The Database Gets Personal: Smart Information System Drive Better IHE-Student Relationships

Article excerpt

Many institutions today realize that they have to utilize technology to go beyond service and more towards personalizing and extending their relationship with students. The ambition now is to create an environment that strengthens the connection to students and other clients that is open and alive. And, it requires the judicious use of two-way communications, coupled with the database and information processing power to keep track of the relationships.

The term CRM, or Customer Relationship Management, came into vogue to describe this approach in the commercial sector. But an institution of higher education has a more complicated relationship with those it serves. Full relationship management on a campus is usually best accomplished by a combination of programs that include back-end databases, ERP processing systems, portals, learning management systems, and some specialized new software packages that manage content and customize communications.

How each institution melds these together depends on its character and mission. Institutions are most successful in this new arena when a clear vision of the desired relationship drives the design of the technology.

Personalized Recruiting

Chapman University is working on two goals simultaneously, expansion and quality.

Enrollment at its traditional campus in Orange, CA, has recently grown to 5,000. In addition, Chapman has begun programs at 28 sites throughout California and Washington state, which enroll another 6,000 students.

But the most important goal is "quality, quality, quality," says Saskia Knight, vice president of Enrollment Services. "Because we want to become one of the premier institutions on the West Coast, the message from the campus had to be tightly woven," she says. "We wanted a really dynamic Web page and a lot of cutting-edge technology. Since we are competing for students with the more selective institutions, we have to use technology better to attract students, to tell our story. But we also needed to get better at capturing information, so we can use our human resources for more crucial activities."

To achieve its goals, Chapman University has fused two technologies: Datatel's (www.datatel.com) Colleague and LiquidMatrix's (www.liquidmatrix.com) ActiveAdmissions. As the basic tool of the admissions department and other administrative offices, Colleague handles the database and the processing flow, while Active Admissions personalizes the communication via the Web. Together, these technologies add up to a more rewarding experience for the prospective student exploring Chapman via the Internet.

"Spotlights" are an important feature of Chapman's new Web presence, and a good illustration of how this personalization works. Any visitor to the Chapman Web site will be greeted by a picture of a Chapman student or faculty member, accompanied by a brief story.

One mini-biography starts this way: "As a freshman film major, Brandon Adams has already worked on seven student films--as a grip, boom operator, still-photographer, sound recordist, and assistant cameraman. 'The opportunity to make films while still a freshman is invaluable,' he says. 'Chapman provides the necessary tools and equipment that allow students to create and get involved in filmmaking from day one.'"

For most visitors, the face and story they see are just randomly selected from an archive. But if a prospective student fills out a brief profile, she will see a personalized selection the next time. For instance, a student who expressed an interest in music might be shown a feature about music faculty member Joseph Matthews, whose student Dale Yang won the solo pianist competition for the state of California last year.

"The challenge for us is to keep that information refreshed, and to keep a broad collection of spotlight stories available," says Knight. Since the new system encourages students to enter their own applications online, the staff will actually have more time to spend on spotlights and meaningful communications. …