College calls to mind ivied buildings, packed lecture halls, naps in the sunshine on the quad, weird-smelling dorms, and . . . customer relationship management? It might seem off the mark to think of students as customers, but with no shortage of options and the high costs of higher education, universities and other academic institutions are increasingly viewing their students that way — complete with a "customer lifecycle" that stretches from qualifying and engaging prospective applicants through their status as alumni. Done right, a powerful CRM can prove essential to managing the individual’s entire student experience, from application to decades after graduation.

What is CRM used for in higher education?

The right CRM for higher education can streamline operations, eliminate data silos, and make both learning and teaching more nimble. If a CRM is designed and implemented strategically, it can allow a college or university to nurture prospective students, integrate with powerful edtech tools, and stay connected with alumni — and those benefits are just the start.

Build relationships with prospective students

As competition for potential applicants heats up, it's essential that higher education adopts systems for identifying and engaging with prospects. And while a 2022 survey found that leaders in the sector are prioritizing data analytics for enrollment (67%) and financial aid (57%), nearly a third feel their institution lacks the tools to respond to changing conditions in higher education.

A robust higher education CRM system allows colleges and universities to build a complete picture of prospective applicants, which can help them provide the highly personalized information and services students expect. Whether prospects first interact with schools through social media, official websites, or traditional campus tours, a central system for tracking all communications is critical for keeping them informed, engaged, and excited about applying and matriculating.

Nurture students through the entire college experience

Good CRM software can centralize all student data and communication, which provides the fullest picture of the student journey. It lets universities deliver faster service across the student experience, managing everything from secure communications between instructors and students to course and extracurricular enrollment.

Streamline operations

Fall 2021 saw more than 17 million students enrolled in college in the US, which represents an enormous amount of student data to be generated and managed by institutions. University departments operate with a great deal of autonomy, but they can still benefit from a single source of truth for student data. CRM software makes it easy to unify, manage, and navigate student information in just one platform.

This paperless recordkeeping provides flexibility in teaching, learning, and administration — exactly what universities across the country needed in the face of COVID-19, and what students and staff expect coming out of the pandemic.

Connect with alumni and donors

Alumni donations are an important part of just about any higher education budget. As such, it's critical that universities efficiently follow students through their careers post-graduation and keep them connected with their alma mater. A good CRM will keep student and alumni information centralized, allowing for personalized donation requests and fundraisers that ensure the best gifting outcomes.

What's the best CRM system for higher education?

There's no one-size-fits-all answer when choosing a higher education CRM. A better question might be: What's the best system for your institution? To arrive at the answer, you need to assess business requirements and have a clear budget in mind.

Some of the most popular CRM systems for higher education are:

crm-systems

From enterprise CRMs to platforms designed specifically for the education sector, each of these systems offers particular benefits for higher education — and a lot more than just cataloging courses and qualifying prospects.

Salesforce

Salesforce has built a reputation as the world's leading CRM solution. But Salesforce is also a standout option for higher education — even more so since the introduction of Education Cloud a few years ago. With this product, Salesforce created a unified solution for universities to manage the entire student lifecycle, from admissions to alumni outreach.

Depending on your organization's existing software and the experience level of your in-house team, partnering with experienced Salesforce consultants may be the quickest and most cost-effective way to get your system up and running, and make the most of its extensive capabilities.

Hubspot

A well-established all-in-one marketing solution, Hubspot has well-regarded free and premium versions of its CRM system. The free version has generous features, but larger institutions of higher education will be best served with premium software that can be bundled with a full suite of features for marketing, sales, support, and operational automation.

Hubspot's marketing focus makes it primed for converting prospective students into applicants, and with numerous integrations available, it could be a good fit for your institution's tech stack.

Dynamics 365

Dynamics 365 is a general-purpose CRM for businesses that can be deployed over the cloud or on-premise. As a Microsoft product, the platform fluidly integrates with other Microsoft apps, but it also empowers customization for the way you work.

But it's Education Accelerator — an app that sits atop Dynamics — that truly delivers for the higher education sector. With this host of tools specific to education, an institution can use its CRM to manage admissions, identify at-risk students for early intervention, and glean data-driven insights into their operations. It also allows students, teachers, and administrators to communicate through a unified platform.

Full Fabric

Full Fabric offers a suite of solutions that all cater to the needs of higher education. Its centerpiece software, Foundation CRM, integrates fully with other software products to manage all aspects of a student's experience at their chosen institution.

Some CRMs handle event management through third-party integrations, but Foundation CRM includes this functionality out of the box. To top it off, the software’s lead management functionality makes it easy to qualify prospective students. Beyond this platform, Full Fabric also offers Core, for student retention, and Origin, for building customizable admissions portals at scale.

Slate

Slate, a purpose-built CRM platform by Technolutions, is an all-in-one platform created to meet the unique needs of higher education institutions. From data visualization to marketing automation, the platform delivers a highly customizable and feature-rich interface that's currently leveraged by 1,500 colleges and universities worldwide. Slate also boasts that its clients often recoup the platform's cost within the first year because it eliminates the need for cluttered and costly third-party tools.

Anthology

Formed in 2020 from the combination of three distinct edtech service providers — Campus Labs, Campus Management, and iModules — Anthology delivers a dynamic CRM solution tailored to higher education. Marketing automation and personalized journeys make it easy to follow students through every stage of their lifecycle. And in late 2021, Anthology announced its merger with Blackboard, a leading edtech platform (and an iTechArt client). With this partnership in place, Anthology is poised to become not just a leading platform in the higher education space, but the world's largest edtech ecosystem.

Given the increased competition between schools for enrollment and new expectations of a highly-personalized college experience, it's vital that universities embrace technologies for bolstering connections with their students, alumni, and faculty. With the ability to streamline operations and build better relationships throughout the student journey, the right CRM for higher education can prove one of the best investments your institution can make.