This is the first of four installments in our (Re)Precedented Webinar Series, which originally took place live in September and October of 2021.

Episode Summary

The pandemic stopped the academic world in its tracks. Most schools struggled to keep enrollment numbers up and getting students back to campus. Yet, for some, enrollment numbers were stronger than usual. Join us for a discussion with two small schools that posted record enrollment numbers in 2020.

Our guests are college enrollment experts who managed to have successful enrollment numbers during a pandemic. Their names are Sarah E. Coen, VP of Strategic Initiatives and Enrollment Management at Transylvania University, Gareth Fowles, VP for Enrollment Management at Lynn University, and Jeff Kallay, Enrollment Thought Leader. Topics discussed include:

  • How some schools grew during the pandemic
  • The challenge of scheduling campus visits
  • Strategies that made the difference and drove remarkable results
  • Showing the students the university has their back

Transcript

Jarrett Smith:
Hey, there. Welcome, everybody. We’re going to go ahead and get started. It’s 2:00 after the hour. And go ahead and make use of everybody’s time here.

Well, thank you so much for joining us this afternoon. Welcome to the (Re)Precedented Webinar Series. I’m Jarrett Smith. I’m the VP of strategy here at Echo Delta, and also the co-host of the Higher Ed Marketing Lab Podcast.

Quick note for those of you who aren’t familiar with Echo Delta, we provide marketing services and enrollment consulting for smaller colleges and universities around the country. If you want to know more about what we do, feel free to head over to echodelta.co.

Also, as a quick reminder, this is the first of four webinars that we’re going to be hosting at this time each Wednesday, over the next four weeks. If you can’t make it to the live session, don’t worry, we’re going to be sending out recordings to everybody who registered for the webinar. And so, please feel free to share those and pass them along to your colleagues, if you find it useful.

So, given that this is the first webinar in our series, I thought I might give some just very brief context for the vision of what we’re trying to accomplish with it. So, back in June, when we first conceived of these webinars, it looked as if COVID was on its way out and that we might be headed towards something approximating normal. We had originally called this series, Post-up, Navigating the Post Census Post Pandemic Enrollment Landscape. And the webinars were really going to be all about entering in the new year, right after census with a fresh sense of energy and focus, and some fresh strategies. Of course, as July and August wore on, it became very clear that we would not be post pandemic and that we might even be headed towards something closer to a repeat of 2020.

So, that’s where (Re)Precedented came from, because I do think that we can all agree if there was one overused word from 2020, it’s unprecedented, but of course, it’s really only unprecedented the very first time it happens. So, with all that in mind, we scrapped our plans and decided to focus on the significant challenges of marketing residential, place-based education in the current climate.

So, for those of you who did register under the Post-up banner, thank you for hanging in there, thank you for being flexible. We really appreciate it.

So, on today’s session, we have got just a really stellar panel discussion lined up for you. Joining me to help moderate this discussion is Jeff Kallay. Jeff is one of the leading authorities on the campus visit. And with two decades of experience in and around higher education, he is a sharp thinker on all things enrollment, not to mention, he is a fantastic human being.

Jeff and I will be joined by two incredible guests. First is Sarah Coen. Sarah is vice president of strategic initiatives and enrollment management at Transylvania University in Kentucky. She is a nationally recognized expert and author on the topics of enrollment and student success with over 25 years of experience in higher education. Sarah came to Transy in August of 2020. Timing is everything they say. And despite the challenges of the pandemic, Sarah and her colleagues at Transy brought in the school’s largest class since 2015.

Also joining us is Gareth Fowles. He is vice president for enrollment management at Lynn University in Boca Raton, Florida. He’s a native of South Africa. And Gareth first came to Lynn as a student athlete. During his tenure at Lynn, he and his team have steadily increased the quantity and quality of student enrollment. And in 2021, they brought in the largest class in Lynn’s 60 year history.

So with that, I’m going to stop the slide share and welcome our guests. Sarah, Gareth, Jeff, welcome. We’re honored to have you here, and really looking forward to this conversation.

Sarah E. Coen:
Thank you.

Jarrett Smith:
I bet that’s a good deal. So, heads up to the audience, during the talk, I’m going to be doing my best to monitor Q&A. So, please feel free to use that feature in Zoom to post your questions. We’ll try to keep track of them as best we can and work them into the conversation or perhaps save a few for the end, if that makes sense. Okay.

So, let’s get started. For those of the folks in the audience who are not already familiar with Transylvania University and Lynn University, I’d love it, if you could just give us a very brief snapshot of your schools and the students that you recruit. And Sarah, let’s start with you.

Sarah E. Coen:
Sure. Thank you very much. So, Transylvania University, you might have some jokes in your head about what Transylvania University is or means. And that’s okay. We like that too. But Transylvania, we are a private liberal arts institution. We are the 16th oldest college in the country, Transylvania across the woods. So, I’m going to give you a little Latin reference here, if that’ll be the end of my Latin lecture for today. But we are located smack dev right in the middle of downtown Lexington.

So, one of the beauties of Transy, one of the many Beauties is that we are not close to a city. We are literally in the middle of Lexington. If I look out my window, I can see downtown, see the fifth, third building and lots of other full buildings downtown.

