Podcast

The State of the Campus Visit With Jeff Kallay

The campus visit is a make-or-break moment for traditional undergraduates. Yet, as schools around the country have made their way back to campus, selling the residential experience has been anything but business as usual.

In this episode, we explore the current state of the campus visit and some of the most important challenges facing both schools and students.

Joining us in the conversation is Jeff Kallay, a nationally recognized expert in the campus visit and a Sr. VP of Enrollment Consulting at Echo Delta.

We discuss:

  • How pandemic fatigue has impacted students and the way students view the residential experience
  • Strategies for recruiting and retaining campus tour guides
  • What prospective families touring your campus care about most right now (it’s not academics) and how your campus tours should adjust to meet their needs.
  • The ongoing trend towards fewer pre-app visits.

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Transcript

Jarrett Smith:
You are listening to the Higher Ed Marketing Lab. I’m your host, Jarrett Smith.
Welcome to another episode of the Higher Ed Marketing Lab, I’m Jarrett Smith. The campus visit is a make or break moment for many perspective students, yet as schools around the country have made their way back to campus, selling the residential experience has been anything but business as usual. In this episode, we’ll explore the current state of the campus visit in some of the most important challenges facing both schools and students. Joining us in the conversation is Jeff Kallay, a nationally recognized expert in the campus visit, a new senior VP of enrollment consulting at Echo Delta.

We discuss what Jeff has seen firsthand while visiting dozens of schools around the country over the past few months. Ways students are thinking differently about spaces and places on campus. The very real challenge of recruiting and retaining campus ambassadors and what schools can do about it. And what perspective families touring your campus care about most right now and how your campus tours should adjust to better meet their needs? This episode is full of sharp and timely observations from a leading campus visit consultant. So without further ado, here’s my conversation with Jeff Kallay. Jeff, welcome to the show.

Jeff Kallay:
Hey Jarrett, it’s great to be here always. Thanks for having me.

Jarrett Smith:
Yeah, man.

Jeff Kallay:
I didn’t know you would want me back after previous episode.

Jarrett Smith:
Well, of course. And also, welcome to Echo Delta.

Jeff Kallay:
Thank you. I appreciate that.

Jarrett Smith:
Awesome to have you here.

Jeff Kallay:
And it’s great to be part of this brand.

Jarrett Smith:
Well, thanks for that. Jeff, you have probably more than any other person I know, been on the road, you’re in the quintessential road warrior. And I know since travel opened up you’ve been on a lot of college campuses, so I’m curious, how many campuses have you been on since travel opened up?

Jeff Kallay:
Since … 30, I think for this year. 26 in Q3 and Q4 of 2021.

Jarrett Smith:
Yeah.

Jeff Kallay:
Soon as I could get on a plane with my vaccination card, I did. And that was interesting because campuses were just reopening, some were still shuttered and there were a few campuses where the pandemic really took a toll on the physicality of campus. And there were a couple clients I said, you should not be giving tours because your campus looks like you could film the walking dead or any other post-apocalyptic genre on that campus. This is great resignation, shortage of maintenance, landscaping, all those things. But I think that has improved with the fall semester. People started cleaning up their campuses more, so definitely shifts along the way that I’ve noticed.

Jarrett Smith:
I know that you have, even this week, have been on multiple campuses all around the country and…

Jeff Kallay:
Three.

Jarrett Smith:
Three?

Jeff Kallay:
Yeah. Also, 31 campuses I think. It doesn’t matter. Three or … I don’t know.

Jarrett Smith:
It’s an impressive tempo that you keep up with. What are some of the biggest things that jump out at you right now about the state of the campus tour and maybe there’s the state of the residential experience right now?

Jeff Kallay:
Let me take the latter part first, and then we’ll hone into the campus tour, because think the context is related. I would say, you have not a lost generation but you have the majority of your college students that only know their campus via the pandemic. And that has created the pandemic fatigue that we all reading about.

I was listening about what happened in Canada and how that happened. So I think that there’s an enormous amount of unhappiness with students. It’s not what I was sold, they’re stressed out, anxiety, all of those things that I think we’re all feeling. I think for them all the more being the COVID restrictions are taking its toll.

