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How UCF is Expanding Opportunities for Hispanic Adult Learners

Episode 131

December 13, 2022 29 minutes


EAB’s Abigail Zeiler is joined by Mary Lou Sole and Valerie Martinez from the University of Central Florida College of Nursing to talk about their work together on the Progresando initiative. Through the initiative, EAB is working with UCF, through a generous grant from Bank of America, to increase their capacity to recruit and educate students to meet soaring demand for skilled healthcare workers.

The three discuss the biggest obstacles to expanding nursing programs in today’s tight labor market and share what they’ve learned about recruiting and engaging Hispanic adult learners in the greater Orlando area. They also offer advice to leaders at other institutions about ways to grow their own nursing programs and about how to get the most out of a public-private partnership.


0:00:11.6 Speaker 1: Hello. And welcome to Office Hours with EAB. Today we sit down with a faculty member and the dean of the University of Central Florida College of Nursing to talk about a unique public-private partnership. UCF is working with EAB through a grant from Bank of America to expand their ability to recruit and enroll Hispanic adult learners and help them launch successful careers in healthcare through what’s called the Progresando Initiative. UCF is serving a vulnerable segment of their local community by creating opportunities for underemployed citizens while filling a huge unmet need for skilled healthcare workers. Give these folks a listen and enjoy.

0:00:58.6 Abigail Zeiler: Hello and welcome to Office Hours with EAB. My name is Abby Zeiler and I’m a senior strategic leader focused on adult learner recruitment here at EAB. I’m fortunate enough today to be joined by two representatives from the University of Central Florida to talk about a really interesting project and partnership they’ve entered into to serve their community. First, let me introduce Mary Lou Sole, Dean of the College of Nursing at UCF. Mary Lou, would you mind telling the listeners briefly about the kinds of students UCF serves and more about your role specifically?

0:01:28.8 Mary Lou Sole: Thanks, Abby. I’m happy to be here this afternoon to introduce the University of Central Florida to your podcast listeners. We have a very full service university that offers degrees from that bachelor’s degree all the way up to a PhD and a doctor of nursing practice. And we are excited about this partnership, in particularly because we have a very diverse student body, but that diversity changes when we hit the graduate level. So at our undergraduate level, we are serving approximately 25% Hispanic students that represent our community and our region. However, when we get to the graduate level, less than half of them are choosing to go to graduate school here at UCF. So we are… Really want to have our demographics at the undergraduate level mirror those at the graduate level. So we believe this partnership will be an exciting opportunity and my role is as Dean is to lead all programs and all faculty to get to these goals where we can look at the future of nursing and healthcare.

0:02:29.8 AZ: Awesome. Thank you. Dean Sole, also with us today is Valerie Martinez, who is on the faculty at the UCF College of Nursing. Valerie, how would you describe your job to the layperson?

0:02:42.0 Valerie Martinez: Thanks, Abby. Well first and foremost, I’m a clinician. I am a certified pediatric nurse practitioner and a pediatric mental health specialist. At the University of Central Florida College of Nursing I’m a clinical assistant professor and the director of our primary care nurse practitioner programs. So I’m involved in recruiting, advising and teaching graduate nurse practitioner students. So this is a very exciting opportunity for me as well because I of course want to make sure that we have, an inclusive and representative, student population in my nurse practitioner programs.

0:03:17.7 AZ: Awesome. Thank you both so much again for joining me today. I do wanna provide the listeners with a little bit of additional context around the project that we’re all referring to called Progresando Initiative. This project was launched at the beginning of 2022 and made possible by a grant from Bank of America. The project is part of a larger set of initiatives established by Bank of America with a $1 billion commitment to advance equality and economic opportunity for minority communities. Through the Progresando initiative UCF is one of 12 colleges and universities to receive a grant to help Hispanic adults in their area get the help and the education they need to launch careers in healthcare. The idea behind the project is that there is a huge unmet need for skilled healthcare workers across America, and part of the reason for that is there are a lot of barriers, financial and otherwise facing prospective students from historically underserved populations who might want to pursue those jobs. Making matters worse, colleges face very real capacity constraints in terms of the ability to identify, engage, enroll and educate enough trained healthcare professionals to meet demand. Mary Lou, I’m wondering if you could talk a little bit about why you can’t simply just double the size of UCF College of Nursing and crank out more graduates and maybe share a little bit about what made UCF decide to participate in the Progresando initiative to begin with.

0:04:42.3 MS: Abby, that’s a great question. There is an extreme nursing shortage out there, and there’s an additional faculty nursing shortage, and we believe it’s in our mission that it is important for UCF to help address the shortage. Ideally, I would love to double enrollment, and I always say it comes back down to three things as we get started. Finances, faculty and facilities. So finances. This past year, the state invested strong funds into the university to increase our capacity for both new nurses and nursing faculty. So that is something we are rapidly addressing so that we can grow and expand that way. The second thing is faculty. We have funds within our resources now to increase faculty, but there have sometimes been challenges in recruiting faculty, and particularly those with doctoral degrees and faculty researchers. And lastly is facilities. We need facilities both on campus to educate the nurses and facilities within the community to educate students in the clinical setting.