We have an enrollment of about a thousand students, primarily residential, great school, great faculty, great community. And I guess, I’ll stop there for now until we go a little bit further, but that’s a bit about… And by the way, we go by Transy is our colloquial name. So, you don’t have to say the whole mouthful. So, Transy it is

Jarrett Smith:
Very good. Gareth, tell us about Lynn.

Gareth Fowles:
Thanks, Jarrett. Lynn University, we are located in Boca Raton, Florida, so about an hour north of Miami, about two and a half hours south of Orlando. We are an independent institution. We have close to 3,300 students. And as you alluded to earlier on Jarrett, that has increased rather significantly over the year, the past couple of years. And we believe that that increases largely attributable to the type of institution and learners. We feel that we are very innovative, progressive, forward looking institution that offers a great deal of experiential learning opportunities to our students. And that type of curriculum seems to be resonating with a broad depth of students. We attract students from 44 states and over a hundred countries. And despite the circumstances that we faced over the past 16, 17 months, we’ve still been fortunate to been able to recruit those students from far and wide across the globe.

Jarrett Smith:
Excellent. Well, thank you so much for that background. And I’m sure we’ll be digging into more of some of the specific aspects of your institution, some of the key factors that have really helped your enrollment success over the past year. I’m wondering if we could just rewind a bit, go back in the time machine to spring 2020 when-

Jeff Kallay:
You mean the special effect.

Jarrett Smith:
Yeah. Where’s my transition video? So, we will rewind, go back to spring 2020. I remember this well, because I was on my anniversary, Denver, with my wife in early March, and we were talking about COVID and it was kind of one of those, “Do you think this is going to be a thing? Sounds like it might be a thing kind of conversations.” Turns out totally a thing.

Jarrett Smith:
But I’m curious as a leader and particularly as an enrollment leader, early on, there was a lot of uncertainty about how much of a thing was this going to be. And then eventually would we shut down for how long? And then eventually, okay, we realized we’re going to be shut down for a long time. So, I’m curious as an enrollment leader, and I’ll start with you Gareth, how your thinking and perhaps the thinking of Lynn’s leadership evolved over that timeframe as you got progressively more information, and we began to understand that this was really going to be a lot longer term situation that we were in. If you could just take us on that journey a little bit.

Gareth Fowles:
I think reflecting back at spring 2020, it seems like an eternity ago, Jarrett. It doesn’t seem like it was just yesterday. I think for enrollment leaders across the country, it was a very trying time. It was a stressful time, because we know that our institutions are so reliant, many private, small, independent institutions around the country are so reliant on the enrollment numbers and metrics. And when I reflect back on that question and I reflect back on that time, it so much has actually taken place. And our thinking changed radically.

In some cases, we were constantly retooling our thinking, re-strategizing our train of thoughts. And I think we would come to a certain ideas, certain pedagogies, certain strategies, certain tactics. And within a couple of weeks, we were saying some of these need to be tweaked, some of these need to be changed. And really, I think go back on some of the things that we were going to hold ourselves accountable for and become that flexible, nimble, forward looking institution that I alluded to.

So, I think we were very cohesive and a very collaborative and inclusive organization to bring a large number of stakeholders to the table to say, “If we do this, how is that going to impact your area?” Because what we started seeing is that a number of decisions that we thought were ideal for a certain segment or a certain section of the institution, it actually had a ripple effect and was cascading to impacting other areas.

So, as we saw that this is going to be a long term opportunity for us, I believe that we really made some strong and some bold moves. Being in Florida, I think forwarded us some opportunities that we were able to take advantage of than some of my contemporaries and colleagues around the country were possibly not able to implement or institute, or adopt some of the policies, procedures, tactics and strategies that we were able to put in place.

Jarrett Smith:
Good deal. Hey, Sarah. Go ahead.

Jeff Kallay:
Hey, great to be here. Guest host, big fan of Echo Delta. We’ve had some clients together. Former clients of mine are working there. I’m old. One client told me all my press clippings on the campus visit, tell me how old I am. But as soon as you brought up that March 2020, and Gareth, I do want to hear more about the bold things. An all full disclosure, both Lynn and Transylvania University have been campus visit clients over the time. And I am big fans of Gareth and Sarah.

Jeff Kallay:
Sarah and I were actually at RNL together. The first year she was my boss. And when the dominoes were falling in March ’20, it was chaos. Right? And I want to bring up a point here is one thing Sarah said, take care of your clients, take care of your clients, take care of your clients. And the Render team, a lot of it was counseling, because we had been working remotely since really Render was started, and so much of our colleagues at RNL, we were both counseling our clients on what are we doing with events and campus visits as those dominoes were falling, but then they were reaching out to us about how do you take your staff remotely? And I think that was a double hit that both of these campuses had. And I think is playing out now in trying to bring some of those admissions people back.

So, I just wanted to give that shout out and say, I think that there was a lot going on back then that was external, even including class, but internal as well. And I know you were going to transition to Sarah, but [inaudible 00:12:17], “Take care of your clients, Jeff. Take care of your clients.”

Jarrett Smith:
Definitely. Well, Sarah, you were in such an unusual situation because you weren’t a transient the very beginning when it kicked off. You came in August. So, we’re already in full swing by then. And I just would love for you to tell us a little bit about what that was like, because you were coming in midstream on plans that were already in motion, I assume, and not to mention a new senior leader at an institution that you’re very familiar with. But can you tell us a little bit about what that was like stepping in mid-swing on all of this?

