While institutions of higher education have pivoted from traditional education delivery models to remote and hybrid learning, the context continues to be challenging. According to Moody’s Investors Service, net tuition revenue in 2021 is expected to decline 3.3 percent at private colleges and 0.9 percent at public colleges, in part due to declining enrollment projections even before the pandemic’s impact. The remote and hybrid learning experience is causing many students and alumni to critically assess the investment they make.
“Now is the time for institutions to focus on the intersection of strategic planning for student and alumni initiatives and how best to leverage technology to improve the experience and outcomes,” says Vincent Salvato, managing director for Huron, a global consultancy with expertise in higher education. He specializes in technology solutions for higher education institutions.
Huron helps colleges and universities improve transparency in their constituents’ journeys and interactions, starting in recruiting and continuing through alumni donor status.
Customer relationship management
Many institutions of higher education are beginning to focus on customer relationship management (CRM) as they evaluate how to increase loyalty. It’s becoming a standard similar to the need for an ERP system to run an institution. In the past, institutions could rely on a staff member who sees a student every few days to stay in-the-know about the student, but that model isn’t effective when students are interacting with campuses in many different modes.
“Educators have had limited opportunity to interact with students face-to-face, develop those relationships, and get to know them,” says Alex Faklis, senior director at Huron, where she works on student lifecycle solutions. “It’s now about how you translate the core aspects of relationship building into a virtual and hybrid environment.”
Colleges and universities want to know a student’s interests, affiliations, and affinities, from the moment of interest in applying, through enrollment, graduation, and beyond.
Today’s leaders seek a coordinated approach to supporting students . “You can use technology to facilitate student engagement and success,” says Faklis. For example, a student with a financial aid question would be able to use the institution’s online self-service tools. If she still can’t get her question answered, she’d have an easy mechanism to reach out and get connected to the right staff member depending on the question. Having the right communications and tools can help empower students.
“Students want information right away and they don’t want to wait eight hours for a call back form the financial aid office,” Faklis says. “So how do institutions make that information accessible and disseminated through a CRM system in an individualized and personalized way?”
Many universities and colleges have wanted to increase their student bodies but have assumed they would have to build more dormitories, laboratories, and on-campus space for students. The pandemic has shown them that they can effectively deliver some of their instruction online which may mean continuing opportunities for a mix of student experiences, including study, while participating in offsite internship or volunteer activities.
“It’s a win-win, I think both for the students and the institution, because they can deliver education, they can reach more students, they don’t necessarily have to invest in as much from a physical infrastructure perspective,” says Faklis, noting an institution would need to change its operating model to accommodate students both in person and remotely.
Institutions need to get to know their alumni, including where they are in their careers, whether they need more education and how they may be able to contribute to their alma mater.
“You have to continue to get to know, and continue to learn about, your alums, in order to effectively communicate with them,” says Salvato.
One of the challenges is recognizing the need to streamline information gathering. For example, one institution Huron works with currently has 16 different CRM systems. Each unit has its own relationship management tools instead of sharing one master engagement management platform.
To illustrate the challenge, an alum’s contact info may only be updated in one department, but a comprehensive CRM would capture all the current information.
“It’s really about that coordinated constituent experience and collecting data so that leaders can learn about a population that’s ripe to continue to engage with the institution, from several perspectives, particularly along a lifelong learning perspective,” says Faklis.
That streamlined approach is a big benefit to the universities, too, since they can more effectively use their staff and resources.
Connect with Huron to see how your institution can enhance and sustain student loyalty.