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Optimizing the Campus Visit with Will Patch and Jeff Kallay

In this episode, we dig into the results of a fresh survey from Niche, exploring the campus visit from the perspective of students and parents. Joining the conversation is Will Patch, Senior Enrollment Insights leader at Niche, and Jeff Kallay, SVP of Enrollment Consulting at Echo Delta and leading campus visit expert.

We explore:

  • The experiences students want to have most and least during their campus visit
  • Expectations parents have for the visit, and
  • Practical ideas on how to lower barriers so that more students can participate in your visit program.

[Resource] Effectiveness of Recruiting Travel and Campus Visits in 2023

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Transcript

Jarrett Smith:
You are listening to the Higher Ed Marketing Lab. I’m your host, Jarrett Smith.
Welcome to the Higher Ed Marketing Lab. I’m Jarrett Smith. Each episode, it’s my job to engage with some of the brightest minds in higher education and the broader world of marketing to bring you actionable insights you can use to level up your school’s marketing and enrollment performance.
In this episode, we’ll be digging into the campus visit and looking at the results of a fresh survey from Niche, exploring the visit from the perspective of students and parents.
Joining me in the conversation is Will Patch, Senior Enrollment Insights Leader at Niche, and Jeff Kallay, SVP of Enrollment and Consulting at Echo Delta and leading campus Visit expert.
We explore many findings from Niche’s survey, including the experiences students want to have most and least during their campus visit, expectations parents have for the visit, and practical ideas on how to lower barriers so that more students can participate in your visit program.
This was a fun and informative conversation with two of the most thoughtful minds on the campus visit and I hope you enjoyed as much as I did. So without further ado, here’s my conversation with Will Patch and Jeff Kallay.
Will, Jeff, welcome to the show.

Jeff Kallay:
Thanks for having me back, Jarrett.

Will Patch:
Thank you, Jarrett.

Jarrett Smith:
Well, I am super excited to talk to the two of you.
Will. I know on your side of the house you do a ton of research and a ton of great surveys over at Niche. And of course, Jeff, you are constantly on college campuses all around the country and always bring back so many interesting insights. And so to have the opportunity to talk to both of you at the same time about campus visit, I think, is a special thing and I’m excited to do it.
Will, at Niche you guys do a ton of great survey work. What piqued our interest on this one was you ran a survey that was looking in part into the campus visit. I wonder if you could just give us a quick snapshot of the research that you conducted recently. Who were the respondents? How did you guys feel the survey, what were you hoping to find?

Will Patch:
I love getting to do these surveys. It’s so fun to be able to see how things are changing because I’m a few years outside of my own college search, so getting to go back and get inside their heads is a lot of fun.
This was one of our Insta-Insight surveys. So we do our full large scale surveys. The Insta-Insights are just a moment in time, so we’re able to get this quick snapshot. It was only open for two weeks. We had just over 5,100 people respond. But we’re also looking at not just your traditional high school students only.
So we wanted to see how, not just students are taking advantage of, but valuing these traditional recruiting experiences. So the campus visit, college fair, high school activities, things like that. But then we also didn’t limit who we were asking. I wanted to see who else we could get responses from.
So we had your high school students, so from ninth grade through 12th grade. We had the transfer students, so current two and four year students who might be looking for that next step, non-traditional students. Try to keep that a little bit wide open of anyone who has graduated high school and never enrolled a two or four year institution.
And then parents as well. So parents of high school students responding and saying how they value it, because mom and dad have a lot to say in the college search. And so we want to know how they value these things as well.
Really, the nice thing about Niche, one in two high school students creates a profile. We have parents on the platform. Just being such a large platform, you get a very good distribution. We had an even distribution of household incomes, so we weren’t looking at, well, here’s just what the high income families or just what low income families. We were able to take a look at the full spectrum.
About a third of respondents were first in their family to attend college and about half were underrepresented minorities. So good cross section there of who was filling it out.

Jarrett Smith:
So one of the things that really jumped out to Jeff and I as we are reviewing results was that prospective students really want to talk to current students.
Will, I’m wondering if you could just tell us in that particular area, what did you find out?

