Have you found joy in completing a school enrollment or admissions form? Did you find yourself smiling after submitting a school tour inquiry?
As a CTO, I have seen, tested, purchased, programmed, and implemented numerous software packages to support the Admissions Process. I began my journey with these applications in 2009.
These programs have grown in expense and features. Fundamentally though, are they delivering the outcome that schools need? Is this technology producing deeper waitlists and higher levels of future commitments?
I love forms and a good automated workflow. I have built them and watched as my creations have streamlined chaos.
Technology as an appropriate tool saves time, creates opportunities, and allows for accountability.
Technology developed to solve the wrong problem creates a universe of problems. If it gets popular, everyone uses it and has no idea why they are using it. People eventually feel like they have to have something because everyone else has it.
Let’s define the School Admissions problem.
In an unknown economic condition (inflation, etc.) how do we grow our school and maintain a healthy waitlist?
Prospective parents are likely to be more discretionary with their income. They are investing in their children. How do we should them our value?
Will an expensive forms-based admissions system solve this problem or is this a human-to-human problem and a confidence problem?
Schools can build confidence by connecting new people to people who are already invested. Schools need to associate the existing with the new.
It’s not about the school tour and showing a few pristine rooms. It’s about getting parents to share stories and ideas with other parents.
The technology needed to connect with prospective parents isn’t in a web form or workflow, it is in data analytics.
Using Business Intelligence (BI) tools (Google Data Student, Microsoft Power BI, Amazon QuickSight, etc.), we can look at zip codes, addresses, enrollment dates, grade entry points, etc, and find clusters of people who joined the school. These clusters would be non-traditional locations. For example, the neighborhood across from a school is traditional. Everyone there knows about the school. However, a cluster might appear 30-minutes away, indicating that people moving into that area seem to prefer our school.
After extrapolating some clusters, the next best tool to have would be a crowdsourcing solution. Existing parents in the clusters need to be offered an opportunity to host events in their communities with support from the school.
At this stage, resources are shifting. Budgets are being used for something other than software. This is the main reason to address the admissions software. Is the current resource we are paying for a potential problem? Is this resource impeding our ability to be creative and agile? Consider that two things could be true at the same time: the software works, but may not be solving the real problem.
The investment isn’t really in software to help with admissions. The investment is in someone else’s idea of how you should do admissions.
Thinking outside the box, and respecting data privacy (opt-in only), we can visualize the following:
- A dashboard showing a map with hotspots of existing families and new applications
- An app that allows existing parents to flag up dates, times, and locations to create fun and casual meetings for prospective parents
- A self-guided campus tour that provides on-demand information (it works at the Smithsonian, it can work at a school)
- Admission’s “offices” are located outside of the campus closer to where prospective parents are working and shopping
- Tours booked so they are larger and happen when the campus is alive, messy, and real; tours need to be less frequent to increase demand
- Build a system that allows prospective parents to contact the school with simple messaging (SMS, Social Media Messaging, etc); this system would be intelligent and would automatically handle some of the initial steps in providing parents options; lower the barrier for initial communication
- Have application stations on-campus that are comfortable, coffee equipped, and allow people to get the applications started with the sense of support people need when delving into a serious investment; this eliminates most of the issues people have working from home
In this model, people become part of the community before they even formally enroll. Technology is focused on people. By the time the forms are being used, prospective parents have already decided to enroll.
Doing two hours doing paperwork is now trivial because this new parent has invested in a lifetime of opportunities for their children. That feels like a good tradeoff.