- More efficient enrollment and data collection
- Clear insight into student demographics
- Targeted communications with students
Martha Parham, Senior Vice President of Public Relations, American Association of Community Colleges
Brian Peebles, Associate Director of Admissions and Testing, Midlands Technical College
Nathan Bills, Director of Recruiting and Admissions Product Management, Ellucian
Welcome everyone. My name is Martha Parham. I'm the senior vice president of Public Relations for the American Association of Community Colleges. And we are here to celebrate yet another episode of The CC Voice podcast—the only podcast about the power of the nation's community colleges.
And so I'm here today I'm lucky to have with us someone from Midlands Technical College—Brian Peebles, the associate director of admissions and testing. Welcome, Brian.
Thank you very much for having me.
And with him we also have Nathan Bills. Nathan is the director of recruiting and admissions product management for Ellucian. Welcome, Nathan.
Hey, thank you very much for having me. Appreciate it.
Yeah. We're excited to have you here. Most of our listeners are very familiar with Ellucian, and so we're really excited to hear about what you all do.
So, Brian, as the associate director of admissions and testing at Midlands, can you give us a little information about Midlands Technical College and what's your process in terms of admissions and testing?
Well, we are a technical college and based in Columbia, South Carolina, in the Midlands of South Carolina. So we're a medium sized school. We have about 120 different programs of study and we are an open enrollment institution. We pretty much accept everybody as long as you make just a minimum score on our placement test or have a few other qualifications, then we will accept you.
Excellent. So open admissions is something that community colleges are not a stranger to. And Nathan, how about you in terms of Ellucian? I know Ellucian, you guys have more than like over 2,000 institutions, right?
That's right. That's right. We work with over 2,500 institutions spanning the globe—about 50 countries. What we do is we enhance the operations and really enrich the experience provided to over 20 million students worldwide. We see ourselves as the market leader in higher education technology. And we have a comprehensive software portfolio with services as well with over 50 years of experience in the industry.
So our official topic today is automation and technology. I think we want to talk about that in terms of how it impacts certainly you there at Midlands Technical College and how Ellucian is helping you handle some of that change in automation and technology. So I don't know, Brian, did you want to talk about what your process is and how Ellucian is helping you deal with that?
Absolutely. Definitely, definitely. We are an open enrollment institution. So as long as you go online, fill out our admissions application, get a minimum score on our placement test, then if we have a place for you, if have the class, then you can come in. We don't have a set number that we will turn students away or anything like that.
And so what a Ellucian has helped us do is—I'm sure as you're aware, traditional age students, just out of high school, 18 to 20 years old, and to a somewhat lesser extent the adult students also are expecting the vast majority of their interaction to at least have the option of being electronic. You know? They can do it online. They don't have to come into an office or really even talk to somebody on the phone if they don't have to, if they don't want to.
And so what Recruit has helped us do is we have our online application through them. They also give us the option of letting students upload documents straight to their record. So if we need a transcript or anything like that that we would like to take online, then we have that option through Recruit. And so that helps us eliminate barriers so we can get students in and get them started on their educational journey.
Nathan, did you want to talk a little bit about what Recruit is specifically?
It's a CRM which is agnostic to any particular ERP system. So we actually integrate of course, with all of the Ellucian systems, so Power Campus, Colleague, as well as Banner. But we also have customers that don't use our systems as well. So as I said, it's a CRM.
So what it does is it allows our customers to really optimize their recruiting and admissions processes through leveraging the software. So everything from tracking your contacts to the actual intake of online applications, inquiries, predictive modeling. All of these different factors are all collected into the system and then calculated. And we provide that overall platform to help with things like application reviews.
Let's say that you have a culinary program, for instance, at a community college and that has extra requirements or maybe limited slots that can actually do those reviews inside of CRM or Recruit and manage the communications in that relationship with the prospective student or applicant through matriculation.
It sounds amazing. So who is the biggest user? Is it someone like—Brian, you are in admissions and testing. Do you work with your marketing and outreach team or how does it work to get—in terms of the information that goes back and forth?
In terms of communicating with the students with the acknowledgment emails when a student submits an application or when they get accepted, things like that, we actually build those in the admissions office. And we upload those into Recruit and we set up various workflows and automatic processes so that whenever the student applies or whenever some information on their record changes, they can automatically get the appropriate communication customized to the student.
Do you get to pull data from this system that allows you to see where a student is, see if they're persisting through the program, and things like that or is this not possible with this type of software?
Yeah. So what we have is part of the Ellucian ecosystem. So we're populating this data as well as the data from the student information system into analytics so that customers can see trends and can really track that progress and make sure that they're really honing their strategy to produce the highest yield.