Jarrett Smith:
Mm-hmm (affirmative). Is that something that you think is uniform around the country or to what extent does that vary? I’m thinking back to, I was just watching SEC football this fall, my Georgia Bulldogs won. And unlike the year before, we had pack stands and people sitting cheek to cheek in the stands cheering on their teams. And so it was just a market change and it made me wonder, it’s like, all right, what is the pandemic experience look like for maybe some of those big flagship state schools versus, schools in other parts of the country, how uniform is it?

Jeff Kallay:
I’ve been to New York, California, Georgia, Florida this year. Geography does play a bit, but even within a more red state, some of the campuses are a bit more restricted. So I think the geography plays into that, but then a campus … and I’m just going to step out here Jarrett, I think that because faculty tend to lean more to the left, I think they have been really adamant and stringent with the COVID protocols.

And I think that they’ve also gotten used to remote work. To your point of what have I seen on campus tours, I’ve seen a lot of empty offices or offices that are closed and shuttered with tape signs on them that says, we’re only taking remote appointments.

Jarrett Smith:
Mm-hmm (affirmative). That’s an interesting message.

Jeff Kallay:
And some key offices like financial aid and the registrar.

Jarrett Smith:
Right.

Jeff Kallay:
So if I’m a family on tour, what is that? What cue is that signaling to me?. I understand faculty are older, other faculty have younger children, but I think that what has happened is, you can remote some of the classroom experience. You can’t remote going to that football game, living in the residence hall, eating in the dining hall.

Jarrett Smith:
Yeah.

Jeff Kallay:
What I have learned from this is, the students are stressed out. However, they are resilient. And one of the questions we always ask is, where’s your favorite place or space on campus? You learn a lot from that. And it’s never the state-of-the-art rock climbing wall or computer lab. It’s always a random bench or a couch on the seventh floor of the library hidden by the stacks where I take a nap.

When I have gone back to some long term clients, Jarrett, that I’ve been working with across TargetX, Render Experiences and now Echo Delta. I was amazed how new favorite spaces in places popped up because of the pandemic and new traditions were created and a real shift in campus culture has happened.

Jarrett Smith:
Yeah.

Jeff Kallay:
Fraternity rose got shut down, so the party ended there and now the parties moved off campus where it can be. And so seniors are about to walk out the door in a couple months and they were sophomores when the dominoes fell. And that pre pandemic campus is walking out the door with them.

Jarrett Smith:
Yeah.

Jeff Kallay:
The majority of our students again, and so now the majority of our tour guides only know their campus in this pandemic and they don’t have the depth of some traditions and campus culture.

Jarrett Smith:
Right.

Jeff Kallay:
Because they haven’t experienced it. So as tour guides, they’re struggling for stories to tell.

Jarrett Smith:
Well, just something that pops in my mind is, you think of all the high schoolers that missed high school graduation. What are they going to tell their kids about what high school graduation is like? They don’t have that to fall back on and the continuity of culture and tradition in all of that.

Jeff Kallay:
I think faculty have locked, and I’m going to step out on the opinions.

Jarrett Smith:
It’s your inbox, Jeff, not mine.

Jeff Kallay:
Do not necessarily represent Echo Delta on inside. All right. I think one, I know I’m always blaming faculty for everything, but I also think as institutions, we have just done business as normal. We have not had proper sophomore orientations. We did an online orientation but then when these students came back to campus, we have not adapted to them and supported them the way we should have. And I think they’re a drift, and they’re unhappy.

It is amazing, the seniors are either ready to get out, but when I’ll go on a campus and I’ll have a senior tour guide do the morning tour and then I’ll have a sophomore who … the sophomores and the second years, man, they’ve had it.

Jarrett Smith:
They got the raw deal their freshman year.

Jeff Kallay:
High school, 2020, their freshman year, they’re really the one. Freshman, I think have a little bit because they could go to the crowded stadium this year and they’re struggling. They’re struggling to make a connection, so I have to wonder how loyal are they going to be as alumni?

The question when this was all falling, when the dominoes were falling, we were saying, how you take care of your students now will be the measure of how families look at you. But I think how you’ve been taking care of your students during the pandemic and how are you going to reorient them, not business as usual, as we come into an endemic stage. I don’t think anyone’s thinking about that.

Jarrett Smith:
In the schools that you’ve been, this seems like just a huge gap?

Jeff Kallay:
Yes. I could have been on two different campuses when a senior gives me a tour and then that sophomore who’s trying their best but doesn’t have the … and we try to take them deeper. You do have stories. You do have a favorite class. You do have off campus learning, all those things that you do have stories. They’re not the norm, but Jarrett, it’s like being on two different campuses. Because it has been two different experiences at that one school.

