How Pueblo College Supercharged Yield and Retention Efforts


How Pueblo College Supercharged Yield and Retention Efforts

Episode 126. November 1, 2022.

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EAB’s Tara Zirkel is joined by Pueblo Community College VP of Student Success, Dr. Heather Speed, to examine changes Pueblo made to boost enrollment heading into the fall semester. Leadership began by listening to staff to identify and resolve disconnects between departments, which had been limiting their ability to market and fill open courses.

They also provided more hands-on training for faculty and students to spur wider adoption of the Navigate student success platform and improve communication during the registration process. In the end, the institution spurred enrollment growth by pairing the right technology with stronger collaboration and process improvements.



0:00:11.8 Speaker 1: Hello and welcome to Office Hours with EAB. Our special guest today is Heather Speed, vice president for Student Success at Pueblo Community College. Heather joins EAB's Tara Zirkel to talk about how faculty advisors and administrators came together to address what appeared to be a double-digit enrollment deficit as they headed into the fall semester, what this team accomplished provides a textbook example of how to leverage people, technology and process improvements to maximum effect. Give these folks to listen and enjoy.


0:00:52.4 Tara Zirkel: Hi everyone, and welcome to Office Hours with EAB. I'm Tara Zirkel, Director of Strategic Research with a focus on community colleges here at EAB. And I'm thrilled to introduce Dr. Heather Speed, who serves vice president of Student Services at Pueblo Community College. Hi, Heather, it's great to have you.

0:01:09.2 Dr. Heather Speed: Hi Tara, thanks for having me.

0:01:12.0 TZ: Great. So before we get started, I wanted to take a few minutes just to set the stage for what we're going to discuss today.

0:01:18.4 DS: Sure.

0:01:19.2 TZ: So two years into the pandemic, Pueblo faced some serious enrollment challenges like many community colleges did. So we experienced higher than expected summer amount in fall 2021, that ledger institution to investigate potential causes that could threaten feature semesters. Like many community colleges, you face some cross-campus communication issues, maybe had limited access to faculty during the summer and were attempted to generate more buy-in. Pueblo leadership identified a two-pronged approach to addressing these enrollment problems. So first, creating clear advising process is powered by Navigate will strengthen the relationship between faculty and advising, not only do these strong relationships and innovations usually Navigate help Melt, going into fall 2022, these strategies became the foundation for an enrollment push that actually helped grow your fall enrollment and the weeks leading up to the semester. So with that, I'd love to hear more from Heather. And Heather, can you tell us a little bit more about Pueblo Community College? So where are located? What does your student body look like?

0:02:23.6 DS: Absolutely. Pueblo Community College is in Pueblo, Colorado, which is just south of Colorado Springs. So we're not urban, we're not rural. Our other two campuses are more rural. We have an 11000 square mile service area, a large service area. We've got about 6000 students. We're an HSI, 76% of our student body is part-time, 33% are Hispanic, 57% are female, 83% are on financial aid, 59% are first gen. Those are just some stats that I wrote down real quickly. We have a large concurrent enrollment population, and a strong nursing program, that's one of the big programs that we're known for.

0:03:17.4 TZ: Awesome, that's really helpful context. And it sounds like the shape of many of our community colleges, where we have the privilege of working with students who have historically been excluded from higher education, so always really excited to talk to institutions that our HSIs are working with first gen students and really have that strong commitment to increasing access for populations that have been historically kept out of higher ed. And I know you had mentioned to me in another conversation that for the fall semester, initially your enrollment was not trending the way that you had hoped. Can you tell me about how your enrollment was initially shaping up and what you think contributed to that?

