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Will Performance-Based Admissions Boost Graduate Enrollments?

Episode 196

May 14, 2024 41 minutes


EAB’s Jennie Bailey hosts a discussion about performance-based admissions (PBA) with the Assistant Vice President, New Ventures & Business Operations at Northeastern University, Robert Towner. Rob recently helped Northeastern pilot the use of PBA to admit students to the school’s online MBA program. Jennie and Rob share their thoughts on the growing use of alternative admissions models at both the undergraduate and graduate levels. They also share tips for other university leaders who may be considering the use of PBA at their institution.



0:00:12.3 Speaker 1: Hello and welcome to Office Hours With EAB. Today we’ll hear from Rob Towner at Northeastern University about how his institution is piloting the use of performance-based admissions for anyone who seeks to enroll in their online MBA program. You’ll hear what performance-based admissions is all about and learn why lots of institutions are experimenting with a range of alternative admissions models to help grow both undergraduate and graduate enrollments. So give these folks a listen and enjoy.


0:00:48.3 Jennie Bailey: Hello and welcome to Office Hours With EAB. My name is Jennie Bailey and I am a principal strategic leader here at EAB. And a central focus of my work is helping universities serve adult learners. As many of you know, adult learners are very busy. They’re typically juggling more family and job responsibilities than your average undergraduate student, and that certainly impacts how universities market to and serve adult learners. As you know, recruiting new students is expensive for any institution, and most schools are at least a little nervous about hitting their enrollment targets at both the undergrad and graduate levels. At the same time, students regardless of age, are often challenged by the traditional admissions and application process. The more steps and requirements involved can be perceived as potential barriers to the admissions process for these students, especially if they are juggling a family and a career.

0:01:48.7 JB: And adult learners in particular are often researching which programs and institutions have not only streamlined their process, but also have reduced barriers to entry before they apply. And that behavior is what has led to the increase in stealth application activity. In fact, stealth application activity among adult learners has skyrocketed from 20% just 10 years ago to 80% of adult learners waiting to do their research before they apply stealthily to colleges and universities across the United States. When the majority of your applicant pool is only applying to two or three institutions, this makes it a challenge for schools to identify and attract adult learners through the traditional admissions process. So with that, today, I have a colleague of mine joining us to talk about how we’re solving this issue, Robert Towner from Northeastern University, and I’m very excited to have Rob and his expertise and insight with us today. Rob, would you mind telling folks on the line a little bit about yourself and your role at Northeastern?

0:03:04.2 Rob Towner: Yeah, thanks a lot Jennie, and thanks for having me here today. Really excited for the conversation. So a little bit about me. I started in online education back in 2016 when I was hired in as an admissions representative for the online MBA at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign. And over the course of four years there, we grew that program up to thousands and thousands of learners and I learned a lot about what can be done for at scale online. After that, I transitioned over to Coursera where I led their degrees marketing team for North America and then onto my way now here at Northeastern. And when I first joined Northeastern, my role was overseeing business operations and new ventures for our online arm of the university. And just about a month ago, I had the opportunity to step into a role leading our experiential digital global education, which is a mouthful. So we call it edge, which is the digital arm of the university that reports up through the chancellor’s office. And so that’s where my current role sits right now at Northeastern.

0:04:02.4 JB: Well, congratulations. Rob, that’s very exciting for you and for Northeastern. So thrilled again for your new role. And as we take a look at one of the initiatives that you’ve established at Northeastern, love to focus on that, for today’s conversation. So, I know that Northeastern is about to pilot a new performance-based admissions initiative for your online MBA hopefuls. For those on the line who aren’t familiar with the term, would you mind telling us a little bit more about what performance-based admissions is and perhaps share some of the specific criteria that Northeastern will use to evaluate those who seek to enroll in your online MBA through performance-based admissions or PBA as we’ll probably call it throughout the rest of this podcast.