Sarah E. Coen:
Sure. You might be sitting here thinking, “Well, she has no credibility, because she must just be nuts because she actually left a perfectly good job in the middle of a pandemic.” Which is exactly what I did to come to another perfectly good job. But yeah, in all seriousness, I started here in August. So, clearly there had been lots that was already happening in motion, that the campus had dealt with. And really, I think what the guiding principle at Transy from the beginning was, what do we need to do to make sure that we’re keeping our community safe and healthy?

And so, we started or we now have this Healthy at Transy campaign, which again, started before I arrived. But a lot of it was really, I think, Gareth, you mentioned it, it was collaboration, communication, working together, being able to change and pivot, if necessary, if there was something that we thought was not going to work. Of course, the team was appointed to lead the institution through this.

And in addition, the president appointed someone who was really the leader. The joke was, she was our COVID Azarena. And she reported to the president. She happens to be our pre-health advisor. So, she knew a few things about this area. And so, she really helped to guide us through that. So, that was all happening.

And then when I arrived, I think what I tried to say was, “Let’s make sure that in addition to keeping our community healthy, what are we saying to our current students, as well as perspective students? How are we continuing to get our message out about the value of our education?” And being very honest about, we are trying to do everything we can to deliver the best possible experience. But we would be lying if we said during COVID we delivered the best experience we could because we’re a residential campus and students were largely not here.

So, I think a large part of it was having, again, the group, the working group, being honest with our students and being like Uber communicative with people to let them know what was going on, if we had to change, all of that kind of thing. But it was a very interesting time to start a new job.

Jarrett Smith:
Definitely. Well, so I want to talk a little bit about visitation. Jeff, you brought this up. And because the campus visit is for residential program, is one of those core moments we all know about. I’m curious how you handled campus visits and how that maybe that approach changed and how you’ve handled that? Gareth, I would tee that up to you. I assume at some point you shut down visits, or just walk us through the timeline of campus visits at Lynn.

Gareth Fowles:
Sure. Campus visits play a huge role in our enrollment success. And we have worked very closely with Jeff for many years. And Jeff has been a great mind to help us navigate some of these turbulent waters. And going through the last couple of the months, going back to spring 2020, we realized that one of the key factors to our enrollment success had just been stripped away from us. And we had to pivot really quickly and say, “Well, how do we provide this experience to students, that’s authentic, that’s sincere, that’s genuine and allows them to get a better understanding of our academic environment, our social environments, our cultural environments and our athletic environments?” And to Jeff’s earlier point is getting to know clients. We still needed to get to know our students. And that was in the midst of our yield season.

And lots of events are planned on campus from a yield perspective, not only on campus, but off campus as well. And all of those have been stripped away from us. So, it was not only on campus events, but it was off campus events, all around the country, all around the world for that matter. And we had to pivot really quickly and make sure that we could bring that experience to life. And I think we, as an organization from an enrollment management perspective, we were very nimble, flexible, innovative, and creative to create and bring that experience to students. And we were very strategic on how we went about doing that, to make sure that students felt like they were gaining and gleaning a real understanding for that return on investment, that they were going to be making at Lynn University, because some of those students had visited the campus, but some had not visited the campus.

May 1st was approaching. And as we know, many students hold off for that decision and until May 1st. And many of them are waiting for their spring break to come and visit respective campuses. And there’s that whole loop for us here in Florida, that they’re going from one institution to the next. And we knew that we weren’t going to have the opportunity to put our best foot forward and really engage them. And those engagements with our faculty members in particular are what really seals the deal for us at the end of the day.

And so, we had to go back to that approach that I talked about being cohesive and collaborative with our faculty members, with our academic of folks, with our advisor folks to really have conversations with students that were meaningful and help them get to a point that they could make an informed decision. And hopefully, that was a decision to attend us at Lynn University.

Jeff Kallay:
How did you say thanks to those people that were there during this first year of the pandemic, virtually and remotely helping you?

Gareth Fowles:
Yeah. Good point, Jeff. We spent a great deal of time sending out thank you notes, extending sincere levels of gratitude and appreciation to our faculty members. And I just actually just presented to all of our faculty members last week. And my first slide that I had up was just, thank you, just thank you for what they’ve done over the past 18 months, not just for our prospective students, but for our current students. And those two words, even though they’re simple, I think really go a long way. Because at the end of the day, it was really our faculty members and our community that supported the enrollment division to get to where we ultimately landed.

Jeff Kallay:
When did you both reopen for in person tours?

Gareth Fowles:
So, we here at Lynn University actually opened for classes last fall, August the 24th. And our tours opened shortly thereafter, beginning of September.

Jeff Kallay:
In 2020?

Gareth Fowles:
2020.

Jeff Kallay:
But limited to seniors only.

Gareth Fowles:
So, we gave preference to seniors. On days where we weren’t at capacity, we would then welcome juniors, and then sophomores. So, it was a ranking order in terms of who was actually able to come to campus.

Jeff Kallay:
And Sarah, same timeline for y’all in Kentucky.

