“It’s important for us to know where each of our students are in their lifecycle journeys and engage with them where they are in their preferred channels. To do that proactively and at scale, we needed technologies that are flexible and can grow with the university.” – Tony C. Chung, Chief Information Officer, California State University San Marcos

College students have to navigate an array of requirements throughout their academic career. From course registration all the way to ordering a hood and gown, successful completion of a 2- or 4-year degree depends on more than just going to class and studying: Students must adhere to financial aid deadlines, administrative holds, or other unfamiliar processes to walk across the stage at the end of their journey.

Higher education institutions are increasingly relying on digital messaging to ensure students accomplish necessary tasks while enrolled, but not always in effective ways. According to the Education Advisory Board (EAB), communication departments send a barrage of messages the moment an application is received and continue until after the student matriculates. This often creates “white noise” due to the large number of messages sent to students. Students often report that their college’s messages: 

  • Occur too frequently. 
  • Contain duplicative or inconsistent information. 
  • Follow a generic format with actions that are easy to ignore. 
  • Use communication channels that aren’t often checked. 

The result? Students skip or disregard critical updates that can cause them to fall behind or derail their academic progress. This is especially problematic for first-generation students. 

Administrators at California State University San Marcos (CSUSM) adopted Microsoft Dynamics 365 Customer Insights to provide personalized, timely communication throughout their students’ academic experience. With additional help from Microsoft’s AI-powered Copilot for Dynamics 365 in Customer Insights, officials were able to avoid the white noise that characterizes communication from so many other institutions and deliver just-in-time information. 

Transforming student engagement through unified communications and AI-powered personalization 

The CSUSM mission, according to President Ellen J. Neufeldt, is about “ensuring success, meeting people where they are, and transforming the path forward” for nearly 16,000 students in the greater San Diego region. As the first-choice university for first-generation students and a leader in enrollment growth, CSUSM strives to increase engagement with every touch point by communicating with students through consistent, clear messaging at every point in students’ studies. Their communication strategy—bolstered by Customer Insights and Copilot—is one of the main reasons why CSUSM meets its diverse student needs well before an applicant sets foot on campus. 

Dynamics 365 is a suite of products that connects departments, processes, and data across an entire school system. Used by businesses worldwide, Dynamics 365 includes tools like Customer Insights that help administrators create personalized journeys and marketing campaigns that target stakeholders like students and families. It also includes Copilot for Dynamics 365 an AI assistant that helps provide content ideas, reduce time spent drafting digital messaging, and simplify data exploration. 

Adopting Customer Insights and Copilot helped CSUSM establish much-needed connections between the university and its student body. Administrators were able to: 

  • Eliminate data silos across different systems by using Dynamics 365 to centralize relevant information that would have otherwise been separate. 
  • Personalize all communication to students using “journeys” in Customer Insights that reacted to student interactions and message preferences (frequency, channel). 
  • Track how students engage with messages like event registration and follow-up messages. 
  • Develop a consistent tone and voice for outbound messages from the university and key leaders like President Neufeldt. 

Copilot also provided support to CSUSM staff who did not have deep backgrounds in technology. Instead of having to train people, members of the marketing and communications teams used natural language prompts to target the right audiences without needing to understand the underlying data structure, consequently improving the process of communicating with students. Copilot also simplified content creation by automatically drafting messages with consistent tone and structure. 

“Dynamics 365 doesn’t replace the good work of our dedicated faculty and our staff; instead it complements their efforts by giving them tools to help engage and support our students right where they are.” – Dr. Ellen Neufeldt, President, California State University San Marcos

By taking advantage of Dynamics 365 Customer Insights and Copilot, CSUSM streamlined communication processes, standardized data, and personalized how they messaged their students—ultimately enhancing engagement and their students’ academic experience. 

AI in education brings opportunity to life

At Microsoft, we are committed to making sure AI systems are developed responsibly and that equitable opportunities are created for all students. Join us for Reimagine Education on Wednesday, March 6, 2024, to hear the CSUSM story and explore insights from global education innovators who will share next practices on education equity, security, and workforce readiness in the era of AI. Select the time that works best for you and save it to your calendar—either 9:00 AM PT (UTC-8)  or  6:00 PM PT (UTC-8). Together we can reimagine education.