Digital Transformation and Digital Maturity: Two Important Concepts in The Future of SEM

October 3, 2022
  • Enrollment Management
  • corporate
Image of a laptop and book.

Sponsored Salesforce, Written by Tom Green, Ph.D. 

Note: This is the second of a series of three articles by Dr. Green on Digital Transformation and SEM. The first article appeared in the August edition and the third will appear in Connect in Fall 2022.

A recent research brief revealed responses for over 500 higher education presidents and provosts about the importance of digital transformation at their institutions. Their responses showed that digital transformation was among their most important priorities for institutional success. This same report also revealed that the impetus for it was largely placed on the institution’s senior technology and/or information officer and that progress was slow or not what was needed. To understand the disconnect between importance and progress, we have to start with an understanding of what digital transformation is and how it relates to enrollment management so that we can discover how enrollment leaders can lead or support the leadership of digital transformation at their institutions. What is it that we are striving toward? Will we know when we’ve gotten there or will this become another expensive and confusing rush toward “shiny object” technologies?

Digital transformation is a process that takes time. One example is the move from paper student record folders to digital student records. It didn’t happen overnight. Some schools started by scanning transcripts, then applications, moving to taking only online applications, then porting PDF transcripts to digital image servers. While it is rare today to find a school that uses any paper files for student records, most schools experienced a series of small hops rather than one large leap.

The global pandemic exposed the areas where we still rely upon in-person contact and actions to execute our work. It accelerated our work to ensure that we could connect with and engage our prospective students, and to ensure that we supported our current students through online transactions, support, and information. It was a remarkable time and demonstrated the resilience of our institutions and our people. Few may have had time to pull back and strategically consider what a digitally transformed institution might look like.

An institution doesn’t suddenly become “digital” following the purchase of technology or by overhauling a website, yet many institutions have not taken or had the time to analyze their business processes and re-engineer them to meet the capabilities of new solutions or to fully consider how those now interact with web pages to form a unified, consistent message to its audiences.

It is critical to consider digital transformation with the student/learner at the center of the transformation. How does what we do, and how we do it, impact the student lifecycle and the student experience, from earliest pre-college experiences to donating alum? There are certainly secondary impacts from the transformation that benefit the experience of faculty, staff, and administrators. Figure 1 renders this concept of the student at the center of digital experiences, as we conceive of this at Salesforce.

Figure 1, The Student 360


Using that view as a base, we can apply several important principles to how we seek to construct this 360-degree view. These will be major pillars as we seek to assess and improve our levels of digital transformation.

Build an ecosystem of data around the student/learner

There are major touchpoints across the student enrollment cycle and these should be the starting point for measurements, as shown in Figure 2. However, we need many more touchpoints to discover when and how students are engaging with us and especially when that engagement starts to fall away.

Figure 2. Major measurement points across the student lifecycle

Flip the script to a “digital first” policy on technology

For many years and decades, information systems have been a supplement to how we do things in person, on paper, etc. Consider first how you will provide educational programs and services digitally, then consider how you will conduct them in person. We know that students will likely experience multiple learning modalities, in and out of courses, during an educational program. Their experiences, however, should not be radically different in terms of how the technology supports their learning and enrollment. By developing digital-first strategies on technology, the switch between online, in-person, and hybrid modalities becomes more consistent.

Emulate and deploy the best digital marketing and communications tools possible

Our students, staff, and faculty live in a world where information, services, and communications live on their smartphones. Interactions on websites and social media drive marketing information to us, introducing new brands and reinforcing those we already know. Although higher education marketing budgets are tiny compared to many companies, we must continually strive to create experiences, brand awareness, and loyalty that emulate the practices and experiences of our students, faculty, and staff. This will become critical as the availability of search lists decreases. Digital experiences with our websites should drive greater interest for in-person experiences for prospective students who want or need to take courses on our campuses; they should facilitate seamless, richly informed experiences for those who need online learning. We cannot continue to serve disconnected concepts and messages.

Ensure that staff and faculty can use the tools provided to them

New platforms, applications, and interfaces race toward us at increasing speed. They require improved training experiences, which include self-paced learning modules, tracking of progress toward outcomes, gamified experiences, and evaluation. While that may sound complicated or intimidating, it doesn’t have to be. Start by contextualizing training content to roles. Faculty who need to do online grading don’t need the same training as staff who perform term grading routines. Minimize the amount of generic content unless the intended outcome is a greater understanding of general concepts, such as academic integrity or financial need. Embed quizzes into training that allow learners to go back and find the right answers. This allows you to know that the training has been completed and that learning has taken place. It also allows you to see who may be struggling to master the new material and intervene with extra support and training on an individual scale. The goal is not pass/fail but mastery of the information, processes, and policies that make the technology more helpful and effective.

Earning badges or ascending levels of knowledge provides rewards for training that don’t have to be monetary in nature. They also allow staff and faculty to demonstrate their competence with technology. Most learning management systems allow this by creating non-credit modules or courses with short quizzes at the end of each.

A Model for Digital Maturity in SEM

Figure 3 displays a model of digital maturity for Strategic Enrollment Management (SEM) that places the level of SEM readiness on the vertical axis and digital commitment and implementation on the horizontal axis. SEM readiness is the extent to which the institution has clear and well-developed SEM strategies and practices. Digital commitment and implementation reflect the current levels of digitization across policies, practices, training, and utilization of data.


Figure 3. SEM Digital Maturity Model


Measure digital commitment and implementation across five factors each for recruitment/marketing/admission and persistence/success/completion, using the point of matriculation as a dividing point in the student lifecycle. Some factors are common to both “halves” of the student lifecycle but play out differently in their respective contexts. Each of the five stages of the model has been labeled from “passive/reactive” to “Intelligent”, designed to help institutions identify where they may be relative to others or to the desired state.

In the last article in this series, we’ll dive into the model and tie these factors to the concepts of digital transformation and digital maturity. We will define each factor and stress their relationship to solid SEM development and practices.

For more information on how to have a SEM Digital Maturity workshop for your association or institution, contact the author at tom.green@salesforce.com.