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The Importance of Higher Education CRM—Ultimate Guide

The education sector is changing rapidly, and higher ed providers face many challenges. Research shows enrollment numbers are on the decline, show that fewer students are pursuing higher education. Financial difficulties, the need to earn a living, the influence of successful college dropouts, and the pursuit of non-degree-requiring passions contribute to the varying number of U.S. college students planning to graduate. Moreover, the needs and concerns of current students and their parents has changed. In order to remain competitive, college's must carefully address issues such as sustainability, cultural sensitivity, mental health, and a growing preference for hybrid models of learning.

With the digital age now a given, adaptation is non-negotiable. Experts have rightly pointed out that higher education institutions must integrate technology seamlessly into their organization. Adopting the right higher eduction CRM is the most cost-effective way to do so.

In this in-depth guide, we'll go through all the nuances of CRM for educational institutions - how they can enhance your customer service, optimize your admission process, provide access to effective marketing tools, and much more. Whether you school is large institutions or a small business,

What is a CRM System?

Let's start with the basics. CRM stands for "customer relationship management". It is a technology for managing all your institution's relationships and interactions with current and prospective students. As a single platform that helps to streamline processes and improve communication, it enhances the overall management of student and faculty relationships.

Why are higher education CRM systems important?

A higher education CRM centralizes data storage and access, creating a unified hub for all relevant information. This includes biographical data, contact information, email exchanges, admission documents, course information, and academic records. With everything in one place, institutions avoid the fragmentation of education data architecture, leading to a comprehensive 360-degree view of every constituent.

Streamlines administrative tasks

Loan officers handle Higher education CRM software automates numerous tasks that were traditionally manual. This automation not only accelerates administration (such as the admissions process and enrollment management) but also minimizes the risk of human error, ensuring more efficient resource use. Faculty and staff can then focus on what they do best – supporting students and enhancing their educational experience.documents, both in-house and with their customers. Your chosen CRM must have file-sharing features as well as secure cloud storage. Furthermore, customers should be able to append e-signatures to the relevant documents, allowing them to deal with clients from distant locations.

Enhances marketing and communication

These systems provide valuable insights into target markets and student preferences, aiding in the development of more effective marketing strategies. They help understand student motivations for post secondary studies and respond to various business needs. This leads to more personalized experiences for prospective students, improved recruitment, and admissions strategies.

Improves internal communication

One of the key benefits of a higher education CRM is the enhancement of internal communication. By streamlining interdepartmental interactions, the system ensures that various departments within an institution can collaborate more effectively. This improved communication is vital for tracking critical metrics such as retention, enrollment, and engagement rates across various channels.

Examples of how higher education CRM is used

These are just some of the ways a higher education CRM can help your organization build better relationships with students, help them achieve their goals, and increase the overall performance of your institution.

Why a CRM Is no longer a luxury in higher ed

Previously, universities were better able to attract students using analog systems and traditional sales techniques, but times and expectations have changed. Contrary to the past, students are increasingly seeing themselves as consumers of higher education. According to a 2023 report from Education Dynamic, 43% of students followed a college on social media channels before considering enrollment. This means that if your university isn't using the right tech, or leveraging communication channels effectively, enrollments numbers and student retention may suffer.

social media apps

There's no getting around it: Hyper-personalized Netflix and Amazon experiences are fast becoming the norm with the new generation of students. According to a study conducted by Concept3D, 67% of prospects prefer personalized interactions with their future school, and 72% expect tailored online content. So if you want to cement your best-in-class status as a university, you’ll need to learn more about your students to provide them with the best experience possible.

With technology developing at breakneck speed, new industries and opportunities are being created on the fly. Universities who want to remain competitive will need data-driven insights to identify and capitalize on new, revenue-generating trends. The good news is that an integrated CRM platform can do all that and more. In the modern age, fostering student success, and building lasting relationships with alumni demands a system that lets you put students at the forefront (without putting additional strain on your team).

What prevents universities adopting a CRM?

This report found that the main roadblock to adopting a higher education CRM was a lack of knowledge about the software, closely followed by budget concerns. Fortunately, many platforms provide exceptional customer service, support guides, and tutorials, ensuring your staff have everything they need to get up to speed. Additionally, not all come with the luxury price tag you may be accustomed to seeing.

How Much Does CRM For Higher Education Cost?

We understand that it sometimes comes down to the dollars and cents, especially when it comes to software since the cost of a higher-ed CRM can vary depending on the pricing model:

  • Per-user: The typical cost ranges from $30 per month, per user for an entry-level system up to several hundreds of dollars for more advanced solutions. This is the most optimal model for higher-education organizations, although it requires a thorough inspection of how many people will be using the system and what features you get for the price.

  • Per-storage: Some CRM solutions charge per resource used, but this pricing model is not very not common in higher education.

  • Fixed fee: With this pricing model, institutions are usually charged a hefty sum every month, although there are no limits to the number of staff workers that can use the system.

Now that you know what a CRM system does and how much it can cost your organization, let’s take a closer look at how to choose the best CRM for your needs.

