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3 Things a CRM for Higher Education Won’t Do for Non-Credit Units


Customer Relationship Management (or CRM) systems are built with business goals in mind. They’re hubs for many aspects of modern commerce, giving professionals across an organization access and insight into the relationships they’ve built with your clientele. For this reason, they’re fantastic resources and, frankly, necessities for running a company in the 21st century. 

It’s easy to see why a higher education leader might look at the vast capabilities of a CRM and wonder if it may be the answer to all their institutions’ digital business needs. If students are acting like consumers, why wouldn’t software that manages consumer relationships suffice?   

CRMs Aren’t Built for Non-Traditional Education


If you’re thinking of the modern student as a consumer, you’re on the right track. 

Students are increasingly behaving like customers when they’re online. They’re making decisions on if, where and when they’ll enroll in a certain institution based on the same values that inform their decision to buy shoes off Amazon or order a meal off Grubhub.  

There are some things a CRM is ideal for. For example, CRMs are excellent for managing leads and prospects and most schools will choose to use a CRM alongside an SIS for this purpose. CRMs are excellent for managing outbound email marketing campaigns.  

But although it’s wise to think of students as customers—whose needs you fulfill to build a mutually beneficial relationship—relying on a CRM for all your administrative needs is like building a house out of sticks; the structure may be there but you’re going to spend a lot of time picking up the pieces. 

An SIS is better suited for the day-to-day operations of an institution, such as managing and publishing a course catalog. An SIS is also better-suited to delivering the frictionless eCommerce experience that modern learners expect from their colleges and universities. 

This discrepancy between students’ needs and a CRM’s capabilities are magnified with non-credit education, wherein delivery methods and schedules don’t adhere to the regular higher ed playbook. 

Here are three critical functions a CRM can’t perform for your non-credit unit. 

1. It Won’t Manage Non-Credit Education Effectively


Non-credit education demands flexibility—not just from main campus administration but in the software Continuing Education units use as well. CRMs have their place alongside an SIS, but aren't suited to work like an SIS. 

There are many vital functions specific to higher education that CRMs don’t have. Although they may be tailored to serve customer journeys, the modern learner’s journey demands SIS-like features that track student progress, determine prerequisites, issue certifications and other necessities along the student lifecycle. 

CRMs Don’t Perform Functions Necessary for Non-Credit Administration 

Robust student information systems inherently support educational products like course sections, certificates, programs, bundles, conferences. While there are eCommerce plug-ins for CRMs, they support generic products which are better suited for merchandise rather than courses and educational programming. 

A non-credit SIS’ course catalog supports for-credit and non-credit offerings, and can track and award continuing education units, professional education units and contact hours. These concepts are not built into third-party eCommerce add-ons for CRMs. Supporting course level prerequisites and other enrollment rules to permit registrations are also functions innate to student engagement platforms, which are lacking in CRMs. 

Modern registration software features calls to action that prompt learners to register, join a wait list, or request information. It keeps track of course and certificate enrollments, and generates transcripts and other functions critical to student management. These purpose-built higher ed capabilities are essential for driving modern learners towards your programs, and they’re not something CRMs offer. 

Think about your Continuing Education & Workforce Development unit. A CRM has its place, but should not be considered the total solution for effectively managing non-credit education and non-traditional learners  

2. It Won’t Deliver Seamless Student Experiences


Students appreciate feeling like they’re having an experience with a school, composed of a likeminded community of peers, rather than with a marketing system designed to quickly process pending transactions. As more and more learners demand personalization, there are a few critical functions a higher education system must deliver, including: 

  1. The ability to quickly grab a learner’s attention with relevant offerings 
  2. Personalized career/employment data for each program, and  
  3. Intuitive design built for non-credit education  

No CRM provides this sort of student experience. There are dozens of CRM platforms on the market, butnone are designed to support higher education and act as a student information system. If an institution chose any one of these as their SIS platform, it would require significant investment and custom development. 

The back-end work that would be needed to stand up the front-end would be enormous. It would require IT, design teams, third-party support and innumerable staff hours and dollars for a CRM to deliver the seamless experience a non-credit SIS can.  

Think about your Continuing Education & Workforce Development unit: Use student-facing e-commerce solutionthat make sense for non-traditional learners. 

3. It Won’t Tailor Workflows to Your Non-Credit Unit


It’s not just students who need administration to reflect the non-traditional learning experience. CE staff know as well as anyone that they work best when they aren’t reliant on main campus systems, which are too rigid to enable the malleable delivery methods and workflows necessary to grow the unit.  

This difficulty will be even more pronounced if you try to use a CRM in the place of a non-credit SIS. Although the creation of saleable items for student purchase is possible through a CRM, the workflows don’t account for the specialized needs of your non-credit staff. Streamlined course development and approval processes, automated and tailored marketing efforts, and in-depth reporting on various non-credit offerings are all outside the scope of what most CRM software can deliver without significant customization. 

Think about your Continuing Education & Workforce Development unit. Let each of your tools do what they do best. It’s far better to prioritize an integration between your CRM and your non-credit registration system than to stretch a CRM beyond its means.  

Non-Credit Education Calls for Non-Credit Registration Systems 


It’s useful to think of students as customers. Businesses that value their customers’ individual experiences and strive to meet their expectations are more likely to foster longstanding customer relationships—and earn the profits to show for it.  

But don’t be fooled into thinking a CRM can do all the heavy lifting for your unit. Non-credit administration software is always the best choice for non-credit learning. It’s smarter to work with systems that support integration with your CRM rather than relying on a CRM as the only tool in your box. 

Learn how to engage and retain learners by delivering the seamless experiences they expect.

Scaling Non-Degree Education Student Experience

Last updated: October 18, 2021


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