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Student Success: CRM Is Not Enough

Third in a series about CRM

In the first blog in this series, The Amorphous CRM, I noted that Customer Relationship Management means different things to different people. In CRM: Managing Students or Serving Them?, I discussed how the purpose and uses of CRM in higher education differ from those in commercial organizations. Now, let’s talk about how student success applies to CRM.


My graduate school statistics professor once reminded us that “just because something is statistically significant does not mean it is important or meaningful.” Likewise, just because you can collect data does not mean it is useful or meaningful.

Often, customers tell us they need to implement XYZ CRM system for student success. Too often, they add that they need the XYZ CRM system because their ABC CRM system has failed them. My colleague Jim Ritchey’s response to these statements is “Now that you have the answer, what is the question?”—which is a more articulate formulation than the response I often have: “So, what is the problem?”

Student success does not start and end with a CRM system; however, CRM is often the starting and end point to the discussion. This emphasis on CRM is a symptom of the attraction to bright shiny objects. Technically, implementing a CRM system is relatively easy, albeit time-consuming. Implementing a program or programs focused on student success is much more difficult for a number of reasons—but all the reasons point to the need for organizational change and, possibly, a change in leadership style and focus.

An Institution-wide Process
Few would disagree with the statement that “Student success is an institution-wide process.” However, this is not at all evident when one looks at the way colleges and universities typically operate. Recruiting is responsible for recruiting the “appropriate” students (i.e., those most likely to succeed). Admission is responsible for admitting those “appropriate” students and, too often, shunting unprepared students into remedial programs. Student services, advising, housing, medical services, psychological services, financial aid, registrar and faculty all have a direct role to play in student success. Unfortunately, they tend to work in isolation from each other or, at best, are loosely coordinated, and groups less directly tied to student success are often ignored. Thus, data is not shared. This is known as siloing.

The simple answer? Implement the new XYZ CRM system and, voila, all the data is now in the same place! But as I stated at the beginning, just because you can collect the data does not mean it is useful or meaningful. Further, collecting data informs and drives change only if the right data is collected and you know how to interpret it.

If your starting point for student success is not identifying clearly defined metrics for student success and recognizing the organizational change that is required (and it will be required!), chances are you will expend a great deal of time and money with little to show for it.

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One Response to "Student Success: CRM Is Not Enough"

  • Bruce Vieweg
    May 20, 2015 - 7:14 am Reply

    Indeed, to achieve student success we must view that required goal as a campus-wide process and responsibility. Lots of us CIO types, all too often, put the cart before the horse . . . we need to ask the tough questions, before we can identify solutions or approaches. The biggest mistake I’ve made in my career was related to saying “OK” to a VP who wanted to implement a CRM solution, by and large without IT involvement . . . was it successful . . . perhaps . . . does it have the kind of impact that it should have . . . no.

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