0:05:00.4 RT: Absolutely. And thank you for that question. So performance-based admissions is not something new. It’s not something that was created by Northeastern. It’s something that exists in the marketplace. And really what it is about is giving the learner the opportunity to demonstrate what skills they have today and how they could be a good fit for a potential academic program without being judged on pastor specific data points, whether that be GPA, years of work experience, what you did your undergrad degree in. And we know so many people’s careers change and what their interest was when they were 18 to 25 years old when they did their bachelor’s degree versus what they might be doing as a working professional or what they need to upskill might look very differently. So the idea of performance-based admissions, or as we’ll call it PBA, is really to provide an opportunity for learners to enroll in courses that are part of the degree program and demonstrate what they can do now in those courses, what grades they can get now in those courses, how they can be successful in those courses and matriculate into the program in that manner.

0:06:01.1 RT: So for us in the online MBA space, what we’re looking at is we work very closely with the business school to say. What are the foundational components that make a successful good online MBA students? What are the things that they need to have? What are the skills that we need to see them demonstrate to be successful? So we work to choose one qualitative and one quantitative based class that learners will go through to display both their quantitative skills and their qualitative skills in an MBA program and learners that receive a B or better in both those two courses can then matriculate into the MBA program. The only prerequisite for performance-based admissions is that the student has a bachelor’s degree.

0:06:40.0 RT: It doesn’t matter what their bachelor’s degree is in, it doesn’t matter what their GPA is, it doesn’t matter where they work today, what matters is if I have a bachelor’s degree and I can receive a B or better in these two courses that I’m taking, I am demonstrating to the university that I have what it takes to be successful in an online MBA program. So, we use PBA and other programs at the university as well. It launched this past January with our College of Engineering programs and we used a very similar first step with that, which was working with Engineering to say, what are the key skills we need to get? How can we build two courses that will allow students to say, “Hey, I have these skills, let me show you and demonstrate them throughout the process.” So we’re seeing great early returns on that performance-based initiative that launched in January and really excited to add the online MBA this fall.

0:07:26.1 JB: That sounds like a dream for any adult learner going through the admissions process to be able to, for lack of a better word, skip the admissions process altogether and start out, and we know adult learners are hard workers, so being able to get admitted and enroll in a program quickly based off of their performance is I think truly a dream. With that said, I am curious what motivated Northeastern to pilot performance-based admissions and how did you decide to introduce PBA for this particular graduate program?

0:08:06.7 RT: Yeah, so I think the motivation comes behind figuring out where a working professional is at in trying to meet those learners right now. I know EAB has lots of good research on this, so feel free to chime in as well. But we know that the application process is a barrier from every stage and everything you put into that application process. Nobody wants to submit their letters of recommendation. I don’t know, for folks listening out there for me, I can’t remember the last time I had to go to my university and pull transcripts. I’m sure it’s a painful process. And during my workday, I don’t want to go through, hey, let me find out how to get these transcripts or have ’em sent to this address or figure out what this is. I don’t wanna go ask my boss to have to write me a letter of recommendation.

0:08:48.0 RT: We all have so much political capital to use at work and do I really wanna burn a favor in asking a boss or a colleague or somebody in a different division, “Hey, I really need you to write this letter for my program.” And then the anxiety and stress that comes along with that. Because now you have people at your workplace who know you’ve applied to a degree program, they’re gonna ask, you know, oh, what’s going on? I wrote that letter of rec. Are you starting your MBA? Is this happening and that happening? And for whatever reason, maybe you weren’t admitted to that program. And now the embarrassment and anxiety behind having to tell somebody like, thank you for writing that letter, but actually I wasn’t admitted so I won’t be starting my MBA or I won’t be doing these things.

0:09:24.2 RT: These are all things that I’ve heard from applicants for a long time are barriers to them saying, “Hey, I’m ready to jump in and start school.” And with the way e-commerce works today, we’re all familiar with going online and having that instant gratification of going to Amazon or wherever we shop and saying, I want this product, I want it now. Let me purchase it and hop in and I will get that instant gratification and that joy I want. Performance-based admissions is a way to give the user that type of experience of saying, “Hey, I don’t have to go spend three to four weeks collecting all these materials for my application. I want an online MBA. I feel confident I have the skills to demonstrate I can get that online MBA. Let me enroll and show you what I bring to the table.” So, when we look at how are we going to grow our domestic working professional population in the graduate space, PBA seems like something that will give us that opportunity to meet more learners where they’re at and provide them that kind of student-centric approach to our admissions process.

