Leveraging Enterprise CRM and Data Analytics to Improve Student Engagement

Patty Patria, Vice President for Information Technology and CIO, Worcester Polytechnic Institute

Patty Patria, Vice President for Information Technology and CIO, Worcester Polytechnic Institute

As both students and higher education institutions start to navigate the post-pandemic world, strategic student engagement is becoming increasingly more important for both students and higher education leaders. Although student engagement and success were traditionally measured in retention rates and academic competency, the extra stress, isolation and lack of robust learning when COVID first hit has had a significant impact on high school and college students and requires a different approach to manage.  Engagement has become an important part of every college’s efforts to build stronger relationships with students; when cultivated properly, these relationships can be the foundation for both student and institutional success.

Incorporating good engagement methodologies boots persistence, retention, and completion. But what does engagement mean for your campus? From an academic engagement perspective, not only are teaching quality and delivery critical factors to engaging students, but understanding metrics like attendance, participation and completing assigned work successfully can also help identify students that might be struggling.

In addition to traditional academic and intellectual engagement, social-emotional engagement is also playing a much larger role. This type of engagement could include activities such as tutoring sessions, attending sporting events, accessing the library, participating in study groups, providing feedback via pulse surveys or interacting with a bot for help.

With all the various data points to think about, measuring engagement can be a daunting task. However, technology, and more specifically, enterprise Customer Relationship Technology (CRM), can help universities with this engagement. Enterprise CRM systems include several key tools to manage engagement. Some institutions, like West Texas A&M University are using behaviorally intelligent chatbots to engage students. Where students might not feel comfortable reaching out a live person with a question, they seem comfortable having a bot assist them.

Pulse surveys are also a great way to engage students quickly. By asking 1-2 two quick questions on a more frequent basis, students may relay that are struggling in a certain area or provide insight into overall satisfaction or mental health concerns.

Modern CRM systems can also manage student clubs and organizations. Having data on what activities students are participating in can also help gauge overall engagement.

In addition, if you leverage your CRM system correctly, you can utilize targeted communications, and track open rates on those communications to see if your messages are getting across. Many students prefer short push message over lengthy email. They also prefer some messages to be delivered via text or social media. Many CRMs have integrated communication platforms that allow you to push messages via different channels, including via a portal or one-stop virtual shop where students can easily find critical information in one place.

“With all the various data points to think about, measuring engagement can be a daunting task. However, technology, and more specifically, enterprise Customer Relationship Management (CRM) technology, can help universities with this engagement.”

In addition to the data that are collected directly in the CRM, it is also critical to blend data from other sources. According to the Chronicle of Higher Education, in addition to the standard information that universities collect, many universities are also collecting data on use of campus services, card swipes, disabilities, technology access, food security, housing security, mental health, transportation and caregiving so that they can holistically understand student needs.

After deciding what data is critical to your institution to achieve your outcomes, modern CRMs are making it easy to blend external data with internal data to provide a complete picture of the student. When you add predictive analytics capabilities on top of the metrics you are collecting, institutions can see significant improvements. As an example, Georgia State University, currently collects more than 800 data points on students. They are also leveraging predictive analytics to identify students that may need assistance based on these 800 data points. Based on interactions and support provided from these analytics, Georgia State University is now graduating thousands of additional students per year, with the biggest gains occurring with students from underserved backgrounds. This increase in retention has allowed Georgia State to increase annual review by $3.18 million. 

Although there are definite advantages to leveraging CRM, external data and predictive analytics to help improve student engagement, privacy is also a critical aspect of any data-based engagement initiative.  Experts note that colleges should still aim for data minimization, and institutions should only collect the data they believe is necessary to answer the key questions for their campus.

Transparency is a critical factor for any organization when collecting student data. Organizations must have privacy statements that list what data they collect, how they use it and who they share it with.

And lastly, securing this data properly should also be a top concern. Once you have the data, you need to ensure collected safely and secured to only individuals that need to access this data.

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