How to convert more Applicants into enrolled Students

    What do universities use CRM systems for?

    We explore how replacing a legacy IT system with a CRM system can attract more prospective students, simplify admissions process and promote student retention
    Last updated:
    April 26, 2024

    We explore how replacing a legacy IT system can attract more prospective students, simplify the admissions process, increase conversions and promote student retention while engaging with alumni and other key stakeholders.

    More and more higher education institutions (HEIs) are now adopting Customer Relationship Management systems to attract, engage and communicate better with their students at the different points of the student lifecycle.

    When it comes to the way universities engage with students and utilise their data, the bar, alongside everybody’s expectations (not least of all the students’), has most definitely been raised.

    Quite often, choosing one university over another with similar credentials depends upon the way in which the institution communicates with the prospect. Is the admissions team supporting me during the application process? Is the university presenting me with relevant information? Will the course cater for my career aspirations?

    These days, most students want regular, relevant and insightful communications; university staff want a streamlined way of reaching out to students without the burden of extra administration. In order to compete in a digital world, a university’s IT stack must be up to scratch and efficient.

    The easiest way for universities to reach a harmonious state with their stakeholders is by implementing a modern CRM for higher education. A CRM provides valuable insights about your students, allowing you to nurture stronger and more personal relationships with prospective and current students but also with alumni. Also, in an age of flexible and remote working, it’s good to know that the platform can be accessed on smartphones and tablets.

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    What is a CRM for higher education?

    According to the IT research and advisory agency Gartner, a CRM (Customer Relationship Management), is not only technology, but also “a business strategy that has primary objectives of optimising profitability and revenue, improving customer satisfaction and promoting customer-centric processes.”

    In other words, a CRM for higher education enables institutions to keep their stakeholder’s information up-to-date by facilitating and tracking every interaction the university has with them across different platforms, no matter where they are in the world. It is designed to help staff by simplifying their workflow and in turn, improving their relationships with students. The outcome? Increased admissions and retention rates, better communications with students and a happy team.

    A good CRM will have a stylish, clean and user-friendly interface, making it enjoyable to use. The technology and design of a high quality CRM will be updated and modernised as new innovations come to the fore. It consolidates all communication pipelines into a single programme, making it easy for new and existing staff to learn how to use it to its full potential.

    Key benefits of CRM for Higher Education

    • Manage enquiries
    • Promote and manage events
    • Nurture communications
    • Go paperless and streamline with the admission and evaluation process
    • Monitor Fee Payments
    • Reporting and analytics
    • Integration with other key platforms such as the institution’s website, social media channels, VLE/LMS or even accounting and invoicing systems

    From lead to alumnus: unifying communications across the entire student lifecycle

    There are plenty of CRMs on the market today, but not all of them offer functionality across the whole student journey, which is particularly important for improving student retention and fundraising efforts. Gartner champions the concept that “personalisation is the new frontier to student recruiting.”

    Gone are the days of glossy brochures containing recycled content, and ‘catch-all’ annual recruitment fairs.

    Nowadays, universities must personalise communications by mapping and segmenting data to target messages accordingly. Similarly, to ensure quality and consistency in communications, institutions should move away from the department-driven approach to a university-wide one.

    Universities are also employing CRMs to facilitate social listening and implement multi-channel marketing efforts in order to advertise courses and nurture relationships with prospective students, with the aim of converting them into graduates - and subsequently champions - of their institution down the line. In a higher education context, social listening is a way of monitoring digital conversations to gain an informed understanding of how stakeholders or prospects engage with an institution.

    Gartner also defined "Eight Building Blocks of CRM" for education. To establish a strong foundation, knowledge, understanding and innovation must be applied throughout the process.

    Gartner's "Eight Building Blocks of CRM"

    Enabling students to fulfil their potential

    If used properly, a CRM can improve the entire student journey by providing students with contextual content, and staff with updated academic and personal records. Universities know that investing in faculty and whole-campus events vastly improves the student experience and can prove beneficial to academic success.

    However, organising multiple events at one time can prove arduous and admin-heavy without the aid of an efficient CRM that centralises events and activities across departments, making the process transparent and highly organised.

    Student attainment and attendance can be also tracked, and automated messages sent out to remind students of upcoming deadlines. Simple things like reminders or alerts can help students to plan their time and prepare for exams more effectively, thus having a positive impact on both wellbeing and results.

    When it comes to the hot topic of student retention, a CRM can be an incredibly valuable asset. For instance, universities might decide to segment the courses with the highest and lowest retention rates at the click of a button, and use the information to inform their strategy for the following academic year.

    Maintaining a relationship after graduation

    Universities are forever looking for ways to raise money and boost donations by building long-lasting relationships with donors and alumni. Gartner explains, “the diversification of higher education revenue beyond the dominant income streams of traditional student tuition and public funding is becoming increasingly important for institutions. At a time of decreased public funding for higher education, many face financial pressures and demands to reduce the time and cost of education.”

    A CRM centralises donor and alumni information and is used to send out automated communications at key times of the year to keep everyone updated on the success of the institution’s programmes and students. Inbuilt analytics enable professionals to examine the type of communications and events that have led to the best contributions over the course of the year.

    As digital technologies evolve and industries become more fluid, the scope for communication reaches much further than an institution's primary target market. As the nuclei in which the next generation of innovators are nurtured, higher education organisations need to become digital trailblazers, using technology to reach out to potential employers in order to place their institution on the world stage.


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    Kate Tattersfield

    Kate Tattersfield is a former teacher turned content creator at FULL FABRIC, specialising in writing for the education sector.

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