Despite global disruptions throughout higher education in 2020 and beyond, institutional success will continue to be defined by the ability to attract new students, effectively educate them, and inspire their ongoing support as alumni. What’s changed, however, are consumer demands in the wake of the pandemic and evolving market trends.

Enrollment, student success, and alumni relations are all pieces of the same puzzle—the student lifecycle. By treating them as such, institutions can meet students' evolving needs and maintain continuity from recruitment to graduation and beyond.

Reimagining recruitment

In the past decade, the demand for higher education has begun to slide, with prospective students no longer seeing college as an inevitable step on their career path. The pandemic has only exacerbated this change as institutions scramble to meet expectations during a period of upheaval.

In a survey conducted by Inside Higher Ed, 91% of responding college and university admissions officers were “concerned” or “very concerned” about meeting their enrollment goals for the fall 2021 semester. As institutions look beyond COVID-19, recruitment tactics must evolve to sustain the lifecycle.

Modern communication

Social media has quickly become a go-to recruitment tool, but in today’s attention economy, a panoramic shot of campus is going to have some tough competition for engagement. To reach a generation of students that grew up online, the answer is not to jump on the latest TikTok trend, but to embrace the kind of peer-to-peer authenticity that’s come to define influencer culture. In addition to a steady cadence of institution-led social posts, consider hiring students as digital ambassadors to “take over” admissions’ Instagram stories for the day. These glimpses into daily life create mini campus tours that can engage prospective students anywhere.

While video may have killed the radio star, social media hasn’t yet finished off email, particularly when dealing with application logistics. Recruiting in uncertain times means clear, consistent communication is of the utmost importance, and as modern consumers, prospects expect messages to come to their inboxes already personalized.

Being able to pivot quickly institutional goals as the landscape evolves is also critical. By leveraging existing technology such as a constituent relationship management (CRM) systems, institutions can manage these targeted communications adeptly and at scale to ensure every applicant gets the exact information they need.

Evaluate evaluations

In response to widespread testing site closures in 2020, hundreds of institutions made a radical decision: cut standardized tests from their admissions requirements. While the ACT and SAT have long-defined college-readiness checklists, University Business notes test-optional policies were already prevalent among some schools before 2020. This is largely due to the potential bias standardized tests give wealthier students with greater access to tutoring and preparatory resources.

Whether or not test-optional policies become the norm, this is an opportunity to pause and evaluate past practices. Enrollment leaders will need to determine which metrics of success are most meaningful for their institutions moving forward. Likewise, as these requirements are updated, application volumes may spike, making it critical to equip admissions staff with the right tools and technology ahead of time.

Building a foundation for success

Once applicants receive their long-awaited decision letters, it’s the institution’s turn to wait for admitted students to become enrolled students. The right outreach at the right time will help the undecided imagine their future at an institution and take the next crucial step toward matriculation.

Lend a hand with financial aid

The ability to pay for a degree is often the weightiest factor in deciding to pursue one, particularly as the national student loan debt experienced a record-breaking increase of 3% between Q2 2020 and Q2 2021.

To make higher education more attainable, institutions must first ensure admitted students—particularly those who are first-generation and/or international—can easily navigate the federal aid application process. This applies to returning students as well. According to the National College Attainment Network, in the 2020–21 school year, there was a 4.7% drop in the number of lowest-income students who renewed their FAFSA by the national deadline. Without aid and hoping to avoid debt, these students are most at risk of dropping out. It is critical to have a financial aid system that can disburse aid accurately and efficiently, provide insights into student needs, and align to the nuances of external regulations.

Social support near and far

A sense of belonging is one of the most crucial success factors for new and returning students alike, but it’s challenging to measure. Traditional students may find community in extracurriculars, but what about part-time, remote, and continuing education students? How do institutions create a campus culture when, according to The Chronicle of Higher Education, only 16 percent of undergraduates were living on campus even before the pandemic?

Today’s engagement strategies must account for the growing number of students who don’t participate in activities or flock to sports. As institutions seek safe ways for their students to convene on campus, they must continue to nurture the remote and asynchronous activities that got their community through 2020.

Accounting for basic needs

Especially in times of widespread economic precarity, institutions must be attuned to their community’s daily needs. Using data to support student well-being on a holistic scale helps alleviate financial stress to ensure students can stay enrolled, focus on their learning goals, and reach graduation.

Access to food, housing, child care, and transportation are crucial for student success, as reaffirmed by a nationwide survey conducted by The Hope Center that found nearly three in five students experience “basic-needs insecurity.” The pandemic has greatly exacerbated financial hardships for many students and institutions have begun accounting for these needs through voluntary data collection, partnering with local groups to supply vital resources.

