Prospecting For Student Gold

Last year, the University of Acadia received almost 18,000 queries from high-school students around the world trying to narrow down their choice for a post-secondary institution.

Responding to those e-mail messages in a timely fashion was a painstaking process, says Kim Meade, the Wolfville,

N.S.-based university’s director of enrolment management.

“”It was a real challenge because they were all handled manually and had to be put into an Excel spreadsheet,”” says Meade.

Meade is not alone. McGill University in Montréal has hired six people solely for the purpose of responding to the throngs of queries from prospective students.

These days, the business of recruiting students is becoming more competitive, and it made a lot of sense to Acadia to engineer a more efficient way of providing students with information while tracking their footsteps as they move along the application process.

“”Because we’re known to be a technologically advanced university, every student has an expectation,”” says Meade. “”We needed a better method of seeing where prospects are coming from, and whether they actually enrol.””

Enter Edge Interactive, a Toronto-based consulting company specializing in technology for educational facilities. Edge has been working with Canadian universities since 1995 when it launched a CD-ROM product called SchoolFinder. The business has evolved into helping universities market themselves.

“”We found out that universities were getting up to 500,000 e-mail requests a year — in some cases they had to hire people just to answer e-mail,”” says Chris Wilkens, president of Edge. “”When we analyzed the information, we realized a lot of the questions universities were receiving were the same.””

Rather than sending out information packages to every prospect, something Wilkens says is costing universities from $5 to $10 per package, ezRecruit enables universities to qualify prospects and make better use of their promotional efforts.

“”Once the student becomes more qualified, the university can spend more money on recruiting,”” says Wilkens.

Edge created a Web-based tool that provides students with immediate information on programs they’re interested in, simply by having the student answer a few questions.

When students first visit the Acadia Web site, they are prompted to sign in and create a personal profile. Through the process, a password and user name are assigned to them. By the end, a portal is constructed designed specifically for each student’s needs.

“”All of the registrations can be done through the portal,”” say Wilkens. “”She can view information on students enrolled in the program she’s interested in, see which events are coming up that she’d be interested in.””

The portal also serves as a data collection device, tracking the electronic footsteps of prospects to see who enrols, who doesn’t and how they arrive at the decision.

The ezRecruit system, which can cost anywhere from $25,000 for a hosted solution to $250,000 for a full bells-and-whistles package, has been implemented by the University of Toronto and will be rolled out at Ecole Polytechnique de Montréal in early 2003.

The ezRecruit program was designed and built in a SQL environment running on an NT server, but has evolved into more of a common platform using JavaServer Page, an extension to the Java servlet technology from Sun that provides a programming vehicle for displaying dynamic content on a Web page, says Wilkens. In Acadia’s case, the program is running on an Oracle database on a Unix OS.

Beyond the cost for the system, most universities won’t need to make additional investments in servers. In most cases, their current Web, database and mail servers are all that’s needed.

For Acadia, using ezRecruit means the university saves money in printing and mailing costs and can allocate those resources to other recruitment activities.

“”We sent out a lot of material and likely would have respsonded to all 16,000 with a printed package,”” says Meade. “”Now we can do more on-the-road recruitment.””

ezRecruit also enables universities to recruit proactively.

“”If the university is travelling to another part of Canada to recruit students, they could easily find all the students from that area who are interested in Acadia and send them an e-mail letting them know there will be an information session,”” says Wilkens.

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