A CRM can increase your enrollment and graduation rates. But which one is the right one for you? This guide will help you find the best CRM for your higher-ed org.

Last year there were 2.3 million fewer students enrolled in higher education institutions compared to 2011. Despite the fact that this number keeps going down, the price tag for tuition has increased by almost eightfold since 1989. Couple that with crippling student loan debt and it’s no wonder students are thinking twice before enrolling. 

As a higher-ed practitioner, you already know you should take greater accountability for student outcomes and adapt to the new normal in higher education. However, this is easier said than done. 

Despite the stark decrease in enrollment rates, application processes are still incredibly long. Higher-ed businesses can’t afford to let prospects slip through the cracks due to red tape procedures, or risk student attrition just because one faculty department has no idea what the other one is doing.

If you want to stay in business, you must stay in close contact with students, prospects, and applicants, and harness your organization to make the right decisions for your college or university. 

A smart CRM can help. In this article, we’ll take an in-depth look at what a higher-education CRM is and how to choose the one that will help you increase student enrollment and retention while providing an excellent experience for every name in your database.


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Table Of Contents

  • What Is A CRM? And How Can You Use One to Grow Your Higher-Ed Organization

  • Why A CRM Is No Longer A Luxury In Higher Ed

  • How Much Does A CRM For Higher Education Cost?

  • Best Higher Education CRM: Which One Should You Choose?

  • Higher Education CRM: The Complete Feature Checklist

What Is A CRM System? And How Can You Use One to Grow Your Higher-Ed Organization

CRM stands for ‘customer relationship management’. 

In the higher-education industry, a CRM is a platform that allows you to integrate all your educational processes in one place, giving you a full view of every constituent linked to your organization. 

A well-designed CRM system also elevates your marketing and generates more opportunities to attract new students, without putting pressure on your existing resources.Here are a few examples of how a CRM is used in higher education:

  • Recruiters can act on inquiries within seconds and stay in touch with applicants via automated follow-ups and email campaigns, increasing your inquiry to applicant rates.

  • Enrollment leaders can track the best-performing marketing campaigns to double down productive channels and improve marketing ROI.

  • Integrate with your student information system (SIS) to drive student engagement and take proactive measures to reduce attrition and improve graduation rates.

  • Visualize the full communication history with every student to build effective educational processes using the right data and reporting tools.

These are just some of the ways a CRM can help your higher-ed 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

There once was a time when universities could get away with attracting students using more analog systems and traditional sales techniques, but those days are long gone. According to the Social Admissions Report, more than 60% of students followed a college on social media before considering enrollment. So, what does that mean for you?

Universities and colleges must do a better job of tracking and converting online prospects.

Hyper-personalized Netflix and Amazon experiences are fast becoming the norm with the new generation of students. If you want to cement your best-in-class status as a university, you’ll need to learn more about your students in order to provide them with the best experience possible.

As if that weren’t enough, technology is developing at breakneck speed and new industries and opportunities are being created on the fly. Universities who want to be at the front of the pack will need data-driven insights to identify and capitalize on new, revenue-generating trends.

The good news is, a CRM can do all that and more. 

If you want the healthy bottom line that comes from building lasting relationships with students, you need a system that lets you put them at the forefront (without putting additional strain on your team).

Simply put, using a CRM in higher education is no longer a luxury, it’s a must. And the good news is, not all CRMs come with the luxury price tag you’re 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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Best Higher-Education CRM: Which One 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

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.

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.

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

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.

Benefit #1: More student applications

The right CRM enables focused, automated lead generation and 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, but with a CRM they have all the data they need right in front of them and can make decisions within minutes.

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Benefit #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.

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Benefit #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.

And your conversion rates will suffer as a result.

Every CRM will give you a list to call, but only the best-in-class sales platforms will 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.


Benefit #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 CRM 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. 

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Benefit #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.


Benefit #6: Stay compliant (without even trying)

Templates and drip campaigns are great, but the right CRM will give you a modeled business strategy for optimal enrollment results.

And that includes compliance.

Unfortunately, many CRMs simply don’t care if you land in legal hot water. They’ll happily blast an unlimited number of emails using your SMTP server. But with tens of thousands of emails leaving your SMTP server every day or week, it’s only a matter of time before the ISPs start routing all of your emails to spam.

You shouldn’t have to put your entire domain at risk just to boost your enrollment rates.

Same goes for phone and text. With robocall fines now reaching a whopping $10,000, no amount of unlimited calling can make up for non-compliance on your marketing automation system. That’s without even touching the fact that people are hardwired to ignore any email, text or phone call that shows up as ‘spam’ on their devices.

Bottom line? It’s just not worth it.

If you’re considering using a CRM that offers unlimited email, always ask how the tool addresses compliance with the latest FTC rules and regulations. At Shape, we have set parameters in place to help keep you safe and compliant whether you’re using text, email or dialer.


Benefit #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 great CRM helps universities become data-driven, not 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.


13 Questions To Lead You To The Right CRM For Your College Or University

Now that you know the core benefits of a higher-ed CRM, the only question is: which one should you choose? 

Here are some questions that will help you to choose the right CRM for your institution:

  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 CRM 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?

Higher-Education CRM: The Complete Feature Checklist

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 CRM that simplifies and streamlines the entire student admissions lifecycle and 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.

And 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 CRM has to offer, including our extensive support team.

We’ll help you set up customized workflows inside your CRM, 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.

Contact us to access your free trial today!