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

Webinar Summary

We all understand that parents are a top influencer in the college search process. Thanks to the rise of social media and personalized digital marketing, they are more engaged and more skeptical than ever before.

In this session, Echo Delta Sr. Strategist Laura Martin Fedich and Jarrett Smith will talk with David Becker and Todd Abbott, parent engagement experts at Campus ESP, about the insights and strategies you’ll need to influence this critical influencer. Topics in this session include:

  • Not putting up a wall between parents and the school of choice
  • The best way to engage parents effectively
  • The biggest barriers in parent engagement strategy
  • How to effectively engage parents in the pre-application process

Transcript

Jarrett Smith:

All right. Well, welcome everybody. And thanks for joining us today. We’re going to go ahead and get kicked off and rolling with our webinar. Today’s webinar is the Parents and Guardians of the Enrollment Galaxy. It’s going to be all about engaging parents that important, critical influencer in the college search and ultimately retention game.

Jarrett Smith:

So today, just as a quick reminder, this is actually the fourth and final webinar in a four part series, our (Re)Precedented webinar series, where we have been exploring a lot of the challenges in marketing place-based residential education during at pandemic. And so if you haven’t checked out the previous four episodes, I really encourage you to do so. We’ve had some, some really amazing guests and really useful commentary and insights provided over the past few weeks.

Jarrett Smith:

Last we started with interviews with enrollment leaders at Lynn University and also at Transylvania University talking about how they were able to grow record enrollments during COVID. And I think most importantly, how they’re looking at the year ahead and, and adjusting their enrollment strategy for the kind of challenging landscape that we have ahead.

Jarrett Smith:

The second session was back to campus visits, but not like before. That was with Jeff Kalay and May Waters from Sewanee University talking all about the campus visit. That is a really rich episode full of just fantastic information. And May Waters really did a just incredible job kind of peeling back the layers of the onion and really sharing how they run their visit operation at Sewanee. So fantastic and worth looking at.

Jarrett Smith:

And then last week we talked about digital advertising and some of the important changes with regard to privacy and what that means for driving inquiries at your school. So all great relevant topics. Today we are joined by Laura Martin Fedich, who is our Senior Strategist at Echo Delta. Hi, Laura, and also two other guests. So joining us to have a panel discussion on all things about parent engagement.

Jarrett Smith:

So I’ll do a quick intro and then I’m going to actually turn over to, I guess, to kind of round out their intros, but joining us today is Dave Becker. He is the CEO of CampusESP, and also Todd Abbott, Director of Business Development at CampusESP. Todd, Dave, welcome.

Dave Becker:

Thanks, Jarrett. Nice to be here.

Todd Abbott:

Thank you. Yeah, excited.

Jarrett Smith:

Yeah. Well, I think this is going to be a really fun conversation and we’ve got a lot of great territory to cover. So let’s, before we kind of dive into all that, I’d love it if you could just give us a quick snapshot of your professional background and the good work you guys are doing at CampusESP. And, Dave, I know your hoodie collection is stronger than Todd’s. So I’m actually going to just start with you and see if you can tee it up for us.

Dave Becker:

I feel bad. I’m not wearing my startup hoodie today, but hopefully I can still retain the start cred here. Yeah. So I’m the CEO and co-founder of CampusESP, been working on CampusESP for about five years now. Before that most of my professional experience was in education technology at Ellucian, SunGard, STT, if you use Banner, I’m sorry. I was the senior vice president of product over Banner when I left there and just been in the education technology space for a long time.

Dave Becker:

So I’m excited to share some of the insight that we have around parent engagement. CampusESP helps colleges and universities engage with parents to support student enrollment, student retention, also parent giving as well. And we work with about close to 200 schools right now, and all different shapes and sizes.

Laura Martin Fedich:

And Dave, since we’re talking about place based today, where are you located? And don’t tell me on a chair in an office.

Dave Becker:

I did think I said that to you the first time we met. I’m in Philadelphia and I live in downtown Philadelphia. So there’s very good chance, like a trash truck goes by, somebody screams, something happens here in the background. So I’ll probably be in mute in between talking points here.

Jarrett Smith:

Good to know. We’ll we’ll listen out for it for sure. Todd, go ahead.

Todd Abbott:

It’s interesting. You, you said that, so I’ll get the place based piece of this immediate, I’m in my house, but in Olympia, Washington. So I’m representing this group here on the West Coast, and I literally have people outside of my office window right now, blowing leaves off of our lawn and all of that. So I might be going on mute every once in a while as well.

Todd Abbott:

Welcome again and excited to be a part of this. So yeah, Todd Abbott, I’ve been in higher education for 24 years and that could be a webinar in itself just how I got into enrollment, but we won’t worry about that today. Spent the first 11 years on a campus, ended as Dean of Enrollment at St. Martin’s University, which is a small private institution out here in the Northwest, and then went to the company side of things and helped support colleges and universities for a number of years.

Todd Abbott:

The interesting piece for me and where I’ve now kind of come on board with Dave and the team at CampusESP is the last three years at my previous company, I was asked to sort of build out a whole partner ecosystem. And the first thing that I sort of thought of was, “We need to do a better job of finding ways to engage with parents.” And not just the, “Dear insert,” and just send an email that we’re sending to prospective students as well.