0:10:24.7 RT: Obviously, and I wanna make this very clear, performance-based admissions is not a backdoor admissions process. What we’re not trying to do is change the standard of what’s required to be successful in setting up a student for success. ‘Cause that does nobody any good to admit a bunch of students who aren’t gonna be successful in the program. So what PBA does is allow us to work with faculty and get the right data points to know that the students who come in through this process are going to be prepared and in many cases have demonstrated more preparedness than somebody just reading an application and looking at past performance to judge will this person be a good fit or not. So I do like to make that point clear. I know there are some performance-based admissions naysayers out there. And so the first thing I like to say is this is not a backdoor admissions process. We’re not trying to play some game of like, let’s find a way to get everybody into our program. That’s not what the goal of performance-based admissions is. It’s really putting yourself in the student’s position of saying, what is the easiest way for you to approach education and how do we kind of break down those traditional barriers and provide that access to you?

0:11:27.0 JB: And that’s great, Rob, that that’s exactly as we think about our mission here at EAB and helping adult learners, undergraduate students, transfer students really gain more access to higher education. And so being able to break down those barriers is something that we’ve been exploring throughout this last several decades with our partners. And we do have a lot of data since you mentioned that. I do always have data to share. And so just some stats to help create some data driven insights from what you just shared about how adult learners perceive some of those barriers. As we think about undergraduate students today, even especially in light of the pandemic’s impact on the traditional admissions process, even at the undergraduate level, those students are used to do test-based options. They’re used to easier access to colleges and universities through streamlined admissions processes and then also being able to get those decisions faster as well. And so, we can only expect that as they graduate and pursue graduate options that they’re gonna have those same expectations.

0:12:49.4 JB: So some of the data that we’ve been looking at in the adult learner recruitment space has focused around their behaviors and their expectations. So a few stats that I prepared that I thought would be helpful to share in our most recent adult learner behavioral survey, 69% of students said an application or admissions requirement deterred them from applying. That’s 70% of students out there. And if you think about the fact that we’re also seeing 80% of them doing research, not even reaching out to the institutions to learn more about their process, they’re taking what you have on your website and how you articulate your admissions process on your website to be the truth. And so oftentimes these students aren’t even submitting applications to learn more about your program. And then 47% adult learners who plan to enroll or are currently enrolled said that they had not taken an admissions test.

0:13:57.3 JB: So many of our partners that I work with that have the pleasure of working with have tried to eliminate some of those barriers, not just to create more access, but also to reduce the timeline from completed application to an admissions decision, which nowadays the expectation is 48 hours or less. Most institutions are lucky to even have that in two weeks. So it is an important thing to note that as adult learners are thinking about what institution to enroll at, most of them are choosing the first institution to deliver a decision. So being able to again, reduce that timeline from saying, I’m ready to enroll to actually enrolling, is not only going to create probably a more diverse pool of students, but also students that are truly excited to come to campus and enroll the moment that they get that decision.

0:15:00.3 RT: And I think going back to what you said earlier, this isn’t a new problem. The idea of access is something that’s been tried to be worked on for the last couple decades, but if we even just look at the last couple decades in a time capsule, you had major world events that took place in the last couple of decades, whether it was COVID, whether it was a financial crisis here in the US, whatever it was that took place, that these learners might have been felt left behind by the higher education system. They might feel they didn’t get the experience they wanted in their undergrad. They might not have that GPA they’re super proud of. They might have done a study in something that they’re no longer interested in because it was relevant and timely at the time. And the more that we find ways to allow a learner to demonstrate these are the skills I have today and this is my new career path forward, the more we’re not going to continue to push those people away from higher education. I mean, the statue brought up are very impactful. If somebody looks and says, “Hey, seven outta 10 students are gonna say too many barriers, I’m not going to pursue this on a first glance.” Think about how that’s just continuing that negative impact or experience they might have had with higher education. And PBA is really trying to meet them where they’re at today.