Jarrett Smith:
So talking about the tour guides, what-

Jeff Kallay:
Man, I feel for him.

Jarrett Smith:
… It’s a tough job. And how many schools are struggling right now that you’ve come across just to get tour guides in the first place?

Jeff Kallay:
There’s been a lot of turnover. And a lot of that is just students. I think colleges rushed to reopen their tours even when the rest of campus wasn’t. And I think a lot of tour guides did not feel safe during the pandemic to give tours. And so I think we lost a lot of really great tour guides because of that no matter the protocols, only outside, mask on. Try giving a tour on a boomey campus with a mask on.

Jarrett Smith:
Yeah.

Jeff Kallay:
And only staying outside.

Jarrett Smith:
It’s not awesome. That’s a lot of fun.

Jeff Kallay:
Yeah. I think that the fun has been taken out of it, and so you have that component of it. You have the lack of experiences in depth of connection, or what I was sold is not what was delivered to me. So then you have the great resignation.

Jarrett Smith:
Right. This is just the higher ed version of that?

Jeff Kallay:
Absolutely.

Jarrett Smith:
For your student workers?

Jeff Kallay:
And so you figure admission staffs have been impacted. So that person that might have been the champion of the tour, that campus visit director or that person that was the champion of the ambassador student group might have resigned and gone somewhere else. So then, or I can get a job at fast food paying $15 an hour, why am I going to volunteer to be a student guide?
10 years ago, I would’ve always told our clients, particularly small privates, like the ones you and I graduated from for our undergrad. Your private school, they should volunteer. That’s gone out the door. There isn’t a school I would say, your tour guide should be volunteer. With not every college, I think with gen Z being more diverse, more first gen, we want more students from underserved, we want more access. We have to rethink this notion and not everyone has the luxury to volunteer.
They have to help at home, they have jobs, they can make more money. I think this notion of, we have to realize middle class and upper middle class, predominantly white millennials, could volunteer. They were also civic-minded, let’s all team up, musical musical, we’re all in this together, right?

Jarrett Smith:
Yeah.

Jeff Kallay:
That’s changed. And most of my clients are coming around this, we have to pay them and we have to pay them well, no matter the school.

Jarrett Smith:
Yeah.

Jeff Kallay:
And so I hear a lot from the few tour guide groups where students are not paid. They’ll come up to me after I do the workshop and they’re like, is the norm to pay the students? Because gen Z is so fiscally and financially savvy.

Jarrett Smith:
Very practical.

Jeff Kallay:
Yes. So then you layer on, everyone is stressed out, everyone has put the mask has polarized or been politicized and we’re having a 18 or 19 year old try to tell families to keep their masks on during a tour. And I’m just going to say, generation X parents are mean people on campus tours.
And I am diamond medallion on the gen X bid bus, but I am always apologizing to tour guides. When I talk about gen X and the session about gen X and gen Z is why are parents so mean and why don’t students talk? The students just die laughing and I’m like, I’m apologizing for my generation. And then when I give in the insights, I would not want to be a tour guide in 2022. And I tell the guides that, and thank them all the more for the work they’re doing. It’s not fun.

Jarrett Smith:
I’ve heard people call the great reevaluation and it just interesting to see that. I know that well around the office, you and me and our friend and colleague, Laura Martin Fe and Scott Rhode, we’ve been talking about that applying to admissions counselors as well. Our frontline folks and seeing the exact same pattern repeat itself there or two and what do we do about that? The question is, what else might we do to begin to write the ship a little bit and get back on track?

Jeff Kallay:
Absolutely. Let’s remember, I’m just going to say the word sales. That ambassadors, tour guides really are a million dollars sales people. When you add up the total cost to a 10, say, a private for four years … and then quarter of a million for four years, cost, right?

Jarrett Smith:
Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Jeff Kallay:
List price. Have four families or do … that’s a million dollars, there’s an equation we do. I think the pay is definitely … so sales people are motivated by four factors, money or greed, social interaction recognition, and quality of life. We’re predominantly motivated by two.

It’s right now, money, number one. What admissions or marketing people, the manager of ambassadors, tour guides have to do is figure out overall for their group, what’s the second motivator? One of our clients, it’s recognition. The students want to be ambassadors to get that chord for commencement. So we were like, let’s create the medallion that seniors can compete with that gets attached to their chord for even greater recognition.