0:04:00.2 DS: Yes, so about two weeks before fall started this year of '22, we were at 10% down, we budgeted and anticipated flat enrollment. Secretly was hoping maybe we'd be at 1%, but we definitely were not gonna be at 10% down, but that is where we were. And we had no idea why. In the past, we've kind of had some ideas of where the weaknesses were, what was causing the issue, we really were at a loss across the bores to what was going on, and we had two weeks before school started, this was not gonna be good for us to have that type of enrollment. So we decided... We all just dove into the data trying to see do we see any trends, is there anything that we can do, what's going on? We talked to our call center to see what were students saying. And for the most part, they were... The students that were enrolled, they intended to enroll, they were just waiting. They were waiting for financial aid, they were waiting to see what instructor was available because the way we have ours, we don't list the instructors 'cause we have a lot of part-time.

0:05:17.7 DS: We don't know exactly who's teaching what. So they were waiting on that. They were also waiting because they know we tend to close classes, and so they wanted to make sure they were signing up for a class that wasn't gonna close, those were really good things for us to hear. We also found a few other trends, we found that there was a population of students that we had advised, they had come through the process advice, we had them checked off the list, but they didn't register, so this is a population we had not tracked or followed up on. So that was a big group of students that we identified and were able to create a campaign for it and go after. So we also looked at some of the trends that were happening at the other schools of online course offerings, was there opportunity for us here to look at... I know it was two weeks, we tend to have a population that registers late anyway, so adding some different courses, some different times in the day. Whether it was... What am I trying to think of? If it was a flex class or is it remote, is it online? What could we do, what kind of variables could we look at to appeal to those students? And so those were the things that we were identifying as possible issues that were leading up to that 10% down in our moment.

0:06:46.9 TZ: So it sounds like a lot of little things, a lot of little contributors, not one big thing. I think it's really interesting what you said about students going through the advising process and then not registering, and I know when I was still on campus, our students did the same thing, and oftentimes they thought that interaction with the advisor was kind of the end point, we had to do a better job of making sure they understood, yes, we built this schedule, but as you have to register for it, you have to do clean your seat in that class to make sure that you're able to smart start the semester on time. Yeah, but often those little things to have on top of each other and create these enrollment opportunities, will call it an opportunity, for students, and I know once you kind of identify this problem, you didn't have a lot of time to act, I'd love to know what steps did you take to bring people together to begin to develop a solution, and how do you develop... Rather, how did you generate buy-in in such a short amount of time?

0:07:53.6 DS: Right. Well, this is the part that I'm super excited about because this is something that has been put... That we've been working on intentionally for this past year, is the relationship between advising and our success coaches and the faculty. We knew that there were some misunderstandings, there's a little bit of a rub between advising and faculty in the past and the faculty and incorporating and Navigate into their advising and job duties was not at the level that we were hoping for and had been working on, for a long time. So we decided to go a different route 'cause we were really doing a top-down approach, here's Navigate, here's what we do, here's how you link the calendar, this is why you do it, but by the time it got to the players, the people who are actually working with the students who are in a day-to-day, it's kind of like that telephone game where the details faded out as it got to the real users. And so there just wasn't a lot of buy-in, and also it was a one-size-fits-all approach, and I feel like we were... Everyone was frustrated, beating their head against the wall.

0:09:17.1 DS: And so over this past year, we took a different approach and really got some folks out of the way, like myself. [chuckle] Get out of the way and let the users get together. So we started a group of advisors and success coaches and faculty advisors, and they began to meet and they started out by talking about what do they want the other side to understand, what do they want them to know about their job, and right off the bat, realized they had a lot of commonalities between the two groups which was awesome, and they decided from that point that they were gonna meet regularly and talk about advising pressure points that each one of them have, and then also what was really great is that our advisors and success coaches who use Navigate day-in-day-out, we're able to show the faculty, which was something we hadn't even thought of, they had never seen some of the tools from the student perspective. So just showing that some assumptions that had been made or clarified some of the... There was just a little bit more of an understanding on both sides of what each other were experiencing when they work with students, what pressure points they have.

0:10:40.1 DS: And so through that, through that experience, some great relationships have developed some more transparency, trust between the two groups, and then again, just that ability to pick up the phone and be proactive was a lot easier to do because those relationships had occurred. So we've been working on that over the past year, which was great, so now we're at crunch time, this two weeks before, what are we gonna do.