Paving the way to graduation

One of the greatest threats to fostering an active and thriving alumni base is getting students to the finish line in the first place, which is why institutions invest so heavily in supporting students through that crucial first year of learning. Those systems tend to decentralize soon after, however, relying on individual interventions to keep students on track to graduate.

A monolithic approach to student success neglects the vast and growing population of part-time, transfer, and otherwise non-traditional students without dedicated orientation programs. Institutions must revise their success strategies to meet a wider range of student needs across the entire completion span. This is especially relevant as a higher percentage of historically underrepresented students enroll in higher education with their own specific needs.

Streamlined degree pathways

As it became clear that the pandemic’s effects would extend far beyond initial lockdowns, students around the world were forced to radically change their academic plans. According to the latest Student Voice survey reported by Inside Higher Ed, 25% of students returning to four-year colleges have altered their completion timelines and/or changed their plans for post-graduation due to COVID-19.

Student advising is only as effective as it is efficient, creating direct paths to completion with the fewest detours possible. To create these paths, the modern campus will rely on collaboration technology, sharing data between departments as well as empowering students with the information they need.

Many institutions may have taken this opportunity to prepare for a guided pathways model, if they hadn’t implemented one already. This student-centered approach has gained popularity for its clearly defined roadmaps to degree completion, and its proponents have begun adapting the model to best suit a wider range of constituents. While younger students may need space to explore their interests, older, working students often want to graduate quickly and take their next steps on a career path.

Closing gaps in career readiness

Today, higher education is not only reckoning with disrupted timelines but also new and widening gaps in career readiness due to lost networking and work experience opportunities. For many low-income students, however, these gaps were already impacting their post-graduation earnings potential before 2020, as evidenced by PayScale’s research.

While restoring pathways to success, institutions should consider how to do so equitably. Unpaid internships, study abroad, undergraduate research, and networking opportunities are career-building activities that are not always accessible to low-income students. By ensuring constituents can make use of these resources regardless of wealth, institutions are making an investment in student success, as well as future alumni’s capacity to give back to their schools after graduation.

Lifelong alumni relationships

University advancement in 2021 operates in an entirely different landscape compared to the capital project-driven campaigns of years past. With wallets snapping shut against uncertainty, forward-thinking institutions have already innovated, embracing micro-campaigns, data-informed alumni outreach, and virtual events to meet their goals. But in the face of declining donor pools, colleges and universities can’t limit their outreach to alumni. Instead, they must cultivate philanthropy throughout the student lifecycle, ensuring they can count on support from future generations year after year.

Meaningful engagement between past and present students

Graduation is a common breaking point in student engagement in part due to institutions operating academic affairs separately from advancement and alumni relations. Fostering collaboration and data-sharing between these departments will create parallel opportunities for alumni to engage with their successors, and for current students to develop a culture of philanthropy long before graduation.

As fundraising efforts pivoted in 2020 to meet student needs, donors rose to the occasion, but alumni engagement can extend beyond financial support. Create opportunities to contribute in more experiential ways such as volunteering, tutoring, mentoring, and professional consultation. Given the world’s growing access and comfort with video conferencing, these initiatives can connect alumni all over the world with current students.

Advancement offices should also continue educating students about philanthropy and the role they can fulfill as alumni in supporting future classes. Senior class giving programs, general student fundraisers, giving days, and crowdfunding initiatives all help fuel ongoing projects and create a seamless transition from graduate to donor.

Continuing education programs

Higher education was already experiencing a curricular evolution before 2020, but now the job market has irrevocably changed, and degrees are no longer the golden ticket to a lifelong career. In response, a host of new education models have arisen in service of consumers who aren’t seeking two- or four-year experiences, but specific skill-building opportunities.

“The looming issue for higher education is not just the explosion of alternative providers, but their world-class quality,” The Chronicle notes, citing Google and the Museum of Modern Art as two of the new powerhouses with which local colleges will soon compete. Traditional degrees must now share space with certificates, microcredentials, and badges. These competency-based offerings break away from the standard academic model to provide the specific skills and knowledge consumers are looking for.

While competition can be seen as a threat, it’s also an opportunity, particularly for extending the lifecycle. As former students decide to continue their education, the first place they’re going to look is their alma mater’s course catalog. By investing in more robust and flexible workforce development programs, institutions can strengthen existing alumni relations, with the added benefit of attracting new non-traditional students.