Sarah E. Coen:
Yeah. I think it may have been a little sooner than that. It might have happened before I actually arrived. But I think one of the keys for ours and I would agree with everything Gareth just said, I think for us, our admissions team tried to continue the in-person visit as much as we could and we limited it to outside. So, we said, we’re going to stay outside. We’re going to be wearing a mask. We can at least show you that. Then we had a video that would accompany that. So, Transy had partnered with Student Bridge before the pandemic, which turned out to be a really good decision that was made because there was already a virtual tour that we could go side by side with the in person.

The other thing that our team was able to do was to still be able to show a residence hall. And so, they were pretty creative in going in a side door that we have a showroom that’s on the end of the building. So, we could at least take them in there. And we had a lot of comments from families that a lot of campuses were not able to do that. No criticism to them. It really depends on your setup, your structure, but the way ours was set up, we were able to do that. And I think if our admissions dean was on the call right now, he would say being able to still offer some as quickly as we could get back to some in person visit, even though it wasn’t the same was really important. Because yes, as Gareth said, when you take that away from us, you take the campus visit away that’s, I mean, you’ve taken our lifeline away there to meet the class.

Jeff Kallay:
So, I’m hearing fast response, strong leadership at both Lynn University and Transylvania University. And then I’m just going to say, geography helped with setting your record, and that the politics and tone of the state allowed you to give tours. Or am I making a political hunch, I shouldn’t make

Gareth Fowles:
Certainly in Florida, Jeff, I think that there were many of our contemporaries, us included that I think were able to open up probably sooner than some of our contemporaries. So, I think to Sarah’s point, we know at institutions like ours, that the campus visit plays a significant role in our ability to showcase what we have to offer. And so, being in Florida, I think that there were certainly advantages for us.

Sarah E. Coen:
And I think honestly, besides the political question, I do have colleagues that work Northeast and colder places. And clearly we’re not as fortunate to be where you are, Gareth. But at least it’s amazing that it took a pandemic for us all to get outside. But the amount of opportunity that we had for our faculty members, coaches, admissions counselors, at least to potentially try and meet in our Alumni Plaza or meet somewhere on campus outside, even if you’re not getting the same experience that you normally would, you have made a connection with a person.

Jeff Kallay:
I’ve heard that from so many clients that campuses have place base is rediscovered. The current students and faculty, and staff have rediscovered. When this all went down, and Garrett, I’m going to toss it back to you, because I know you want to talk about current students. One of the things we were saying at Render was, the way you take care of your students when that was all happening, right? Through this early part of the pandemic is really going to play out because the word is going to get out there on social media. People are going to talk about you is, how you handled it for your current students is going to impact your enrollment. And I think Jarrett, you’ve got a point that you want to ask about that.

Jarrett Smith:
Oh yeah. Sorry, Jeff. I thought I heard Gareth.

Jeff Kallay:
I know, Gareth, Jarrett. I’m not articulating well.

Jarrett Smith:
Yeah. Well, I am curious what-

Jeff Kallay:
[inaudible 00:23:48].

Jarrett Smith:
Yeah, absolutely. So yes, I did want to talk re-enrollment because there’s the one thing of bringing in a fresh new class, but then there’s also convincing your existing students to come back and to re-enroll after really challenging time. So, I’m curious how you approach that as an institution. Were there any specific initiatives aimed at re-enrollment that you would call attention to or any specific approaches that you launched towards that audience? And I’ll tee that up to whoever would like to go first. Sarah, you want to tackle that one?

Sarah E. Coen:
Sure. I guess, I can start with that one. Yeah. I think that we had some pretty intentional conversations about what kind of re-enrollment marketing campaign. And honestly, I think we should always have a good re-enrollment marketing campaign regardless of pandemic. So, this maybe is just one of those good examples of something we all did because we had to. But we should constantly be reminding our students why they made a good decision, right? In a variety of ways, however, we do that.

So, we did make a conscious effort to say, “Let’s continue to get that message out, through digital, through social, how are we communicating on our video screens across campus, what kind of messaging do we have across campus.” And then a lot of it, and I’m sure this was the same for you, Gareth, was just all the people that work here, faculty, staff, whomever, just really reaching out and trying to talk to students and making sure that they’re okay. And I think that genuine concern for them was just a part of our re-enrollment marketing.

On a little bit of a different note, one specific initiative that we did at Transy at the very beginning of last academic year, and this is an idea actually I guess, I’m ashamed or happy to say, I don’t know that I stole from someone else, who I talked to and said, I could steal it. It was fine. But we did an initiative called Pioneer Plus. So, we’re the pioneers. And basically what we said to our current students was because we’re not delivering the experience we had hoped to deliver, we’re going to offer you a fifth year tuition free, a summer course, or our May term as we call it, tuition free. Now, there was a strategy behind that, which was really meant to say, “We don’t want you to take a gap year. We don’t want you to take a gap year for a variety of reasons.” I mean, obviously some are probably selfish for the institution. Others are, that’s just probably not great for a student to take the gap year.

So, we had a couple of stipulations on this, but for students who stayed enrolled at Transy, and they were not able to study abroad for example, or they didn’t get all of their athletic season, or there were there were certain situations or scenarios where this really helped students. We didn’t have a hundred students do it. I think we ultimately had about 15. But I think what it did was we were able, and that we got some press attention from that. I think it helped to get the word out that A, we care about you and want to do what we can. And B, we recognize that we’re not delivering ultimately what we would have if we were not in the middle of the pandemic. And anyone who says we are, you’re just not being truthful. So, that’s one specific thing we did at Transy.