Jarrett Smith:
A bigger gold star.

Jeff Kallay:
Exactly. Then we’re creating a point system, like they’re getting paid, but you want the cord. Well, then do you want the medallion? Or is it recognition amongst peers? They added business cards because the students want to hand those out in that professional way.

Jarrett Smith:
Interesting.

Jeff Kallay:
Right?

Jarrett Smith:
Yeah.

Jeff Kallay:
Particularly, in networking and you never know who a parent is or who a parent knows, but that is a form of, I’m a professional, this is a resume. I think that most students, they do want it for a resume builder. So I think talking to them in those practical terms of, this is going to look good on your resume. You’re a million dollar sales people. Here’s the skills you’re going to get. We’re with millennials, we’re just, you love your school, come do it. Or is it social interaction? Do the ambassadors need to be a default club? Or do they want to socially interact with the admissions team and the social interaction they get with families?

And then the fourth one is quality of life. What are the pain points of being a student that you can remove for your ambassadors? Is that early registration, priority registration? So they can schedule a schedule that allows them time to get hours of giving tours. Is it priority parking near the visitor center, if it’s a big public campus so they can make their shift to give tours? Is it priority housing or a housing discount or? So I think it’s fine. Money’s the top of the remaining three, recognition, social interaction, quality of life. Ask your tour guides and then plan based upon that.

Jarrett Smith:
That’s a really interesting perspective. Certainly different than my student worker experience. So-

Jeff Kallay:
They wanted on their resume.

Jarrett Smith:
… Yeah.

Jeff Kallay:
Right. Which is why we used to have cute names for tour guides, Quaker roads, the Youngtown state penguin. Google for college with Quaker roads off admission touring staff. The penguin icebreakers at Youngstown state, now just call them admissions interns, admissions fellows, something that they can put on their resume. Sorry.

Jarrett Smith:
No, that’s interesting. Let me step back a little bit. Back in the fall, we were having a conversation about flipping the order of Maslow’s hierarchy-

Jeff Kallay:
The flip of the hierarchy.

Jarrett Smith:
… Yeah. And so I’m curious. I think this is less about the student ambassadors, more about the families that they’re interacting with and the students and parents and whatnot. But you had made the observation. Traditionally in higher ed, we’ve led with the top of Maslow’s hierarchy, all about becoming your best self and all of that.

But actually, what parents coming out of the pandemic are really concerned about are the basic things, food, safety, mental health counseling, all the basics. We’ll get to the self activation later. Don’t hit them with that right out the gate. What’s your feeling on that now? Is it just a continuation? Is that changed? But what do you see from the parents and families that are coming in right now?

Jeff Kallay:
The audience demand for the basics. And let’s remember the setup of that, Jarrett, is that boomers won the birthplace lottery and institutions were great to them. So when they loaded up the minivan in the late nineties and took millennials on tours, how are you going to make my bumper sticker millennial all the more bumper sticker worthy? What else can I brag about? My millennial or my Pacifica. So they trusted institutions. Why would the food not be good? Why would … and I think that, but then that’s also where the amenities arms rate started in higher ed.

Again, gen X, because institutions failed us and bailed on us and we’ve raised ourselves. We don’t trust institutions. We as Americans don’t trust institutions, but gen X was doing that long before it was fashion.

Jarrett Smith:
Early adopters of the stress.

Jeff Kallay:
Absolutely, that’s what we do. That forgotten generation or looked over generation, I shall say. Now, the demand, as you said, for those things is all the more and where are at the places because of the pandemic, we have not taken them into. Food, housing, wellness centers. So when our clients recognize that desire and have the gumption to flip the hierarchy, to lead with housing, to lead with food. I was at a top 20 national liberal arts college in the very fall and there was not out one question about academics.

Jarrett Smith:
Interesting.

Jeff Kallay:
It was, get the freshman out of the car. Very first question asked. Because a car is an escape pod.

Jarrett Smith:
Right. Can my child get home if they need to?

Jeff Kallay:
Correct. It’s not a luxury, it’s an escape pod. That demand is still all the more stronger or all the more in desire. And I think because of the pandemic. If you’re selling place based education, because I don’t have to go to college or I can sit in front of a screen and get my degree. Then the place does matter more and more with families.

Jarrett Smith:
Do you … this is like-

Jeff Kallay:
Does that answer your question?

