Recruit & Retain (Santa Clara University)
Embracing Mobile Technology
- By Grace Hartman
- March 1st, 2017
In the college admissions world, we’re
all up against rapidly changing demographics. Students are
socially diverse, digitally literate and expect you to meet them
where they live — on their mobile devices. 85 percent of students
own a smartphone, and smartphone usage is rivaling laptop usage —
86 percent versus 89 percent respectively according to Pew Research.
Students also speak loud and clear. While text messaging a
prospective student used to be off limits, too personal for initial
conversations, that’s no longer the case. We have students sign off
emails with “Feel free to text me” — even those students I’ve never
met prefer smartphone interactions over email.
Mobile technology is no longer an option for admissions professionals,
but a necessity.
Take campus visits, for instance. According to Student Poll, 65
percent of students say that visits to campus influence their decision.
Yet no school has unlimited means to provide those tours. At Santa
Clara University (SCU), some students cannot make our “registered
visit” time slots or drop in without an appointment, while others
visiting from overseas have language requirements that can’t be
met “on demand.” The need for tours goes beyond the population of
prospective students. To meet this demand without adding staff and
dramatically increasing our costs, we turned to mobile technology as
a vital part of our admissions and enrollment management toolbox.
Mobile Means More Reach
The Guidebook mobile app platform, for example, serves as the
basis of our self-guided mobile campus tour. A supplement to inperson
tours, the app allows visitors to take a tour independently —
24/7, at their convenience.
In the first six months, we’ve served about 25 percent more
visitors with the same number of staff as before. The app captures
basic student information, so staff can easily follow up to initiate a
relationship and connect with students who would previously have
fallen under the radar.
Internationally Friendly, Diversity Inclusive
We pride ourselves on being internationally friendly and our
multilingual app reflects that, with tours in English, Mandarin
and Spanish. We’re better equipped to meet the needs of this incoming
wave of millennial students, who are often first-generation
Americans and who have family members who are non-English
speakers. As relationship building moves almost exclusively to
mobile technology (e.g. WeChat, WhatsApp, Facebook Messenger)
for international students, the tour app offers one more important
touch point to engage with them, as well as parents, counselors
and others who may be guiding their decisions.
A Foundation to Grow On
The fact that someone like me, who doesn’t have much tech
experience, can create and change the app without IT as a middleman
has contributed to the success of the app. We found building
mobile apps to be far easier than we initially thought! We can
easily customize it on the fly, like adding a new destination or
switching up the tour route to avoid campus construction.
Having demonstrated the value of the undergraduate tours app,
we’re now in the process of adding tours for other departments,
including post-graduate programs. We’re also expanding beyond
the discovery phase into other facets of the student life cycle, from
admissions and orientation to graduation and beyond.
Among our peers, we’re starting to be seen as a leader using
innovative technology. Being a university in Silicon Valley, that’s a
win for us.
The bigger win is student response. Several students referenced
the app in their admission applications as the reason they were
able to get a feel for the campus community even though they
didn’t come for a traditional visit. Having an authentic student
voice giving the tour really drives home the opportunities and
experiences offered at SCU.
In 2015, we scrambled to offer campus visits during the winter
break, yet had fewer than 30 visitors. In 2016, we saw many more
downloads of the self-guided tour app than the few students who
visited the previous year.
The mobile app has also directly impacted our enrollment
goals. In 2016, we saw a record number of visitors (24,000) and
admission applications hit an all-time high (nearly 16,000). We
expect this trend to continue.
At SCU, we’ve embraced mobile apps as one of the best ways to
connect with students and visitors from all backgrounds and create
continued interactions with students throughout their campus
careers. The exciting part is that we’re just scratching the surface
of what’s possible.
This article originally appeared in the March 2017 issue of College Planning & Management.
Grace Hartman is originally from East Contra Costa County in Northern California. At Santa Clara, she currently oversees all aspects of the visit experience and spends most of her time working with the Student Ambassadors who sit on panels and lead campus tours.