College Admissions and Athletics Working Better Together:
A Personal Journey
Written by: Ben Pickrell, Front Rush Account Manager – FR PASS Data Integration
Admissions and athletics have a shared mission in recruiting college students, but they don’t always work well together. They are comparable to opposite personality types on the Myers-Briggs spectrum. I was once a college athlete, so I understand and respect the tough work of coaches. As a former admissions director, I also understand the stressors of selective college admissions, where you are charged with enrolling just the right number of students, who meet multiple competing demographics just perfectly and also generate the ideal amount of tuition revenue with the lowest possible acceptance rate. At most colleges, student-athletes are a crucial part of this formula, and a significant percentage of each year’s class. So, there’s no denying athletics is intrinsically tied to admissions.
I spent 17 years in college admissions at Denison University, an NCAA Division III school in beautiful Granville, Ohio, where I still live and work remotely for Front Rush. Front Rush’s main software solution is an Athletic CRM for college coaches. Front Rush first came into my life in 2011 when our football team at Denison mentioned they were using it to recruit athletes. I invited the football staff to come to our fall admissions retreat to give us a demo of the software. Front Rush is an easy-to-use, intuitive, web-based software. After the demo, everyone asked if we could use Front Rush for admissions. I called Front Rush to see if this was possible and they smartly said, “No, our sweet spot is athletics.”
“There’s no denying athletics is intrinsically tied to admissions”
As I advanced through my career at Denison, it became clear that the personal attention of admissions counselors was always going to be important, but it was also imperative that we work on modernizing and developing our systems and data. Like many admissions offices at the time, we were still reading applications on paper, which were kept in manila file folders that had to be lugged around in big stacks at reading time. When we finally moved to reading applications electronically, it was a nice step forward, but we still didn’t have the proper software in place to make it easy and user-friendly.
After seeing how our coaches were collecting prospective student data in Front Rush, my first question was, “Is this data making its way to admissions?” Unfortunately, the answer was no. Coaches might drop off an excel spreadsheet or a paper binder to admissions on an infrequent basis to get their top recruits added to our prospect pool, but this was inconsistent, and each coach sent records in a different format. Online recruit questionnaires were available on our athletics web page, and automatically populated in Front Rush when submitted, but this data was not being sent to admissions. If a coach decided not to recruit a student because they were not a viable varsity athlete, there was a possibility that the prospect would never end up in the admissions pipeline because they had circumvented admissions and inquired through athletics instead.
As I began talking with colleagues at other colleges, I realized that we needed to find a better system for managing our prospects and applicants, so we formed a CRM exploration group to learn everything we could about what systems were available. We discovered that many schools were now using a shiny new admissions CRM called Slate, and they loved it. I then met an admissions counselor at a college fair who showed me how he could use Slate on his iPad. I immediately reached out to Technolutions, Slate’s parent company, to find out how we could sign up. Their CEO, Alexander Clark, replied personally with a link to a 90-minute recorded demo. I shared it with my colleagues and everyone was immediately sold. We could not bring this software on board fast enough. I called Front Rush and told them we were moving to Slate, and they said they were partnering with Technolutions to integrate the two systems. This was exactly what we were looking for.
“I realized that we needed to find a better system for managing our prospects and applicants”
I left college admissions to help Front Rush lead the way in improving data sharing and communication between admissions and athletics. We have done this by creating easy-to-set-up, bi-directional integrations between Front Rush and a college’s admissions CRM. Admissions CRMs are built with the application process in mind, but don’t work well for coaches. Athletic CRMs, like Front Rush, are designed to help coaches recruit the way coaches recruit. This best-of-breed software model exists across campus, with specialized systems available for financial aid, alumni and development, retention, housing, learning management and so much more. These solutions help each department do their job more efficiently, but they also create a new challenge, that of integration. There always comes a time when data needs to be shared across campus. This is particularly true for admissions and athletics.
One of the first schools I worked with as a Front Rush integration client introduced me to a new dynamic, which was not the norm I was accustomed to. The athletic director reported directly to the vice president for enrollment. This underscored the importance of athletics in meeting the college’s enrollment goals. I have seen similar frameworks at other colleges. I would not be surprised if this model becomes the norm.
“There always comes a time when data needs to be shared across campus. This is particularly true for admissions and athletics.”
There are many amazing admissions CRMs on the market. If your college is not using one yet, you should check them all out. If you don’t know where to start, I’d be happy to help. Of course, you should also think about how you can better connect athletics and admissions. We are all striving to solve the same problems, and there are many ways to achieve the best result.