So in addition to that, we also provide a series of different dashboards within the software so that that progress can be tracked within CRM recruit. And also those dashboards can be customized with ease, just configuration by our customers to meet maybe their specific business processes—let's say that they're collecting different fields than what we typically would see, we have that level of flexibility built right in.
That's great. Dashboards are life when it comes to—
—to understanding kind of what's going on. Brian, how has this really impacted your particular workload, workspace, for you and your team?
Well, as you mentioned, the dashboards have been incredibly helpful. And just having the quick, at-a-glance status of where most of our students are, if we need to have a particular push for a certain group of students to help them through the enrollment process. So everything is in real time. Much of it is automated if we want to set it up that way. If we don't want it to be automated—we want to have that human touch before it moves to the next step, we can set up that way if we want to.
And so with everything being in the system and online, we have all that information right there to make sure when we do make the decision that it's the right decision.
So in terms of—again, back to the automation and technology of it all, I think what we're seeing here is just the sheer speed of technology advancements. And students, if we think of them as consumers of our product, which is education, have different expectations, I think. They definitely want information quickly, they like to use their phones. Does this impact how they receive or deal with their admissions process at all?
Absolutely. Like you mentioned, we're kind of living right now in a microwave world—some people say—where everybody wants things right now. And with the current generation, especially, they want it to be mobile-friendly. And so it has to look good on a phone or a tablet or some other type of mobile device. And so if it has too many fields or if the pages are too big and they have to scroll too much, then there's a good chance that they're either going to move on and look somewhere else or they're just going to get frustrated and decide I'll do this later, and then they might not ever get back to it.
In terms of automation of outreach and marketing, what challenges have you run into before you had this system, Brian?
Well, before we had Recruit, a lot of what we did was manual. So either we would have acceptance or acknowledgment letters template, but then we would have to go in and type out the information to make it customized to the student, whether it be their name, address, ID, program, those kinds of things.
And so when we got the Recruit system, all of that information was right there in Recruit. And all we had to do was just set it up so that whenever we get new information on a student or a new student applies, all of that customized information for that student is put onto the communication that we want to send out. And so everything that we send to the students is customized based on what they've told us and what that student needs.
Are you able to use Recruit throughout the students' entire program?
Nathan may be able to speak more to this part of it, but with the way that we use it, it's mostly from application or as a suspect, potentially, through to when they first enroll is how we would use it. And then I know Ellucian has other products that can take it over from that point.
Got it. Well, but even still being able to manage someone that expresses interest or potential students and being able to have that in a way and in a format that you can actually use it and reach out to them and be able to get them registered for classes is—the fact that you were hand-typing people's names into their letters and now you don't have to do that sounds pretty amazing.
Yeah. At Ellucian we provide really a host of different solutions that all talk within the Ellucian ecosystem. One of those solutions is our analytics solution, which Ellucian CRM Recruit populates data into our data platform as well as our student information systems and other products so that you have one view into that data. And you can essentially hone and refine your approach to ensure that you're hitting the right goals and recruiting the right people and enrolling them, and making sure that they're graduating on and being successful.
So, Brian, I don't know about South Carolina, but I'm pretty sure throughout the country enrollments have been a point of discussion to say the least. Enrollments are down typically across the nation. And enrollments have become a major issue for community colleges. How does this system or does this system impact your enrollments?
Well, kind of like what I was mentioning earlier, the CRM Recruit system allows us to customize information specifically to a student so we don't have to worry about sending out generic emails or letters or various communications where it may have the student's name and address and their ID number, but it's pretty obvious that everything else in the communication is just kind of a generic letter.
So we can have, based on the information in the system, what we can do is customize parts of the communication throughout rather than the address block and then a generic letter. And so what that is that it shows the student that we're interested specifically in them rather than just wanting to meet our numbers. And so when we can do that, that helps us to get the student excited about attending our institution rather than wanting to possibly look somewhere else.
And you mentioned—I know we've talked a lot about data and we've talked a lot about the dashboards, but how are you able to use that data on campus? How do you look at that data? And then, does it help you make decisions going forward?
Well, one of the big things that we use our dashboards for is events on campus. So we have, of course, various events throughout the year. And so we can use the dashboards to leading up to the event obviously to see how many students we have registered in the event, we can see how many have arrived, checked in, those kinds of things.
And then, after the event is done, we can see how those students matriculate to enrollment. So of the students that attended the event, how many were admitted to the college? How many ended up enrolling? And so that kind of gives us a return on investment approach to the event to see if we did well with the event, if there is something that might need to change, or maybe even if the ROI was bad enough, maybe we just need to not have that event anymore. Maybe we need to do something in its place. So in that, CRM Recruit with the dashboards has definitely helped us make sure that what we're doing is best for the student and it is what they want and what they need.