Todd Abbott:

And so I latched on to Dave formed a pretty good relationship, or at least I think so, we’ll see. He does have a better hoodie collection than I do. And so I’ve been with Dave as his Director of Business Development since February of this past year. And it’s been a lot of fun, really, really helping institutions sort of think about, think about ways to engage parents in maybe in different ways than what they’ve done in the past. So that’s probably too much, Jarrett, than you probably needed, but that’s me.

Jarrett Smith:

No, that’s great. Well, thank you, Todd.

Todd Abbott:

Yeah, you bet.

Jarrett Smith:

Yeah. Well, let’s kind of start with the basics because I think that anecdotally and through sort of everyone’s experience, I’m sure that’s on the call. We all sort of recognize that parents are just a critical, if not the most and critical influencer. And I do want to tee up this conversation by saying, when we say parents it’s parents and guardians, there’s a lot of different people that serve that really loving, influential adult role in the life of a student that are shorthand for that will be parents, but we realize they come in all different flavors.

Jarrett Smith:

But my, I guess my question to you is can you paint the picture for us a little bit, what is the impact of that parent or loving adult in the student’s life with regard to higher education and the college search process and ultimately their retention? Because I know you guys have done a ton of research this and I think it’s super interesting.

Dave Becker:

Todd, should we rock paper scissors for this? Or should I go first?

Todd Abbott:

I’ll let you go first and I’ll piggyback, Dave.

Dave Becker:

Yeah. I mean, there’s definitely an enrollment impact and we work with schools. It’s a lot of it’s focused on enrollment. And sometimes it’s about increasing enrollment, student yield, and top of the funnel activities as well. And then there’s also an impact on the retention side. It just depends on the school and also not all parents are created equal. So when we help schools engage with parents and families, it’s not ever one size fits all.

Dave Becker:

I can tell you just some broad stats and then maybe we can jump into those if we’re going to head that direction. But on the enrollment side, we see student yield increase up around six percent when you’re engaged, engaging parents of students, at least in CampusESP, but I think it’s broadly if you’re reaching out to them. And then we earlier on in the funnel, we see students with three X higher enrollment when their parents are in CampusESP.

Dave Becker:

So you’re trying to reach them preferably before the student, or possibly parent, completes the application. And then once the student has been enrolled, we also see impact on the retention and persistent side. So, and that is up to 15% when… Or student retention rates are up to 15% higher when you specifically share information with the parents about financial aid, student holds, and student status changes. A lot of those are protected by FERPA.

Dave Becker:

So there’s a lot of like nuance in those areas, but if you’re putting a wall between yourself and parents, it’s not helpful. Parents want to engage and there’s a lot of ways that they can actually probably influence your enrollment strategy from a positive.

Todd Abbott:

I’ll just, anecdotally, I’ll also say so much of this is timely for me. I have a senior in high school and I can tell you that the institutions that my son’s interested right now, he’s sort of narrowed his list, if you will. Probably do about eight to 10 schools that he’s planning to apply to. And there’s really two or three that I’ve been fairly engaging with me as a parent, keeping me informed about the information, and the things that they provide at that institution.

Todd Abbott:

And I can just, again anecdotally, we haven’t gone through the entire process with him yet or not, but I can tell you sort of where I’m leaning as an influencer and as his parent of sort of the institutions where I feel like they’ve engaged with me in a way where I can then better support my son in sort of his decision making process as well.

Todd Abbott:

And so I just, that sort of supports everything that Dave has said in terms of engagement with parents in this process, really

Jarrett Smith:

Good deal. So, well, I guess that kind of tee’s up another question, which is, what is it that we even mean when we say parent engagement? Like, can we put a little specificity around that so that we have a little bit more of a definition that we all kind of know what we mean when we say that?

Todd Abbott:

I think, for me at least, I, you know, yes, it’s funny, engagement, right? There always tends to be sort of these little buzzwords in higher education or in enrollment management over years. And it seems like engagement is one of those right now. But to me, it’s are you able to provide some mechanism of communication that allows for some level of sort of two way back and forth to learn a little bit more about the other person on the other end?

Todd Abbott:

So when I think of parent engagement, when I think of the things that we try and do, or we try and encourage institutions to be thinking about, it’s and I’ll go back to what Dave said, it’s not one size fits all. So if you are going to communicate, or engage, with parents and families, you want to hear back from them. You want them to identify sort of what their hot buttons are, right? For me, things that are most important to me are going to be different than what are more important to Dave as a parent.

Todd Abbott:

And so, and I want to be able to sort of convey that if you will, back to an institution. So to me, that’s sort of what I think of. Others probably have better definitions of it, but that’s, to me, that’s what I think of as engagement.

Dave Becker:

Just picking up off of what Todd’s saying, everybody’s engaging with parents already, right? Every single school is engaging with parents because they’re engaging with you. So like it or not, they are engaging with you. I think where we’re seeing a lot of schools now head is trying to get strategic with that parent engagement and connecting it back to real enrollment goals.

