Rethinking Admission Technology

Rethinking Admission Technology

By Leo Marshall, The Webb Schools (CA)
From Memberanda, Fall 2012

Personalization is what should drive your communication strategies, and communicating at this level with your candidates requires a shift in thinking about the technology to employ. Consider how airlines know so much about your preferences in travel or how your bank knows which services are designed to fit your needs. It’s called Customer Relations Management (CRM), and our colleagues in higher education have been using CRM technology for years now to manage their yields in hyper-competitive markets.

As a long-time admission director, I have heard much about the latest database, the latest suite of applications, and the newest website design. But none of these have moved the admission office operation very far. Sure, we can merge mail better and be a bit more creative with email. We can link the candidate and family to our Facebook page or, if inclined, urge them to connect with our Twitter feed. But we are not setting our schools apart from the competition or effectively getting that top candidate to select our school from the array of options s/he has. And our current technology can’t take us where we need to go.

Our millennial children are immersed in a consumer-oriented culture and have certain expectations from every experience – be it ordering a product online or shopping for the right university. It’s simply the new reality. CRM technology – and there is an array of options – can completely change the way you connect with a prospective student. Communication strategies for relationship management with every possible segment of your lead and prospect pool – e.g. boys, girls, specific athletic interest, international, and artistic interests – can be branded and tailored to any candidate without taking enormous time from your staff. CRM technology, such as we are using at Webb, can be used to analyze the behavior of the candidate, to determine what she or he does with each communication, as every communication must be a call to action. Which messages resonate with that candidate? Which do not? Which messaging gets them to the application page on your website or simply to request information? In short, CRM allows an office to get directly to the hearts of your candidates, and once you have their hearts, the competition disappears.

Our admission team recently reviewed the admission site of a small liberal arts college in the South which uses a web microsite embedded in its home site (and connected to the school’s CRM) to capture the attention of its inquirers. Other universities are using CRM technology to personalize on- and off-campus events or campus tours. One large university offers the student a personalized virtual tour of the campus, with the student even being welcomed on the stadium scoreboard and into her own personalized dorm room. That same university used its CRM to promote a new scholarship program for an elite group of top-performing students in its state who likely would have options at many out-of-state, high-profile universities.

We know the challenges for our independent day and boarding schools continue to mount as our pricing shows no sign of abatement. When we are asking a family to spend $30,000 of their discretionary income on an elementary school education, they expect our offices to know their specific needs or interests – or better yet, who their child is. Spending time at school fairs hoping to get their attention in 30 seconds or hosting one more open house where we do our best to get them to every classroom and to hear our orchestra is just playing the numbers game – you just hope that you might capture the interest of enough students to fill the school for one more year. None of this is successful relationship management. On the other hand, the strategic admission director can move the game markedly in his/her favor by looking at admission technology in new ways and learning some needed lessons from our higher education colleagues.