0:16:08.1 JB: That’s right, that’s right. So as you anticipate performance-based admissions, how do you think that will impact the diversity of students that will pursue this pathway and is introducing this alternative application process part of an intentional effort to attract students that might not otherwise apply through to the traditional channels?

0:16:35.0 RT: So the second part of that question first is of course, right, like performance-based admissions is going to give the opportunity where that traditional student who was going to not be an MBA candidate or not be an Engineering or technical degree candidate because they didn’t do a bachelor’s in a technical or STEM field, PBA does open us up a wider market to go after. But on top of that, I think it’s about more anecdotal and researches that has been done previously. I don’t have numbers on hand to tell you, but we know that people who go through an admissions process face a lot of anxiety, face a lot of, I’m not good enough to be in this program. And there are certain disenfranchised populations that I have seen even at past institutions who have done PBA are able to apply at a much higher rate because that stigma and worry is kind of removed from somebody else is going to be judging me based on what I put in this application file.

0:17:31.5 RT: And I think there’s plenty of research out there that shows when people can remove that stigma of judgment and kind of are looking at, hey, maybe I don’t meet every qualification on this list, but because there’s PBA, I can still apply. Where we know and there’s a lot of data, there’s specific groups of people who don’t apply to jobs if they don’t meet every recommendation or every requirement that’s listed on that list naturally. So this is a way just to open ourselves up to more populations of diverse learners, whether that be geography, whether that be traditional diversity, whether it be diverse of backgrounds. As I said before, having technical degrees from engineering on performance based admissions that don’t require a STEM Bachelor’s is now providing a whole new field of folks who maybe studied, let’s take history for example, but ended up working at a tech company or ended up working in a technical space and now saying, “Hey, I really need that tech degree to move up. I could get this entry level job into this space with just this degree, but now I need to have some technical credentials behind me.”

0:18:27.3 RT: So, I think we can look at diversity in all different outcomes or pathways of what that might be looking at the program. But I think the bigger part to me is about, there’s no doubt there’s several populations that have been disenfranchised by higher education and traditional admissions processes. And PBA just removes that stress or that additional bias to be added to the admission process and give them the opportunity to demonstrate, here’s the learner I am today, not somebody I was when I did my undergrad degree. Here’s the working professional I want to aspire to be today. Don’t judge me based on, hey, I had to hop around and take these roles for whatever family situations or whatever life situations came at me to decide that this was gonna be my work path. Just because I don’t have that traditional using the MBA as an example, that traditional career ladder path where someone looks at a resume and says, yep, this person’s been promoted three times, they’re on the right path. We want them in our MBA program. Many people refer to it now as a career lattice, not a career ladder. And we’re seeing more and more people hop around to different roles and PBA really opens that opportunity where they’re not going to be judged by taking some lateral moves or taking a step back because of other life situations. A resume no longer will dictate, am I admissible to a graduate program or not?

0:19:42.0 JB: That’s right. Giving the adult learner kind of their ability to choose their pathway forward regardless of past experiences, that’s really, really important. Now, I wanna play devil’s advocate a little bit here. So let me ask, what’s wrong with simply asking students to apply through the usual time and tested application process?

0:20:09.8 RT: You know, it’s not a bad thought to have and it’s a thought. I think many people listening to this and many institutions have on a regular basis, right? Like this is tested. We have the data that supports these students are most successful, we admit on these criteria and that gives us the best chance to have successful students in our program. What I challenge to them is the unknown of you never know the students you deny about what they could have brought to the table. You have a pool of students at some point in time that you say you don’t meet these traditional metrics of success so we’re not even willing to give you an opportunity.

