Why SIS gets a failing grade in enrollment management.
GUEST COLUMN | by Martin Lind
According to a recent New York Times article, enrollment numbers for 2012-2013 dropped two percent from the previous year, the first significant decrease since the 1990s. Though those declining numbers will not likely affect top tier schools, less popular traditional schools may soon be forced into the unfamiliar position of competing for students. A number of potential pitfalls await traditional schools being pushed into this unfamiliar territory. This is especially true when it comes to the enrollment management tools required to compete effectively. For many schools, the default tool is their Student Information System (SIS), a common catch-all for everything.
While an SIS is good at a lot of things, when it comes to enrollment management in the current – and worsening – recruiting environment, a school needs every advantage and “good” may not be enough to compete effectively. Here’s why:
1. An SIS isn’t designed to help schools compete for students.
An admissions staffer at a traditional school put it best during a recent Twitter chat on enrollment management: “One of our biggest problems is we don’t want to admit the dirty secret: we are in sales.”
If a school competes with other schools for ‘right-fit’ students, its enrollment management solution must provide that school every advantage possible to compete effectively and win against schools that attract similar prospects. It needs to be effective at identifying right-fit students, reaching them quickly, and actively engaging them with personalized conversations about its programs – all within minutes of receiving the inquiry. All of these factors are typical of a sales environment.
2. It can’t move fast enough to outpace the competition.
According to our clients and recent Velocify research, being first to reach the student prospect is critical. In fact, inquiries called within the first minute are nearly 400% more likely to enroll than the average inquiry. Yet SIS is not designed for speed. Only by quickly getting prospective students on the phone can the enrollment counselor and the prospective student best determine whether they are the right fit for each other.
Being the first to have that conversation can have a positive, lasting impact. Tricoci University agrees. “It makes a difference that we have the conversation first, before other schools, otherwise we risk losing the opportunity to have even that first discovery conversation with a prospect.”
3. An SIS gets in the way of meaningful conversations with student prospects.
Effective enrollment begins and ends with detailed, personalized conversations with prospective students. In Tricoci University’s case, using their SIS delayed enrollment counselor response times and sometimes even required admissions counselors to use sticky notes to keep track of follow-up required with the prospective student. This time-consuming, manual, error-prone process hindered Tricoci University’s ability to have productive discovery conversations with prospects in order to build excitement and enthusiasm for its programs. By automating the enrollment process, Tricoci University could focus on communications that engage, inform and motivate prospective students at every step in the process.
4. It can’t be easily customized to follow enrollment management best practices.
Those who have tried to add customized functionality to their SIS — enrollment-stage workflow, inquiry prioritization, distribution and redistribution rules — know how agonizing it can be. Their efforts usually end in one of two ways: 1) the project gets bogged down by the significant amount of IT team resources (or SIS vendor consulting fees) needed to build the functionality from scratch, or 2) it gets stuck at the back of a long IT department request queue.
Guided enrollment management processes that are based on best practices should be set, automated and easily accessible to admissions management to update as needed. The right system should be capable of automating compliance updates from admissions and marketing regulations through template-based emails and text messages, scripts, call recording functionality, and materials from third-party compliance vendors.
CRM systems, even the most popular ones, can cause the same type of headache if used to for enrollment marketing in a competitive environment.
The good news for traditional schools new to the enrollment race is that proprietary schools like Tricoci University have already blazed the trail. And there are tremendous resources available, including a significant amount of free research, that can serve as an effective guide and help an admissions department jump start a winning competitive marketing strategy.
Martin Lind oversees the business development, product marketing and thought leadership for Velocify’s enrollment management solution. A published author and in-demand speaker, he has led educational sessions on higher education marketing and admissions matters at APSCU, AACS, ACCET, FAME, DETC, EduComm and the Jenzabar Annual Meeting among others. Lind can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org