0:11:10.2 DS: And so what is so great about our system is that we can move students quickly through the process from when they apply to the college to getting them enrolled. It can be about a 24-hour turnaround time, so the student thinks they wanna go to college, let's get them in enrolled and seal the deal. Get them a course schedule. But what we wanted to do is ensure that we... If we needed to open a class that we had the faculty on call, and so what was happening those two weeks was as students were admitted into the college or advisors were advising students and they had a schedule issue or they had a course that needed to be opened, the faculty were on call, they were on point. And so it was this great partnership or immediately 'cause I was carboned on a lot of the emails, things were happening in real time, conversations were happening over the phone, and there was just a true partnership that I have not seen. I've been here at Pueblo Community College for about five years, the dialogue, they exchange, the quickness, again, the transparency and partnership or... It was phenomenal to watch because it was like, "This is what that investment has been over this year, that's where the relationships really came in, and the trust and transparency.

0:12:42.0 DS: And so we were able to not close classes, 'cause faculty knew students were coming in, so don't close that class yet 'cause we've got a whole group that's coming in or we know we wanna drive students to a particular course because we've got vacancy, occupancy in this particular course on these days, it works with the student schedule, let's do that. Students are wanting an online course. Is it possible to do that? Absolutely. We changed it right there, so that, I believe, is what we were able to be so responsive to students. We definitely lessened the number of classes that we close because of that communication. Because in the past, what would happen is on the academic side, they need to, and understandably so. Closed classes that aren't gonna fill... We don't have students in two... Two students in this section, three students in that section, and combine those sections. So we did a lot of that ahead of time, but then the faculty knowing that students were coming we had this group of students that we are about to enroll, could hold on that. And again, just added efficiency, students didn't have to wait, they were on wait lists, they weren't enrolled in classes that been closed, and then we were at the last minute finding another location, another section, another course for them.

0:14:08.8 DS: It just made a much more effective customer service exchange for the student, but the collaborative spirit between Student Services and Academic Affairs was phenomenal to watch. 'Cause for me, this is what we have been working on, to be able to get through issues and solve them immediately without having any personal issues, territorial issues, it was all about the students and what we needed, and if the faculty could not respond, that was respected. If the advisor wasn't able to do X, Y or Z, that was respected and were able to be responsive and really move that enrollment. Between that, identifying that population of students that didn't register, and as you said, Tara, we had the same thing. They thought they were registered, so we had to walk them through the process. So most of those were good to go, they just needed that extra step. So I think it was that individual attention that we were able to give those students and then working with the faculty across the board with class selections, making sure those sections were open and clear, opening the number of seats in a class and then later we can go back behind and clean that up, and just having that partnership, I think is what allowed us to grow.

0:15:37.2 DS: So we went from -10 to 3% on a positive side on that first week of school, and we've been able to continue. So as of... I think it was yesterday, I haven't checked today, but yesterday we were at seven in the positive, so that's been through some additional concurrent enrollment, we have late start classes, so night and day from where we were two weeks, I was very nervous about where we were there and how we were going to manage literally two. We are 7% in the positive, so very excited about those initiatives.

0:16:20.0 TZ: I really love this story, first off, because we wanna service as many students as we can to make sure that they are actualizing their goals and having access to better jobs, and all those reasons my students seek us out. The other reason why I love this is something that's core EAB is we understand that tech solutions are best enabled via good processes, good relationships, good collaboration, and without those things, we are not great to hit the goals that we want to hit, and I really... What you said to as far as in breaking down some of the walls of the friction points between faculty and the student airside at the house and just generating an understanding and an appreciation for what the other person does. And I think especially since we've all been off campus for so long, it's easy to kind of forget what happens in the advising office when maybe you have peak time and students are backed out the door, or that faculty member who's trying to get his syllabus together right before the semester starts, and building that empathy for the fact that everybody is truly doing everything they can is so important, and just that teamwork element is something that just I know gets me personally really excited.

