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Retention | Feature

Know — and Retain — Your Student

Savvy institutions are using recruitment and other data to support students from first contact through to graduation.

Know and Retain Your Student

Tracking eating and exercise habits, delivering targeted support ads and even conducting warm bed checks are just some of the techniques colleges and universities are adding to their increasingly complex student retention repertoire. That's because, in today's higher education climate, where students commonly apply to upward of 12 schools, and schools must demonstrate their ability to graduate employable students capable of paying back student loans, a school's future may well rest on its ability to learn about and retain its student body.

Constituent relationship management (CRM) tools go a long way for more organized, more timely and more personalized student recruitment. But the data shouldn't stop there: Savvy institutions are gathering information at all stages of student enrollment, finding out about student interests, concerns, habits and activities. And with a combination of CRM and business intelligence applications, they're using that data to support students beyond recruitment through to graduation.

CT spoke with three institutions using data to improve both recruitment and retention on campus.

Better Recruiting
By now it's old news that CRM systems from companies like Ellucian, Hobsons and Jenzabar have streamlined processes for student recruitment. But the recruitment process isn't just more efficient with these tools; it's also more effective.

CRM systems enable recruiters to interact more often and more personally with recruits, and this way they identify the students who are a better fit for their particular institution. And a better fit from the outset equals a higher likelihood of retention.

Grove City College (PA) has been using Jenzabar Recruitment (JRM) to manage its recruitment process since September 2012. "We wanted to ensure that we were using our resources to identify those students who were most likely to come to Grove City," said Alan Roberts, director of enterprise services. "That's a benefit to everyone. We're not wasting our time or the student's time by contacting them about a school they're not really interested in."

One way Grove City determines student interest is by tracking whether a student has responded to communications from the school. Sarah Gibbs, director of admissions, pointed out that JRM also enables Grove City to respond immediately to student queries to their database, and connect students with a dedicated admissions counselor who can answer questions and provide guidance.

Increased "touches" give admissions counselors a chance to get to know students better and more quickly than ever before. "The staff knows the school well," Gibbs said. "As they're engaging more with the student, they're getting to know the student and they're able to see whether or not that student is a good fit for the school and whether the school is a good fit for the student."

It's important for the fit to go both ways, agreed Emily Sinsabaugh, vice president for university relations at St. Bonaventure University (NY). "We know what students are likely to fit extremely well. The student's perception of fit is also important. We can see a student and think we're a great fit for them, and then the student says, but I need to go to a bigger school."

Through the data it gathers on recruits using Ellucian Recruiter, St. Bonaventure develops a picture of a student's preferences around such factors as academic major, school size, distance from home, religion — St. Bonaventure is Catholic but describes its approach as highly ecumenical — and urban versus rural or suburban environment. Factors like these, many of which have resulted from analyzing retention data, are used alongside a student's academic record, SAT scores, extracurricular activities and stated financial need to help the school determine if the student is a good fit for the institution.

This level of detail enables St. Bonaventure to communicate with prospective students in highly personal and precise ways. For example, if a prospect indicates a strong faith in a religion other than Catholicism, a student representative of that faith will be asked to call that prospective student to discuss what it has been like for them at St. Bonaventure. "We want a student to tell the prospective student about it, because that's a very effective way to communicate," Sinsabaugh said.

St. Bonaventure has seen a 1 percent increase in retention each year since implementing the new recruitment tools and strategies. Feedback from the Office of Student Affairs and Retention corroborates this improvement. "They're telling me, 'These are great classes. These kids are really excited about being here and are relating well to the environment,'" Sinsabaugh said.

Active Support
Once the admissions process is complete, recruiters find they're sitting on a wealth of useful information about incoming students. Sharing this information with student affairs departments, faculty and administrators keeps the chain of communication intact and alerts those departments to a student's potential risk factors. Armed in advance, schools are starting to address students' support needs actively, rather than waiting and responding to a crisis.

Sometimes this means alerting the appropriate department when there are risk factors in a student's files. Based on retention feedback, Grove City began to ask students during recruiting interviews to describe an experience where they felt the situation was hopeless and how they persevered through the problem. If a student doesn't have an example, this is "a huge red flag," Gibbs said. "We let Student Life and Learning know ahead of time, so they are able to kind of monitor those students and make sure they're okay."

Valdosta State University in Georgia has taken the active approach a step further, by giving faculty access to data on students' risk factors. Brian Haugabrook, interim CIO, connected several different systems to make the data user friendly and accessible.

According to Andy Clark, VP for enrollment management, "On the first day when faculty members see their class, they can see a picture of the students in the class. They can also see if they have any risk indicators, if it's a math or reading class." The system, Oracle Business Intelligence Enterprise Edition with Endeca as the user interface for data analysis, also connects to Degree Works, so faculty can see where students stand in regard to their degree program.

Using Endeca, Valdosta State has also uncovered previously unidentified and unsupported at-risk students. Haugabrook reported that Valdosta's director of advising dragged and dropped different combinations of factors in Endeca and, in the process, identified a population of minority females that had an almost 50 percent chance of failing. "With this information, we can create a program that is tailored to help them succeed," he said. The school has also developed a summer bridge program that helps targeted students in classes they're most likely to struggle with.

At St. Bonaventure, a freshman foundations program supports students who were accepted to the school based on their perceived, but as yet unfulfilled, academic potential. Sinsabaugh said that the more detailed, more personal profiles the school develops for students during recruitment makes it more confident about admitting students who are academically promising but don't have the record to prove it.

Early Intervention
Student behavior on campus is another rich source of data that can be used to help students succeed. If a student begins to miss class, for example, the appropriate department is alerted, and someone contacts the student to find out what's wrong. At Valdosta, a "warm bed check" by student housing found two students with flu in the first month the tools were in use. Not only did this enable the school to get the students checked out by student health services, but the information was captured in the students' files, alerting their teachers that their absences were legit.

When students behave in ways that have been identified as risky, Valdosta uses its Web portal to push important resources to the students. For example, Haugabrook noted that students who use the printers in the library have almost 20 points higher chance of staying on track than those who don't. Similarly, using the rec center or eating breakfast are also success indicators. When students fail to do these things, they get targeted "ads" or learning packets for those resources on the school portal.

"We track every click. If they click on an ad, we don't keep giving them the ad," Haugabrook said.

Increased data access combined with timely notification appears to be working. "We're seeing a spike at the tutoring center starting in the second week of class rather than after the second month," Haugabrook said. "They're starting early, before it's too late."

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