0:20:45.5 RT: What PBA is, is an opportunity for folks to demonstrate, “Hey, you might have your metrics of what’s great and what’s not great, but let me show you what I bring to the table.” And what I have seen at past institutions I have worked at is the students who have to go through the performance-based pathway, sometimes performed much better than the students who went through the traditional admissions pathway. There is something to having that chip on your shoulder and saying, “Hey, they wanted me to prove it to show that I was going to be in this program. I was able to show them and look at what I can do now.” And I think the other thing, when you look at the admissions processes and every university is slightly different and everybody looks at this in a slightly different lens, but I think anybody who is a naysayer of performance-based admissions or doesn’t wanna see it as an opportunity to kind of widen access in the pool in some regards is trying to gatekeep higher education. And there’s many reasons why they may want to do that.

0:21:36.5 RT: They’re not things that I believe in or not things that I believe should happen in the higher ed space. So if we keep doing what we’ve been doing, traditionally the same gatekeeping will take place. The same biases exist in those admissions decisions. The same biases exist in those processes from day one. PBA gives us an opportunity to give learners a fair shake at, let me show you what I can do. And you know what? It’s not something where a 100% of students are supposed to make it through PBA successfully. There are students who are just not going to be a good fit at your university or in your graduate program and they will in some way self-select out going through this process of not being able to complete the work at the level we’re looking for. But for the many learners out there who can complete the work, why are we trying to gate keep them from demonstrating and becoming proud alumni and graduates of our programs and advancing their careers and their families lives and all the things that are great about higher education. I don’t believe we should be in the business of putting up barriers and checkpoints for people to make it through those processes.

0:22:37.9 JB: And on that note, as we think about success, student success, do you have any sense of how performance-based admissions might impact the enrollment numbers for the program and any concerns about learning outcomes compared to students who come through the program through the traditional admissions route?

0:22:58.5 RT: So I think there’s one inherent built-in positive to performance-based admissions, which is retention. We all know first term retention is very difficult, whether it’s at the graduate undergrad level, that’s the first time somebody might be learning online, might be learning even in the classroom, whatever it is, it’s a different adult working professional who’s coming back to school. And there’s a lot of opportunities, especially in the online space where there’s not a sticky to a location and they haven’t moved and they’re not attending a physical classroom for them to say, this isn’t for me and I don’t want to be part of this. What we expect to see from performance-based admissions is much higher retention rates. ‘Cause these learners will have gone through one or two semesters before they even matriculate as being a degree student. So they know what they’re getting themselves into. They understand how online delivery works, they understand how the courses are taught, they understand what the expectation is to get that letter grade.

0:23:50.1 RT: So we expect less grade issues and less GPA probation issues and some of those things that universities face. And definitely a higher retention. Now if we look at what, what defines success or learning outcomes and those things, that’s where we really lean on the program expertise and work very closely with D’Amore-McKim School of Business in the online MBA to say, out of all the data we have, we’ve delivered an online MBA since the early 2000s, 20 plus years of online learning in the MBA, we know some things that give us a good indicator of what will be successful and how students will get to those outcomes. And really leaning into those metrics we have of, that’s why we decided to go with one qualitative and one quantitative based course because we’ve seen people excel in quantitative courses because they come with that math or science background and they really understand that.

0:24:39.3 RT: But they might really struggle in some of the qualitative teamwork, marketing more soft skill based courses. And so really giving students the opportunity to demonstrate I have the skills in both those spaces to be successful should lead to more student success. And I should say that this is a pilot process we’re going through here at Northeastern. We’re collecting a ton of data and our goal is to look at the end process and say, are we better off with this new opportunity than we were with the traditional admissions process? And we’re not getting rid of the traditional admissions process either. If a learner really wants to go through the traditional MBA admissions process, totally understand that we have that application open for them. They can still go through the normal vetting process and the normal applying. And for some students that’s really important, especially if you look at working professionals who are being funded by their employer.