Dave Becker:

So a lot of times when we work with a school, that’s the first conversation we’ll have, which is like, “Why are you engaging with parents in the first place? Are you trying to increase applications or get deposits in sooner? Or decrease student summer melt?” So all those different things are, they become the foundation for your parent engagement strategy. You know, parent engagement, just like financial aid is a dial. I would say, financial aid, the dials turn to like 11 right now. We know financial aid makes a big impact with enrollment, but for parent engagement, a lot of the schools we work with are just still on the one setting and they need to start thinking about how they can leverage parents.

Laura Martin Fedich:

So Dave and Todd, you know, before I started my, my time with Echo Delta, I spent about 30 years in higher ed enrollment, all working for place based or residential colleges and universities. And I look back on those years talking to you all now and I hear the stats, I think I heard yield goes up by six percent. That’s enormous. I mean, what enrollment leader doesn’t want to agree six percent?

Laura Martin Fedich:

And we can probably dig around on that stat a little bit more if we have time, but I just look back at it. I said, “Why don’t we do this better?” I feel like I speak for my colleagues when I say, “I feel like we’ve fallen down on this.” It seems so obvious with the stats and what you say, but none of us do this well. At least in my circle, we could all do it better. So why is it so hard? Talk to us a little bit about that. Why don’t we do this better?

Dave Becker:

I have a story to tell. I don’t know. I might regret this story right now.

Laura Martin Fedich:

We love stories.

Dave Becker:

Okay, so here’s my story.

Jarrett Smith:

That’s the best kind of story by the way, Dave. So this will be great replay. All right, we’re recording.

Laura Martin Fedich:

And be sure to overshare that’s what we want.

Dave Becker:

Well, we are talking about parents. That’s perfect.

Todd Abbott:

Exactly.

Dave Becker:

So before we built anything with CampusESP, we were basically talking with schools. One of the schools, they’re actually a customer now, Temple University. And I was connected a friend through a friend to somebody who was in charge of advising and counseling at the school. And I was just trying to get feedback on parent engagement, because I’m Gen X, we did not connect with our parents at all. So I was kind of blown away by the fact that these parent engagement levels were so, parent involvement levels, were so high.

Dave Becker:

And so I was just asking her stuff about, “What’s it like and how are you engaging with parents?” And she hated parents. And she’d been there at the university a long time, you know, 25 years. And she had an opinion. She’s like, “Parents are overbearing. They hurt critical thinking skills and independence and all these different things.”

Dave Becker:

All these reasons why parent engagement was bad. And so I was just trying to get off the phone with her and end on a high note. So what do you do when you try to end on a high note? You ask the person if they have kids and, because everybody loves talking about their kids. And I was like, “Do you have kids?” And she’s like, “Yeah, I have two daughters. They’re both in college.” I’m like, “Oh you must be so proud,” I was like, “How are they doing?” And she’s like, “They’re doing great, but only because I check their grades every single week.”

Dave Becker:

And that is really the notion that’s out there, which is there’s this hypocrisy right? There is this hypocrisy of like, yes, all other parents should back off. But when it comes to my kids, I’m going to engage. And this feeling of what parents should or shouldn’t be doing is what is the biggest barrier to creating a parent engagement strategy because you know if you take parent engagement back to your campus, there’s going to be somebody in another department who has an opinion about what parent engagement should or shouldn’t be regardless of what the data shows.

Dave Becker:

And that’s why my earlier answer, and what Todd was saying too, tie it back to enrollment stats. You’re not going to change cultural trends and norms that are happening with parent involvement. Just see whether you can leverage that for enrollment or giving or a lot of different topics there.

Todd Abbott:

I think I’ll give a quick story, not nearly as good as Dave’s. Even, and this goes back several years, I was still on a campus at the time. And I remember the term again, I talked about sort of sometimes there’s different little buzz words and all of that. And really the term sort of helicopter parent had started to become more and more prevalent out there. And I remember sitting in essentially a team meeting with multiple people around our campus and I remember specifically our Director of Financial Aid saying, “This is the student’s decision. The student is the one that’s going to campus. They’re the ones. We can’t, you know, we’ve got to do what we can to stay away from these helicopter parents.” And I just inherently at the time I said, “We need to embrace the helicopter parents.”

Todd Abbott:

I don’t, I think for, and Laura, you’ve been, like you said, you’ve been a part of this and you’ve seen this. I don’t know if we as an industry, like fully, fully understand that at the end of the day, this is a joint, this is a buying decision that ultimately most 17 and 18 year olds are not doing on their own. Right? If they’re not doing it on their own then who is doing it? Well, the parents or the mentors, whoever it is. And so we need to engage with them.

Todd Abbott:

We need them to understand value and the kinds of things the institution could provide. And I just, I think it’s been to Dave’s point, I think it’s been sort of glossed over and it’s because at the end of the day, everything is about this 16 or 17 or 18 year old student. And it’s not understanding that it’s a a family decision, really, for at least eight or nine out of 10 students, it’s literally, it’s a family decision. And so I-

Laura Martin Fedich:

Right. Absolutely.

Todd Abbott:

I think that’s the piece that I think a lot of enrollment managers, or just university officials, have sort of to a degree glossed over in the past.

Laura Martin Fedich:

Yeah. Yeah. And there’s so much to unpack here and Jarrett and I are going to get to that, but you said something, Dave, that I just want you to spend a couple of minutes on, if you would? You talked about Gen X. So for those that are listening and watching today, and I know a lot of our friends out there do a lot of studying of these generations because it matters how we do our jobs.