Will Patch:
Yeah. It makes a lot of sense, right? When I start a podcast, I talk to other people who are currently doing it. When I’m buying a new grill, I’m talking to people who own that grill. Current students matter because they’re living that experience right now. The interesting thing there is when we asked about things they want to be able to experience on a campus visit, talking to current students was the only experience that the majority of every student type and parents wanted to have while on campus.
That’s the only thing that matters to the majority of everybody. I mean with each group, of course, you get some other things that are up there as well. For high school students specifically, I’m guessing that’s where a lot of people are going to be focusing the time and energy. 57% of high school students wanted to be able to talk to current students on a visit.
It was second only to seeing academic buildings at 58%. That’s not statistically significant difference, so essentially if you’re showing people your classrooms, your great new college of business, your great new art studios, you should also be connecting them with current students and having them make those connections that have those conversation.
And so by comparison here, students talk to a lot of people when they’re on their campus visits. Some you control, some you don’t. When we look at high school students, 49% wanted to talk to admission staff, 31% wanted to talk to faculty, 25% wanted to talk to staff and we labeled that as coaches, directors, financial aid, et cetera, and 24% would meet other perspective students.
So all these other… I mean everyone meets with their Admissions Counselor on campus visit, right? I mean Jeff, how often does that not happen on a visit?

Jeff Kallay:
Yeah. In some form or fashion, right?

Will Patch:
Yeah.

Jeff Kallay:
You’re [inaudible 00:06:04], the counselor of the day, the counselor of the week, as we affectionately call them the COD and the COW, which are horrible.

Will Patch:
So we got some fish and beef.

Jeff Kallay:
This is that slide. I’m looking at it now, that data point, Will. We have been preaching this forever in the 16 years that I’ve been doing campus visit consulting that I think it’s ‘talk with, not at.’

Will Patch:
Yeah.

Jeff Kallay:
But this was not shocking. I think that what we’re missing here… The way I interpreted that, it’s talk to current students. And we see this all the time. A family wants to isolate a tour guide and they have questions on rigor and how do you handle the schedule and those very baseline… The transition. How did you make that transition to this place?
And I think that colleges don’t program in conversation. They program in talking at. We’re going to put you in an information session and talk at you, and then we’re going to send you out on a tour. And the tour guide is a scripted tour bot who is going to talk at you, who might not have the capability to ask great questions, to have conversations.
But I think this can be… I interpreted this that they want to talk to students, one, that are similar to them, that have the same interests to them. That it’s not just about student life, it’s about academics. They want to talk to someone who’s in their college or school of their major. And I think we have to trust they want to talk to that student instead of a faculty member.
And I get it. I think that Gen Z anxiety adds to why they want to talk to other students versus talking to the adults, and I’m doing quotation marks. We see this all the time. A parent registers for the tour and signs up for everything. And then they show up in the welcome center to check in and the student sees the schedule for the first time and it’s like talk to faculty? They’re like, I don’t want to do this.

Will Patch:
That doesn’t matter.

Jeff Kallay:
Parent over… Right? The parent registered.

Will Patch:
Yeah. There’s a big difference in the phrasing of this question. In the past, I have worded as who do you want to hear from? And the numbers were all lower, so I reframed it.
Who do you want to talk to? Jeff, I am talking to you. The listeners later on are hearing from you and it’s a different experience. So you’re going to learn something either way, but I get to have that back and forth now. And it’s the same thing with students.
When they’re talking to someone who is in that major, who is in that club, they get that back and forth. You have that real time give and take, you can read the body language. It’s not a panel where students awkwardly pass a mic back and forth.

Jeff Kallay:
And I think that’s where our goal is to have more and more current students engaging with prospective students. Being that from a lobby host to even a student presenter to smaller tours, to talking to a student at lunch or in your college or academic school of interest or from your team.

Jarrett Smith:
I’m curious as a higher ed marketer, the word that keeps popping up into my mind is authenticity. And we’ve like just ridden that pony as far as we can take it, I think. Everybody’s got to talk about authenticity.
In storytelling, I think those things are easy to say in conference presentations, but the doing of it maybe isn’t as glamorous. I mean it really is, Jeff, what I’m hearing from you and Will, from you, is we need to let students talk to students. It may be… It is the fact that it’s unscripted and imperfect. That’s what makes it authentic and it’s going to probably make some administrators a little squeamish to think of real students talking to real students and maybe not saying the perfect thing.
Jeff, how do you help folks navigate that and how do you build the right team of campus ambassadors to have those kinds of conversations in the right way?

