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February 19, 2019 Business Technologies

The Future of Higher Education: CRM for Colleges and Universities

Sonja Fridell wearing a blue blouse and a dainty necklace.
By Sonja Fridell

Some may think it’s distasteful to think of higher education institutions as businesses. But the roles that colleges and universities play in their relationships with students and faculty have changed from being a bureaucracy of educators to a customer-centric service organization.

With this deep-set change in philosophy, colleges and universities have also changed their approach to business technologies — most notably, they have embraced the use of CRM software. Administrations use CRM software to enhance student experiences, track and maintain operations and outreach, and develop a deeper understanding of their processes.

Here are the top 4 ways colleges and universities can improve their organizations with CRM software:

1. Improving Prospecting for Future Students

Student recruitment can be tricky. Wide-reaching strategies aren’t the most effective way to pull in the interest of target demographics such as soon-to-be high school graduates, local community members, or family of alumni. On top of this, dealing with a constant influx of engagement from people who communicate in different languages, live in different regions, and use different technology channels can become overwhelming without the correct tools to manage it. CRM software can track and automate a lot of the processes involved in this engagement with prospects, such as gathering and storing prospect information, sending follow-up messages, distributing content, and communicating on social media (if integrated with CRM). In addition to this, reporting tools inside many of major CRM platforms can provide additional insight on the influence of prospect demographics on the application process, or which marketing campaigns result in the most lead conversions (which, in the case, are conversions from interested students to applicants).

2. Tracking Student Life-Cycles Throughout Admission, Enrollment, and Graduation

Colleges and universities can use CRM software to track students from the admissions process all the way to graduation.

Part of the advantage to this is that it will increase retention rates and ensure that students won’t drop out or transfer to a different university.  But it takes a lot of time, money, and effort to manage students throughout their life-cycle as a student — which can last anywhere from 2 years to nearly a decade. The main way colleges and universities use CRM software to nurture student life-cycles is by personalizing communications and leveraging data to develop messages accordingly. CRM software is a quality and consistency control tool that allows institutions to branch out of the siloed department-specific approach to forming relationships with students and instead taking a university-wide one. Administration can also use CRM software to advertise courses to enrolled students, and provide information about student services, career fairs, or university events. Juggling these programs is difficult and admin-heavy without a CRM that can centralize information and outreach across all departments.

CRM can also help student achieve academic success and maintain personal well-being, if set up to remind students of upcoming deadlines, exam schedules, or information resources. Many platforms are easily customizable. For example, many universities set up alert systems for when students dip below a given GPA — which triggers a number of automatic CRM tasks, such as sending alerts to necessary faculty, placing the student on probation within the CRM, or emailing the student with information about student counseling services.

3. Staying Connected with Alumni and Donors

Many colleges and universities cannot survive without generous financial contributions from alumni and community leaders. For this reason, they’re always on the hunt for better ways to raise money and prompt donations — which is infinitely harder to do if they don’t build successful and long-lasting relationships with donors and alumni. Along with a decrease in public funding for higher education and rise of student loan interest rates (which discourage students from enrolling and paying tuition), fundraising from donors and alumni is more important now than ever before.

With the help of a CRM system, administration can centralize donor and alumni information and use it to send out automated messages and outreach during the most convenient and effective times of the year. These messages might include updates on the success of the institution’s programs or students, stylized infographics or reports of university-wide improvements, and information about rewards or benefits programs for contributors. Built-in CRM analytics tools can help determine the messaging and events that result in the most contributions. Colleges and universities can also use CRM software to recruit donors or alumni as potential employees or administration.

4. Gaining Insight on Organization-Wide Data and Processes

Like any other organization before the rise of business technologies, colleges and universities used to gather data on internal processes the old fashioned way — with pen and paper records shoved into cabinets in the back room, or with complicated spreadsheet files full of redundant or outdated information. With CRM, gathering and updating data or compiling it into a report for stakeholders is simple. Built-in reporting and analytics tools make it easier for individuals and departments to access information. This allows everyone to make informed decisions and strategize for growth in a much shorter time.

Administration can also use CRM software to gain insight on their processes by integrating their CRM with other business software. Data collected at the many touch points along the student life-cycle are lost if CRM isn’t integrated with other technologies such as social media tools, marketing automation tools, or financial management tools.  This lead to a lot of delays and errors in data, as the hand-off of information from one tool to another has to be done manually. Not only does this was a lot of time, money, and manpower, it can seriously affect the accuracy of data, mislead department heads into overlooking (or even over-hyping) problems in their processes, and ultimately lead higher-level individuals within the organization to make bad strategic decisions.

Which CRM is Best for Your School?

Salesforce? Sugar Sell? Zendesk Sell? There are a large variety of solutions out there, but how can you be sure you’re choosing the best one?

Changes in operational processes and organization-wide philosophies are giving way to the fact that relationships with students, alumni, employers, donors, and faculty are extremely important to the health of higher education. Despite residual discomfort with the idea of treating students like customer, CRM software is an essential tool for running colleges and universities. Proactive colleges and universities are using CRM software to improve and grow their organizations.

Before you submit a lengthy request for a proposal (RFP), it’s best to check in with an objective consultant we don’t just sell one brand of CRM that is experienced with learning institutions to get exactly what you want out of your system. Contact us for more information.

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Author Bio

Sonja Fridell

Sonja is very active in architecting CRM, ERP and marketing automation solutions for clients across North America. As an ex-journalist, she is adept at exploring a client’s needs and coming up with cutting edge, elegant solutions that fit, drive adoption, and create real results.

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Sonja Fridell wearing a blue blouse and a dainty necklace.

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