0:25:29.2 RT: Sometimes they need an admissions offer to trigger that funding to come into place or sometimes they need to be classified as a degree student from day one to tap into funding options that are available for them. So there are some benefits to the traditional admissions process, which learners might still choose to use if they choose to go that way. But what we saw in our first term of launching this with engineering is over 99% of the students who came in chose the PBA process versus the traditional process. So it will always be the right fit for a handful of people who are looking for it. And all we can do is use the metrics we have with that and the success rate we have with that in the past to use those candidates to put them through a traditional process and admit them. But with PBA, we’re gaining more and more information everyday of how effective is this? Are these the right classes? Are these the right modules? Are they taught in the right manner that will give us the outcomes that we’re looking for? So it’s a constant reassessing like most things in higher education of, are we hitting the metrics we have put in store for us as a success metric? If we’re not, are there small tweaks? Are there big tweaks? Are they the wrong classes? Like there’s a lot of things that we’re going to have to work through as we implement this.

0:26:39.4 JB: Yeah, yeah. And I’m curious too if you’re planning to offer any special advising or coaching services to assist those that may need additional support as they’re going through the PBA pathway.

0:26:51.3 RT: A 100%, right? This is not normal and the number one question we got around launching it is, are you sure this is right? Like it almost feels fake to the learner. I don’t have to go get my letters of recommendation, I don’t have to go write an essay. It’s almost one of those things where you’ve been told so many times, if it’s too good to be true, it must not be true. And so we have to have a lot of sessions with folks to remind them, yes, this is really true, this is what you need to do, but there’s still an onus on you to do well in these classes and we wanna make sure you’re best put in success for that. So the way we’re set up at Northeastern, each of our programs has a student success manager who is managing these students through the flow of performance-based admissions. So that advising, coaching, helping, there’s peer-to-peer growth that you see in there too.

0:27:36.1 RT: Everyone’s in under the same idea that they need these Bs or better in order to get in. So everyone has kind of that shared common goal in those performance-based admissions classes. So there’s a lot of helping one another. No longer is it a competitive admissions process where Jennie, you get in, but I do not because there are only one seat left and we both have applied to it. So I have to do everything I can to be better than Jennie in order to get that spot to be in there. Instead it’s, hey, there’s room for everybody who’s qualified and capable of doing the program here. Let’s find a way to lift each other up. So we see a lot more teamwork and a lot more interpersonal relationships forming in these cohorts because it’s not competitive for the last seat. It’s, we can all get our seat if we work together here.

0:28:17.8 JB: That’s great. That’s great. I love that. Well, as we think about marketing, and I have to ask because that’s me. I love marketing. So as we think about marketing, how do you plan to market PBA admissions route to students?

0:28:35.0 RT: So I think you have some clever first hooks you can put on there about not having to get all your materials and there’s some fun play on words you can use about fast application process. That’s what we call it at Northeastern. We have a Fast App for students to complete and things along those lines, which are great. But what I think is the biggest challenge of marketing that everybody should be aware of listening to this is you’re going to have to do more with less. Think about how often you look at your application stats as your marketing to your funnel and you start pulling data of who these people are and understanding their background and getting a gauge for is this person really going to submit they have 75% of the application done? Are we gonna use an application fee waiver to get this next little push over the lining, those common tactics that everyone uses?

0:29:19.1 RT: In a Fast App world, you’re getting minimal data on these learners. So that’s why I said you have to do more with less. We as a university and within the edge team are really trying to leverage the technology advancements that are available in marketing to say, how can we still market a great process from Fast App one all the way through enrollment where these learners feel they have that high touch marketing, that they have the right information, that they have the right understanding of what’s expected of them. So for me it’s about step one, can you do more with less? You obviously have some attractive hooks in telling people if you’re looking at other traditional admission processes, you don’t have to jump through all those hoops to go here. We talked about the numbers earlier, there’s a lot of benefit in people’s minds, but there is a large education window of folks too.

0:30:09.0 RT: And you have to get the education piece right. Because if someone’s telling you at their university you need three letters of recommendations, you need your official transcripts to apply, you need to write an essay, you need to provide a resume and someone else is saying, “Hey, you just need to have a bachelor’s degree and be able to provide us transcripts and then you’re good to start.” There is gonna be a natural hesitancy of this sounds too good to be true. So really informing people not only of the process but the why behind the process, why we’ve moved to performance-based admissions, why we think this is the right pathway forward. So it doesn’t seem like something so outlandish with no background or no understanding of why we’re moving in this direction that scares applicants away.