Jarrett Smith:
… No, I think it did. You mentioned the amenities, arms race, lazy rivers on campus and-

Jeff Kallay:
Luxury housing.

Jarrett Smith:
… Luxury housing.

Jeff Kallay:
First time I saw sushi in a dining hall back in 2008. I’m like, all right.

Jarrett Smith:
I wonder if-

Jeff Kallay:
Wait, and a sushi chef was in the dining hall.

Jarrett Smith:
… I wonder with these very fiscally responsible students coming up, if that might also be in some ways … do you think it could become a liability, a turnoff? Like, wait a minute, this is why my private residential education is so expensive. It’s because I’m paying for a sushi chef. Talk to me about outcomes. Talk to me about my career opportunities.

Jeff Kallay:
How fast can I get my degree? How many credits can I come in with? And I think this comes back to the psychology of the gen X parent who is now on those campus tours and has been following boomers their whole life. We built schools for boomers, then we closed them because there weren’t enough Xers. And now they’re coming on campuses where we built all of this stuff for boomers children, and they’re like, great, I got to pay for this.

Jarrett Smith:
Right.

Jeff Kallay:
They’re even extra mad at same thing, both the parents and the students. I think that’s the rock climbing wall, the really easy river, that’s great if it fits into wellness. That’s really the keywords you hear with this generation. It’s wellness, it’s that totality of mental, and physical, and dietary.

But it’s really, where’s the career center? Where’s the counseling center? Where’s the support that’s going to get me my degree and get me gainfully employed or to the next level of my education? That’s what they’re. So I do think they’re questioning that, why does it cost this much? How fast can I get through? How many AP credits? What IB can I bring? Absolutely.

Jarrett Smith:
Another thing I know we’ve been talking around the office a little bit about is, the volume of pre-app visits changing.

Jeff Kallay:
Yes.

Jarrett Smith:
Can you talk to me a little bit about that?

Jeff Kallay:
Yeah. I think that when it first opened, we saw as many as we could hold, but then I think campus visits became the new six flags. When a lot of my clients in the summer of 2020 or the fall were asking, why are you here? And they’re like, well, you were open.

Jarrett Smith:
No, I’ve heard that from clients, yeah.

Jeff Kallay:
But then I think as more things opened and as things opened up, what you saw is the elites of course have a lot, but this fall, a lot of schools saw a decline in the pre-application visit this fall. That because gen X parents have been monitoring their children online so much now, I think they are saying, and we have more and more technology and faster internet and everyone’s created a virtual tour during the pandemic. I think the gen X parent is saying in this co purchasing way, research online, see if you get in, see how much money they give us and then we’ll go visit.

Jarrett Smith:
Yeah. We’re not going to load up the family-

Jeff Kallay:
Pacifica.

Jarrett Smith:
… Pacifica and go toward 15 schools.

Jeff Kallay:
Correct. We’ll probably go to three or five.

Jarrett Smith:
Give me a short list.

Jeff Kallay:
When we’re accepted?

Jarrett Smith:
Yep. And we’ll use our little Marriot point to say, it’s SpringHill Suites all along the way.

Jeff Kallay:
Correct. That frugality, back to that. And I think most of the students are in agreement with that. There’s still plenty that are, but that has been a trend this fall.

Jarrett Smith:
Interesting.

Jeff Kallay:
There just haven’t been enough. So we’ve been saying it’s all about yield, the uptick now.

Jarrett Smith:
What are you thinking about as you’re looking out over the next six months? What’s on your radar?

Jeff Kallay:
I’ve shared this with … I think I would like to develop better support for ambassadors and tour guides for our clients and for higher ed. However, we can do that at Echo Delta. I like us to do that because it’s needed. Our workshop is phenomenal, but it is that two hours on campus and it’s that one hit. But what are we doing in a quarterly way-

Jarrett Smith:
To support tour guides and ambassadors?

Jeff Kallay:
… Mm-hmm (affirmative). That is something that is to bring them back. Not to bring them back, because I’m tired of thinking about going to the back. It’s what is the campus door to be in a hopefully endemic stage, instead of going to what we were doing, what should we update to? That’s that future focus. The support of the guides in crafting a campus visit, that is not what it was in February, 2020, of what it should be in 2022.

Jarrett Smith:
Well, good stuff, Jeff. It has been a pleasure talking to you as always.

Jeff Kallay:
You’re welcome, thanks for having me.

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

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