Jeff Kallay:
Well done. And I love the reiteration of the name Pioneer Plus, right? You’re the oldest school, west of the Appalachian Mountains, pioneers. It’s reiterated. It’s real, real. It is what it says it is. And I hope the 15 students that took you up on it benefited, but definitely probably got a lot of good word of mouth and press, and how do you make people feel.

Sarah E. Coen:
Well, ironically, we had a student who was able to do this really super cool research project. And she basically said, “I would never have been able to do this if I didn’t have this year.” So, again, it helped us and it absolutely helped that student and her family. So, that was a proud moment for us.

Gareth Fowles:
And I think, Jarrett, just to tag off Sarah’s comments is we oversee enrollment management division. And I have a real mindset as do many of my colleagues that we’re not just recruiting students, we’re recruiting graduates. And I think many of our institutions really paid close attention to how we communicate and what we communicate, and why we are communicating with students over the past 18 months, because ultimately, we know it’s going to be more challenging for us to recruit new students to the institution, with the demographic shifts that are taking place around the country and with the pandemic. And I think the gluttony of the media attention about the return on investments or return on education, and the scrutiny being placed on all of us, I think our roles are just becoming more and more difficult.

So, I think we all realized that the students that we have, we got to make sure that they are satisfied, that they are pleased, that they’re engaged, that they want to continue earning a Lynn University or a Transy degree.

So, at Lynn, we really placed a great deal of emphasis on our current students saying, “Look, this is the plan. I hope that you are going to be understanding that these plans may need to change at certain times as new information, as new data comes out. And I think it really served us well. I talked a bit about some of the bold changes. I applauded our faculty members incredibly during this pandemic. We actually changed our whole traditional semester, the 15, 16 week semester. We moved to a block schedule. So, that was a big change for our faculty members, for our whole community and particularly our students. And it was important how we communicated that, why we communicated that and the ramifications associated with the change.

And as we all know some students like change and some students are opposed to change. And we are still evaluating those changes. Early signs, it seems like it was a positive move us. But for us, we saw a pretty big bump in our retention rates this past year.

And when you look at the national data set, I think National Student Clearinghouse said that a retention actually dropped by two percentage points. So, we know that many students across the country were either saying, they’re going to set this out or going to move institutions because of the way that the particular institution handled it. And in today’s day and age, social media, our students say, use a tool to talk about their experiences positively, negatively, or indifferently.

Sarah E. Coen:
You keep the block schedule, can I ask, cause we move the block schedule as well, but now are back to our regular semester. And I’m just wondering what you did.

Gareth Fowles:
Yeah. So, we stayed with the block schedule for one more year, Sarah. We had some really positive data that came back, but we just felt that we needed one more year of data to analyze that. The early signs is engagement is up, attendance is up and grades are up. Operationally, systems and certain offices, it’s put a big strain on certain offices around the campus to maintain this because it’s a lot. And so, we are going to stick with it for one more year. And they make those analysis of the data and the information in school.

Sarah E. Coen:
And I do think one thing maybe to call out, we talked about making sure we’re thanking people, but if you think about on your campus, think about your registrar, registrar, financial aid. Some of our staff that are doing incredibly, detailed, minutia kind of work that don’t always get not on these webinars. They’re probably not getting a lot of external recognition. The amount of work and creative thinking, and just hard work to make this happen is unbelievable. Actually, when everyone says none of us can change and we can’t do that. Well, I think some of our offices that historically have not been too open to change, they’re really the ones that made a lot, at least at Transy, they made a lot of this stuff, and probably for you too Gareth, they made it work and made it somehow a positive experience for our students instead of one that could have just been horrible.

Gareth Fowles:
There’s no doubt about that, Sarah. I completely agree.

Sarah E. Coen:
Yeah.

Jarrett Smith:
Yeah. Jeff, you were listing off some of the qualities that you thought were leaving out to you in this. And one of the things that Jeff, I’ve heard you talk about this, but I think Lynn and Transy are both demonstrating this, is showing the student that you have their back and showing their family that we have your students back. We may not make the perfect decision. We may not have all the information to make the 100%, most ideal, but we’re doing our level best to pivot, and do everything we can to provide a great experience as evidence, not just through words, but through actual, tangible action that you can point to and say, “We’re doing this differently, and because we’re trying to serve you.” So, I think that’s great.

I want to wrap up our look on the past. This has been fascinating. But I do want to reserve some time for the present and the future on our little journey of Christmas past. So, I think just to cap this off, looking back, I would love to tee this up for both of you. Looking back, is there anything that you are particularly proud of, any decisions or moves that you look at that and you say, “Hey, I nailed it. Great job.” Or conversely, is there anything that just stands out, it’s like, “Oh man, I would totally do that differently next time.” Or hopefully, there’s not a next time around, but would’ve in retrospect done that differently. And Sarah, I’ll tee that one up for you.

Sarah E. Coen:
Sure. I think for us, one of the things is the Pioneer Plus, that was something we’re very proud of. I also was just proud of our pretty quick move to increase digital, what we were doing from a digital perspective to reach students, current students and perspective students. And we also increased parent engagement, especially for parents of our current students. Those I think are specific things. Probably just the most proud is really being part of such a great team of people who are just very passionate about what they do and really come to work every day to help our students.