Jeff Kallay:
In 2007 when I was at TargetX, that was the Apostle of Authenticity was my title. And I was the Experience Evangelist before that. So anyhow.
Okay, this has been an issue that higher ed all have truth, lux veritas, in their mottoes, and it alludes them in their marketing and they run from it in their campus visits. And if we go back to the reason why students aren’t visiting, I think that the economy’s played out on that, inflation, travel costs.
I think that most colleges stage boring campus visits that say the same thing and they’re staging them for boomer parents and millennials and they haven’t updated it for X and Z or for those other audiences that were included in this survey. They put transfer students in with high school juniors and seeing countless transfer students walk out of those tours.
So I think to embrace authenticity takes institutional confidence. And I think that most campus visits are institutionally centric, Jarrett, and they’re staging them for everyone except the high school students and their parents. They’re staging them for faculty or faculty who are their peers at the school down the road.
And to think that you can control the message and you can control the script and you can spin what’s the party scene like or what’s there to do on the weekend. You can spin that answer. We all know when we’re being lied to, and if this is something that I deal with on so… And have in my career of campus visit consulting, and I think I’m just on a rant here, Jarrett and Will, but…

Will Patch:
I love a soapbox.

Jeff Kallay:
It takes leadership to say, answer the question. But this is why we also train ambassadors and tour guides to clarify the question and qualify. What’s the party scene like? Well, clarify. Party has a lot of different meetings. What is it you’re really asking? And then clarifying it.
I can only answer this question from my perspective. My perspective is… Talk to two other students before you leave this campus to get their perspective.

Jarrett Smith:
Jeff, one thing that popped into my mind was a little anecdote from our colleague Laura Martin Fetich was observing a campus tour. And she said a parent or a student, it asks the campus ambassador something along the lines of what’s the worst part about your campus.

Jeff Kallay:
What is it you don’t like about this school?

Jarrett Smith:
What is it you don’t like about this school? And she said, the campus ambassador did the whole interview technique where I’m going to give you a negative, that’s not really a negative, I’m going to try and turn it around so it’s not that negative and kind of positive.
And she said mid-sentence, the parent, I think it was, that asked the question, just turned their back on the campus ambassador and walked away. Because it was like that BS detector had been tripped. You’re not shooting straight with me, and so we’re moving on now.

Will Patch:
I mean you always have to ask one question of what you’re doing, what you’re writing, what you’re planning, and it’s, is this valuable to the audience? Are we doing this because it’s valuable to us? We want them to take an action? We want this conversion? We want that? We want them to come away with X emotion?
Or is it valuable to them?

Jarrett Smith:
So, okay. Talking to current students, hugely valuable, not terribly surprising. Kind of on the flip side of that, though, is that in the survey it appeared that one-to-one meetings were not attractive for any particular group.
Will, what’s your sense of what’s going on there?

Will Patch:
This is the first time we’ve asked that specifically, of do you want to sit down one-on-one, have a conversation. For context for people haven’t seen it, 16% of high school students said they want to. 16%.
17% of parents, 21% of transfer students, 25% of non-traditional. So you might look at that and say, oh wow, the non-traditional one had a lot more. Okay, 25%. All right. It’s a good offering if students want it. Maybe this is something on their second visit, on their third visit. If they come in with a specific question, yes they want to then. Or maybe at the end of the day if you say hey, are there any unanswered questions? Anything you felt a little… I don’t really want to ask, but do you want to sit down and I’ll talk to you one-on-one?
But requiring everyone to do it? I would say, okay, this doesn’t make a lot of sense.
I want to emphasize, too, that an individual campus visit where one student gets to plan out their day, it’s not a group visit, that’s not the same thing as a one-on-one meeting with someone where you’re sitting in a room having conversation. I can think of a number of times over… I spent seven years doing that type of thing. And I can think of so many times where you get in the room and the student just shuts down. It’s uncomfortable for them to sit in this room with someone they don’t really know.
And so, you’re kind of walking through stuff. The goal was always let’s uncover their fears, let’s uncover what they’re excited about so we can make sure that this is a good fit, that we can provide them with relevant information down the road. I just don’t think that format was what they wanted though.
I mean having that experience can be really uncomfortable. Especially now, you think a couple years of students having limited face-to-face social interactions and now you’re putting them in a small room and quizzing them about what they want in college.
Okay, whose need is this meeting? Are you doing it for yourselves? Right? Or are you doing it for them?

