Making the Case for Student Lifecycle Management
In today's increasingly competitive higher education environment, we face rising demands to attract and keep the best students, improve the quality of education, and keep costs down. These are lofty goals, but they are attainable if institutions learn to examine their business processes and leverage technology to manage the entire student lifecycle -- helping improve service to students, from recruitment through graduation and beyond. If higher education institutions do not embrace this concept and start nurturing these valuable relationships, they risk disconnection from students and the loss of competitive edge.
California State University: Examining the Student Lifecycle to Accelerate Time to Graduation
A few years ago, the California State University (CSU) began to address the issue of time to graduation. The system's four-year graduation rate was only 24.5 percent, and 76 percent of our students were taking six or more years to graduate. While some of the CSU's students intentionally took more than six years to graduate, we wanted to provide students the opportunity to graduate in a reasonable timeframe. Some of the factors hindering timely graduation were the lack of availability of the right courses at the right times, limited understanding of graduation requirements, or lack of an academic plan. We sought ways to improve students' paths to a degree.
The university began an initiative to better manage student relationships from "cradle to grave." Our Campus Actions for Facilitating Graduation initiative sought to improve time to graduation through a variety of efforts including providing students with clear, efficient, and well-supported pathways to graduation; increasing efficiency in academic programs; providing tools to help students identify and track their paths to graduation; enhancing advising tools; and establishing common monitoring and feedback processes.
Technology Is an Important Tool in Student Lifecycle Management
Early on, we realized that technology would add to our success. It is possible to manage the entire student lifecycle without technology, but it is much less efficient. Student lifecycle management (SLM) software significantly reduces time spent on gathering information because it consolidates and automates information systems so that faculty, staff, and advisors can obtain student information right away -- where previously they needed to consult multiple information sources, including paper files in many cases. This frees up time, allowing staff to focus on education-related responsibilities.
The CSU is in the process of implementing Oracle's PeopleSoft Enterprise Campus Solutions across our 23 campuses as one tool to assist in facilitating graduation. As a part of the CSU's Common Management System (CMS), the software provides functions that give insight into student information necessary for the program's success. Our staff can obtain student records on demand -- for example, when an advisor meets with a student, she/he can log in to one secure source and instantly pull up the student's transcripts, current schedule, financial records, etc. And through self-service functions, students can access similar information through a secure online portal -- for example, to register, add or drop classes, make payments, or check grades. These self-service functions help students engage in their own lifecycle management and take ownership of their graduation path. So far, we have completed full Campus Solutions implementations at 10 campuses and we expect to complete three more this coming fall.
As we have implemented our initiative to facilitate graduation--which includes many efforts in addition to our use of technology--we have found that students are progressing through the university system more quickly. This will benefit students and parents directly through cost reductions due to faster graduation times, and we anticipate that more students will be able to take advantage of educational opportunities in California.
By helping students take control of their student lifecycles, we can provide higher quality service that enables a smooth, accommodating process from recruitment, to enrollment, to graduation. These students turn into satisfied graduates and alumni who support the university and come back for graduate degrees. Ultimately, this overall effort helps the CSU maintain a competitive advantage by demonstrating that we can offer a clear path to graduation and provide the best possible education at an optimal cost.
Recommendations for Making the Move to SLM
The benefits the CSU has achieved through SLM technology are well worth the time and financial investment. Institutions considering SLM initiatives should carefully evaluate technology solutions available today. Identify your "must have" functionality--self-service tools were one important item for us--and make sure it is included. And make sure the technology is flexible and scalable to accommodate future needs.
Based on our success, we would recommend that all institutions consider implementing SLM initiatives backed by technology to improve service to students. The key is to start now. Institutions who do not address the need to better manage the student lifecycle will risk losing students to institutions that do. By carefully evaluating and implementing SLM technology, institutions can help improve student relationship management and establish their institution as not only a source for high-quality education, but also a partner in the student experience.
Mike McLean is the senior director of Information and Applications Services at the California State University.