Beyond the lifecycle

When it comes to student engagement, there is no going back to “normal.” Student demographics are shifting and so, too, is the market. While the pandemic catalyzed change throughout higher education, institutions have the opportunity to accelerate their own evolution, embracing new technologies and strategies to nurture lifelong relationships with their constituents.

 Campus Life Student Engagement
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Look at the student lifecycle holistically and meet students' evolving needs throughout enrollment, student success, and alumni relations.


  • On day one of using CRM Advance, the institution processed a $50 million gift
  • Greater efficiency and insight through reporting and integration
  • Processing complex gifts is simpler with a system designed specifically for higher education philanthropy


Advancement, in general, is going through a real change. There's a divestment from state and local governments for higher ed, and enrollment is dropping with the millennials now graduating. We now are having to search more for the next generation, and the next generation is not as big. So, we need to think about, “How do we leverage technology to make ourselves more efficient?”

We chose Ellucian CRM Advance because we were looking for technology that was built today, that had a future tomorrow. By pushing your data and infrastructure out to the cloud, you save a lot of time and resources, and taking advantage of a vendor like Ellucian to be able to provide us that support, really takes my staff and allows me to use them in far more strategic areas.

The first day that we went live, we were able to process a $50 million gift. A $50 million gift is not as simple as a simple transaction, so there was four or five different parts to the gift. Some of the gift was direct cash, some of the gift was planned giving vehicles. It actually is a testament to the new software to take a very complicated gift and to be able to book that on day one, was a real testament to the flexibility of the product.

Now that Ellucian CRM Advance is live, we have a lot of opportunities that we've never been able to think of, or consider, before. Some of the most exciting things that we're looking to work on are predictive and prescriptive analytics, embedding that into our system to where, if a certain activity occurs, then we can automate a process to make something else happen.

For colleagues that are looking for a new CRM solution, I really do encourage them to think about not only were they want to be but wherever they would like to go. To paraphrase the old Wayne Gretzky quote about not skating to where the puck is, but to skate to where you believe the puck is going to be. That is one thing that I believe Ellucian CRM Advance solution provides, an opportunity for the future, not just thinking about what you need today, but what you need tomorrow.

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Improving advancement through technology

How the Oregon State University Foundation uses cloud-based
Ellucian CRM Advance

Students at desk using tablet
Mark Koenig
Assistant Vice President for Advancement
Oregon State University Foundation
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How the Oregon State University Foundation uses cloud-based Ellucian CRM Advance


  • Modern CRM system facilitates online work
  • Business continuity plan worked well
  • Transitioned near 170 employees to remote work within a few days


Guided by its core values of collaboration and innovation, and an established tech-centric culture, the Oregon State University Foundation was quickly able to pivot when the order for remote work came down. With cloud systems immediately available, its employees were up and running from their home offices within days. Such fast action enabled the Foundation to establish the Beavers Care Initiative to assist students affected by COVID-19 and support the university in securing philanthropic funding for research and outreach solutions related to the pandemic.

Practicing agile operations

Move advancement operations in a limited time period

Students at desk using tablet
Mark Koenig
Chief Innovation Officer and Vice President for Technology
Oregon State University Foundation
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Oregon State University Foundation moves advancement operations in a limited time period

Student Engagement and Recruitment
Exceed enrollment goals
Prospects expect personalized communications. Give staff access to information and data that help them make those one-on-one connections.
Student Engagement and Recruitment
Tailor student assistance
Students’ needs evolve over time. Armed with the right information, you can offer tailored outreach, continuous guidance, and focused advising.
Student Engagement and Recruitment
Build a solid foundation
Engaged students become engaged alumni. Forge those connections early and build a strong foundation for future relationships.

of students say personalized comms influenced college choice


average # of people a student asks to get advising help


of alumni would donate more to fund their student organizations

Preparing to implement guided pathways?

Engage with them students, build connections that last long after graduation.

Build lifelong relationships with students and help your institution grow.

Streamline and increase your student engagement

Create pathways to graduation and make personalized connections throughout the student journey.

Student Engagement and Recruitment

Key takeaways

  • Institutions are reassessing their technological needs due to mass disruption.
  • The pandemic has forced advancement departments to urgently prioritize new strategies.
  • There is no one-size-fits-all approach to transformation; each institution’s needs are different.

Despite new challenges posed by the coronavirus pandemic, advancement departments are still responsible for raising funds for their institutions. With dramatic shifts around the world, advancement professionals are working through challenges to find new ways to succeed in the face of an uncertain future.

At this year’s Ellucian Live Online event, three advancement experts came together during a panel discussion led by Ellucian Chief Product Officer Stephen Laster. Panelists discussed current issues, technology adoption, and a glimpse into the new normal for institutional fundraising.

