As the school year kicks off and college applications open up, we’re on the cusp of another reading season in admissions. As a former admissions counselor, I was always very excited to read the students’ stories and why they wanted to attend my institution. I also loved witnessing their joy when they were accepted.
I was not, however, eager to open the student information system (SIS), document imaging system, CRM, and event management system needed to review each application. Clicking on each document one by one was tedious. And, if the Wi-Fi was slow in my hotel during the travel season, I knew I had a long weekend of work ahead of me.
It’s because of these pain points that some institutions have moved to reading in a single system, often a CRM, instead of using the more traditional SIS or document imaging system. For example, Maranatha Baptist University, recently began transitioning their application reading out of an SIS and into Admissions Connect, Salesforce.org’s admissions platform.
“The main driver of this decision is that SIS is built to house data, not identify your best-fit students,” says Jonathan Sheeley, director of communications and former director of admissions and recruitment at Maranatha (pictured right).
There are so many benefits to making this switch.
1. You Can’t Trust Your SIS to Deliver an Engaging Experience
While we’ve long made our SIS systems work for checklists and transactional communication, the SIS wasn’t designed to engage your students. For example, if you send an email requesting additional documentation, do you know if the student opened it? What if they clicked the link to the portal to submit the documentation? Often, the batch-and-blast functionality within the SIS creates frustration for the student and for the processors who have to talk with disgruntled students who submitted documents only to have an email requesting more — or worse, the documents they just sent.
Sheeley explains how the admissions team approached this problem at Maranatha. “We reversed a 16-year downturn into a 4-year upturn, which is in large part to knowing who you are recruiting and focusing on communication,” he says. “I’d rather have fewer meaningful conversations that produce quality students than blast 3,000 emails and not know what happened to them.“
Moving reading to a system of engagement like Admissions Connect allows for behavioral targeting, personalizing communications for prospective students based on who they are and what they have done in the application process.
Some institutions have moved to reading applications in a single system, often a CRM, instead of using the more traditional SIS or document imaging system.
2. Reading In Your SIS Takes Up Too Much Recruiter Time
Remember the four systems I previously mentioned, which rely on strong Wi-Fi and VPN? I think I could have saved at least one minute per application reading in a single, user-friendly system. Multiply that by the 1,800 applications I read, and I could have saved 30 hours (and gotten more sleep!) over the course of my busiest month of reading. That time is valuable to your staff. Imagine less burnout, more excitement, more time to engage with each applicant, and better, more equitable decisions. By bringing data into a singular engagement layer, this is possible since most SIS don’t support this.
Your staff would have an even better experience if we take this mobile. I dreamed of the day where I could admit someone at a college fair from my phone and give that in-person hug (pre-pandemic). Would they even need to go to another table after that? Even our “surprise” admissions at on-campus visit days required days of planning, lots of running back-and-forth between the office and the event, and time from our IT admin. If this could be done on your device, we could truly work from anywhere for the first time and have those important recruiting conversations with that prospective student.
3. Speed Is Crucial
Our front desk staff spent a lot of time reading incoming emails, then going to the SIS to sort things out. In some cases, it had to be routed to an admission counselor simply because the front desk wasn’t allowed access to the SIS. What would it look like if those support staff could see what they need and resolve the issue within a single system? Further, what if the prospect could self-serve, reducing nervous prospect and family calls and increasing checklist completion? Support staff could handle truly tricky issues, application completion rates would soar, and both your applicants and support staff would be a lot less stressed.
At Maranatha, Sheeley recalls, “90% of one person’s job was [SIS] data mapping. I’m now able to give that person more meaningful, productive work.”
4. What About Data Storage?
The argument for keeping application reading in the SIS often comes down to “when is a student a student?” and document retention. While government agencies require documents to be kept for certain periods of time, they don’t specify where. The SIS assumes we’re dealing with a student, so by including applicants, we’re clogging up your system with unneeded data from applicants that may never matriculate. The CRM was designed for pre-student activity, and Salesforce files, for example, can still hold the admissions documents until they are needed.
Regardless of what system you have, an archival strategy is crucial. Working with your IT staff to regularly archive prospect info and documents is a best practice and can be done with the CRM as easily as with the SIS. For an enterprise-grade CRM like Salesforce, the large number of connectors and partner applications means that backup and archive can often be accomplished more easily than for most SIS tools.
If you want to talk with enrollment management or executive leadership about switching to a single system, here are some tips.
- Lead with the prospect experience. Improving the prospect experience improves every segment of the enrollment management funnel.
- Use “back-of-the-napkin” metrics. Remember the 30 hours I’d save? That’s powerful! Help leadership understand with metrics. A few ideas include: time spent reading applications, application completion rates, and calls deferred from the front desk.
- Know the process. Does a decision like this need faculty governance? Who can make the call? Help leadership understand the process so they can prioritize and schedule the appropriate meetings.
- Get IT support. Often the SIS is supported by IT and they may be nervous about supporting this switch. Help them understand the value and that it should save them time instead of creating more work.
In short, it’s worth evaluating whether to shift your admissions processes to create a more meaningful experience for prospective students and your staff.
“People love people, and a CRM allows you to be with the people, not the data,” Sheeley says.
Learn more about Admissions Connect for your institution. And for more information about how to read applications in our NEW purpose-built product, Admissions Connect, email Jessica.
About the Author
Director & Industry Advisor of Recruitment & Admissions, Salesforce.org