Admissions Technology >> Getting Personal
eRecruiting technologies now enable schools to match their strengths to prospective
students' individual expectations.
It was only a few years ago that Ferris State University (MI), about 50 miles
north of Grand Rapids, was experiencing an enrollment decline. Enrollment
had dropped by almost 3,000 students from 1991 to 1997, and the campus was
in the process of implementing more rigorous admission standards. Ferris
State has since overcome these challenges, now enrolling 11,822 undergraduate
students in 170 academic majors, up from a low of 9,495. What was behind the
A key factor has been the conversion to customized online recruiting. In 2004,
the campus added Hobsons EMT Engage (www.hobsons.com)
to its tool kit, with great results. According to Craig Westman, associate dean
of Enrollment Services, 'Our electronic apps are up 20 percent right now,
and I know it's a result of what we’re doing with Engage to contact
and communicate with these students.'
eRecruiting Tools Sweep In
In the world of higher education, one truth, at least,
remains constant: Campuses are always looking for more effective ways to recruit
and enroll new students. In fact, conferences are perennially teeming with
tracks on recruiting and marketing, and the sessions in those tracks never fail
to attract hefty attendance numbers.
In recent years, one of the hottest session topics has been the use of e-mail
and the Web as recruiting tools. While it is the rare college or university
that d'es not have a Web site, students frequently complain that the information
they want is difficult to find. At the same time, students are increasingly
expressing a preference for obtaining their information about a college via
online communications. This expectation, however, g'es well beyond the one-size-fits-all
notion of a typical campus Web site. As is often the case, student expectations
are for more services and information than many campuses now provide. They want
accessible information tailored to their needs; they don't want to sort
through dozens of pages of information filled with links, in order to uncover
the key information to help them make their college decisions. Rather, they
want campuses to anticipate their needs and interests, which may be very different
from the needs and interests of other students, and in many cases, very
different from the perception the campus has of itself. Is this a tall order?
Possibly, but savvy admissions pros are discovering that it's an order
well worth the effort.
Simply put, over the last few years, campuses that have embraced online technologies
to interact with potential students have reported great success in meeting their
enrollment goals. Some universities report that they have dramatically increased
contacts with their existing prospect pool. Some find that they can expand their
pool of potential students within existing budgets, while others have reported
substantial savings over prior recruiting approaches. In all cases, the colleges
and universities we contacted reported that online recruiting is a key component
in their successful recruiting efforts.
A Case of Dissonance
Still, it is curious to see how many campuses continue to
rely on traditional recruiting techniques: school visits and college fairs,
printed brochures and direct mail. To be sure, all of these approaches are tried
and true, and they have a place in most college recruiting and outreach plans.
Yet, contrast these traditional approaches with student communication methods,
e-mail, chat, the Web, and cell phones,and you'll see that the dissonance
between traditional college communications and student communication preferences
is striking. But campuses that recognize and capitalize on this significant
shift in communication preferences are shifting the emphasis of their recruiting
activities to match their potential students' preferences.
way to look at the more traditional recruiting approaches is with an eye to the
direction of the communication involved. A direct-mail campaign is created and
pushed out to a group of potential students; brochures are carefully crafted to
provide information to a broad range of students (again, the push model). Even
school and college fair visits are largely one-way activities where common key
information is pushed out to populations of potential students.
The Web is no exception in most cases. Take a look at the admission information
on most campus Web sites, and you'll find largely static, general information,
often revealed across a large number of pages. Students looking for information
on particular topics, such as majors, activities, or requirements, are left
to navigate through the whole Web site or brochure, hoping to find the information
that sparks their continued interest in a potential college. And e-mail sent
to prospective students by campuses is usually sent in chunks to large groups
of potential students. More often than not, this too is a general message that
may or may not resonate with individual students. Rarely do campuses even know
if their message was read. Obviously, the push method of reaching students leaves
something to be desired.
It's not just for admission recruiting...
ONLINE, INTERACTIVE TOOLS like Recruitment PLUS (www.collegeboard.com), Liquid
Matrix (www.liquidmatrix.com), SCT Luminis (www.sct.com), Recruitment
Center (www.corp.xap.com), and Engage (www.hobsons.com)
are not limited to recruiting and admission activities. Virtually any population
can be the target of an online, interactive campaign.
Calling all alumni.