Jeff Kallay:
Absolutely. It is a high pressure sales tactic, is what it is. And deans and vice presidents think that if they do that, they will convert these students. And you’re right, Will, it is…
I see Gen Z anxiety play out on every campus visit I go to. It is intense. You can cut it with a knife. And I do think putting them in that kind of one-on-one setting just creates so much anxiety for them and is not a comfortable scenario.
And I get that. As one Gen Z student said to me, years back, was they were saying to me, “I didn’t want to be that weird person on the campus tour.” They were so anxious of how they were being perceived on the campus tour and we see it, right? They whisper until a more snowplow parent kicks in and just drives it.

Jarrett Smith:
Will, you make the point, hey still offer this. Some people, a small percentage, will want to take you up on it. But for the majority who don’t want the one-to-one visit, what do we do instead? What’s a better way to approach that?

Will Patch:
Looking at what they want to do, whether that is providing more time for a walk over to an office, a walk over to a next thing, providing more opportunities of hey, I know you’re here all afternoon. We didn’t have time for you to have lunch, whatever. Having lunch was not a big thing that they’re excited about either.
If it’s hey, okay. Midday here. If you want to have a coffee break with some students, or if you want to do… Let’s offer these open times instead of having everything so packed that they’re just quickly moving from one thing to another.
Give some time for that walk over where you can chat casually as you walk from one thing to the next. You’re getting that same thing. You can ask those same types of questions. But you aren’t sitting down and forcing it either.

Jeff Kallay:
So, I found the lunch thing kind of fascinating, because usually the first question asks, if the expectations are not set up explaining here’s what your visit is today and here’s specifically what our route for the walking/driving portion of our tour or whatever, the very first question is are we going to see a rest hall and are we going to see dining?
And with a foodie culture and a foodie generation that post everything on social media and has every form of allergies, I find this lunch thing kind of fascinating. And I think it’s because our clients that have programmed in lunch and have managed the expectations and knowing that you’re going to have lunch with someone that’s geographically from your area or high school or your major, has actually had a significant amount of success.
But I think if you’re just saying, here’s a lunch pass. Go navigate scary college dining hall, back to Gen Z anxiety, they’re not going to do it. I think when lunch, Will, is done right, it does have success.

Will Patch:
Yeah, I think that’s a whole different question is on the back end, was this a good experience? I think if it’s done right, absolutely. Have them sit with students, have them sit with a faculty.
When we’d have these dinner events, things like that, I was tracking the yield and this is me putting on my hat from three and a half years ago now, tracking the yield. And so we set up some experiments of where just a student at a table, just a faculty member at a table or student and faculty member. And if it was just faculty that was the lowest yield, just student that was in the middle, but student and faculty had the highest yield.

Jeff Kallay:
And I think you have to manage that. You have to manage these expectations. And I, as someone that eats in a lot of dining hall, as you can tell… 59, I’m still up late. I copy the Clueless from the movie Clueless, when they go into the party and she says, let’s circle before we commit.
And I got to ask the questions, do we use trays? Do we not use trays? Is it all you can eat? There is a strata. There are rules of engagement in a dining hall and I think Gen Z can find those uncomfortable if someone doesn’t concierge and host them through that.

Jarrett Smith:
So you’ve got to take the social anxiety out of it and make-

Jeff Kallay:
Correct.

Jarrett Smith:
… The experience though more than just hey, sample our brownies. They’re great.
By the way, Jeff, I’m waiting on your blog post of brownies around the country.

Jeff Kallay:
My [inaudible 00:20:37] blog?

Jarrett Smith:
Yep. But we’ve got to make that experience work harder. It’s not just about walking into the calf and getting some [inaudible 00:20:46].

Will Patch:
And if you’re asking students, are you excited about having lunch on campus? Think about their experiences so far. Are you excited about going to have school lunch? Is that something that, oh, that’s awesome. We get all these…
Hearing about it is one thing. Do you want to hear about the food options? Do you want to make sure they can accommodate your allergies, your dietary preferences, things like that? I think that is much more important. And then you have that opportunity to excite them when they actually have it and have that experience.

Jeff Kallay:
And to say it all goes down in the dining hall on a lot of college campuses. You learn so much by watching a dining hall at its rush, beyond the food. The culture of the place is real.

Will Patch:
How do people treat each other?

Jeff Kallay:
Are they hanging out? Is this a social place? Are they just getting food and going? Right? Is it cliquey? All of those things.

