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What’s Trending? CRM, Early Alerts and Data

CRM has certainly become a trend in higher education and has moved from the traditional uses of admissions and advancement to supporting the full student life cycle. There are many reasons driving the need or desire for a successful CRM solution, but, in my opinion, the main reason is the focus on student outcomes.  Increased focus on student outcomes and accountability in the form of funding or financial aid are strong motivators to ensure students are understood throughout the life cycle.


A wide range of vendors from ERP to CRM providers have announced plans or released products supporting the full student life cycle. It appears that these vendors are taking a variety of approaches in creating solutions. Unfortunately, organizations are finding it difficult to match their needs to an appropriate solution. I am not judging any of the solutions as they all have a place, but the question becomes: what solution will provide the best results?

Early Alerts
One solution component where it is difficult to evaluate benefits is early alert systems. While they are a long overdue trend, I am seeing challenges for organizations to achieve success in their CRM implementations. Many of the early alert systems use a scoring system to identify students potentially needing assistance. Organizations are learning that how the score is calculated and what data the calculation uses is critical to effectively matching the potential students with the appropriate proactive support. Some questions for the scoring approach should be:

  • Are the scores based on data entered by a user or is the solution providing an analysis of data to calculate the score?
  • If the system is analyzing data, is it the transaction data for the student, predictive, or a combination of both approaches?
  • If the data is entered by a user and matched to student transaction data, how is the user identifying the value of the data? Is it based on a predictive model or is simply the identification of organizational beliefs about the students needing assistance?
  • Does the system provide analysis of the success of the proactive support programs? Once a potential student is identified and the organization takes a proactive action, how is the success of the action evaluated?

Data, data analysis identifying keys to success and triggers identifying students with challenges are core needs of an effective early alert system. Yes, there is student transaction information that will trigger the alerts, but the risk of only relying on the transactional data is overlooking the true issue/need and using the proactive support to simply treat a symptom.

And In Walks Data
The good news:  Vendors are understanding this need and producing solutions to help organizations proactively support students and improve the student’s success. While software solutions support the student success programs, the software solutions do not ensure success. As Veronica Vendituoli wrote in an article for The Chronicle of Higher Education,

“While some colleges have been mining data to predict and prevent dropouts for several years, only 5 percent of several hundred institutions surveyed last year by Educause used such analytics programs. Early-alert programs, by contrast, were more common, with nearly half of respondents reporting having them.

Many colleges resort to less-sophisticated retention efforts, higher-education expert say, that aren’t empirically based.”

Data is key to a successful program and it is important to understand what data is used, how it used and if the data analysis is providing you with actionable information. Programs that have been successful in improving student success through early alert systems have the following in common:

  • Understanding the attributes of successful students as well as the attributes of students that have not achieved success.
  • Once students have been identified as potentially needing assistance, taking action with identified programs/approaches to help the struggling students achieve their success.
  • Evaluating the success of the programs/approaches in improving student success. At the end of the day, student success is the desired result, so are your programs having a measureable impact on student success?
  • Refining current or implementing new programs/approaches for student success based on the effectiveness of the existing programs/approaches.

Update: Blue Canary Data continued the discussion at 

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