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Which CRM should you choose?

Although there are many CRM solutions available for higher education, they generally fall into three main types that are vastly different from each other. For a list of the top 6 best insurance CRMs, read here.

1. Built-in CRM

Many higher-education organizations use tools such as an SIS, learning management systems (LMS), and others.

These solutions are primarily focused on bringing data insights into the learning process, with less of a focus on attracting, engaging, and enrolling new applicants. However, some systems will include limited functionality that does some of what a CRM does, such as the ability to contact students or create certain types of activity reports.

A built-in CRM may be a good starting point to get the feel of what a CRM can do for your organization, but it’s vastly reduced in its enrollment and revenue-generating capabilities. For example, built-in CRM systems can’t be integrated with other services and rarely support automated workflows for contacting prospects and applicants.

2. All-in-one CRM systems

All-one-one CRMs can be used for higher education purposes, but often are built with enterprise companies in mind.When applying an all-in-one system to a higher-ed institution, there are two main issues:

  • Limited functionality – Universities will have to pay extra for integration with the systems they already use. If you need to use another tool that does not integrate with your all-in-one CRM, you may even be forced to switch CRMs completely which is a time and resource-intensive process.

  • Lack of higher-education workflows – Additional work might be needed to make these blanket systems work for your higher-ed org. Because these systems are geared towards enterprise companies, additional customer support can cost you extra.

Choosing an all-in-one CRM system for your organization is justified when you have access for free or for a lower price, and if you have spare IT resources to help you customize the system to your needs.

3. Standalone Higher-Education CRM

Standalone CRM systems are typically a better option for higher-education organizations because they can be customized to the specific needs of an educational institution and can integrate freely with other tools, like your SIS, LMS, invoicing software, etc.

When integrated with your other software, a standalone CRM acts as a digital command center for your entire enrollment operation, letting your sales and enrollment teams, admin, and faculty easily access, manage, scale, and automate complex workflows from one place.

In most scenarios, going with a standalone CRM built specifically for higher education is the best course of action, as long as the pricing model makes sense, and customer support is strong.

7 Crucial benefits of using a CRM in higher education

students graduating

Universities and state-run colleges are complex organizations that rely on dozens of people and systems in order to maintain recruitment and admissions. In most cases, adopting a fully-functional CRM is the perfect solution for increasing visibility and improving coordination across the board of your institution.

However, if you’re looking for additional justification, here are four key benefits of using a CRM in higher education.

1. More student applications

The right higher education CRM enables focused, automated lead management, generation, nurturing processes, allowing colleges and universities to form deeper relationships with prospects before they even apply. University recruiters can spend weeks, or even months, gathering information about applicants from disparate sources. A CRM ensures they have all the essential data they need right in front of them and can make decisions within minutes.

2. Better enrollment marketing

Recruiting departments without a reliable system in place can quickly become overwhelmed with the amount of applicants and inquiries they have to track. So, how do they handle it?

More often than not, they ignore 90% of their list and focus only on those students who are determined to enroll. But what about the hundreds of other potential students who just need more information?

Look for a CRM that includes remarketing features. With the right remarketing tool, you can automatically target prospects who have already interacted with your website, email campaigns, and social media and nurture those prospects until they’re ready to act.

You’ll also be able to arm your team with data-driven insights about which of your marketing activities are actually moving the needle on your enrollment goals.

3. Always know exactly who to call and when

It’s physically impossible to contact everyone in your database. Without the right insights, your enrollment staff is forced to leave it to guesswork or pure chance to decide who they are going to call next.

As a result, your conversion rates may suffer.

Every CRM will give you a list to call, but only the best-come with an in-class sales CRM to provide your agents with a complete breakdown of the best prospects to call and the exact order they should follow. At Shape, we use a deep prioritization algorithm tested across a database of over 20,000 potential applicants for schools like Woz U and SCI.

Enrolling a new student shouldn’t feel like winning the lottery. It should be the result of consistent, predictable, data-driven efforts—and that’s exactly what the right CRM will give you.

4. Arm your staff to lead better conversations

The right higher ed CRM will make it a breeze to access all the details and the full interaction history with every applicant and student. Your staff doesn’t need to call students multiple times to get additional information or update their status in your SIS. Everything is synchronized and updated across all departments in real-time.

This drastically reduces the number of duplicate operations that different faculties or offices perform and saves campuses a ton of time wasted navigating disconnected systems.

Finally, the right platform will include proven templates based on industry best practices across all platforms—email, SMS, or phone call. Now even your inexperienced staff members can be on par with industry pros who have decades of experience under their belts.

5. Increased graduation rates

A CRM gives campuses the ability to track student progress with laser focus.

With all the latest student data in one place, teachers and staff have the full picture of how every student is performing. Now they can motivate students by recognizing their success in certain disciplines and lend a helping hand in areas where students are struggling.

The right CRM will also allow educators to set up bespoke follow-ups, email campaigns, and notifications that can be triggered by various SIS data. For example, a drop in GPA or change in course load could trigger an automatic email check in to offer students additional support or information.