Will Patch:
My favorite was the time a current student was telling some prospective students, “Oh, I love it. Whenever there’s students here, the food’s always better.” But there’s students, prospective students, on campus every single day.

Jarrett Smith:
All right, so I want to turn our attention to parents. This is an audience that is particularly interesting to us at Echo Delta. We’ve done some research around it, but your survey I thought was interesting in that it found 50% of parents expect a campus visit to have parent-specific info and another whole 37% maybe don’t expect it, but they would prefer for parent-specific info.
So Will, my question to you is, have you asked this question before? And then was there anything about that that you found particularly surprising?

Will Patch:
Asked around it, asked it slightly differently. I wanted to come head on at this time because expect is a very different sentiment than prefer, want, like to, expect. If I’m going to a restaurant, there’s things I expect. There’s things that are exciting, I like having. But those expectations, if they’re not met, it’s a negative experience.
And so the fact that half of them expect parent specific info, if you spend the entire time only speaking to their student and their student’s needs and all that… Yes, you want to focus on them of course, because they’re the ones who will be on campus next year hopefully. But leaving the parents out and not having things tailored to them is not meeting their expectations, is what we’re hearing.
And that’s very surprising to me. I was expecting a decent… Expecting. A decent number to expect it and a larger percentage to prefer it. So that was a bit of a surprise.

Jarrett Smith:
Jeff, I know you have been pounding the table on this for a long time.

Jeff Kallay:
[inaudible 00:23:30] parents from college tours, I would. Because they just removed the fun. But sorry, Jarrett, go ahead.

Jarrett Smith:
No, I think my question is, if you were constructing a parent-specific section of the tour, how would you approach that?

Jeff Kallay:
So I think we have to acknowledge there are still leaders on campuses that don’t believe it’s a co-purchasing decision of the student and whatever that significant adult is, right? Because not everyone has traditional parents or come… Right? And so when I’m saying parents, I mean that loving adult.
And they act like they don’t exist. And faculty that just… Oh no, students are coming. That ship sailed 20 years ago with boomer parents being best friends with their millennials and bringing that co-purchasing on campus. It was a bit more collaborative where we watched Gen X and Gen Z who are a bit more divide and conquer, right? Gen Z has said to us, if my mom vets the housing and my dad says we can afford it, I’m not worrying about that.
So to answer your question, I think, one, we have to acknowledge that the parent is vital in this. It’s why we train tour guides to have parents give their names. So many the students name hometown major, and then we act like the parent doesn’t exist. And then we wonder why they’re mad at us. Yet the very first question being asked is from a parent.
I think, Jarrett, we have to figure out where in the enrollment funnel is this? Because I think when you’re further down into accepted and yield and you’re really getting into orientation and scheduling and how do we move in the parent content? But I think if you look at Echo Delta’s parent survey, we are not presenting the proper information. Our information sessions are just horrible and they don’t address those parents’ concerns and needs of safety and wellness and anxiety and mental health counseling and those things.
So I think it’s… Here is what you have to do, is cutting that umbilical cord has to be done at the right time on a campus visit. Because go back to Gen Z anxiety. If you don’t tell them in advance that they’re going to have a portion where it’s just going to be them and they’re going to leave their parents’ side, that freaks them out.
And I think you can’t just do it in the very beginning. You’ve got to do that once they’ve assimilated to your campus and feel comfortable. So I hope that answers your question.

Jarrett Smith:
Gotcha. I wonder if kind of piecing this all together, if that isn’t the right time to take that student and say hey, we’re going to cut the umbilical cord. Of course, we would never use this terms. Depending on the campus, I don’t know.
And then you’re going to go talk with a current student and parents, you’re going to go over and you’re going to have your own time. And so you maybe ease the anxiety that way perhaps.

Jeff Kallay:
Yeah. You have to know who your audience is. There are certain number of my clients that it’s a very sophisticated student population and you can separate the student from the parent at the beginning. That’s just the nature of that student body.
But then others, not so much. We just watch it. The child clings to the parents. Nothing is more painful than watching Gen Z students introduce themselves at a group of 30. Millennials are great. “We’re all in this together. Yay, let’s do a cheer.”

Jarrett Smith:
High school musical, yep.

Jeff Kallay:
[inaudible 00:27:22] And then they run back to the parent. Was that okay? Again, come back to Gen Z anxiety. And I think that weaves through so much of the survey, in my opinion.

