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Survey: With Student-Supplied Data, Colleges Could Drastically Improve Recruitment

While students are supplying data to colleges, they don't see it being used in recruitment efforts.

While students are supplying data to colleges, they don't see it being used in recruitment efforts. Source: "Data-Driven Communications Make a Difference," from Ellucian

Personalized communication matters in higher education. According to a recent survey, not only did students say they'd be more likely to choose a school that personalized its communications to them during the recruitment process, but alumni said they'd probably donate more often if they knew their money was funding organizations or projects they were involved with themselves as students.

Those results surfaced during a survey undertaken on behalf of education technology company Ellucian by Wakefield Research. The research queried 500 current college students and 502 alumni who had graduated within five years, as well as 300 administrators, divided equally among roles in admissions/recruitment, advising and alumni relations/advancement/development. Ellucian produces a broad set of applications and services for colleges and universities, including enterprise resource planning and student information systems.

According to the survey results, nearly nine in 10 prospective students (87 percent) considered personalization in their communications during the application process to be an influential factor in their school choices. Likewise, almost half of students (48 percent) who applied to more than one college said poor communications turned them off of any given school. While 73 percent of students supplied information about their intended majors when they were applying, for example, just 58 percent saw references to that in any of the recruitment materials they received. Also, 59 percent said they shared data about their career goals, yet just 40 percent saw that reflected in recruitment communications. The largest gap involved activities students participated in during high school; while 56 percent handed over information about those during the application process, just 23 percent of schools used that data to personalize communications back to the students.

Student respondents were also lukewarm on how well institutions gave meaningful advising help. They reported having to talk to up to four people to answer to a single advising question. And seven in 10 said they had to submit the same personal material three or more times during their first year of school, including information about their chosen degree programs (54 percent), campus housing (51 percent) and applications for campus internships (38 percent).

Once students have graduated, the lackadaisical use of data appears to continue. Eighty-five percent of alumni said they would donate more often if they knew their money was funding programs they personally cared about. A slight majority (51 percent) of those who receive donation requests said that fewer than a tenth of those outreach efforts were linked to their personal interests or past campus activities.

Most administrators (61 percent) in recruitment, advising and development positions on campus said they're already using software to improve engagement with students. But a larger majority (87 percent) said their schools need to do a better job of integrating data across departments; otherwise they won't stay competitive. Almost all advisers and advancement officials said they want still more data; 95 percent of advisers reported that they'd like more complete and up-to-date information on financial, academic and student life aspects of their students, and the same number of development administrators said they believe they could have a better relationship with alumni if they were able to access more data about students.

The integration of data across departments to personalize outreach to students and alumni will improve both the student experience and long-term loyalty, the survey report concluded. Those schools that do the best job of connecting personally with applicants "can look forward to increased enrollment," Ellucian stated. "And students are more likely to get the most out of their college experience — from classes and clubs to housing and financial aid — if data is used to inform conversations. When students enjoy their experience, they become alumni who donate to their institution, especially when they receive requests that relate back to their interests."

The summary of survey results is openly available on the Ellucian website.

About the Author

Dian Schaffhauser is a former senior contributing editor for 1105 Media's education publications THE Journal, Campus Technology and Spaces4Learning.

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