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New IT System Improves Parent Outreach

When students head off to college, contacting parents often isn’t a priority. With new classes and new friends, keeping mom and dad updated sometimes slips the minds of students. Its seeming importance even dwindles over the four years. However, having accurate data on parents is of critical importance to the activities of many offices, including Development and Student Affairs. A streamlined system implemented by W&M Information Technology has helped campus offices become even more efficient in their outreach activities over the past two years.

A Streamlined System

When an email sent out to W&M families a few years ago got a 15% bounce rate—the percentage of emails that could not be delivered—Mark Sikes, Associate Dean of Students and Director of Parent & Family Programs, realized that something needed to be done. It was time to find a better way to get updated student and family contact information. He turned to IT to try to create a solution, and a simple meeting of the minds over lunch was all it took to recognize that IT had the know-how and the power to create a “data bridge” between the three systems that collect and distribute student and family contact information at W&M.

Students used to be asked to enter contact information and emergency information at several times during the year and in many places. The data is collected and used by the Admission Office, Development, and by the student in Banner, but students were inputting data for the systems over and over. The many types of the same information that the systems asked for often made students frustrated and confused. And the repetition made it less likely that student contact data was accurate, as it often wasn’t updated in all places when it was changed manually.

However, with the new connected systems, students are asked to update and verify their emergency and contact information once each semester, in one central location. By streamlining student information into one entry point, it makes it much more likely that authorities will have the appropriate and correct information in the event of a personal or campus-wide emergency.

Sikes said that this simple change has made a huge difference: “If it’s so complicated, that’s why we’re not getting the most updated information—because we’re making it hard. If we make it easy for you to give us that information, we have a greater chance to get it.”

Reaching Parents Sooner

The streamlined system now pulls in parent contact information from the Common Application upon admission, meaning that Student Affairs is able to contact families of admitted students as soon as they have received their acceptance letters. And the effort has worked—parent communications now have a less than three percent bounce back rate. Sikes says his goal is a bounce rate of less than one percent.

The Student Affairs Office also uses the parent data to contact families of current students with monthly newsletters, as well as reaching out to families of newly admitted students. Although the streamlined system was implemented almost two years ago, results from it have made big impressions recently. Sikes said he got a reaction from the parent of a recently admitted student during the Early Decision season when he was able to immediately reach out and invite the family to a gathering for admitted students welcoming the student to W&M. The parent is a Vice President for Development at another Virginia college, and was impressed at W&M’s efforts to lead the way in parent outreach even from the very start.

A Cooperative Effort

But Sikes says the real story here is about departments at W&M working together. IT supported the initiative of Student Affairs much like it supports so many other efforts on campus. Simplifying the systems into one streamlined program enhanced the efforts of many offices, making business processes more efficient than ever before.

Sikes said, “It’s a direct process of different offices that have different priorities working together for what’s best for the overall institution. And I think that’s the key. There are very few campuses where departments are truly working together as a partnership, and to me that is the most successful thing that we have done collectively at William & Mary. We don’t operate in silos—we work together for what is important, which ultimately is the student.