Laura Martin Fedich:

So you’re Gen X, or I’m a Gen X. I’m not going to throw anybody else under the age bus here, but I have a feeling that we’re all in good company here. So give us some quick ideas of what our traits are. So as our audience is thinking, and we’re going to get to this, we’re going to get to the tactics, but help us with some of those traits. So we know how formulate what we’re doing. And as Todd said, maybe do a little embracing of this group of this wonderful, maybe some will argue, the best generation that’s ever lived. I’m just kidding.

Dave Becker:

You mean Gen X tweets? We are number one. We’re humble, of course.

Laura Martin Fedich:

Of course.

Dave Becker:

You know I think, when you think of Gen X, to stereotype, you think of like, we’re cynical, right? And so I think we go into the discussion with schools when our, and by the way, I have 10 year old twins and they’re already getting information from schools, so we’re little cynical maybe skeptical, but what we’re really looking for is return on investment. You know, it’s got to be worth our time. It’s got to be what we perceive as worth the time of our children. Right?

Dave Becker:

So I think the equation for us, for Gen X, when we were going to school was like, yeah, this is the natural progression. We were, I think, a little bit more independent from just relying on other people, because we were, I guess, what? The lock and key gen, something like that.

Dave Becker:

This generation, it’s not Millennials, it’s a Gen Z. They look at their parents as partners/friends. I think we all know the kids from our friends in our lives that they’re calling us by our first names and, and they really depend on their parents to be their friend too. So it’s a closer bond, lots of different reasons for that, that I could get into. But like I’m at the end of the day, I just feel like Gen X… Also has smaller family size too. I think that has something to do with it. Higher cost of education.

Dave Becker:

But I think from a Gen X perspective, we want to know that there’s a return on investment. So you can leverage that in your engagement strategy with parents because we’re skeptical. We don’t want to feel like we’re being sold to. We want to feel like there’s authentic content out there. And you know, that can make a difference in how we influence our children.

Laura Martin Fedich:

Thanks so much. I think that’s super, super helpful. So I’m hearing outcomes, it’s really important to talk about the outcomes, the benefits, as well as features, but certainly benefits and return on investment, which a lot of people see that as outcomes. Great. Great questions.

Laura Martin Fedich:

So tell us, and, and thanks for letting me go down that road a little bit, but I’ve got one more follow up. So before we get into the tactics of all this, so what are parents looking for, in us? Do they want a partnership with us? What are they looking for? What kind of… Maybe you could talk about that for a little bit?

Todd Abbott:

Dave, you want me tackle it or you got it?

Dave Becker:

Well, why don’t you go, Todd? And then I’ll provide color commentary. We’ll see whose stories, we’ll take a, can we take an informal survey poll at the end and see whose stories are better?

Todd Abbott:

Whose stories win? Yours will win.

Dave Becker:

Go for it. Go for it.

Todd Abbott:

I think, Laura, I think parents, I like the idea or the term that you just used is partners. I, again, I think about, because it’s really in the way we see this, it’s a co-purchasing sort of decision that people are going to go through. You know, I think institutions need to be, when they are communicating with parents, think about how you are communicating and segmenting to specific students. Not all of the students in your inquiry pool are one size fits all, right? You treat an out-of-state student differently than an in-state student. Or you treat, you know, or I shouldn’t say treat, I’m sorry. You communicate with students of color potentially different because you want to provide and you want to show the different services and the different kinds of things that you have in institution.

Todd Abbott:

The same goes with parents. As a parent, I still want to know, in reality, I want to know the same things that my son, in this case, wants to know. What’s it going to cost? What are the academic programs that are there? What is the ROI? Like if my son goes there, what’s going to happen in four years or five years? What’s the process, the timelines?

Todd Abbott:

Again, it’s the same kinds of things that we automatically are segmenting and sending different kinds of communication to students. We should be thinking about that from a parent perspective. What I would say though, just to add to that, is it’s not just because it might be very similar or even the same. It doesn’t mean you just copy the parent and send them the same thing that you’ve sent the perspective student. Like you still need to understand what the parent is looking for and communicate to them in that way.

Todd Abbott:

And I think ultimately, and as Dave indicated, it’s all come ultimately back to cost and ROI. Are they going to experience something here for the next four years and what are they getting out of this? And, but again, I’ll go back to partner. They are a partner in all of this, and I think institutions should think of them that way.

Laura Martin Fedich:

What you’re saying about segmentation is really interesting. I can’t help but think about parents of first generation students and maybe even the need to understand some of the terms that we throw around and the processes and yeah, really partner and walk beside them in all of this.

Todd Abbott:

I agree. And I’ve actually seen a couple of institutions that are able to identify who those, the parents of first generation students are, and try in a way sort of simplify the terminology and the communication that is going out to them without fail. And this is something that I have seen over the last, well year or so in sort of the time that I’ve been working with Dave and the team at CampusESP, without fail on nearly all to 200 schools that are working with them.

Todd Abbott:

Parents of first generation students all engage at higher rates than every other parent. They have this thirst for knowledge, right? They’re, because they, again, because they’re a partner with their son or daughter, they’re really trying to help them through this process. And so it’s pretty amazing to me to see the engagement levels that they have. They really, really have this thirst for knowledge, but the main part of it is how to simplify it so that they understand some of these crazy terms that we all use in enrollment management.

