Why CRM is a Must-Have Discipline and Technology in Higher Education


Competition for recruiting and retaining students in higher education has never been more intense. Many students and parents are now evaluating colleges and universities with a consumer’s mentality. Schools are often chosen based on potential ROI, and if enrolled students don’t think a school is meeting expectations, they won’t hesitate to transfer. After graduation, schools are challenged to maintain relationships with alumni and keep them engaged.

Optimization of recruitment, retention and alumni relations strategies requires schools to track all interactions with prospective and enrolled students and their parents, as well as alumni. Manually tracking and organizing these interactions with spreadsheets and three-ring binders simply isn’t doable. Without the right technology and formal processes, your data is more likely to be inaccurate, incomplete and outdated, which can negatively affect the relationships you work so hard to build and maintain. Customer relationship management (CRM) is critical for higher education, both as a discipline and technology.

CRM is the practice and strategy of tracking, managing and analyzing customer interactions and data. Information from every interaction via website, phone, email, chat, text, social media, etc. is entered into CRM software, where it can be accessed, updated and analyzed to improve marketing and sales strategies, enhance the customer experience, identify new business opportunities, and ensure appropriate resource allocation and staffing levels.

CRM benefits higher education in three key areas – recruitment, retention and alumni relations – while knocking down silos between departments to enable access to current, complete data.


Recruiters and admissions teams interact with prospective students and parents in a variety of ways, from website visits and Facebook messages to phone calls and campus visits. The growing population of adult learners who are balancing work, family and education adds another layer of complexity to higher education recruitment.

Your CRM allows you track and maintain a database of all interactions, score leads, segment groups of prospects, and ensure appropriate follow up to questions and requests for information. It helps to streamline the admissions process and eliminate manual processes and redundant work.


From the time students enroll, your CRM can tell you if they need help registering for classes, finding on-campus housing, choosing a meal plan and learning about campus activities. Adult learners might need help navigating online learning options and choosing a schedule that fits in with other commitments.

Once classes start, your CRM will provide a single record of all communication with each student. If they’re struggling academically or socially, have they been notified? Are they receiving the assistance they need? Is this assistance working? Your CRM can also track tuition payments and identify students who require intervention to help relieve some of the financial stress of higher education.

Alumni Relations

Graduates are alumni for life. That means alumni relationships are often managed for decades. In addition to supporting alumni giving initiatives, CRM can help you connect students with alumni to improve retention and career placement. Alumni lists can be segmented based on a wide range of criteria, such as graduation year, involvement in activities as a student, previous donations and social media engagement.

In the next post, we’ll discuss what factors to consider when choosing a CRM solution and strategies for successful implementation.