6. Ensure compliance

Electronics and book wrapped in chain

A higher education CRM should offer more than just effective templates and drip campaigns; it must provide a structured business strategy for improved enrollment, aligned with compliance standards. Unfortunately, many CRM platforms neglect legal compliance, especially in their email and telecommunication features. For instance, unrestricted email capabilities can lead ISPs to flag your communications as spam, compromising your domain's integrity. This approach risks not only your institution's reputation but also increases enrollment rates unsustainably.

Furthermore, the rising penalties for non-compliant telecommunication practices, such as robocalls, which can incur fines up to $10,000 per violation, highlight the importance of compliance in marketing automation systems. The negative impact of being labeled as 'spam' by potential clients further undermines these strategies. Therefore, when choosing a CRM for universities, it's crucial to ensure it adheres to Federal Trade Commission (FTC) rules and regulations. At Shape, we prioritize safety and compliance, setting stringent parameters for the use of text, email, or dialer systems within our CRM, safeguarding your institution against non-compliance risks.

7. Futureproof your org

The education landscape is changing fast and higher-ed organizations must learn to think on their feet if they want to keep up. A higher education CRM helps your universities become data-driven, rather than opinion-driven. Armed with relevant marketing, recruitment, and performance data, stakeholders can help educators and administrators visualize what’s working and what isn’t.

Education at large, and higher education especially, are due for a major technological shakeup in the next few decades. Your CRM is a crucial tool for staying ahead of the curve.

Choosing right higher education CRM – Key questions to ask

  1. How important is it for you to build and sustain relationships with your students and alums?

  2. How well does the CRM integrate with the other platforms you use (e.g. SIS, Campus Cloud, Tableau, and others)?

  3. Can you monitor and review the entire student lifecycle in one place?

  4. How flexible and customizable is the platform? How easily can you adjust it to your existing processes?

  5. Does the CRM facilitate a collaborative environment where all your departments and teachers can work towards the same goal?

  6. Does it support custom reporting so that you can spot the departmental bottlenecks in your prospecting, conversion, and productivity workflows?

  7. Can you automatically import data from external applications and services, like prospect databases, marketing campaigns, and enrollment data?

  8. How secure is student and teacher data? What security protocols are in place?

  9. How easy is the system to use? Can your staff start using the platform without spending days or weeks on additional training?

  10. Does it provide extensive customer support in case you experience technical issues or need additional help to set the system up and/or extend its functionality?

  11. Can you streamline and automate prospecting and lead nurturing processes to enroll more students?

  12. How flexible and transparent is the pricing policy?

  13. Does the CRM offer a free trial version so you can see for yourself if it fits?

Start improving your enrollment rates today with a free trial of Shape!

Specific features of higher ed CRM to look out for

Man on laptop thinking

Despite having common regulations and standards, every higher-ed institution has developed its own unique set of best practices and methods over the years of working with students and staff. Your organization has its own culture, values and processes—and these things must factor into your choice of CRM.

Use this list of CRM features to see whether your shortlisted CRM solutions include all the necessary features you need to attract new students and ensure they have a great learning experience from first contact until graduation.

Attracting new students

  • Email & SMS integration and automation

  • Inquiry tracking

  • Inquiry management

  • Prospect routing & interactive voice response

  • Contact management

  • Referral tracking

  • Inbound & outbound calling

  • Status tracking

  • Call recording & call scripts

  • Integrated dialer

Optimizing staff performance

  • Prospect filtration

  • Duplication management

  • Customizable reporting and analytics

  • Support chat & intra-company chat

  • Automated tasks & actions

  • Role-based permissions

  • Customizable user permissions

  • Invoicing

Improving student experience

  • Calendar and email syncing

  • Automated drip campaigns

  • Automated student status updates

  • Mobile support

  • Integrations with external platforms and SIS

  • eSignatures

  • API support

  • Student portal

Why choose Shape?​

Shape is a standalone higher education CRM that simplifies and streamlines the entire student admissions lifecycle. It integrates with your SIS to give you a comprehensive view of your higher-ed org, in one user-friendly platform. We tested our edu platform extensively with some of the nation’s leading higher education organizations before bringing it to market.

With Shape, not only do you get all the features and capabilities of any best-in-class CRM—you also get plug-and-play enrollment strategies based on what’s currently working for the best and brightest players in the industry.

Shape provides cutting-edge email automation that can boost lead generation for law firms

With industry-proven prioritization logic, templates, drip campaigns, remarketing, and built-in compliance, your enrollment staff always know who to call and what to say. Whether you’re an online university, trade school or Ivy League, now you can finally get proactive about taking your institution to the next level.

At Shape, we know it’s critical to have just the right features for your higher-ed org. That’s why we offer a free trial with access to everything our software has to offer, including our extensive support team.

We’ll help you set up customized workflows, but more importantly, we’ll be the first to notice if you need any support to help you get the most out of our system—for free, with no hassle, hidden fees or annual contracts.