Dave Becker:

I’d love to jump in here and add a little bit more too, because this is the reason we created CampusESP. When we started seeing these trends that Todd is talking about, which is parents of first generation students engage at higher levels and families of color engaging at higher levels. There’s such an opportunity there, but when we started CampusESP, I’ll give another story here. It’s like we came up, we were focused on the helicopter parent narrative, and I was very proud of myself because we came up with this tagline that we actually trademark. I think it’s the only IP that we have, which is, “We give helicopter parents a place to land.” We were very proud of that. We would go to conferences. Maybe you, maybe if you listen and you saw like a booth with a helicopter in it, people would get pictures of it.

Dave Becker:

And they would like crack up, but it completely devalued the role that parents play. We’ve since moved away from that. Because when you start thinking of them as helicopter parents, you think that they are hurtful. You know? We had one school that told us they’re not only helicopter parents, they’re drone parents because they hover and they not only hover, but they attack. And what we find and we have data, just recently we co-sponsored some data with, or some research and we surveyed over 5,000 families of prospective students from our customer base.

Dave Becker:

We found that there’s kind of five topics that they’re most interested in hearing. I think, Laura, this is one of your questions too, which is the five topics, I’m reading so I don’t mess it up, academics, strength of academic programs, financial aid and scholarships, application process, timeline, and admission requirements, account services, and how to pay the bill. So those five topics, I don’t think there’s anything surprising there.

Dave Becker:

What’s really surprising from the research that we found is that higher income, white families or families with a four year or graduate degree are more likely to report having seen information on these five topics. When we look at low income families, families of color, and families with no four year college experience, they report having trouble finding this information. So a lot of what we do at CampusESP, and a lot of what schools hope they’re doing, is they’re thinking about the parents they’re trying to reach and where they might be struggling. If it’s a parent of a first generation student, they might not know what a registrar or a bursar is. You might have to take a step back if you really want to reach those parents and get them more comfortable with having their student, their child, enroll at your university or college.

Laura Martin Fedich:

So when do they need that information? I love that you shared with us what they want, but I recall in my days on campus it seemed like we didn’t do much with the parents. Well, unless they visited, of course, but as far as a regular communication plan, we weren’t doing much with the parents pre-application. And I think back on that, I think, “Well, gosh, it’s kind of hard to collect names.” And I thought about the CRM that I used and I thought, I think, “I don’t even think there are fields to put the parent information.” So I’m rambling a little bit to the question, but the question is, so when do we start engaging? When do we need to start walking alongside the parents? No matter who they are?

Dave Becker:

Todd, when do you want to be engaged with?

Todd Abbott:

I’m at the point where my son, I shouldn’t say I, maybe I’m becoming that helicopter parent. It’s pre-application. I think, even for someone who’s been in this world for 20 plus years, there’s a lot of information around specific institutions that my son’s looking at, that I don’t know about. And from a communication standpoint, I’m maybe more, I’m more adept at seeing when things are sent to me and I’m reading through those. We all know it’s extremely challenging to get students to look at the direct mail that comes to the house or even their email for that matter. I mean, they get hundreds and hundreds of emails.

Todd Abbott:

So when things are sent to me, early on in the process, it gives me an opportunity to sit down with him. Or he does read things for me when I forward it to him and say, read this. And so I think there is some of that. I think, Laura, you did talk about, you touched on the challenge, which is getting that parent information earlier, but I also, I see it as a mindset. I think we make it easy, if you will, to collect parent information at the point of application, because that’s when we’re asking for it.

Todd Abbott:

Well, why not ask for it earlier? Are we going to get 100% of our 35,000 inquiries that are in our database to get our parent information? No, we’re not, but we have to make a mindset to ask for it on the RFI form on our website or when they come to campus or when we’re at a high school visit or at a college fair. I think if we just change the mindset a little bit and understand that there’s some really valuable information that we can provide to parents early on, that will help the students sort of sift through the hundreds and hundreds of options that they have out there to identify the, whatever it is, the five or 10 or 15 schools that they really want to sort of explore at a further level.

Jarrett Smith:

So just kind of connecting dots across webinars here, since we’ve been on a little bit of a journey over the past couple of weeks, in the last week’s webinar, I shared an example of a school that provided optional fields on their RFI form and the way they teed it up, because they asked for all the usual stuff, name, email, and all of that to kind of create the contact record. And then there was a little check box that said something to the effect of, “Would you provide us with additional information so that we can personalize our communications to you and also send you things in the mail?” And then when you check it, it opens up a huge box that included some additional fields and right up near the top is parent guardian information.

Jarrett Smith:

And I actually, way back when, did a podcast with their Director of Web and Digital Marketing, and he said, “You know, we put this on here as an experiment, but we’ve left it on because people actually fill it out. Not all the fields, because we have a ton of stuff that we give them the options to fill out. But students actually are engaging with those.” Or it could be the parent filling out the RFI form. And you know who… And so totally possible, I think that that kind of nuance of giving people the choice to opt into the communication and doing it early.