Gareth Fowles:
And I would say, Jarrett, I’m most proud of our people and our team. We all went through an incredibly difficult time. And I would hedge to bet that there’s not one enrollment leader across the country that 18 months ago, if you said to them that you are not going to participate in one high school visit, one college fair, one NAAC program, one year event, that your enrollment will be where it was, or if not higher, I don’t think anybody would’ve taken those odds, but yet somehow 3000, 4000 enrollment leaders across the country were able to navigate these turbulent waters.

And what I’m most proud about is how our team responded to this and just their mindset, their mindset, knowing that we are going to go through a difficult time period, and we’ve got to become more resourceful and maximize some of those limited resources that we had at that particular stage, and be innovative, and creative and flexible, and roll with the punches. And to have a team like that to go through these times was to me very gratifying because at the end of the day, it’s all about the culture. And you can have the best strategic plans put in place, but I always say to our team, culture eats strategy for breakfast. And it was really the culture and the people at the end of the day that allowed us to weather this storm and come out on top.

Jarrett Smith:
Well, very good. So, let’s talk about current reality. I know there have been a lot of headlines around the so-called great resignation as people reassess. And earlier on the conversation, we were talking about the shift to online work and how folks mindset has changed around that and the types of things they’re expecting. So, I’m curious how the pandemic has impacted your staffing, particularly for those key support staff. I’m thinking of campus safety, the cafeteria, those roles. And then also one that I hear a lot about is frontline admission staff. I’ve talked to a number of schools that have had, I always expect some turnover, but a lot of turnover, and most importantly, difficulty refilling some of those empty spots. So, I’m curious, if you could speak to that a little bit. And Gareth, could you tell us a little bit about to what extent that has impacted your staffing?

Gareth Fowles:
I just spend a great deal of time talking about people and how proud and pleased I am of them. This is a point where I wish that we were immune to the great resignation, but we certainly saw some turnover this year. And historically, we are an institution, an organization, and a department that hasn’t seen a six significant high level of turnover, particularly in the admissions office, right? We all know that it’s usually one or two years, and it’s churn and burn, and they’re in and they out. And fortunately, we haven’t experienced that. And I’m pleased and proud to say that we didn’t experience that through the past 18 months, but we did see a higher level of turnover this year. I’ve been in this role for 11 years. And this past year I saw more turnover than collectively the prior 10 years. And I certainly saw it more pronounced in our student financial services team.

Moving to the block schedule as Sarah alluded to, there’s some of those back offices functions, that moving to a block schedule caused some significant stress, some significant more hours required to evolve and to change in a short time period. And quite frankly, just coming back to the office, we were not in the office for just over six months. And coming back into the office, and because we are front facing, front line department on campus, the admissions office and the student financial services, and our students success, that’s all housed under my umbrella. We were all required to be back on campus. And there were some other departments and some other roles and responsibilities that weren’t required to be back on campus. And I think some of our folks looked at this and said, “Why me? I’ve done my role for the past six months and why do I have to come back to campus?”

And within the enrollment management umbrella, there were some folks that are all front facing and some that are more back in operations, right? That don’t quite frankly need to be on campus. So we, as I think, many folks around campus, higher education as well, we were not immune from that. Right? I think the latest statistic that I saw, over 30% of Americans have changed roles or responsibilities over the past 16 months. And it wasn’t one particular arena or industry. And I think higher education and enrollment management was not immune from some of those heartaches that we’ve gone through.

Jarrett Smith:
Sarah, how’s staffing been at it Transy? What’s your experience been?

Sarah E. Coen:
Yeah. I would say for us, we did not have much turnover in the enrollment area. And maybe as you’re saying that Gareth, we did have a little bit of a different approach in terms of people coming back. And there are some days I think, well, part of me says, everybody should be here. Everybody should be on campus. But then to your point, the other part is there are some roles that you don’t really need to be on campus all the time.

So, I think our approach, and kudos to our human resource and administration teams, was talk to your teams about what kind of plan would work best for them. Because the other thing you had, I’m sure this is true for your staff as well, Gareth, that you’ve got some schools that are not still in. I mean, they are now, but they weren’t. So, of course, not a ton I can do if I’m a parent of a young… Then you have to make some accommodations. But anyway, regardless of what the scenario was for each person, there was a little bit more flexibility in terms of, “Here’s what I would like to do. I would like to propose that I come in two days and work remotely three days.” Or whatever. And we had a process that wasn’t just willy nilly, it was a process of what you would do to say, “Okay, what is my work situation’s going to be like?” Had to get approval from your supervisor. There’s a little bit more flexibility, which will potentially help there.

I think the area though, Jarrett, that you brought up that where there is a crunch, which doesn’t impact our students in enrollment is in other areas like campus safety, food service, facilities management, physical plant, housekeeping. We have just mandated the vaccine at Transy. And so, we rolled out a process, whereby our students, actually our whole community has to be vaccinated by October 13th. And/or you need to apply for a medical or a religious exemption. So, hats off all those people who went through that process as well, which is how are we going to manage all of that. But nonetheless, certainly, we will have some attrition in not only students, but also in our staff, and potentially faculty because of that mandate.

