Welcome to a new era in higher ed

“Constituent” Relationship Management. Higher education may have adapted the business term “CRM” to its audience by changing the first word, “customer,” to “constituent,” but there is no denying the customer’s influence on the higher education landscape today.

As we assess the state of higher education in 2017 and look to the future, we see postsecondary institutions of every size and mission needing to adapt to the same kind of consumer-driven and free-market forces that drive the business sector. In higher education, that consumer is the student.

Colleges and universities are trying to meet millennial students’ expectations for a highly personalized and engaging experience, lest they go elsewhere. Working adults who need to transition to new careers or gain new skills in their current jobs expect that the skills and knowledge they acquire will actually align with the needs of the workforce. If they don’t, the institution may see not only a similar exodus of students but also a loss of funding based on student outcomes.

This consumer-driven imperative is changing how institutions view technology. The traditional view of the student information system is that it is essentially a database on steroids, a core system for aggregating and accessing data, connecting departments and automating workflows. The fact that more of these systems are now delivered with CRM, and advanced business analytics already integrated, tells us that they are now being positioned on the frontlines of student engagement, retention and strategic initiatives, rather than working in the background for transactional processes.

As with the private sector, the success and even the survival, of today’s institutions and the technology solutions providers that support them will depend on how they respond to consumer demand, increased competition and the need for innovation. Whether it’s offering nontraditional students more diverse delivery modalities to achieve their academic and career goals, adjusting programs to align with the workforce needs of local industries or adding campuses and programs in the cloud, today, it’s about the technology that enables institutions to transform on their terms.

In the era of consumer-driven higher education, the focus is now on the customer -- no matter how you spell it.

Jim Milton is CEO of Campus Management Corp. He has more than 30 years of experience at a range of innovative technology companies.

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