Campuses, for instance, are always looking to establish strong relationships
with their alumni, and with new online tools (Engage Alumni is one), some are
now developing campaigns targeting both new graduates and existing alumni. The
communication streams for these two groups are likely to be different, so administrators
are finding it appropriate to create a campaign for each group. As is the case
with admission-related activities, the interactive nature of the campaign can
help the campus gather important information from their alumni that will help
maximize their involvement.
More reasons to reach parents. While campuses are
already interacting with parents during the admission cycle, there are other
reasons to communicate with families as their student is enrolled. Campaigns can
be developed to increase the communications to this important constituency.
Additional uses to come
‘Push’ and ‘Pull’ Recruiting
Effective online recruiting techniques are now capitalizing
on the way students prefer to communicate and are adding a new dimension to the
communication equation: pull. Most admissions professionals are aware that
students checking out campus Web sites want their information instantaneously
and easily. Of course, students don’t always know what information they want,
and even if they do, they may give up searching if they don’t easily find what
they’re looking for.
But by simply adding a layer of interaction to the online recruiting
activity, a campus can collect key pieces of information about a prospective
student, and then, capitalizing on electronic two-way communications, the campus
can feed information back to the student that addresses the student’s particular
interests. Properly constructed and presented, the electronic communication
“pulls” the student through the process. This “push-pull” model is a real
departure from most traditional recruiting activities.
In fact, this kind of eRecruiting is now a fast-growing trend in higher education.
Institutions are using CRM tools like College Board’s Recruitment PLUS
(www.collegeboard.com), Datatel’s Liquid Matrix (www.liquidmatrix.com),
SunGard’s SCT Luminis (www.sct.com), Xap’s Recruitment
Center (corp.xap.com), and
the tool that Ferris State chose—Hobsons EMT Engage—to provide customized
information and communications to prospective students.
At Ferris State, for instance, Engage monitors responses,
storing the information in a database. Other campuses use this information to
adjust their messages and move students to different information flows that
are customized communications to targeted audiences. (For example, a non-traditional-age
student prospect will initially be placed in the non-traditional track. However,
if that student responds to survey questions with answers that match freshman-level
admission, she will be added to the freshman track.) Campuses are using Engage
and similar tools to communicate with prospects, applicants, admitted students,
and individuals within a cohort receiving information of specific interest to
them, as they respond and interact with the campus. What’s more, because
administrators know precisely who is reading an e-mail, viewing a Web page,
or responding to a survey, they can focus their attention on those students
who are most engaged by or responsive to the communications.
At Ferris State, as prospective students respond to brief
queries or short surveys, the campus can adjust campaigns to target any given
student’s interests. The provided information matches the student’s
need, rather than providing a common response to a group of students. At the
same time, the personalization offers the student a sense of community and belonging—an
element critical to an institution’s enrollment yield success.
Process, at Ferris State
Let’s take a closer look at just how customized
online recruiting can work: Ferris State, for one, uses the technology to
communicate with prospective students and applicants, by invitation. The process
begins with an e-mail, then, only if the student responds by opting in to the
special communications, Bulldog Beginnings, d'es the campus begin a
communication flow to the student that consists of one of several campaigns,
based upon information the campus already has in its databases. The campaigns
can be as long as 25 weeks, and are designed to push the individual from
decision point to decision point. Each week’s campaign begins with an e-mail
introducing a carefully selected topic. The e-mail then links to a Web page, to
more fully cover the topic. At Ferris State, Engage tracks key factors such as:
Was the e-mail read? Was the link followed? Did the student respond to the call
to action? Different campaigns have been created for prospective students,
applicants, and parents.
Ferris State admissions administrators realized early on that not all
invitees will respond to a single e-mail invitation, so targeted individuals who
do not respond to an initial invitation receive two or three more polite
reminders about the advantages of receiving the communications.
Call to action.
Westman’s philosophy is to create campaigns that call the student to action.
For example, admitted students are asked to sign up for orientation, participate
in an event, or file their confirmation deposit. In other cases, students are
surveyed to collect marketing research that is shared with the rest of the campus
(e.g.,“How did you hear about Ferris?”).
Collecting data. At Ferris, enrollment services and marketing are separate areas,
yet the information collected by Engage helps both areas coordinate their marketing
messages to prospective students. In fact, because of the surveys, the campus
now has a better understanding of the critical demographics to target. What’s
more, at any time, the campus has access to detailed reports monitoring the
status of a campaign. The reports include an engagement scale based on the number
and types of interactions with the messages. For example, the system tracks
how many times each week’s message has been viewed, and how many surveys
have been filled out. The information is available in summary form, as well
as with detailed responses by individuals.