Jarrett Smith:

And then when we spoke with May waters at Sewanee University, they have a really polished visit program. And she said, “We absolutely segment out.” And Laura mentioned this earlier. We have different tour experiences for our parents than our students. We separate them. It relaxes everybody. It seems scary. A lot of schools aren’t willing to do it, but it has absolutely been a big move. That’s kind of paid off.

Dave Becker:

Here’s the mind shift, Jared, that I think people are just starting to understand, which is the students want their parents involved, right? I mean that is, we were talking, Laura, about the Gen X mind shift. We did not want our parents involved. We wanted a ride to the visit, to the school, and then we wanted the parents to like wait in the coffee shop while we were took it. Like these students, they want their parents involved. That has been the biggest change that has really occurred.

Dave Becker:

So, if you do that and you just embrace it, it’s great because, because, Jarrett, you were talking about who’s really completing the RFIs, is it the students or the parents? That’s always like you don’t really know necessarily, but I will tell you this, if you do start engaging with parents and you send them a survey, they will complete it at a higher rate than the students complete it.

Dave Becker:

And you could even say to the parents, what schools are you looking at? Where do they rank? All these things you want to get from the student, the parents know, and they’re willing to overshare. I think we had an oversharing comment at the top of this. Parents are willing to overshare that. They’re also, they just kind of want to cut to the point. Maybe that’s Gen X as well? Which is just like, “This is where we’re at. Tell us what we need to know when we need to know it.” So it’s a resource for you and students are comfortable having parents be that resource.

Jarrett Smith:

Yeah. That makes sense. I have a kind of a specific question. So previous webinar, we had Jeff Kalay talking about campus visit. He’s constantly observing parents, within the context of the campus visit, and he mentioned that he has noticed sort of post COVID that the way he frames it up is that there’s kind of been a shift where parents are focusing a little lower on Maslow’s hierarchy of we tend to talk about this lofty self-actualization and leadership and find out who you are when really what folks want to know about is practical things like what does campus safety look like? What are your COVID protocols? How do I pay? As you all have mentioned, how do I pay for things? What’s this really going to cost? Whether is this really worth it?

Jarrett Smith:

But then just a lot of practical sort of things they’ll get there to the self-actualization piece of it, but first they want to hear about the basics and know that those are being covered. So I’m just curious in your work, have you noticed any changes that you would attribute largely to COVID and the types of information or parent behavior? And it’s okay if the answer is no, I’m just curious from where you said, what have you seen?

Dave Becker:

I guess I’ll start off and then throw it over to Todd, but a thousand percent. Everything changed March of 2020. Period. I can tell you that. One of my favorite charts we have at CampusESP is I can look at monthly active users in our platform and the users are parents and those levels increased five X at the start of the pandemic. And they’ve stayed five X high and they spike at different in times, like at the summer and at the start of each semester, as you would expect. But I can just tell you the parent involvement and engagement is a lot higher than before the pandemic and it was already high before the pandemic.

Dave Becker:

But since things have really escalated with COVID and I think parents are more concerned, absolutely, Jarrett, about like health concerns, safety, but also return on their investment. It really goes back to those outcomes and how COVID protocols maybe impact those outcomes and that progression that their students are having. But we see a huge, like it’s not like a little bit, it is like just dramatically, like a huge peak that’s occurred and it’s, to this day, it’s still that high. So it might come down. It’s probably going to come down a little bit. How could it not? But it’s still going to be a new level of normal when it comes to parent engagement.

Laura Martin Fedich:

Could you, just to follow up real quick, could you talk a little bit about how through your parent communication, college or university could address health? Because I think it’s safety, right? We used to, to talk about physical safety, not a lot, now safety means health as well. So how do we talk about that kind of safety? And then also how do we address what is sometimes the elephant in the room, but is certainly in the news a lot, and that’s health around mental health? We know that the rates of depression are up during the pandemic. How do you talk to parents through your communication about those issues?

Todd Abbott:

I’ll just, and Dave will probably have something on top of this as well, but I think to me, I’ll go back to even the survey that Dave talked about, ask. You know, ask the parents, what are the things that are important to them? So, and, Laura, you’re exactly right. When you think of safety is no longer are their cars going to get broke into and in rooms, it is wellness and wellness is a lot of different things. And definitely the mental health side of this has been an issue pre COVID and certainly has sort of taken on even greater meaning, I think, in the last 18 months. But I think, ask, and I think it’s making sure that, again, when we think about, I’ll just go back to sort of the original piece of how and what we’re doing to engage or to communicate with parents.

Todd Abbott:

And, and we want to make sure, from a best practice standpoint, that we’re not just checking the box. We’re not just saying we’re just going to send the same stuff, or we’ve got our three or four pieces of direct mail that we know that are sort of the umbrella that all parents will want to read. And just sort of send that off and check the box. Like let’s really take a step back. And as we think about, again, to go back to parents as partners, if they are partners, then if it’s important we’re likely, hopefully, communicating around some of this to the perspective student as well. Understand these are the services that are available. These are the things that we do as an institution.

Todd Abbott:

We need to make sure that the parents understand that as well. And I think you, I mean, you touched on it really well. It’s a massively important topic. But I think part of it is understanding that when we want to, if we truly, truly want to engage, we need to listen to what the parents are saying. Let’s ask them. Let’s ask what’s important to them. They’ll tell us, as we’ve all talked about this morning as well. They will tell us. And then I think we can address it from there.

