KALAMAZOO, Mich.—Western Michigan University is one of nine higher education institutions nationwide being honored by a leading publication for senior managers at U.S. colleges and universities for its work in developing an iPad app that improves the input of information about prospective students for recruiters.
University Business magazine recognized WMU in its summer 2014 Models of Efficiency national program. Sponsored by Higher One, a firm devoted to helping schools lower administrative costs and boost graduation rates, the Models of Efficiency program recognizes innovative approaches for streamlining higher education operations through technology or business process improvements.
"All the marketing and data a campus can produce is useless unless it reaches the right audience. Western Michigan University's admissions and enrollment management departments demonstrate how to efficiently gather and utilize contact information of prospective students so recruiting efforts don’t go to waste," said University Business senior editor Tim Goral.
Streamlining a process
Historically, WMU's 12 on-staff recruiters could visit as many as 40 to 50 high schools in a week and collect up to 500 paper information cards filled with contact information regarding prospective students. In a year, they could collect 10,000 of such cards, which were brought back to campus and turned over to the data entry staff to be entered manually into WMU's contact management system.
Even when the cards were eventually entered, inaccuracies often resulted due to poor handwriting or other error. Because of the backlog that developed, it was typical for weeks to pass before students received any kind of follow-up communication from the University.
In 2012, the admissions and enrollment management department began creating a project plan that would simplify the collection of prospective student information and improve the speed with which students heard from WMU.
Scott Puckett, manager of technology projects at WMU, worked with an in-house team to build a mobile Web app to replace the outdated manual information gathering process. The development team created a mobile-friendly Web application tool called Mobile Counselor.
"The app's main functionality is the collection of data from prospective students, which is then electronically uploaded into WMU's admission CRM system, EMAS," explains Michael Sisk, WMU Web analyst.
While there were no outside costs to develop the app, only personnel costs, it took a team of five approximately 450 hours to complete Mobile Counselor, says Puckett.
Speeding up follow-up contact
Rather than developing a software program to be loaded on to bulky laptop computers, the WMU team recognized the importance of creating a mobile app that could be used on lightweight and easy-to-carry and share iPads.
"The iPad is easy to hold and allows recruiters to continue to interact with students as they fill in their contact information and then pass it to the next student," explains Puckett.
Visit reports used to be cumbersome as well, with recruiters entering statistics into an Excel spreadsheet. Now the app can pull in data and record it automatically in the database for management to review at will.
At college fairs, the system allows recruiters to print out QR codes for students to scan and then use to enter their information if the counselor is busy. It facilitates data collection and sharing.
Mobile Counselor does more than simply gather information, however. It also aids in timely follow up.
"Not only are we collecting student information," says Puckett, "but we built in an email tool so that admissions representatives can send out custom emails to students immediately after meeting them."
Student information is added to the system the same day and a phone call from a current WMU student is triggered within 24 hours of that data being added.
In its first season in use, more than 3,700 inquiries were collected using WMU's 16 iPads, including 687 visit reports summarizing contact with 14,217 prospective students. Because those inquiries did not have to be manually entered, WMU saved more than 150 labor hours, or an estimated $1,200.
Besides WMU, other colleges recognized for efficiencies included Madison College, Embry-Riddle, Aeronautical University, Fairfield University, Pepperdine University, Illinois Institute of Technology, Drexel University, Houston Community College and the University of North Carolina at Greensboro.