0:17:39.8 TZ: The students do feel that when we all work collaboratively together. And a question I have related to that, she is specific to the text and tech rather, and so what extent have faculty administrators invites and students engage with the technology to produce better outcomes, were there any specific tasks or initiatives that Navigate was able to help you kind of…

0:18:03.8 DS: Yes, yes, yes, yes. One of the... Well, there were several things, but one of the great things we did, and again, we've been doing this for years, is trying to get faculty to link our calendars to Navigate. So we can help set appointments, know when a faculty were available. I wanna go back to that approach of the users getting together. And again, this wasn't anything new, but that message never got to them. And one of the things that we've done with success coaches and advising is taken a much more individual approach with students, but we've never thought about doing that with faculty, and so instead of trying to go to a division meeting and talk about Navigate and how you can link your calendar, we made individual appointments with faculty and we did it one by one and we're still doing it.

0:19:01.0 DS: I mean, this is a long process. It would be more efficient to do one big one and everyone do it, but everyone's different just like our students. There are faculty who are super technology-friendly, ready to tackle anything and love to get in there and play. There are ones that are a little bit hesitant, don't wanna break anything, "What if I push this button? What does that mean?" And so, talking to each one of those individuals, the message was heard differently, and so what we did is we did that individual approach and talked like, "Tara, let's talk about your class. What would you like to do with your class? How would you like to communicate? Would you like to communicate with them? Do you wanna be more engaged with students?" These aren't loaded questions. We really wanted to try to understand each and every faculty and what their comfort level is and then how can we use this tool? How can you set up communications? Let's talk about the calendar. We found out quickly one of the reasons faculty didn't want to connect their calendars, they thought we were gonna start booking up all their time.

0:20:09.0 DS: And so when we were able to show them, "No, you tell us... You tell the calendar, what times you're available," and we would only see those times. Then faculty seemed very excited about doing that because they wanted that engagement but they didn't want us impeding into all of their time when they're on campus which totally understood that. So a lot of it was that individual approach and so the calendaring was so important because then we could... When a student had a question about criminal justice, we could look up and see who was in charge of criminal justice. "Is he in today?" "Oh, he's not in today but he will be in tomorrow and he's got availability at 11. Let's make an appointment and you can speak right to them," so they liked that. Or if the person was in, we could do a quick meeting. "Tara, here's professor criminal justice person, let's make that quick introduction then I can step out and you two can meet." So it's really helped us with faculty getting engaged with students earlier. It could be potential students, it could be during the advising process. That was a huge piece for us. And then also using the notes within Navigate, showing them how that's used. How we use it and providing that transparency.

0:21:43.4 DS: So let's say there was a prereq for a course and an advisor did an override of a prereq, they would put the reason for that in there. So if an instructor said that and said, "How did Heather get into this course?" You could go into that and see the transparency; you could see why the advisor... What was that thought process and go, "Oh, she had this on a transcript, she took this two years ago, totally get it." Or, "Hi, I'd like to talk a little bit more about that," and they'd call the advisor, and the advisor has their notes already in there. So that again helped build trust, providing that transparency, understanding how that piece is used. It's just been phenomenal in the excitement of faculty wanting to use it. After we were able to just sit down individually and really understand what are your needs, how do you wanna communicate, what kind of relationship are you looking for with students? Then how can we use this tool? It's been really great, and again, it's still a work in progress, but those kinds of conversations are happening, that activity is happening, and each semester we're getting more and more faculty engaged in that way.

0:23:06.1 TZ: One thing too that we... I think about the notes too, and I think... I've heard you mention this before is that it also prevents the student from having to retell their story because we know they're fatigued, and I know when I worked in advising, and in admissions that students sometimes would tell that story about how they transferred from X, Y, Z institution to five different people, and by the end of it, they're kind of like, "I've told this to you many times." And it helps not only help that student feel heard, but it helps reduce sort of that redundancy of the time that's spent and having to repeat that story. And one question I did have sort of adjacent to how faculty have responded is how have students responded? So when students were engaged in this last few weeks, or even when you did your Melt Initiative, which is kind of really the jumping off point for where we find ourselves now, do you have any line of sight into how they've been feeling?