Dave Becker:

Yeah, I would just add, I mean, there’s lots of different needs, right? So, first off you have to make sure you’re getting the word out about your services that are available to student. Most parents don’t understand the depth and breadth of those services. If you don’t do that, there’s one of two things that’ll happen, I’m guessing and maybe people are shaking their heads who are listening to this, number one, the parent, if they don’t have that information, they will go to Facebook and you will have a Facebook tornado of people’s opinions about how to get the support they need for their student. And some of that might be accurate. Some of it might not be accurate, but I guarantee you have somebody running around on campus who is spending 15 hours a week trying to like corral that.

Dave Becker:

And here’s, here’s what people don’t understand about Facebook. Only 15% of your parents are going there. It’s not the whole parent population. It’s really a subset of it. The parents, you probably need to reach the parents of first generation students. The ones that are not on Facebook, if they don’t get the information about how to best support their student, what they’re going to tell their student is, “Just come home. We’ll figure it out next amount. Let’s give it a pause, told you this is going to be tough. Maybe you’re not ready for this yet.” And that’s going to impact your retention.

Dave Becker:

So you got to be authentic with the content. You also have to take credit for all the resources that are probably on your campus, that parents are, that they don’t know about, but that they can influence and their student to get the support they need when they need it.

Jarrett Smith:

That’s a really good stuff there. I am curious if we could kind of talk really sort of brass tacks here from a kind of almost executional level on some things that y’all have seen work. One of the questions, that I know you’ve done some survey work on, is how parents actually, the actual medium that parents want to be communicated in? So, we have so many options today. But of out of all the sort of menu of communication methods we have, I assume it’s not Slack, how do parents want to hear from you?

Laura Martin Fedich:

Is it TikTok? No.

Jarrett Smith:

There we go.

Laura Martin Fedich:

Please.

Jarrett Smith:

It’s always TikTok.

Laura Martin Fedich:

Please let it not be, please not be.

Jarrett Smith:

I think for for our student’s sake, it’s not TikTok. I think Dave and I talk about this all the time and email is still by far the preferred medium of communication. I think we as a whole, we being parents, while we’re still inundated with email. I think we have probably, we’re more adept at sort of sifting through it and getting through email and we’re in it much more, I think, than even students are. So I think we’re, so we like email.

Dave Becker:

It’s not bad.

Todd Abbott:

Dare I say?

Dave Becker:

Let’s just own it as a generation.

Todd Abbott:

That’s exactly it.

Dave Becker:

We like email. It’s the first road to recovery, right?

Jarrett Smith:

We remember when email was fun. I mean, there’s a whole movie, You’ve Got Mail.

Dave Becker:

You’ve Got Mail, right.

Todd Abbott:

Exactly.

Dave Becker:

That’s a thing, Tom Hanks.

Todd Abbott:

I think that was, and it’s funny you say that, Jarrett, because when when I get email, I do and I can scan through my email when I see something from an institution, maybe I have that Tom Hanks moment? It’s like, “Oh, cool. I do have mail from X, Y, Z school. I’m going to read this.” I think we’re seeing more of an uptick in sort of, it’s not email as the only medium, but it is by far the preferred medium.

Todd Abbott:

And then from there, I think we all need to be more comfortable with texting and or SMS. But I think parents, you know, we also, we want something that is a portal, a family portal, that is for the family or for the parent. And so to me, those are the three sort of mediums in my mind and really through the surveys that we’ve done, that we’ve seen with thousands of parents, those are the three that are sort of discussed and checked off, if you will, in the survey more than anything else. I don’t know, Dave, if you’ve got other thoughts on that?

Dave Becker:

I mean, email is the number one thing. So yeah, if it’s a one takeaway you have it’s that it’s email. And then the second thing should be, you’re probably not sending enough emails. A lot of schools that we go to they’ll be like, “Well, we already do, to the parents of, and we send them five emails.” The average school with CampusESP sends out, I think, it’s 24 emails during the enrollment cycle, like generally like a year. And they don’t unsubscribe. I mean, the risk is not that they’re going to unsubscribe or get frustrated. The risk is that you’re not sending enough to differentiate and keep front, or top of mind, rather.

Jarrett Smith:

So that takes me to another question, which is how often should we be sort of knocking on the door saying, “Hey, we’ve got something good for you, parents.” What’s kind of the ideal frequency?

Todd Abbott:

What is it, Dave? I think it’s 76% of parents, if I recall our statistics okay, 76% of parents prefer weekly communication. And that goes to what Dave said in terms of sort of the average for schools that are utilizing the CampusESP platform of an average of 24 to 26 emails, and weekly. And so think about that from, again, from a communication standpoint when, as an institution, think back to how many emails you’re likely sending your students, or perspective students, but 76, when I saw that, I actually had to go back and double check the statistics. I thought, “No, is that right?” And it is.

Todd Abbott:

And even, and again, as a parent, now I’m thinking about it as a parent of prospective student. I like the weekly communication. I like the idea that they’re sending stuff to me regularly. It sends… At the end of the day, I think whether it’s students or parents, we want to be wanted. And I think that there’s something to that. And I think that there’s something that I get that, “You’ve got mail” excitement when I see weekly communication coming from an institution.

