Apr 05 2024
Data Analytics

How Does Student Lifecycle Management Contribute to Institutional Success?

A centralized approach to data collection and analysis can help institutions retain students, from recruitment to graduation and beyond.

A common misconception in higher education is that colleges and universities focus primarily on the success of the learners enrolled on campus. After all, that’s when they are under the care of an institution, learning in their chosen area of study, engaging in co-curricular activities and possibly living under the school’s banner.

However, this is only one part of a larger student lifecycle, and as the 2025 enrollment cliff looms, it’s getting harder to attract new learners from a decreasing pool of prospective students. Institutions that invest in the people and tools that inform the entire student lifecycle will have a competitive advantage. For tuition-driven institutions, attraction and retention data are no longer a broad enough focus to ensure the institution's future.

Now is the time to transform enrollment practices. Investing in systems that track learners throughout the entire student lifecycle can increase an institution's resilience.

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What Is the Student Lifecycle?

While student lifecycle management has much to do with student success and supporting the academic portion of a learner’s journey, it’s also an important business function for an institution. That’s because the student lifecycle begins long before a student is enrolled. Attracting new students — through multiple marketing channels, nurture campaigns for interested prospects and automated access to frequently requested information — is a core function of the first stage of the student lifecycle.  

Prospective students who ultimately enroll enter a new lifecycle stage, with its own data set, as they join the active student population. The data that drives this part of their journey informs their academic progress. Graduation is the long-term goal for active students, but a four-year graduation rate is considered the gold standard for institutions; most students take more time to complete their courses of study.

The student lifecycle does not end once a student makes it to graduation. The institution should then follow the graduate into his or her post-college life. Ideally, students have such positive experiences while in school that they stay active in the campus community after they’ve graduated, whether that’s by making financial contributions, working as a mentor or seeking employment at the institution.

DISCOVER: Is a data warehouse or data lake the best option for your institution?

How Does Technology Play a Role in Student Lifecycle Management?

Technology can help guide colleges and universities through every step of the student lifecycle. During the outreach phase, marketing tools built into CRM platforms can track outreach and determine how prospective students were identified. Targeted marketing campaigns, personalized engagements and assistance with the application process are more powerful with a platform designed for the student lifecycle stages.

CRMs developed to optimize engagement and streamline the application process can also analyze the pool of prospective students to provide insights for college recruiters. Because the average student applies to more than one school, an application and subsequent acceptance do not guarantee enrollment. “Summer melt” — that part of August when enrollment management professionals nationwide sweat for reasons beyond temperature — is an ongoing challenge.

Chatbots can be effective at this stage. By feeding artificial intelligence–enabled chatbots with information about the university and answers to commonly asked questions, these tools can communicate instantly with students without human intervention. On the back end, administrators can track individual student experiences with the bot for further insights.

LEARN MORE: Build a better data dashboard for more useful insights.

Once a student has enrolled, the institution begins collecting data constantly — information about a student’s major, class selections, grades, progress toward graduation and more. Technology can play a role here, analyzing data to drive student success initiatives that will help keep learners in school, whether that’s by offering additional tutoring or advising services or adjusting the learning environment to operate more efficiently. Because the journey is unique to each learner, student success initiatives informed by student data can keep all learners — even those who are struggling — on track for graduation.

Post-graduation, institutions often maintain a database of alumni contact information that can help with fundraising and other community outreach. Similar to the recruitment phase, this outreach can be tracked so institutions can see what methods are effective and how alumni respond.

How Should a University Manage Its Data to Support Students?

One mistake many universities make when managing the student journey is not having a central hub for student data. Data management might begin with the marketing department, then transfer to the registrar or advising offices once a student is enrolled, and then move to an alumni department after graduation. Colleges and universities often rely on legacy systems and siloed data sets that inform the student lifecycle stages. However, eliminating these disparate data sets is the most effective way to manage student lifecycle data.

At CDW, we seek to help institutions better understand how to put their data in a more centralized location and use that data across the entire student lifecycle. These data sets are rich with potential insights, but only when they are used effectively. Decisions based on forecasting are most effective when all information is accounted for.

One way to do this is to approach data management at a higher ed institution as we would an enterprise. Through a consultative partnership, we can audit an institution’s data, map out where it resides, assess the institution’s data governance and assist with migrating that data to a centralized location.

The next step is determining where the central data repository will be located and how it will exist long-term. Creating dashboards, ensuring staff members are properly trained and providing short-term staffing if needed during the migration are all important considerations when embarking on a large-scale data project.

Centralizing data so it can be used to its maximum potential in support of the student lifecycle is no easy feat. It involves time and money, which is often in short supply in higher education. But it’s a critical investment for a modern institution that wants to remain resilient — and it could be the difference between simply modernizing systems and a complete transformation of business processes that could ultimately make or break an institution.

This article is part of EdTech: Focus on Higher Education’s UniversITy blog series.

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