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Recruiting with Technology

At the heart of Cal Poly's high-tech recruiting strategy is a mission to communicate with students on their own time and using their own tools. So the California institution is continually evolving its recruitment practices with technologies ranging from customized student "VIP" microsites to mobile device-augmented campus tours.

James Maraviglia remembers a time when California Polytechnic State University relied on a paper-based system to keep track of its prospective and new students. The year was 1991, and this associate vice provost for marketing and enrollment development was a new hire at the San Luis Obispo, CA-based institution.

"I was immediately concerned by the fact that admissions applications were being processed by hand," recalled Maraviglia. The Web hadn't developed into a viable entity for business yet, so the school created an electronic, disk-based application to track such records. The system was superior to the paper-based approach but still lacked efficiencies and required much human intervention, according to Maraviglia.

In 1999, with the Web movement at full throttle, Maraviglia looked around at the solutions that were available on the market. Finding nothing, the university developed its own "modern day version of a customer relationship management (CRM) system," he said. "We launched it in 2000, and have been expanding on it ever since."

CRM and Customized Recruitment
Fast-forward to 2011, and that system has come a long way. One of the first modern tools added, for example, was an event scheduler for student, faculty, and administration use. Following in the scheduler's footsteps were video messaging capabilities, a knowledge base where students can get questions answered in real-time, online chat, text messaging and online social networking via sites like Facebook.

According to Maraviglia, all prospective students' inquiries are imported from all touch points into the university's CRM software (including leads that were purchased from testing agencies, for example). "Our system automatically creates a dynamic VIP microsite for each of those students, based on their individual attributes," said Maraviglia.

All prospective Cal Poly students have their own individual user names and passwords that allow them to sign on and see their own dynamic information 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

According to Maraviglia, the VIP microsites include streaming video messages from a number of campus sources, including academic department chairs and current and former students. Streaming e-mail messages are used to connect students to their respective microsites.

At the heart of Cal Poly's high-tech recruiting strategy is a mission to communicate with students on their own time and using their own tools, said Maraviglia, who said smart phones as one of the most important "tools" right now. To tap that trend, the institution recently began using GPS video tours that can be downloaded to a mobile phone while students are walking around campus. The tours not only help the students find their way around, but they also allow the university to gather information about those students' interests.

Sample Cal Poly SLO Recruitment Messages

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Data Systems, Individualization, and ROI
Sometimes, tailoring messages to individual students presents challenges for Cal Poly's admissions team, which works hard to ensure a personalized experience for recipients. "It's not okay to send everyone the same message," said Maraviglia. "You must deliver correspondence that's tailored to the individual. If you are delivering a video message, it had better be pertinent to the person it's being delivered to, or your ROI will be zero."

How well a school manages that task is highly dependent on how effectively it can merge data between the institution's various technology systems, such as CRM, enterprise resource planning (ERP), and individual applications. Cal Poly, for example, feeds all pertinent data through its CRM.

"You really have to look carefully at your data warehousing capabilities," Maraviglia advised, "and how all of the information is merged and managed."

Cal Poly's automated recruiting and admissions system also allows it to measure the effectiveness of every message sent to each student and to adjust its campaigns accordingly.

"We know how many messages each student receives, how many are opened, whether the recipients selected the text or flash version and whether they click through the links or enter the portal," said Maraviglia. "We tailor future messages including broadcast phone, text and direct mail messages based on student preferences to actively communicate with our students."

When tailoring messages, Maraviglia keeps a close eye on response rates. If 70 percent to 80 percent is the norm, for example, and if rates drop down to 5 percent, then its time for a strategy change. "If you're getting an 80 percent clickthrough rate on your video messages about campus tours and a 5 percent rate on messages regarding upcoming fee payments," said Maraviglia, "then it's probably time to add a phone message to the mix."

Maraviglia said he sees technology as the perfect facilitator for colleges that are struggling under budget cuts but that still need to be able to compete effectively for new students in order to grow their enrollment numbers.

"As public universities, we are all struggling with significant budget cuts," said Maraviglia. "We're not fat cats, and we obviously can't touch our 40,000 applicants and 100,000 prospects one-on-one, person-to-person without using technology."

About the Author

Bridget McCrea is a business and technology writer in Clearwater, FL. She can be reached at [email protected].

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