D. Parks

California Polytechnic State University (UNITED STATES)
California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo (Cal Poly) until recently had an undergraduate student population that was almost exclusively from the State of California. In response to the recession of 2007, changes in state educational policy, and substantial reductions in state support, Cal Poly made the strategic decision to increase the number of out-of-state (nonresident) students. This decision was based on the fact that an increased number of out-of-state students would accelerate geographic diversity and help support the university’s budget.

In 2010, the decision was made to involve University alumni in the process of improving the student yield ratio of those who had been offered admission. The vision was to overlay an alumni engagement component onto an already existing and highly developed customer relations management system (CRM).

Cal Poly’s CRM is one of the most effective and robust in California, if not the United States. Utilizing the CRM, the Office of Admissions, Recruitment and Financial Aid (ARFA) manages almost 300,000 individuals every year. These individuals range in classification from initial inquiry, perspective student, applicant, admitted student, and finally enrolled student. The CRM customizes hundreds of emails, videos, phone blasts, tweets, and social media messages and responses. This customization is based on an individual’s expected major, college, geographic location, extracurricular activities, and place in the application process. Through the CRM, the ARFA is able to determine if a prospective student opens a message or video, how much time is spent on the message, and if the student links through to other information and data needed to continue to customize the communications flow to the student.

While the CRM can deliver important messages to prospective students, it was believed that to rapidly increase the number of out-of-state students, a personal element had to be injected into the recruitment process. To achieve this, Cal Poly developed the Alumni Ambassador Program. The Alumni Ambassador Program was designed to connect newly admitted students with alumni from across the United States. The basic concept is to provide a forum where newly admitted students and parents can meet and talk with alumni. Students can ask questions and alumni share their experiences both as students and in their post-college careers. The program was started in 12 cities outside California. These cities were strategically selected based on the number of alumni in that geographic area, if there were already a few students attending Cal Poly from that city, high school demographics, and the potential for increased student yield.

The results of using the CRM combined with the Alumni Ambassador Program have been significant. The number of cities has now grown to 17. The number of new out-of-state and nonresidents students has increased to almost 1,000 or about 18% of the new incoming class. Additional gross revenues have increased to almost $20 million per year. The impact of utilizing a CRM for new student recruitment has broad implications for other university functions. Cal Poly is now utilizing its CRM for communications to parents and selected alumni groups.