Streamlining the Student Experience

New technology is allowing colleges and universities to integrate disparate student services, such as academic advising and mental health services, in one unified system.

November 11, 2021
 
Sarah Tuxbury
Transfer student Hannah Letang, right, visits the new One-Stop service and is assisted by UM Dearborn financial adviser Logen Hill.

In years past, students at the University of Michigan at Dearborn typically had to visit multiple separate campus offices to get help when they needed it. That’s no longer the case since the August launch of a new shared-services system that unified 20 university offices, including enrollment, financial aid, student life and advising, among many others, to deliver a single, coordinated approach via what’s known as a “one-stop shop.”

While the concept is not new, college and university administrators around the country are embracing more ambitious and holistic versions of powerful customer relationship management (CRM) technology to improve student services. The shift comes at a time when increasingly stressed-out students are demanding more efficiency and less bureaucracy on campus, and colleges are more worried about declining enrollments.

The pandemic has also forced institutions to recognize the importance of offering virtual customer services; some are even moving their mental and physical health services under the one-stop umbrella.

Melissa Stone, vice provost for enrollment management at Dearborn, said she is so far thrilled with the university’s CRM system after a long slog to build the infrastructure for what Stone called a “campuswide effort.” She said the system, designed by Salesforce and known on campus as One-Stop Student Services, enables many new functions, including a more customized and interactive advising experience. For example, it features a tool that allows academic advisers to view student profiles created via a case management system and track progress and goals over time.

“Coming out of the pandemic, we are finding [students] like to have these self-service tools,” Stone said.

Mason Spencer, a 22-year-old senior at Dearborn, said One-Stop “makes things easier … rather than sitting in line for 30 minutes to have a simple answer.”

Among the many institutions now using the more robust and holistic one-stop shops are Arizona State University, Smith College and the Universities of Minnesota, Miami, Florida and Tennessee at Knoxville. Many have put the new systems in place in the past two years.

Ellucian Experience, another system that relies on CRM, launched in April and provides a single dashboard through which students can check classes, grades and schedules; connect with advisers; and stay up-to-date on financial aid, according to Lindsay Stanley, an Ellucian spokesperson. She said that by mid-July, more than 160 institutions had signed on, including several community colleges.

Laura Gogia, research director for learning technologies and student success at the Tambellini Group, an independent technology research and advisory firm focused on higher education, said the newer iteration of the one-stop shop differs from institution to institution, but it typically features a student portal and a web services portal with links that are customized to a specific student’s profile. She said that in addition to the more personalized portal allowing for unified scheduling, these newer and more comprehensive one-stop shops also often include walk-up kiosks.

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“Think about it the same way as a medical system, which is very complex and involves going to different offices,” Gogia said. “The CRM is the equivalent of an electronic health record for that student.”

Stone, the Dearborn official, said her campus implemented the Salesforce CRM, which is underpinned by student information systems integrating data from across the campus. The system includes a portal where students can quickly access information using self-service options by submitting inquiries; reading articles; creating “cases,” or problems for staff members to resolve; and talking with chat bots.

“For students, it’s trying to reduce the silos that tend to exist so the student just has to go to one place to get their information and not say, ‘Who do I go to for this?’” Stone said.

Spencer, the Dearborn senior who likes the new efficiencies One-Stop offers, also works in the One-Stop Student Services office helping to manage inquiries as they come in. He said he and his colleagues are able to address a majority of “the simple questions,” freeing administrators to tackle more complex issues.

“We are taking stuff off of their plates so they can do the hard questions,” Spencer said.

Stone said the campus of 8,300 students felt like the perfect size for the campuswide one-stop effort, which, she said, entailed a lot of work to build out. One of the biggest challenges her team faced was figuring out how to integrate and agree upon new ways of doing things.

“You had to come together and step back and think from a student lens to come up with more comprehensive procedures … instead of this college doing it this way and this one doing it that way,” she said. “People had to be willing to step back and reach consensus for the common good.”

Stone declined to say how much the new system cost.

Administrators launched One-Stop at the same time as the My UM-Dearborn student portal, introducing both at the Go Blue Bash, a welcome-back event held at the start of the semester, and at an Involvement Fair held shortly after the start of the semester to promote student organizations. At each event, administrators showed off the new portal on iPads. Students voted on the One-Stop name, selecting it from among four options.

The CRM is also in use at Arizona State University, cutting across four campuses and 32 colleges, departments and offices. ASU’s CRM, also from Salesforce, has solved more than one million cases, which is a term of art for the questions and problems students pose within the system. ASU also migrated its 13 mass email systems to Salesforce and moved student recruiting efforts for 14 of its colleges to the system, which manages more than one million leads a day, according to a Salesforce case study. (ASU did not reply to a request for comment.)

Jason Belland, VP of Education Cloud at Salesforce, said via email that the CRM platform is especially vital in “today’s hybrid learning environment where students expect connected experiences and support from anywhere.”

Belland said research from Forrester, a research and advisory company, shows that Education Cloud customers were able to increase student retention rates by 6.8 percent when using an integrated CRM platform. He cited Case Western Reserve University, the University of Michigan at Dearborn and the University of Colorado as customers who have used the tool to “create a campuswide culture centered on actionable data.” He noted that Forrester also found Education Cloud customers on average see a 195 percent return on investment within seven months and $2.4 million in total legacy cost savings.

Belland didn’t comment on the system’s cost other than to say pricing depends on factors including different use cases, clouds, implementation partners and a university’s goals.

Gogia, the higher education analyst, said that while many university chief information officers she has spoken with have been happy with the expanded CRM-enabled one-stop shops they have implemented, they encountered real challenges when building them. She said these can include governance-related difficulties related to integrating decentralized services and navigating privacy requirements and process and cultural changes.

“It’s not just number crunching—a lot of new skills required are related to interpretation and analytics and also customer service, which is not something that has traditionally been high on the list” at many universities, she said. “CRM is only a technology, and the technology is not the endgame here. The endgame here is providing students with a one-stop shop, which is just as much about the people, the skills and processes as it is about the technology.”

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