Jarrett Smith:
Interesting. Okay. Virtual tours. So I think coming out of the pandemic, it seems like it is now permanently a fixture of our offering. So I’m kind of curious, Will, what’s your sense about where the virtual tour fits in the mind of our perspective students?

Will Patch:
I think it’s an access tool. I mean, it opens doors. Only 37% of high school students said they’d attended a virtual event. So some people might say that and say, oh, we can cut our program. Okay. I would say the opposite.
That that’s 37% who might not ever be able to set foot on your campus, but if they get a feel for it, see that they can fit in there, 41% of non-traditional students, 58% of transfers, half of parents. These are not tiny numbers. And this is something that’s opening the door to your school.
Of those who did attend one, 21% of high school students said that significantly swayed their interest. So whether they had a good experience and it’s made them significantly more interested or they had bad experience, it made them significantly less. These virtual events did hold sway in their decision.
It was more compelling for transfer and non-traditional students. Overall though, and this was across the board, they felt that events were lacking engagement and interactivity. Like it was you talking to a panel of people and you’re just watching. Why am I attending this live if I can just watch it later or listen to it later?
So overall, that’s a huge opportunity there. Are you talking to your audience? Are you providing that experience or are you providing value? Are you speaking with them? Is there opportunity in the chat? Is there opportunity for students to come on camera? We’ve asked before about that and a lot of students don’t feel all that comfortable, but some will.
And once if few do, that’s another opportunity for them to. Allowing with some of these apps and other things where they can provide their questions and their comments and their interaction. That’s something. We see people engaging so heavily in things like Twitch. Why do we think that won’t work in college?

Jarrett Smith:
Jeff, what’s your take on that?

Jeff Kallay:
I’m with Will on access. I think you look at RNL’s data on their student report that the students that truly need them and want them are underserved markets, first generation, families with lesser means. And yet, I think the way they’re created and the way they’re hosted, they’re not speaking to that audience.
And I think everyone still thinks of a virtual visit as a proxy to the campus visit instead of it being woven in to the funnel. And a virtual visit can be just as great for accepted students if done right. And it’s not just this look at it before you go and then never revisit it. And so I don’t think…
To the point of gathering in Twitch, higher ed is still the place, and I’ve said this before, that still thinks I have a virtual visit here and an on-campus visit here, and the two are not connected. The Delta hat and my flight experience are woven in and are one and the same when I’m traveling.

Jarrett Smith:
Will and Jeff, you and I were talking a while back about the notion that maybe there’s some virtual content that would only make sense and should only be presented after you’ve actually physically been on campus.
Because I know that you get a campus tour from one campus ambassador and it can vary so widely. They can both be great, but be great for different reasons. I know, Jeff, you and I were on a campus this time last year and had a fantastic tour with a really smart young woman who had her stuff together. I think she was pre-law, so she was just boom, boom, boom. Very factual, super informative.
And then we went out with the bro student athlete later in the afternoon, completely different vibe. And she imparted I think a lot more sort of useful information in some regards, factual information. But then the student was really keyed into certain campus traditions, which were also awesome. There was this big… We walked into this room that we had been in with the other ambassador, and he pointed to this large ornate silver trumpet hanging over this doorway.
I mean, it was like this, I don’t know, viking bugle type thing. It was crazy looking. Had not merited mentioned on our first story. And he was like, “Every year, a senior is selected to blow this horn at some big gathering and I want to be that senior.”
And it was cool. You could see his passion. You’re like, this is a really neat tradition. And I think on any campus, there’s too much. There are too many great little nuggets to just, you would just overwhelm people if you talked about every single thing. And so maybe schools could be more intentional of we want to piece out the content. There are some things that we could follow up with that you probably didn’t get on your tour but could be super relevant.

Jeff Kallay:
Absolutely. Absolutely.

Will Patch:
Are you live-streaming just a hey, we’re going to go to this building, talk with some faculty and students who are working on a project. Okay. Let people ask questions, live in the moment. It doesn’t have to be this stag thing. Well, okay, at four o’clock we’re going to be live on Instagram as we walk around campus. Okay, great. I mean, doing that same type of tour regularly, and I’ve seen schools that do that a couple times a week.
That’s great. And that provides that opportunity. But switching it up, too of, okay. This week we’re going to be doing it as an informal stream tour event of the business programs. And here we are over here doing chemistry and biophysics. And providing these highly segmented experiences is much more relevant than just going around pointing out buildings every time.
Having different students does wildly make that experience better or worse. But let’s provide something a little more relevant that they might not get if they just visited campus.