0:30:50.5 JB: I love that idea of explaining the why behind it because at the end of the day, as we think about the adult learner population, we think about the reason why they’re pursuing education at a higher level. Oftentimes, it is mission driven as much as it is career driven. And so, when we want to as consumers buy a product from a brand, we wanna buy from brands that match the same mission and ideals that we have. So seeing Northeastern saying that we want to create greater access, we want to be able to deliver our OMBA to anyone who feels that they would be a good fit for this program regardless of your prior history, is such a strong and bold statement that I think will truly resonate with adult learners out there. Regardless of, again, their background, their diversity you name it. So that’s really exciting and such a great point to make to not only market the true benefit that a lot of adult learners are gonna see immediately by streamlined admissions process or skipping the admissions process, but also the why and the meaning behind that and how it ties back to the Northeastern brand. I think that’s so exciting.

0:32:10.8 JB: I personally, I’m excited to partner with you all to market this. I think it’s gonna be really great and I look forward to that. One of the other things I wanted to mention is that to your point, you’re going to have less data points. And so as you think about how you market to this population, one of the things that I’ll be keeping track of as well is how are those perspective students indicating interest in applying? How are they engaging with the marketing? Can we use those markers to help us better understand their timeline and their likelihood to enroll and apply essentially through the fast-track process. So I think those will be some really great data points and benchmarks that we can be building together through the marketing of this, which we’ll be rolling out here very soon, which is exciting.

0:33:07.9 RT: Absolutely. I think one other thing on the marketing that’s really great from an institutional standpoint to think about is we don’t have to figure out how we’re gonna market to the select population that’s admissible. We can actually spend time talking about what is the value of a degree and understanding that PBA learners are going to come from all these different backgrounds. And so it doesn’t have to be this tailored fit of you’re on a career progression to be an executive, add your MBA and that’s the value and then go here and become an executive. Let’s talk about how an MBA can be valuable to you in any industry. Let’s talk about how an MBA to you can be valuable as a credential in the marketplace. What that can unlock for you at the next step instead of simply saying, where’s my admissible population? Let me just speak to them because those are the ones that I need to get over the line for enrollment. I think being able to take a step back and actually talk about the value of the education we’re providing is a refreshing breath of air here in a university setting to say we can just market the values of what we’re teaching and that will bring the people we want to the program and not worry about them having the exact right background to get through our application process.

0:34:16.2 JB: That’s great. Well, as we start to wind down, I’ve got one more question and then I certainly would love for you to provide your advice to anyone listening and thinking about performance-based admissions, but I wouldn’t be a true marketer if I didn’t ask the question, how do you measure success going forward? Are you already thinking about what sort of outcome you’d like to see through implementing this with the OMBA? And then are there other programs at Northeastern that you’d like to introduce this to?

0:34:54.0 RT: Yeah, so with success metrics, I think the number one thing you’re going to have to do is be open-minded to reframing what your traditional metrics have been. I think everybody in the admission space or has worked in enrollment management understands how many new students are coming into my cohort, how many did I recruit, how many applications submitted, how many admissions offers, and how many enrolled? And those were always the three marks when I worked in admissions that were top of mind to me. Now the framing looks very different. Now we have a metric of how many students started the PBA process? How many students took one class, took two classes? What is our matriculation rate into the program? And then once they’ve matriculated in successfully, then you use all your traditional retention metrics and success metrics that you have and how happy they are and satisfied with the program.

0:35:41.9 RT: But those early stages, your metrics have to change because if you keep trying to map them back to your old metrics, I think you’re gonna end up really excited by the numbers that you have, but maybe really unable to fit them back in that traditional box of metrics of knowing that you have this bigger top of funnel. You’ll have higher enrollment numbers and things along those lines by doing PBA, but what is your persistence rate, right? If I am a PBA student, I want to take one class at a time. How many students start with one class and get a B or better in their first class and then sign up for a second class? How many students do two classes at a time, they can get a B or better in both class?