Dave Becker:

We were born on Blackberry.

Laura Martin Fedich:

So, Todd-

Dave Becker:

And that red dot that would, or that red flash, and be like, “Oh, I’ve got mail. I’m excited.

Jarrett Smith:

I miss my Blackberry.

Laura Martin Fedich:

That’s right. Hey, Todd, this is so interesting, so weekly. So, I’m assuming that the emails aren’t like, “Hey, how you doing?” So to oversimplify my point, so Dave said something about differentiation, and then we’re doing more frequent emails. So are we tying those together? Do we always have, do we have to plan out what we talk about? Is there cadence to it?

Todd Abbott:

Yeah. I think the cadence would typically fall along the lines of we all love our little enrollment funnels and the different stages that these students are going through. Well, what are we trying to communicate with prospective students as a junior, spring of their junior year, right? We’re not getting into the great detail, but we’re giving them sort of an umbrella understanding of what happens at an institution. The same thing with parents.

Todd Abbott:

And so I think as you sort of migrate through the different stages, the enrollment stages, that’s the kinds of communication and information to provide to different parents. I think there’s going to be institution specific kinds of things that an institution wants to highlight, which is great. And there’s always times to continue to do that.

Todd Abbott:

I think that, again, the challenge and I’d probably go back and think about what’s your existing communication plan to prospective students? How many times are you communicating with students? What’s the frequency, what’s the medium that you’re using? And now, as you begin to think about a strategic strategy, or a strategic communication plan to parents, okay, we’ve looked at what we’re doing to students. So now how can we replicate, if you will, sort of that same frequency, same kinds of information to parents as well?

Todd Abbott:

Dave’s right. We see way too often, “Well, we have a parent newsletter and we send it out once a quarter.” Okay. Well, you know what? That’s four times a year. That’s clearly not enough. So I don’t know, Dave, anything else?

Dave Becker:

No. I mean, well, 76%, one at least weekly. By the way, that’s perspective families and families of current students. And the other interesting stat with that is we did the same survey last year. And last year it was 64%. So it went up 12% in just one year. That goes back to that whole, what’s driving that? It’s the pandemic, and they’re just way more involved right now.

Jarrett Smith:

So one last question, because we’re coming up on time here. Somebody’s listening to this and they say, “Okay, I get it. This is a big deal. We’ve got to be doing more to engage with our parents.” Can you give us a practical step one that someone could start thinking about right now, if they wanted to start moving the needle on making some progress on their parent engagement and any suggestions as a practical starting place?

Dave Becker:

All right, I’m going to do the counterintuitive suggestion, which is, I think what a lot of schools try to do is they try to over collaborate here and they try to pull together a working group that involves advancement, enrollment, student affairs, the president, the janitor, like every single person who might have an opinion on parents and get them together and go, “Let’s figure this out.” And we’re always in those demos and they are disaster demos because everybody’s got an opinion. Go back to my Temple example story.

Dave Becker:

I would just really try to start small and like what’s the goal with parent engagement? If it’s parent engagement for parent engagement sake, that’s fine, but it’s probably not your goal. Your goal is probably something on the yield side, on the retention side, or giving. Focus on that one area and just start small. The answer is probably going to be something with more emails, more thoughtful content with the calendar.

Dave Becker:

You might be able to do it with your CRM. You might be able to do it with just somebody spending a couple hours a week on it. It doesn’t have to be CampusESP, although shout out for campusesp.com and check us out. But it, I would just really try to start small and lean in on a particular area where you think parent engagement can make a difference and then measure it. Measure it.

Todd Abbott:

I guess my takeaway on that, and I totally agree with Dave, it’s just the, I guess the practical thing is, the mindset, you know? I think it’s do you now recognize that parents are extremely critical and very involved to begin with? And I think if you just sort of have that mindset, that’s the beginning, like that’s the start. And then you can, as Dave said, sort of start small and sort of build up. But to me, it’s all about the mindset of the institution and if they value communication with parents.

Jarrett Smith:

Well, Dave and Todd, I think that’s a fantastic note to wrap up on. And you did mention, Dave, some research that you all co-sponsored, and I’m wondering if someone is interested in seeing that, because it’s a great report, where can they go to find that information?

Dave Becker:

Yeah. If you just go to campusesp.com and you’ll see marketing information on the homepage, but there’s a link for research in the upper right. And there’s a lot of case studies about what schools have done, what we’ve seen from a research perspective, some of the stats that I quoted earlier, and it’s all free. So it will give you ideas about where to go in the future. And it’s maybe a good starting place for a lot of your listeners today.

Jarrett Smith:

Great. Well, Dave and Todd, thank you so much for joining us today. This has really been an informative and fun conversation. So thank you for your time.

Laura Martin Fedich:

Yeah.

Jarrett Smith:

And thank you so much to everybody who joined live and we will be sending out the recording of this to everybody that registered. So make sure if you found this in information useful, please share it out with your colleagues and hit us up online, say, “Hey.” And we’d love to hear from you. So all right. Take care, everybody and we’ll see you soon.

Todd Abbott:

Thanks again.

Laura Martin Fedich:

Thank you.

Todd Abbott:

Take care.

Dave Becker:

Thanks.