So for us, the staffing and the attrition on that and the turnover has really been more in other areas. But if you’re over in the cafeteria and you see these huge lines, I mean, the lines are long, which is, Jeff said yesterday lines are good. You actually have a chance to talk to people, which is true. Lines are not good when you run out of food, there’s not any silverware, there’s no ice in the drink machine. These are all real problems that residential campuses are not immune to. You go eat downtown, and it’s the same thing. So, part of that is making sure we’re communicating, why is that happening on campus? And what are we trying to do about it? But especially, it’s public safety, that’s an issue, right? Because you’re in a residential downtown location. So, we had to prioritize that and get that staff full speed.

Jeff Kallay:
So, I’m discerning this and I’m going to go on a rant real quick, or not a rant, but both of you have beautiful campuses, right? Lynn is younger. We’re going to call that collegiate Google. Transy is one of the oldest. It’s that traditional. Transy is the one school I actually wrote, your campus is too perfect, mess it up a little, right?

Sarah E. Coen:
It’s not anymore.

Jeff Kallay:
But I’m going to take a sense that you all kept the place going. I have been on some campuses this summer where you could have filmed the walking dead. The place and the selling of place based education was cut or forgotten. I have some private schools like y’all, were the president and other VPs have not been on campus during the whole pandemic. So to me, I just feel that the way you all have embraced your place, and I’m going to assume, you have tried to keep it going, thanking all those faculty and staff has been a key part and keeping invested in the place.

When I left, I was at Lynn’s campus on late July, and I told Gareth like, “Thank you for keeping this place looking good.” Right? Because others have not. And offices have been empty. And some of my clients and financial aid is locked up and says, “Contact us online.” And so, I say all that to say, I’m taking a hunch. You all have kept the place going as well as you could, back to the people and the community. Is that right?

Gareth Fowles:
Certainly, the case from our side, Jeff.

Jeff Kallay:
Thank you for that.

Gareth Fowles:
We take great pride in the way that we presents ourselves. And at the end of the day, right? Academics is the core of what we do. And we’ve got to make sure that those facilities are appropriately equipped to engage students in this new environment that we are in. Right? We have a bifurcated approach. We have faculty members who are teaching in person, but we have students that are taking these courses remotely. And we’ve got to make sure that the technology and the buildings can accommodate these types of adjustments that are made.

Jeff Kallay:
I’ve had clients rush to restart their visits when their campus is a mess. I’m like, “This is probably going to negatively hurt you.” So, all right. Sorry, that was more of a rant than a question.

Jarrett Smith:
I just wanted to circle back and have us all acknowledge the reason Jeff likes lines is because he is the quintessential extrovert and he is-

Jeff Kallay:
I’m the Fozzie Bear of higher ed. Come on, [inaudible 00:45:44].

Gareth Fowles:
Lines just give Jeff more time to decide on what he wants to eat.

Jeff Kallay:
That’s right, because you got to circle before you commit, when you go into a college dining hall.

Jarrett Smith:
Absolutely.

Gareth Fowles:
Exactly.

Jarrett Smith:
Absolutely.

Gareth Fowles:
Unlike our fit and trim former D1 and D2 athletes, guest loads, I still eat like I’m in college when I go to college dining hall. Sorry. I derailed, Jarrett.

Jarrett Smith:
That’s great. I love it. I love it when you derail the conversation, Jeff. It’s always fun. So, okay. Looking forward a little bit, thinking big picture strategy, moving forward. How are you thinking about the year and ahead from an enrollment strategy standpoint? And I guess another way to frame that up is like, what are you changing from last year to this year? What are some of the things that you’re evaluating? Sarah, you want to take that one?

Sarah E. Coen:
Sure. Yeah. I’ll start. I think for me and this maybe also answers the question of what do I hope we all maybe learn from the pandemic, I do hope that we look at the things that we did, what did we have to do in the last 18 months? What were we forced to do in spring of 2020, really through the end of the year? What did we learn from that? And what should we continue? So, we know the campus visit is critically important.

So, let’s obviously keep that in this best possible form as we can. And that also means if we have more people here to see visitors, that’s better than I’m at a high school visit or a college fair, not that we stopped doing those entirely, but I think we should take a hard look at, as you just said, Gareth, basically we did no visits, no fairs. I’m guessing, and this is what we’re trying to look at, is which ones of those have we really learned. We really need to stop talking about this and we don’t need to do those kinds of things.

So, I think in terms of the strategy it’s how were we efficient and effective? And which of those things should we continue moving forward? And then in addition to that, I think the big picture strategy is partially not even related to what we’ve gone through the last 18 months, but it’s really just making sure that your campus is aware of the environment that we live in and what the country looks like and will look like in 2025. If you serve gen Z, which we primarily do your programs, does your outreach, does your communication, does everything you do speak to them or to me? I’m not gen Z, obviously.

So, to me, the strategy is, part of this is just educating. Good colleague of mine, Kevin Crockett used to say, “I hate when I go to campus and I present this information, and they say, “None of this applies to me.” It does apply to us. It applies to me, to you, to your campuses. So, figure out what that means and what are some things that you’re going to do, new programs, new markets, new ways of communicating with students. What are some things you’re going to try and put on the table to be ready for 2025.

Jeff Kallay:
Sarah, as our former colleague and y’all know, Trent Gilbert, now vice president Birmingham, says this, “What are we going to drop?” Right? We just keep layering on. So, I think I heard you say, we’ve got to be intentional. You’re going to be intentional to figure out what you are going to change or drop.