0:36:19.8 RT: Should we be recommending only one class at a time to focus on PBA or do students have the time and workload being working professionals to get two done? These are all new metrics we have to change too for metrics of success of looking at what does our pipeline look like? What does our funnel look like of students who are becoming degrees students? Because it’s really more about how are we serving them and meeting them where they’re at instead of just putting another tally mark and this is an app submit, this is an admissions offer and this is a yielded student which tend to be the very traditional metrics. So I think one thing that anybody looking at PBA should be aware of is you’re going to have to change some of those success metrics from what you used prior and making sure you have the right buy-in at the institution that people aren’t gonna expect to see. Well, what are our app submit numbers? Oh this looks great because we have all these Fast Apps submitted. Well, let’s actually walk through what this means for matriculated students into the program.

0:37:12.8 JB: Yeah, and I truly do look forward to that. I tend to be more attracted to the wild, wild west, if you will, of higher education. So this is gonna be a really fun process to partner together with you on and be able to maybe perhaps come back six months from now and share a little bit of our learnings that we’ve discovered together through marketing this and implementing this for the OMBA. Well, before we leave today, I just wanted to pause and say thank you so much Rob for your time, for your expertise, for sharing with everyone out there the things that you are thinking about at Northeastern and how Northeastern is not only staying innovative but also thinking about creating that greater access. If you have any parting comments or thoughts or recommendations for anyone listening that is thinking about implementing performance-based admissions or bringing it to their leadership team to consider for one of their programs, what sort of advice would you provide?

0:38:21.5 RT: Well, thank you Jennie, first of all for having me. It’s been a blast to be on here and talk about performance-based admissions. As I said, something I’ve been passionate about my whole career from day one starting in online education to now really excited to try to create more access to higher education. And thank you everyone for listening along and entertaining Jennie and I’s conversation about PBA and how you might be a strong believer or a firm objector, but hopefully at least made it this far to hear about it. In terms of those who are interested in looking at how do I move forward with PBA at my institution, how do I take maybe the first step or what should I know as potential pitfalls coming? I’d see two different tracks. Step one is, I think everybody listening to this who works in an admission space can say, I have programs or I have admissions requirements that probably aren’t necessary in order to determine is somebody the best candidate for my program? Or let’s frame it a different way. Could somebody be successful in my program? And if that’s the way I’m looking at things, step number one is just start removing those admissions’ barriers, right? Whether that be test scores, which we saw during COVID, almost every school remove test scores or whether it be hey, maybe we don’t need to make somebody go ask for that letter of recommendation because of the amount of stress it’s gonna put on them or how they go through the process.

0:39:32.8 RT: So, I would encourage everybody to help create access by removing any admissions barriers that they have there that are easy to remove. As you begin to transition to performance-based admissions, it’s really two things. Do you have the institutional centralized buy-in that this is a direction we want to go? We wanna care about access, we wanna care about working professionals, we wanna meet learners where they’re at. And that’s kind of starting phase one. And then starting phase two is do I have the systems and processes in place to pull this off? Because many schools are built for a traditional application process from day one through the matriculated student and now you’re going to put a lot of different changes in new paths in that system and processes that you have in place.

0:40:16.1 RT: So I would say make sure you have the centralized buy-in, make sure you have the colleges on board. Nothing but great things to say about working with our college deans and selecting classes and having the same shared goal of making sure that it’s not… Is this the right candidate, but is this a student that can be successful in my program regardless of what their background looks like and setting students up for success. So I think you have to have the buy-in from the program and the centralized university and then ensuring you have the right systems in place. Because my guess is 99.9% of schools who are listening to this are set up for a traditional admissions process and there’s going to be a lot of changes that need to happen to make performance-based admissions work.

0:40:53.2 JB: Thanks, Rob. That’s super helpful and again, appreciate your time and really looking forward to having you come back in a few months to provide some updates to those listening.

0:41:04.0 RT: Yes, thank you so much Jennie, and thanks everyone for listening.

0:41:07.1 JB: Thanks everyone.


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