no running water, thanks to a solar-powered BlackBerry.

But whether his staff is chatting live, sending out broadcast phone messages, instant messaging, or streaming video e-mail messages, “You have to be able to manage your eyeballs,” he said. “A CRM is a must to manage your knowledge base.”

Enrollment Impacts
Sometimes, an impact on enrollment comes from an unexpected corner. For example, a class capture system that puts professors’ lessons online for student review. The initial draw for this technology is to enhance the classroom experience, reduce note taking, and increase participation. The University of New Haven’s goal was to improve student retention and satisfaction.

“When prospective students and their families visit the University, they’re actually brought into a room to view a demonstration of a typical class at our University. The response has been tremendous,” Vincent Mangiacapra, chief information officer, said. “Before making such a large investment in their child’s education, every parent seeks assurance that they are obtaining the highest quality educational experience from our highly regarded faculty.”

At the University of Alabama, that has translated into a goal to increase enrollment by 30 percent in a mere two years using this tool. According to Tegrity President Isaac Segal, they are exceeding that timetable. What’s more, they are responding in higher numbers to surveys, with 61 percent saying their grade improved in recorded classes. “That’s not ‘Did you enjoy the classroom?’ or ‘Did you learn more?’” said Segal. “I personally am unaware of another technology where students are always responding so strongly. This was a testament to the whole category.”

FKCC’s resource management system means this team of four can now create recruiting campaigns and follow inquiries through the life cycle. “Previously, we sent out a letter, sent out another letter, and that was it. We forgot about the person,” said Love. Or, worse yet, someone received the same mailing from multiple lists, effectively hit with mailbox span. “Now I can pick up where previous conversations left off.” Not only are the messages and materials personalized, but the automated system also helps the staff keep track of how many man-hours they spend on various outreaches.

The College currently is fielding double the amount of applications it saw only a year ago. Things should really pick up steam when the online enrollment management piece is deployed later in the year. And the direct cost savings:
  • Savings of approximately $1,500 in postage per annum.
  • Savings of approximately $4,232 savings in printed materials per annum.
  • Prior to implementation, several sets of hard-copy documents were mailed to prospects/inquirers. Now, electronic copies are sent to populations with a valid e-mail address.
  • Reduction in staff hours appropriated for efforts that are now automated and repurposing those hours for other means, resulting in an estimated cost-savings of approximately $28,481.
  • Total approximate direct cost savings of $34,213 per annum.
CalPoly’s CRM is a custom database that was built for the school as the industry matured. Today this technology controls the information flow so precisely, officials can track every online contact to its end. Recruiters can determine how many students’ first point of contact was Facebook and follow that life cycle through to how many applied to which universities, who gained admission, how many actually showed up in the classroom, and how many graduated in the major.

Introducing the Campus
Among the new tools Maraviglia is plugging in: GPS units that provide personal tours of the San Luis Obispo campus, sans human guides. Instead, the palm-sized device — featuring informational multimedia video, audio, music, text, flash animation, and photography — automatically delivers tour content based on the prospective student's physical proximity to predetermined GPS waypoints as they stroll the CalPoly campus. Maraviglia’s data shows 50 percent of visitors with this tool file an application with the University.

CalPoly is ready for the future as well. As mobile computing explodes, Maraviglia has already converted its streaming videos to be viewed on iPhones and BlackBerries, “We plan to expand the virtual tour to these devices as well,” he added.

“The biggest challenge we’ve had is a culture change,” says Gilchrist. “Before, everything was last minute, where with a CRM you really have to be able to plan well in advance to build in all the logic.

“So even though the culture shift has been one of our biggest obstacles, it’s also been one of our greatest savings, because it’s causing us to think and act strategically.” Most administrators would say doubling enrollment is worth that investment.