Sarah E. Coen:
Yes. Yep.

Gareth Fowles:
And the way that we’ve looked at this is I go back to mindset is, how do you come through this? And what lessons have we learned and what opportunity are we going to take advantage of? And I’m cautiously optimistic for 4.22, but I do believe it’s going to be more challenging than 4.21. And the reason I say that is just because of trials and tribulations that several of our sophomores and juniors had.

So, from a search strategy perspective, there were less names for us to acquire. There’s less of those students that we were able to have on our campus. There were less of those students that we were able to communicate. And the latest step that I think I saw from the college board is there was 1.5 million test takers from the class of 2021. That’s 700,000 less than the class of 2020. So, now how does that impact our search strategy moving forward, for those juniors and so forth that weren’t able to get to the test, had trials and tribulations, getting to respective locations, even getting to our campuses? So, you have that from a search strategy. You have that from a communication standpoint, that in some cases we are communicating with less students. Less students being knowledgeable about what we have to offer. And you compound that with our admission counselors out on the road.

So, I have folks today that are in California to New York and Florida. My international team is still here on campus. They are not traveling internationally. But now that I go back to that bifurcated approach is we are continuing to go to high schools, NAAC visits, college fairs, and continuing to do remote programming. and that’s really trying, and it’s testing on our people.

And I’m worried about turnover. I’m worried about burnout. Because before they went on the road, we all said, “You have to have a plan A, and a plan B, and a plan C.” But it takes a lot to plan, plan B and plan C. And they just want to focus on A, but we know that when they are in a respective area, as we’re finding out that high schools are canceling the visits and saying, “Look, I’m sorry, our policies, our procedures have changed, and you can no longer spend time with us.”

So, I’m very optimistic for ’22, but I’m also not naive enough to know that it’s going to be challenging. And I think that there’s going to be winners and losers at the end of the day.

Sarah E. Coen:
And I think maybe two other points for the colleagues on the webinar to think about, Gareth, I think you draw more international and from more states than we do. But one thing that was a positive for us this year was we had more students locally. So, from Kentucky, and even really our immediate area and surrounding counties, and part of that, I largely believe was because these students didn’t have most of a junior year and part of a senior year in high school when they said, “I don’t want to go away. I’d like to stay relative close and be near my friends.” So, that helped a school like Transy. But I keep saying to our team, we probably shouldn’t expect that next year. And we have some students here who probably would’ve considered a land or another out of state private institution, and ultimately said, “I’m going to stay here instead.” I think that will possibly change next year. And we will see those students leave the state or leave the area.

And then the second thing is, for the whole test optional, and I know we don’t have time to talk about all of that, but Transy has been test optional for five years, but for the schools that, that was a newer phenomenon, that is just, everyone was in that boat in ’21. And as things go back to normal, if that’s even possible, or something other than what it was in ’21, it’s going to be really hard to guess or use historical data to figure out where your class is going to land, because there’s so many things that are different.

Gareth Fowles:
Yeah. Sarah, and to your point, I saw Common App recently released that only 43% of students submitted their test scores this year compared to 77% last year. So, the test optional movement is real.

Sarah E. Coen:
Yes.

Gareth Fowles:
And I think it’s going to be interesting. We’ve been test optional for seven years as well. And we even saw a higher percentage of our students enrolling that apply test optional. And there’s going to be some institutions that have had a bite of the apple. It’s really sweet. And they’re going to finish the apple, and not go back, I think.

Sarah E. Coen:
Yeah, I agree.

Jeff Kallay:
And Gareth, well, you were talking very quickly, what I have also realized is, we now have college tour guides and ambassadors that don’t know a pre-COVID campus. To your point of like burnout and stress, Sarah, that’s a whole… I had that wake up call recently. And so, when you talk about how important the visit is, yet it’s a different type of story and narrative that they’re telling, and high potential for burnout with student guides as well. But we’ll talk about that on the campus visit webinar.

Jarrett Smith:
Yeah.

Jeff Kallay:
Jarrett, sorry.

Jarrett Smith:
Yep. We’ve got a lot to unpack there. Well, I know we’re coming up on time. And I know some of us have a hard stop at two o’clock. And I want to be respectful of everybody’s time. Sarah, Gareth, I just want to say thank you. It’s been a really fascinating conversation. Thank you for sharing so openly about the challenges and successes that you’ve had and some of your thoughts looking forward, even though there may not be straightforward, easy answers. I really appreciate the candor in thinking that you’ve brought to this conversation. Thank you so much.

Sarah E. Coen:
Of course, thank you.

Jarrett Smith:
Thanks so much for your time today.

Jeff Kallay:
Thank you for your leadership, both of you.

Jarrett Smith:
Absolutely. Well, to everybody out in the audience, thanks you for being here. We will be back next week, next Wednesday at 1:00 PM Eastern to talk with Jeff and a special guest, May Waters from Suwanee to talk about the campus visit, which we’ve been talking a lot about already today. So, that should be a really great session. Take care, be safe, everybody. Check your inboxes for the webinar replay. We’ll see you soon.

Sarah E. Coen:
Thank you all.

Gareth Fowles:
Bye. Thanks very much. Have a good day. Bye.

Jarrett Smith:
Bye.