Customized recruiting action. As a student moves through the process, campus
recruiters use the response information coming in from each individual in their
recruiting area. The level of engagement then leads the recruiter to take a
specific action. For instance, if a student has been engaged all throughout
the process and suddenly stops responding, the recruiter can easily determine
the exact point of disengagement. A follow-up contact via e-mail or by phone
can then begin with a precise—and personal—understanding of the
obstacle at hand. For example: “I see you stopped at enrollment deposit;
By monitoring the students in their particular territories, recruiters also
can see what works—or d'esn’t work—in a particular area, and
This applies to messages in the Engage campaign, as well
as their traditional recruiting activities.
Similarly, when a college at Ferris contacts the Admissions
office with concerns about enrollment numbers, Westman and his staff can extract
specific data tied to individual students, to help the college understand how
they might better meet the needs of prospective students and nudge those numbers
From Westman’s perspective, even opting out is a valuable response.
Individuals who opt out are contacted to learn more about why they have opted
out. Usually, the case is that they have decided to go elsewhere, and the brief
follow-up contact helps the campus better understand the factors moving a student
toward that decision.
Westman reports that the campus is particularly pleased with the Parent campaign.
As students are admitted, parents are invited to participate in a parallel parents’
track. This way, “Parents have something to talk about to their children.
They can ask, ‘Did you sign up for orientation?’” explains
Westman. The impact of the Parent campaign is striking: Currently, 29 percent
of the students with parents responding to the campaign enroll, versus 15 percent
with parents who do not participate.
Predictive modeling and ROI. Ferris State administrators have
been using predictive modeling to help them create their recruiting plan, which
includes Engage campaigns. By adding the technology, they have been able to
refine their model and, early in the process, improve focus on the students
who are most likely to enroll. In addition, Westman believes the technology
has helped the university save around $250,000 in printing and postage, while
attracting and retaining better students.
Arcadia: Establishing Identity
Establishing and maintaining a campus’ marketing niche can
be a real challenge. It can be an even more daunting challenge when a campus
takes on a new identity.
FERRIS STATE'S Bulldog Beginnings consists of several campaigns, automatically launched as needed.
Arcadia University (PA), located just outside Philadelphia,
is a university with a 150-year history—and a new name. Founded in 1853,
Beaver College became Arcadia University in 2001. This private
liberal arts college enrolls approximately 3,200 students (1,800 undergrads),
and offers a strong study-abroad program and a number of specialized majors.
Multiple personalized eRecruiting campaigns.
Arcadia has been using online recruiting tools to do more than just boost recruiting;
at Arcadia, the technology is helping the campus attract its
entering class while also promoting the new campus identity. Thus far, Arcadia
administrators have created four campaigns (again, via Engage): freshman prospects,
applicants, international prospects, and parents. Several other campaigns are
under consideration, given the success of their initial efforts.
The campus started developing its first campaign for prospective students in
July 2004. According to Collene Hare, assistant director of Enrollment Management,
the first step was to identify the target audience and the information Arcadia
wanted to communicate. It was clear that the entering full-time, first-time
freshmen would be the target. For this audience, administrators identified 20
important topics that would both inform the audience and promote the new identity
of the university. The basic content was gleaned from existing brochures and
material; the identity component, says Hare, was constructed around the gargoyles
found on an historic campus building. Thus, the communications were dubbed Gargoyle
CRAFTING IDENTITY is a lot easier for a university when a personalized recruiting site supports the effort.
Getting off the ground.
At this point, the material was turned over to Hobsons for development of the
look and feel of the campaign, as well as the development of the preliminary
filters necessary to identify the targeted audience. Refinements were then made
during conversations between the campus and Hobsons. In early Fall 2004, the
20-week prospect campaign was launched, and targeted students began receiving
short e-mails with links to more details on the campus Web site; distribution
was handled by Hobsons.
According to Hare, from the beginning the response has been positive. The campus
could see which students were opening and reading the e-mails, and who was visiting
the Web page. Since all e-mails had an opt-out option, the campus could also
track those students who were not interested in Gargoyle Greetings. Dennis Nostrand,
VP of Enrollment Management, reports that fewer than 2 percent of all prospects
have opted out. Included in each week’s campaign message is a short survey;
asking, for example, about campus size and location preferences, and plans to
visit the campus. The survey also usually relates to the topic of the communication.
