Every year at the National Association for College Admissions Counselors (NACAC), hundreds of hopeful vendors set up shop in the exhibit area and offer enrollment leaders solutions to every imagined problem. Enrollment leaders, also hopeful, peruse the exhibition space for some outsourced solution that could ease a pain point, known or as-of-yet unknown to them. It’s much like walking through the agora in ancient Greece with colorful, sometimes aggressive hawkers working to catch shoppers’ attention. Many vendors will tell you that they have the perfect solution, but every year it gets harder to discern which have something meaningful to offer if you haven’t done the legwork to understand who they are.

It’s a lot to take in. According to EdSurge, the investment community pumped $1.5 billion into educational technology in the first half of 2015, accelerating the development of new technology solutions in particular. While this has generated excitement about new ways of solving old problems, it has also created a lot more noise. In 2013, 188 vendors exhibited at NACAC’s annual conference; 203 exhibited in 2014; and this year, 220 exhibited. Among this year’s 220, more than 70 vendors did not exhibit in 2013.

Have you heard much about ZeeMeeRaise.meStudentVoxnxtfourCollege Raptor, or VisitDays? These are just a few newer entries to the market that are trying to change the paradigm for student matching and digital engagement. They could present viable solutions, or they could fade into the background like the countless other solutions that have optimistically debuted at NACAC over the years. Have you heard much lately about College Runway or Meet My College? These solutions still exist, but they haven’t set the world on fire.

The noisy din of the marketplace can be frustrating to negotiate. Let’s remember, though, that like the ancient Greek agora, the exhibition hall at NACAC is a not just a market for products and services. It is also a place for community to gather and discuss new ideas and ways of thinking about successfully managing enrollment.

Use your time in the exhibit hall wisely

To make the most of your time at NACAC, consider the following as you navigate the exhibit hall:

Look for solutions to specific problems. Come to the hall with three or four pain points that you are trying to address. If you choose to speak with vendor representatives, get them to go beyond their standard product descriptions to tell you how their product may or may not solve your problem. Specifically, ask them to tell you how their products might not fit your situation.

But keep an open mind about solutions that you haven’t considered. You want to keep current on the landscape of ideas, some of which might emerge as viable solutions for you in the future. By taking some time to learn about these new concepts now, you will have them on your radar long before you need them.

Talk to your colleagues. Your colleagues have valuable information about the realities of working with vendors. They can also help vet emerging ideas to decide which have merit and which do not.

Heed the checklist. Whenever you vet new technology partnership possibilities, consider the following:

  • Does it play well with the ERP/SIS?
  • Does it scale seamlessly to meet demand?
  • How much of the identified problem will it solve?
  • Does it offer clients the ability to drive the product roadmap?
  • Does it integrate with (nearly) everything?
  • What training and support options does it offer?

What can Eduventures do for you?

We’re here at NACAC too. We’re making the rounds of the exhibit hall because we believe in strategically using technology to improve institutional outcomes. It’s what we call educational intelligence, leveraging data across the student lifecycle to make decisions that fit your educational strategy and mission.

You don’t have to get all the answers here at NACAC. We conduct in-depth research on technology in higher education so that you don’t have to. We learn about vendors’ capabilities, check references, and explore real use cases to help our clients find a bestfit solution that improves their strategic outcomes. Look for our upcoming report, Retention Solutions: Mapping a Framework of Retention Products and Services, which will detail the landscape of retention and student success solutions across the student lifecycle, to see our capabilities in action.

If you’d like to meet us while we’re here in San Diego, please contact Karen Lubeck, klubeck@eduventures.com to schedule some time.

Alternatively, join us at Eduventures Summit 2015: The Next Frontier, November 18-20th in Boston, to hear Principal Analyst Max Woolf’s session on “Outsourcing and Vendor Selection.”