UCI Business School Gets a Handle on Enrollment Management
- By Linda L. Briggs
Implementing an enrollment management system is never easy, but for the Paul Merage School of Business at the University of California, Irvine, the hope is that hard work now will pay off in future efficiencies, including more efficient and selective enrollment.
The new system is still in its earliest phases of implementation, but already Mary Clark, who is director of recruitment and admissions for the full-time MBA program at Merage, is confident that it will yield great results. "This will allow us to have far better communications between candidates and recruiters," she said.
Getting to this point has been hard work over the summer, with challenging issues such as getting clean data into the system, and now training users on the new software. "It's been a lot of work, with lots of ups and downs," Clark said. "But we think it's well worth it."
Getting a Handle on Increased Demand
Business schools in general have seen a burst of interest during the recession, as potential students decide to boost their careers with additional education. At Merage, getting a handle on the basics of who was being contacted, through what means, and with what response was the driving reason behind the move to the school's sophisticated new enrollment management software.
The new system, from Hobsons, is software-as-a-service, or SaaS, meaning that it is maintained offsite by Hobsons, along with all data that Merage enters into the system. That frees Merage from the need to install or maintain software or hardware or to handle data backups. All that is taken care of by the vendor; Merage staff access the software through their Web browsers.
Because it can mean significantly lower costs, especially initially, SaaS is growing in popularity in higher education. In fact, according to Jon Masciana, who is now director of digital communications with UC Riverside but was a key player in the selection and rollout of Hobsons at UCI Merage, every software package that the business school considered for enrollment management was offered as a service rather than an onsite installation.
The Hobsons solution that Merage is using to manage prospect data is called EMT Connect. It can integrate and track recruitment efforts through direct mail, e-mail, text messaging, personalized Web portals, chat, social networking, and face-to-face events. The software tracks recruiting efforts, maintains the data, and delivers reports of actions taken by potential students, based on key performance metrics set up by the institution. At Merage, EMT Connect is integrated with an internally developed student information system called Catalyst that UCI in general, not just the graduate school, has used for a number of years.
Tracking the Admissions Process
Merage is also using Hobsons EMT ApplyYourself to help manage the admissions process. ApplyYourself handles online applications and can schedule and track events and interviews. It also includes decision management tools for some analysis of collected data.
The school had been considering an enrollment management product for some time, as it became clear that the current internal systems couldn't give enough visibility into an applicant's application lifecycle.
Previously, staff primarily used Microsoft Excel to work with prospect names, which might come from a combination of different recruiting campaigns, purchased lists, and names gleaned from other sources. It was time-consuming and difficult to keep track of who responded to what campaign.
Those challenges were affecting the school's conversion rate for potential graduate students, Masciana said. In short, he explained, "We wouldn't know how effective a particular campaign was in getting someone interested [in attending]."
"Our biggest issue was the huge pool of people interested in and applying to the Merage school," Masciana said. "The [existing] system just couldn't give us enough visibility into how people were becoming interested, and how they were turning into applicants."
Merage staff also wanted to give each applicant a more personalized experience, Clark said, but were unable to do that because of simple resource constraints and lack of information on individuals. "We couldn't know what was going on with every application," she said. The hope is that the Hobsons CRM system, in contrast, will allow for more hands-on and personalized exchanges with potential students.
Previously, a huge time sink for Merage recruiters was simply managing lists of names. To make sure an e-mail invitation to a prospective applicant wasn't inadvertently sent to someone who had already applied to the school, for example, staff conducted laborious cross-checks of mailing lists before using them. "We used to do so much to clean up lists ... in the past; you would literally check lists manually to make sure you didn't send an invitation" to the wrong name, Clark said.
The Hobsons system will make it far easier to track the interactions with a potential graduate student, including contacts made, interactions via various media, qualifications, and more. It will also allow the school to focus its recruiting resources on the candidates it most wants to bring to the school, Clark said. In addition, recruiters will be able to easily see what interactions colleagues have had with someone. Reporting modules in Hobsons will allow Clark's team to see who is in the pipeline and what activities they have engaged in already, such as attending an open house.
"We're interested in finding out how effective an event really is," Clark said, "and whether it makes a difference to a candidate or [whether] we could spend our resources on a more effective outreach."
Implementing a New System
Merage had been considering an enrollment management system for some time, but started actively looking only in February. Once the decision was made to go forward with Hobsons, it took several months of work to move data into the system and begin using it.
Entering existing names into the system was, Masciana said, "extremely challenging." He spent many hours in Excel reconciling lists, removing duplicate names, and reviewing data for some 15,000 names. "We had so much prospective candidate information in so many places. It was an arduous task, to say the least, to consolidate all that information." In the end, they ended up with good clean data in Hobsons, but getting to that point was hard work.
Looking back on the implementation experience, Clark's advice includes this: "Double the amount of time you think you need for training."
She also suggested involving a leader in each department, a sort of "super-user" who can champion the product and represent that department's role as the software is rolled out. Institutions should be careful to avoid underestimating the commitment required for an enrollment management system, she suggested, and should be sure to involve all interested parties from the start. "It's not just the admissions department" that gets involved, she stressed. "We involved our tech folks as well; their role and buyin was critical."
At Merage, Masciana added, the CIO was included in the project. In contrast, in talking to colleagues at other institutions, he said, "Some schools let the technical team run it outside of admissions; others had not included the tech department at all." Both approaches leave out key players, he emphasized. In the Hobsons rollout at Merage, for example, the IT group worked to integrate information in Hobsons with the student information system, Masciana said--"not an easy task at all."