For instance, a communication on internationalization includes a survey on study-abroad
Arcadia has discovered a number of ways to leverage the information collected
from the weekly surveys. For example, housing is a big issue for the campus.
As one might expect from entering-freshman prospects, the majority indicated
a preference for traditional double housing. However, campus officials were
surprised when close to 14 percent of the respondents indicated a preference
for triple housing, a response higher than the preference for single or apartment-style
housing. Admissions quickly shared this information with housing staff, who
now had the opportunity to follow up with specific respondents, since each response
is captured and tied to a particular student.
Administrators also found another way to leverage data. When they launched
their personalized eRecruiting campaign, they knew the survey information would
help them make adjustments to better tailor campaigns. Shortly thereafter, they
decided to share the results of the surveys with the respondents; now, prospective
students and applicants can learn what their peers are saying, and make connections
From prospect to applicant.
As prospects file an application, they leave the prospecting campaign for the
admission campaign. This campaign provides more in-depth information for students
who have indicated their further interest in Arcadia. While
the same process used for the prospect campaign was used to develop the applicant
campaign, Hare reports that the time from inception to implementation was greatly
reduced. The length of the campaign is also somewhat shorter: 18 weeks. A nine-week
parent campaign is also triggered for the parents of admitted students.
Reach and branding.
Thus far, the campus is delighted with the results. Applications are meeting
or exceeding expectations, and Arcadia has expanded the reach
of the campus and saved money by replacing many traditional recruiting activities.
For example, in past years, the prospect pool was carefully pared to reduce
brochure and mailing costs. With the new online recruiting tools, all prospective
students who matched target criteria could be included in the campaign. Says
Nostrand, “We are conducting campaigns we could not afford to, if they
were direct mail.”
Just as importantly, the campus identity is being established. Students frequently
cite Gargoyle Greetings in their contacts with the campus. This is especially
important outside the local region where prospective students are not familiar
with the change in campus identity. With the feedback Arcadia
is receiving from its tools, the campus is adjusting its remaining recruiting
activities to take advantage of the information they now have at their disposal.
In their first cycle of usage, both Ferris State and Arcadia report results that have
exceeded their expectations. At the same time, both have begun altering their
processes to leverage information captured in their new eRecruiting systems. For
example, both admissions offices are feeding data to other key campus areas to
inform them of student preferences. It will be interesting to track how these
and other campuses use these tools and similar ones to provide better service to
future entering classes. Stay tuned.
Integrating Personalized eRecruiting and Admissions
CAMPUSES HAPPY WITH THEIR Datatel Colleague (www.datatel.com)
installations may now have reason to be even happier: The company recently acquired
LiquidMatrix (www.liquidmatrix.com), which provides software
and services that enable colleges and universities to better communicate with
Web site visitors. The LiquidMatrix flagship product, ActiveCampus, brings a
myriad of critical Web services to college and university external Web sites,
while integrating with campus administrative systems. In fact, according to
Datatel spokespeople, the two companies have worked hard to take eRecruiting
one step further, and improve the process by which institutions integrate data
on the Web site with the data found in their ERP databases.
For example, institutions currently store valuable prospective student and
applicant information in their ERP systems. With this ERP information available
on the Web, students can not only complete online applications, but students
and parents can check application status and missing documents, and high school
guidance counselors can check the application status for all students from their
high school. Importantly, an institution can use ERP data with its Web site
to dynamically deliver personalized Web site content, as well as send targeted
e-mails to students based on their phase in the recruitment funnel.
Datatel spokespeople claim that the newest release of ActiveCampus integration
software makes it even easier to integrate campus Web sites with virtually any
institution’s ERP system. You don’t have to be a Datatel client
to get in on these benefits, but it sure could be easy if you are.
Longtime Datatel Colleague user Lesley College (MA) was looking
to redesign the navigation on their external Web site, rebrand the Lesley
College admissions Web site, as well as
provide an integrated online application for their prospective students. In
January, the new site was launched, complete with an online application
integrated directly into Datatel Colleague. Online recruiting and enrollment
results should be collected soon, but in the meantime, administrators are
breathing a sigh of relief: There’s no more need for printing or re-keying