Jarrett Smith:
I want to hop back, Will, to the access question.

Will Patch:
Yeah.

Jarrett Smith:
And we talked about virtual tours as being key for those audiences that may struggle with access. And in your survey across parents transfers, non-traditional students, lots of them cited lack of resources as the barrier to campus visits.
So could you elaborate on that a little bit, Will, and tell us what you uncovered there?

Will Patch:
Yeah. And this is something where… When we segment for low income, first gen, underrepresented minorities, this was even more strongly felt. They’re also the ones less likely to visit a campus prior to enrolling. This has been an issue for students before. This is not a new thing at all. The way we phrased it even was resources in terms of money, transportation.
I worked at a rural college and we would have people from Chicago saying, “Well, what bus do I take to get there?”
One, it’s Indiana. There’s no public transportation. But also you’re not going to be able to just easily hop a train, hop a bus, hop the subway and get to something. So that limits options there. We asked about, too, colleges offering scholarships as an incentive for students to visit. That was a lot of excitement. Students really loved that idea.
My one caution there is don’t hold back aid. Don’t hold back aid and then give it to them if they visit. Because for the neediest students, they’re the ones not able to visit. Instead, if you want to have something on top, if you want to have an additional thing, like a bonus, a perk, that’s great.
But don’t hold back money from the students who need it most. You’re going to ultimately hurt your ability to yield those students.

Jeff Kallay:
I have clients that give you the money if you enroll. And I think in reading some of your data, I have flat looked at clients that are down in their visits post-pandemic, and I’m like, you need to give them a gas card when they show up. Or reimburse them for fuel.
This is time and money, and a lot of families don’t have the luxury that they work remote and can take time off of work.

Will Patch:
I think about the families I’ve worked with where they had one car for the family. Okay, mom and dad already have enough logistics trouble just getting to and from work. Now you add in how’s the kid going to get to a visit?

Jarrett Smith:
So Jeff, you kind of brought up an interesting thing, helping with very practical… Put fuel into your car. If an institution realizes hey, we really have some work to do in this area to make our visits more accessible, what sorts of things should we be looking at, thinking about?
And is there anybody out there, any examples, Jeff, that you could point to of folks that you’ve seen that seem to be doing this well?

Jeff Kallay:
Yeah. I think there were many before the pandemic and everyone’s in a restart mode, Jarrett. So I think that’s a tough one. I think that it is the commitment from leadership to invest in the visit, to invest in the staff, to invest in guides, to invest in stop thinking tour guides can only give tours.
They can be creating all that online content, that social media, the virtuals. I think it is things like ponder how do you eliminate the pain points of money and time. If you have empty apartments, decorate and convert those apartments and allow families who can’t afford a hotel to stay in those apartments on campus, right? Ponder gas money. And I think it’s provide the travel agent in your office to help families navigate those things.
And then we also challenge our clients, why do tours have to be from nine to four? That’s why we encourage Twilight Tours, wrapping a visit around an athletic event, a cultural event in an evening that a student doesn’t have to take a day off of school or their parent might not need to take off of work, but there is still this vital visit, right?
It’s a visit. It’s not a tour, it’s a visit.

Will Patch:
Yep. That’s where the fly-in programs, drive in, take a train in, where you’re reimbursing, you’re covering travel. That absolutely helps. But that also requires, typically, a bigger budget. So that kind of limits who can offer that type of thing.
There’s really one that I really like. Kent State, taking the visits and experience out to students, to dry vans, to open airs to theaters. I mean, taking that opportunity out into the community is a great way then that if a family can only come on the weekend and you’re four hours away or just in the evening, that gets really tough.
But if you go to them and it’s five minutes down the road, okay, that’s much easier then. You can go do that. Spend an evening as a family going out to the drive-in to learn about a college, grab some popcorn and pizza. That’s creative thinking there.

Jarrett Smith:
One thing that comes into mind for me is I’m hearing you guys talk about this, kind of goes back to a comment that was made earlier. This institution centric thinking versus student-centric thinking.
I think in the higher ed space, we spend a lot of time doing things like user journey mapping on our website in thinking about what are all the ways that people arrive at our website and all the use cases and all their little pain points? Let’s see if we can make this better.
The solutions that I hear you talking about really require doing something similar for that perspective family and really saying what are their actual struggles? What’s actually preventing them from getting here?