We can't work in the administrative functions the way we used to work. As I think about advancement services, we've been juggling those things forever. This current COVID environment has helped us prioritize, accelerate, and bring together all of these systems and services in a way we never had. We didn't have the capacity to bring it all together before.

Judy Doherty, Associate Vp for Advancement Systems and Services, Dartmouth

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The future of advancement in higher education

A conversation with fundraising experts

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Advancement leaders in higher ed discuss current issues, technology adoption, and a glimpse into the new normal.

University of Wyoming Foundation Strengthens Fundraising and Development Efforts with Ellucian

UW Foundation Upgrades Capabilities by Moving from On-Premise Solution to Cloud-Based Ellucian CRM Advance

RESTON, VA and LARAMIE, WY – Ellucian, the leading provider of software and services built to power higher education, today announced that the University of Wyoming Foundation has upgraded to CRM Advance, a cloud-based solution that helps institutions cultivate, manage, and grow donor relationships.

Ellucian CRM Advance provides integrated, data-backed insights that will enable the UW Foundation to enhance fundraising efforts, more effectively engage constituents, and streamline workflows for advancement personnel.

The University of Wyoming Foundation previously leveraged the Ellucian advancement solution, Ellucian Advance. With this upgrade to CRM Advance, a software as a service (SaaS) solution, the foundation is seamlessly transferring data to the cloud, with nightly backups to better support security, business continuity, and real-time data access. The UW Foundation will also use the Ellucian Ethos platform to connect data across the organization to make better informed decisions across the donor lifecycle.

The new CRM Advance implementation automates processes to reduce much of the manual management and data manipulation, thereby allowing the advancement team to quickly launch and track initiatives that address the immediate needs of their community. The solution also provides greater visibility into campaigns and constituent information with reporting and analytics capabilities.

“With CRM Advance, our team will deliver more real-time information that will help to align priorities to the university’s mission and drive more effective interactions with our supporters,” said Nancy Brizuela, University of Wyoming Foundation Director of Information Services. “Ellucian’s deep understanding of the complex needs of advancement has made them an ideal partner and we look forward to continued success.”

“CRM Advance will further empower the Foundation to grow a data-driven, donor-centric approach and lead more successful campaigns. We look forward to building on our strong partnership with UW Foundation as they further invest in technology and inspire the UW community through the power of philanthropy,” said Laura Ipsen, President and CEO, Ellucian.

COVID-19 Resources from Ellucian

As institutions, educators, students, and staff face great change and disruption during the coronavirus outbreak, those who serve higher education are working together to help continue the delivery of vital services and ongoing education to students everywhere.

In support of our customers, partners, and the higher education community, Ellucian is continually updating available resources, including webinars, articles and community discussions on business continuity, the CARES Act, online learning, student well-being and more.

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Western Washington University Foundation and WWU Alumni Association Modernize Constituent Engagement with Ellucian

Cloud-based Ellucian CRM Advance supports stronger WWU community relationships and more successful advancement campaigns

RESTON, VA and BELLINGHAM, WASH – Ellucian, the leading provider of software and services built to power higher education, today announced that the Western Washington University Foundation (WWU Foundation) and the WWU Alumni Association have launched Ellucian CRM Advance to support its fundraising, alumni engagement and advancement efforts.

Ellucian CRM Advance will provide both the Alumni Association and Foundation with powerful, cloud-based automation tools and reporting capabilities that allow advancement staff to execute more informed, targeted, and effective engagement campaigns. Introduced internally as ‘WAVE’ (Western Advancement Vikings Engaged), the solution delivers integrated, data-based insights to cultivate and develop stronger relationships with targeted audiences.

“In today’s crowded fundraising environment, modern CRMs are simply a must in order to provide the customized engagement our constituents have grown to expect. Now, COVID-19 has fundamentally changed the way we work making the capabilities of CRM Advance even more critical to our operations than ever before,” said Mark Brovak, Chief Operating Officer for University Advancement; Vice President and CFO of WWU Foundation. “The Ellucian team has gone above and beyond to help us identify and implement the right solution to not only enable success today, but also support our future advancement efforts as we continue to ‘Make Waves’ at Western.”

“Western Washington University’s team embraced the challenge of introducing a new system during the COVID-19 pandemic, leading an extraordinary change effort to build enthusiasm, awareness and adoption,” said Ellucian Associate Vice President of Advancement, Beth Brenner. “With ongoing uncertainty about the future, the work done by advancement teams to foster meaningful relationships between universities and their constituents is more important than ever. CRM Advance will unlock insights and operational efficiencies ultimately helping WWU develop deeper, long-lasting community partnerships.”