0:24:05.7 DS: I think what they've liked is the instant communication, the texting capability, the ability to make appointments, we try to do that for them, but we also teach them how they can make appointments as well. They can pick whether they want face-to-face, if they want virtual, so they have choice at what comfort level they have, and so that has been a fantastic way for students to give us immediate feedback, they have felt very supported through the process through this, and the one thing that we've gotten feedback on is the surprise that they had at how quickly it could go, but still feeling like they've been heard and that they're in a good place, they're not rushed through, but anticipated that they would have put in their application and in three to five days they hear back from us and maybe get advised in a couple of weeks when, "No, we can do this within 24 hours." They really appreciated that. So I think that, and then also the academic planning piece of it, where we can... Advisors can go in and help plan, they can go in and plan and see what their path looks like has been really helpful for those who want to see and plan ahead, we're using it as trying to get them to envision the finish line, and we'll be incorporating that a lot more this fall.

0:25:41.3 DS: We have been using that, and again, we're capitalizing on these relationships that we have built, this trust, and what we're doing a Student Success Week in November when registration opens up, where we'll be going into... We've done this in several classes, but now we're trying to be much more institution-wide and going into some of those milestone courses, and it being a part of the class, where a success coach or advisor goes in with these academic plans and help students get registered for spring, while they're in class, while we have them, let's just keep this ball rolling. And students have liked that, and so we wanna expand that more across the... Across the campuses.

0:26:30.0 TZ: And that's, I think, a good jumping off way because we did have a question about what did you learn through this experience that you think could be applied to the broader student retention and student success efforts, and I'm hearing you say that there's maybe some mid-term implications for this, there's maybe that these relationships, these foundational relationships can be a springboard for other momentum points throughout the semester.

0:26:55.2 DS: Absolutely, I think the relationships are critical. I think independently, the academic side was doing fabulously, Student Services was doing fabulously, but together the power and the efficiency and quickness that we were able to... You know, higher ed is not known for its agility, but, man, was it an action those two weeks, it was awesome to see. So I think... You know, thinking of some terms that, for me, that relate to retention, that I've learned, relationships, the team building, communication, realizing the common goals that the two divisions have, just helped to see that we are so much more powerful. We don't have to have each other. Absolutely. We can do this independently, but together, man, was it, great. And as a vice president, getting to see this and see the morale boost of the team when we're all coming out of COVID and we're all... All of us are struggling with enrollment and trying to figure this out to get a victory for all the hard work that they've done was so exciting to see, and the emails and the great exchanges that were coming back, celebrating each other's successes, the faculty...

0:28:23.1 DS: We have this thing called a Panther Praise, where you can say something really great about somebody, and we all see it when we log into our computers, and we had a wonderful faculty members say something wonderful to the success coaches and advisors, and the great collaboration that they saw. So it wasn't just what we saw, they felt it as well. And so if you've got that, if we can capitalize it, if we can keep that and continue to grow, we have the best chance, I think, of retaining these students, developing great registration processes, so students move through their journey as quickly and efficiently as they can. And again, I think it's that personalized approach for... That worked for us, it finally clicked, instead of trying to do it top down, get the people who are the users together and work with people on an individual basis, and personalized. It's slower, but we've had much more progress this last year then the other four years prior, and it really does feel sustainable.

0:29:37.1 TZ: I love that you said sustainable, 'cause what I was envisioning in my head is moving from... We've all done fire drills on campus, right? Where we're very responsive to things that are happening because we have to be responsive in that moment. But really just the idea of taking a pause and taking a slowdown and learning how to be... Or finding the time to be proactive rather than reactive, and it's hard to kind of have that time when everyone's so busy and everyone has so much demand on their time, but it seems as though that has worked very well. One of my final questions, and you kind of touched on this in the beginning, was just what outcomes did you observe? And I know you had mentioned that you had kind of a goal of, let's start the semester flat, but you've exceeded that goal, which is obviously wonderful, and just a testament to the hard work that you've done. But any other outcomes that you've observed? So you had mentioned that it sounds like you're up 7%, is that what you said?