Will Patch:
This is the way it’s always been done. You always have to test, measure, optimize. Try something new, measured it, changed the yield it, changed sentiment. Did it bring in students who otherwise wouldn’t have visited? And then keep optimizing, keep… Okay, let’s see if we can carry this over to other type of events. Can we include students in other ways then? And that feeds your next experiment.

Jarrett Smith:
Parting thoughts as we wrap up the episode here? Will, I might turn it over to you first as the author of the survey. What do you…

Will Patch:
Yeah. I think re-emphasizing this. That your planning, your implementation, needs to be focused on their needs, not yours. Answer the question, is this valuable to them? Is it relevant? Is it an experience they want and not just, I want to be able to check this list of things we want them to do?
It always drives me a little crazy when people say, well, we want students to visit because it makes them more likely to enroll. Or is it the other way around that students who are more likely to enroll are more likely to visit? So let’s focus on answering their questions, giving them the experience they want, the things they expect, and then let’s get them excited.
The number of times queuing up something here for a couple months down the road, I’ve been secret shopping over the past nine months now. And the number of times just get an email that says come visit without making me excited, without saying why I should visit, why should I want to, what’s going to be awesome about this campus, is just lacking from 99% of those.
We’re seeing an increase in the number of students not visiting as we mentioned. So provide opportunities for them to feel engaged and welcomed even if they can’t set foot on campus. If they do, great. Get them excited, give them the experiences that make them see themselves there, but don’t let everyone else feel left out.
And then ultimately for something that’ll address everybody, meet students where they are. These traditional experiences are being less utilized and less valued, so we need to focus on providing a strong online experience. Are students able to really get a feel for campus and fall in love if they only ever see you online?

Jarrett Smith:
Good deal. Jeff, any parting thoughts?

Jeff Kallay:
The experience is the marketing and we need to bring back fun. The pandemic took away fun. I’m on a mission to make campus visits fun and not boring and we need to bring it back fun to the student experience.
I think that’s part of… These students are bored or they find these visits boring.

Jarrett Smith:
Jeff, are you now the Apostle of Fun? You were the Apostle of Authenticity.

Jeff Kallay:
I’m on a mission to… College is fun. Campus visits should be fun.

Will Patch:
What was it? Justin Timberlake brought sexy back. Now Jeff Kallay is bringing fun back.

Jeff Kallay:
Bringing the fun back.

Jarrett Smith:
Well, it’s the perfect person to do it. Can’t think of anybody better.

Jeff Kallay:
And it’s boring because, Will said it. They went and just picked up the book from how they’ve always done it.

Jarrett Smith:
Well, good deal. Great thoughts, guys.
Will, if people want to check out the survey results, which I highly recommend they do, and some of… All the other great work y’all are doing over at Niche, where’s the best place to do that?

Will Patch:
Well, ultimately you can find all of it on the enrollment insights blog niche.bz/insights. Gets you there directly.
If you want to go to this survey specifically, we do about nine big research projects a year, plus Insta-Insights and other things like that. If you want to go to this one specifically, the shortened link is niche.bz/2023recruiting.
Either one will get you there. You can explore all the research, probably too much information to consume all at once. So pace yourself. Pace yourself. But hopefully a lot of the tactical takeaways, things you can actually do something with.

Jarrett Smith:
Excellent. We will be sure to link to that in our show notes for this episode. So Will, Jeff, can’t thank you guys enough for being here and sharing all your wisdom and insights. Thank you so much.

Will Patch:
Yep. Thank you. This was a lot of fun.

Jarrett Smith:
The Higher Ed Marketing Lab is produced by Echo Delta, a full service enrollment marketing agency for colleges and universities of all sizes. To see some of the work we’ve done and how we’ve helped schools just like yours, visit echodelta.co.
If you enjoyed this podcast, please subscribe and leave review on Apple Podcasts. And as always, if you have a comment, question, suggestion, or episode idea, feel free to drop us a line at podcast@echodelta.co.

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Jarrett is our VP of Strategy and the torchbearer for all things digital. Since joining us in 2014, he’s made it his mission to help clients seize the power of smarter marketing strategies—and reap the rewards.

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