CRM Advance will integrate with Ellucian Banner, the university’s enterprise resource planning (ERP) software, to maintain continuity while providing the advancement team with streamlined dashboards, smart data exchange and powerful reporting capabilities. By enabling open integration with third-party systems via Ellucian Ethos, WWU Foundation and WWU Alumni Association can create more targeted and personalized campaigns that further encourage increased engagement and donor activity.

COVID-19 Resources from Ellucian

As institutions, educators, students, and staff face great change and disruption during the coronavirus outbreak, those who serve higher education are working together to help continue the delivery of vital services and ongoing education to students everywhere.

In support of our customers, partners, and the higher education community, Ellucian is continually updating available resources, including webinars, articles and community discussions on business continuity, the CARES Act, online learning, student well-being and more.

About Ellucian

Ellucian is the market leader charting the digital future of higher education with a portfolio of cloud-ready technology solutions and services. From student recruitment to workforce analytics; from fundraising opportunities to alumni engagement; Ellucian’s comprehensive suite of data-rich tools gives colleges and universities the information they need to lead with confidence.

Working with a community of more than 2,700 customers in over 50 countries, Ellucian keeps innovating as higher education keeps evolving. Drawing on its comprehensive higher education business acumen and suite of services, Ellucian guides its customers through manageable, sustainable digital transformation—so that every type of institution and student can thrive in today’s fast-changing landscape. To find out what’s next in higher education solutions and services, visit Ellucian at

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Welcome to Ellucian Connects
#EllucianConnects for more podcasts featuring #highered trends, tips, tech & more.

What’s the value of enterprise architecture, and how does it fit into the overall strategy of your organisation?

Join Ellucian’s Ian Anderson, Enterprise Architect, and our guest speaker, Marc Lankhorst, Managing Consultant and Chief Technology Evangelist at BiZZdesign, for a discussion about enterprise architecture in the higher education landscape.

Ian and Marc cover how enterprise architecture can help you create a cohesive digital strategy that exists throughout every arm of your institution. They also discuss the growing need for technology innovation and transformation in the face of ever-present disruption.

Key takeaways

  • What is Enterprise Architecture, and how can it be leveraged by organisations in higher education?
  • In the midst of uncertain times, how can Enterprise Architecture help drive digital transformation?
  • What is the importance of creating a cohesive strategy that incorporates every function of your business?

I see organisations speeding up digitization efforts, that they might have had planned already, but suddenly it’s become a matter of survival to move into the digital space...

- Marc Lankhorst
Ian Anderson

Ian Anderson
Enterprise Architect, Ellucian

Marc Lankhorst

Marc Lankhorst
Managing Consultant and Chief Technology Evangelist at BiZZdesign


Discover more industry insights and learn how Ellucian is empowering institutions across the world to connect, adapt, and grow.

Podcast: Driving institutional success outcomes with Enterprise Architecture
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What’s the value of enterprise architecture, and how does it fit into the overall strategy of your organisation? During the podcast we discuss enterprise architecture in the higher education landscape.

Welcome to Ellucian Connects

Ellucian’s higher education experts Kari Branjord, Senior Vice President, Digital Transformation and Ian Anderson, Enterprise Architect discuss how partnership and collaboration, with technology that is up to the task, can help your whole institution to connect, adapt and grow.

Key takeaways

  • How can universities leverage data to build a community for their staff and students?  
  • What is driving the need for collaborative technology in higher education? And, how can collaborative tools increase student engagement?
  • Universities need to ensure that their level of interactivity and interoperability is repeatable and sustainable.

Kari Branjord, Senior Vice President, Digital Transformation, Ellucian
Ian Anderson, Enterprise Architect, Ellucian

Humans connect no matter the circumstances and challenges presented to them. This new reality has opened up new opportunities for collaboration – whether it’s talking to different parts of your institution or using new technologies to connect in different ways. Ellucian gives you an opportunity to streamline efficiencies and take advantage of new possibilities. It’s all rooted in one fact, one ideology, and one belief: we grow together.

When things are changing quickly, the shared knowledge of community is more critical than ever. As part of the We Grow Together series, this episode will focus on the power of community, and we’ll hear from Ellucian experts who are helping institutions reach their goals and driving transformational change through collaboration and technology.


Insights - We Grow Together Podcast Series 3 - Together
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As part of the We Grow Together series, this episode will focus on the power of community, and we’ll hear from Ellucian experts who are helping institutions reach their goals and driving transformational change through collaboration and technology.

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