0:30:35.6 DS: Yes. So we're up 7%. Super excited and hoping, maybe I'm just being greedy now, but hoping for a little bit more as some of the... We have more late start classes come up, but... You know, I think for me, now that I feel really good about enrollment and can kind of relax just a smidge about fall, as we're gearing up for spring, this has re-energized, I think, my team, many on the faculty. "This hard work, this crunch time that we experienced in those two weeks paid off, look at that hard work, look what we were able to do, and look at the fun exchange that happened, look at these new friends that we have across the way." So to me, some other really awesome outcomes are just the celebration and positivity amongst the team because it's been rough, it's been hard.

0:31:39.8 DS: We can breathe, which has been for a long time, not something that we can do, so a little less anxiety and an appreciation for what everybody is doing in that process, from recruitment, advising what the faculty do to new student orientation, there just seems to be much more awareness and appreciation for each other's skill set and talents that I think that is... We can capitalize on as we brainstorm what other new initiatives we need to do, get new instructors engaged in Navigate. We're building off some of those little successes, and now we're seeing some bigger successes, and so I think that's really gonna lead into some of these initiatives that we want to implement now for spring, so we keep this enrollment and establish some good standards of practice for when we really hit it again for next fall.

0:32:47.1 TZ: So first, I'm so happy that you can breathe. I think everyone deserves a moment to breathe, given the past few years that we've had, and I think... You know, our last question that we really have is that we know we want our peers to breathe as well, we want everyone to be able to breathe. And if you were talking across the table with another vice president in your role and they were thinking, "Oh, I wanna replicate some of what was done," what would you tell that community college about as far as one to two things that they can do to get started? If they wanted to start to build these relationships, leverage technology, where do you start?

0:33:26.6 DS: Well, I was gonna say relationship building, I think is number one, 'cause it doesn't matter if we have all these great things if no one wants to use it, no one's gonna communicate and really tap into each other's talents, it's gonna make it that much harder. So I think relationships are really important. We had a faculty member reach across and said, "Hey, let's get this group together." That's usually our job, but they were willing to... They wanted to do that. There was some hesitation, and it was like, "We can not hesitate, we need to jump into this with both feet on both sides," and so I think allowing the users to get together and brainstorm and talk and discover those commonalities that they have, that appreciation begins to develop and along with those relationships, so one, I would say, we need to get out of the way and really provide that individual attention. I think that's the other piece that really moved us forward is instead of trying to, "Okay, 20 people in a room, everybody click on this, this is how you're gonna link your calendar," really having that individual approach, "What do you wanna do for your class? How do you wanna interact with your students? What are you comfortable with?"

0:34:55.6 DS: And it may be a baby steps, "Let's just do this this semester, and the next semester, we can do more." And then there's people that are like, "Alright, let's jump in and do everything," and that's great too. So really meeting the faculty where they are, just like we do with the student. Using the same language, we're all human beings, we all have different comfort levels. So I think that the relationship building, and that can also happen through those individual meetings, and being patient. I... At first I was like, "Ah, this is gonna take us forever." But we've been working on this for three, four years, and it's still... We're having the same conversations, the same push back. We haven't had that since we've started these individual meetings and trainings and follow-ups. And so just being patient, but it has made a tremendous difference for us.

0:35:56.0 TZ: You've used the word energized quite a bit, and I have to say, just talking to you, I feel so energized now about the work that we do and that I do here at EAB, and I just wanted to thank you for your time, taking the time to talk with us, also just wanna congratulate you on that little enrollment boost, that's more students that, again, that are on track to meet their personal goals, their academicals, their economic goals, and that's exactly what we wanna see here at EAB is stronger communities and stronger institutions. So I'm sure we'll hear more from you in the future because I know you have so many ambitious things that you want to do, but thank you again for taking the time with us, and I think that's gonna wrap us up.

0:36:41.5 DS: Awesome, thanks for having me.

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