I'm not going to lie, Brian, I'm a little bit jealous that you had this and I did not when I was working at the college. Not going to lie.
Yeah. It's a fantastic tool, it really is.
So if you were to talk to your colleagues with regard to Recruit, either standalone or with other Ellucian products, what would you tell them?
I would say that having Recruit—I've mostly been talking about from the student side, but also from the staff processor side, or even the admissions recruiter side, it really helps us with tailoring our communications and our interactions with the student to their specific case so that we make sure we don't—obviously we have the generic information that all students need, but then we want to make sure that we don't tell the student that they need to do something that they don't necessarily need to do. And then that just creates an additional step or possibly an extra barrier to the student becoming enrolled.
And so also, like we were mentioning with the dashboard, you can set up processing lists and customize those to the staff processor so that the applications and things like that the staff needs to process, they only see the ones that should be their list and they don't have to sort through applications that they don't need or that somebody else handles. And that helps them with their work throughout the day.
Yeah. Sounds like it helps tremendously. Nathan, is there anything about Recruit that we haven't really touched on or maybe something that you wanted to talk specifically about Recruit?
Yeah. Well, I'll tell you what that there's so much. The constituent experience, which is really that the portal that the applicants use is very, very powerful. And so through that experience they're able to go in and shop and update, and even have targeted marketing from the institution based on their interests.
So we know, as we've talked about, right? Students are on the go and they're juggling work while attending school. A significant number of them are even raising children at the same time. They're comparison shopping for nearly everything online. And they really expect to get that information when they want it, right? And so that's really just table stakes.
And so through our constituent experience, we're able to provide information just in time, like Brian was talking about, with events. They can search, they can register for an event all on their own. They can also go and update their interests, investigate, and make sure that they're going to go on the right path so that they can stay on that path and continue through and be successful.
And so that's really big along with the communications, the ability to track that return on an investment for the institution. And the institution is able to really focus in and see where there might be some lags, right? So of course, you don't want a prospective student or an applicant to wait days or even an evening. And in some cases, I'm thinking about one customer that I was visiting about five years ago.
They actually had this setup where they had kiosks and the students were able to go into the office to apply. After they applied they could walk down the hall and actually register for classes instantly, right? And so by populating all this data into the Ellucian ecosystem, we're able to remove barriers around that application and reduce time so that they can start learning right away.
Yeah. And I mean, it sounds like a little thing, but I remember it well—and that was probably pretty innovative for its time, is that lag time, even with online applications, there was a lag, maybe eight hours, maybe two days before students were—quote, unquote—"in the system" and could then register. So that's huge that it helps students to have that immediate ability to register. You strike while the iron is hot, right? While you're there and you're thinking about it and you're ready to go, get them registered and get them on a pathway that's going to serve to meet their educational needs.
So that sounds like a win-win to me. And with that, I will give you, Brian, the last word in terms of recruits or your enrollment. What would you like our listeners to know?
Well, I guess I would like them to know that anytime you can get a system like CRM recruit, where you have all the communications, all the student information—also, I don't know that we mentioned that in Recruit, on the person record, all of their communication history is right there together. So you can see everything that has been communicated to the student.
So that way, you're not giving duplicate information or possibly confusing them. So having something like that just helps with helping the student continue through their educational journey, helping them get admitted and enrolled in the institution, and then continuing on their educational career.
And Nathan, final question to you—and it's a doozy, so I hope you're ready for it.
If you were not working with Ellucian, what would you be doing?
Well, that's a very good question. I think that I would definitely be in a field where I'm helping others. It's something that I've always enjoyed. Education has held a very special place in my heart throughout my career. And I just really like helping others be successful and find their strengths. That's just one of those things that I find a lot of intrinsic value.
Wow. Such a good, profound answer.
Unlike mine, which is like be a famous singer.
Oh, well, that would be fun too.
Yeah. That would be a good one.
All right. Well, I cannot thank the two of you enough. Nathan, if I were interested in looking at what this Recruit looked like in terms of the dashboards and things like that, how would I go about finding that information?
Yeah. So I would direct anyone to our website to start with, just like students when they're shopping, right?
They're going to Google. So it's ellucian.com. And if you want to get specific, /crm-recruit. But of course you can get to it right from that main page. No problem.
All right. We will put that on our website as well. So you can certainly link to it from our website too. And with that, I want to say, Brian and Nathan, thank you so much for spending some time with us this afternoon. And we look forward to hearing about your great successes in the future.
Thank you, Martha. Have a wonderful day.
Thank you for having me.
CC Voice the official podcast of the American Association of Community Colleges. Your host is Martha Parham, and the show is produced by me, Tina Henry-Barrus. Tell us what you think, or if you have a topic that you'd like to hear us talk about on the show, send us an email to [email protected]. You can also follow us on Twitter at com_college.