Scott Jeffe: Hello, my name is Scott Jeffe and I am a Senior Director of Aslanian Market Research here at EducationDynamics. I would like to thank you for joining us for another Session Spotlight, where I introduce you to speakers from our Conference on Adult Learner Enrollment Management (CALEM) 2016, taking place in Alexandria VA on July 19-21.
Joining me from beautiful Cincinnati, Ohio home of the famed Findlay Market, is Kimbrea Browning. Kimbrea is the Vice President of Enrollment Management at Union Institute & University. She has more than 10 years of higher education experience in admissions, organizational communication, education management, student services, marketing, and personnel training. In her current role, Kimbrea integrates all aspects of the enrollment management process across the university including planning, implementation, and strategic recruitment to ensure the university meets its aggressive adult student enrollment goals.
When I began a discussion with Kimbrea about presenting at CALEM, she indicated that she and her team have recently finished mapping the adult student life cycle from inquiry to graduation. They did this to both understand and anticipate every step – and associated concerns – that an adult student prospect goes through, and gain a comprehensive understanding of every touchpoint that students have with University offices, departments and staff members. By mapping this all out, Kimbrea and her team were then able to develop strategies to systematically ensure that university communications and services are meeting the needs of today’s adult and other nontraditional students.
Thank you for joining me today Kimbrea. How are you?
Kimbrea Browning: I am great Scott, thank you!
Scott Jeffe: Tell us why did you choose to focus your recent efforts – and your CALEM session – on the adult student journey?
Kimbre Browning: The adult student journey is the most important breakdown an enrollment management operation can focus on, as it dives into how these students are experiencing the university connection and at what point they may be falling through the cracks, all of which are especially important for adult students. Many of the causes of enrollment declines that are occurring throughout higher education are beyond our control. However, what an enrollment management staff CAN control is what happens as soon as a student shows interest in our university. We control the process and procedures internally.
Enrollment and retention should be considered equal platforms for continued revenue growth for a university. Until one sees the path – in-depth – that an adult student is taking, we cannot assume the experience is all “lollipops and rainbows” for the student. Internal operations may be creating bottlenecks and challenges that we don’t even know of. Once we can see them, we can work to increase and sustain enrollment.
Scott Jeffe: I couldn’t have said it better myself. In our work, adult enrollment leaders sometimes think that there is little that can be done for adult student retention because drop-out/stop-out usually happens because life gets in the way. We, like you, think that if you really look at the issues, there is quite a bit that can be done to help students remain enrolled, or come back as quickly as possible. How did you identify specific areas in which student connections fall short within a current experience model?
Kimbrea Browning: We looked deeply at the path of transition a prospective student takes from department to department. Outlining this path allowed us to see which communications were missing and what steps were taken too soon or too late for the ideal experience we hoped to provide. We also identified steps that were currently non-existent but critical to our retention goals. Our guiding principle was that we couldn’t assume anything was or was not happening when we walked through this process.
Scott Jeffe: I like that you are thinking of “retention” as starting at inquiry rather than at enrollment. It has never been more important to ensure that the maximum number of inquiries turn into applicants and applicants to enrolled students. We are often asked what conversion rates should be from inquiry to an applicant and from applicant to enrollment. We say one-third of inquiries to applicants and two-thirds of applicants to enrolled students. Considering that more than half of adult students are only approaching one institution, the colleges are not competing with another institution nearly as much as they are competing with inertia. This requires highly effective communication and cultivation being done throughout the process. How are you developing a contact strategy based on what you have found in the mapping?
Kimbrea Browning: The contact strategy coming out of the mapping begins with outlining priority points at which we know students are falling through cracks. Working from this stemmed outline of communication has allowed us to create unique touchpoints for the students within each “stage” in the student experience. The mapping also allowed us to see the larger picture to define which form of communication best fits the needs of the student. For example, we identified a huge gap in student communication between admit and enrolled. We have data that now shows that we have significant challenges with retaining students once they are admitted.
Scott Jeffe: Interesting. Your point here makes the case for how essential the mapping is. If you don’t know all the steps and pinpoint where the problems are you can’t fine tune your strategy. The admit to enrollment stage is often where we see a problem also. Often this is because many institutions pass the student from the enrollment operation to the academic side of the house. This often doesn’t work because faculty already have full-time jobs and also can’t really be compelled to follow enrollment best practices. For this reasons we strongly encourage institutions to have the enrollment management operation retain “ownership” of the student from first contact to the day they sit in their first class – with faculty and other academic staff providing only an enhancing function. How would someone listening – or attending your session – gather ideas for transforming their experience model to create a plan for sustainable growth.
Kimbrea Browning: In the CALEM session we will dive deep into the process we established to gather this data, the plan of how to analyze it on a wider scale, and the methods we used to implement and apply it to what we do. All of this pushed us in a better direction by recognizing the weak points and cracks in the experience. Discussing all of this will allow attendees to gather ideas and suggestions from both myself as the speaker and from the questions and comments raised by other CALEM attendees. The takeaway will be that one crack in the student experience could be the largest gap in revenue growth for a college or university. This makes mapping the student experience a huge piece for strategic enrollment planning.
Scott Jeffe: It really is amazing what an effect that pausing and taking the time to REALLY look at what you are doing can – in some cases quite quickly – find where “soft” spots are. When we do an institutional audit for a college the moments we enjoy most are the “ah ha” moments we can help college staff have. That is just fun and helpful all at the same time. One last question. What is the best part of working with adult students?
Kimbrea Browning: Adult students come to us with a multitude of experiences which allows an added value to students connecting with one another, as it brings more to the table. Our students are thriving using the curriculum set by our academic leaders and faculty, in conjunction with the relationships they are gaining with other students who come from all walks of life. Our mission here at Union Institute & University is to engage, enlighten and empower our students to pursue professional goals and a lifetime of learning, service and social responsibility. Seeing adults succeed and grow through their education for themselves, their dreams, and their families allows us to see the bigger picture of why we are here.
Scott Jeffe: Well, I want to thank you for taking the time to answer some questions for me today Kimbrea, and I’m looking forward to hearing your entire presentation at CALEM on July 19th in Alexandria, VA this year! Be sure to check out our website www.calemconference.org for a list of all 30 speakers that will be presenting at CALEM 2016. Thank you for joining us today Kimbrea.
Kimbrea Browning: Thanks again Scott, I look forward to seeing everyone in Virginia next month!