0:05:51.1 MS: So from the facility standpoint, we’ve outgrown our space. So we are on an active mission to secure new space on the Lake Nona campus and are starting those plans and are in some fundraising now to enhance the money that was already given to us by the state. And our clinical agencies have pledged to us if we increase enrollment, they will ensure that we have clinical sites. So we believe we have those first three now that we’re working on. And the reason we wanted to have Progresando help us was to grow those enrollments. We wanna increase the number in particularly of faculty and faculty that are diverse. Because you cannot grow your undergraduate enrollments without faculty. And we want our faculty to represent the community that we serve. And that is something that is very, very challenging, especially when I said less than half of our Hispanic students are going back to school.

0:06:50.2 MS: We wanna have, ensure that our students, those 25% student body have 25% of the faculty of Hispanic ethnicity that are able to support them and they can relate to and really ensure a good strong education for them. And that will help us, really I believe, for the future of nursing to support our community, the community we serve, and the students that we serve. So we believe that Progresando will help us grow enrollment, it will help us make sure our programs are aligned with current employment trends, help us retain and support these students as they come back and help them land good jobs. Now, frankly, they will have jobs and so that part of it, I am convinced they will have jobs as faculty, as clinicians, and as, nurses in the community. So that part I’m not quite as much worried about, but if we could accomplish this mission, we succeed in increasing Hispanic participation in healthcare, which in turn helps us better meet the needs of all segments of our community, in particular the patients that we serve.

0:07:56.6 AZ: Awesome. Like you said, the jobs are there, we’ve just gotta build the pipelines and find the students, and that’s certainly, one of our core objectives. Valerie, I might ask you, is there anything you’d wanna add about the specific growth challenges that nearly all nursing colleges face or about the value to Hispanic communities that increasing the number of Hispanic healthcare workers, would serve?

0:08:20.1 VM: Yeah, sure. Absolutely. Spanish speaking Hispanics are a significant portion of the population in the United States, so there’s a great need to overcome language and cultural barriers in caring for these patients. These barriers are a major factor of poor health outcomes. And So increasing the number of Hispanic healthcare workers who can overcome these barriers definitely adds value to the Hispanic community. Kinda going back to the growth challenges within nursing schools, I completely agree with Dean Sole. Increasing the diversity of nursing faculty is going to be really important if we wanna recruit and retain nursing students. Nursing school is stressful enough, but when you’re a minority student, that journey can feel even more overwhelming. So a diverse faculty can really foster a sense of belonging for the students, which is important for them to feel confident in their academic potential.

0:09:13.5 VM: Again, as we’ve talked about, a major challenge that I see is the need for not only increasing undergraduate nursing student enrollment who are gonna be prepared as registered nurses, but the need to encourage those Hispanic nurses to go back to graduate school to become nurse practitioners. Language and cultural barriers are only one factor that impact the health of Hispanics. And Hispanics also face less access to quality and preventative care, lack of health insurance and socioeconomic disadvantage. We need Hispanic primary care providers who can bridge this gap and focus on disease prevention.

0:09:49.7 AZ: Valerie, I wholeheartedly agree with you, but we also need some faculty educators as well of Hispanic ethnicity to support our students. And you mentioned the other day that, you thought that for many of the individuals of Hispanic descent that really getting that bachelor’s degree was the goal. So can you talk about that a little bit more?

0:10:14.2 VM: Yeah, yeah, sure. A lot of Hispanic students are first generation students, so they see that bachelor’s degree getting a good nursing job, the best opportunity that they can have, right? So being able to talk to these students and let them know that there’s more, there could be more after getting your bachelor’s degree really will strengthen, the ability for us to recruit students, Hispanic students, you know, into the advanced practice levels of nursing. Abby, you’ve been very involved in the work that EAB is doing to collaborate with UCF leadership to make sure we’re firing on all cylinders. It might be interesting for you to give the listeners a high level overview of the kind of work we’re doing together.

0:11:02.1 AZ: Absolutely. This is my favorite part. I sort of nerd out when it comes to the marketing aspects of what we’re doing together. First and foremost, when we start any type of partnership, but one that is so specific in targeting this Hispanic population, it is absolutely critical that we have a very deep understanding of who your current student body is, what resonates with them most. And so at the onset we do a really kind of deep dive analysis leveraging data science and consumer analytics to really deeply understand who your students are and what makes them tick so that we understand what messages are gonna resonate most with them as we go forward and begin to do that outreach component to try and get them to see the value and to raise their hand and then facilitate that decision making process towards application for those graduate level nursing opportunities.

0:11:56.7 AZ: Of course part of this is building out the actual outbound campaigns that are generating awareness of, so making those folks, aware that you all are an option for them and what those different pathways look like. Of course, we wanna get folks interested in those UCF online nursing opportunities with an emphasis on Hispanic and LatinX populations. We’re also wanting to cultivate individuals who raise their hand, right, facilitating that decision making process by communicating UCFs commitment to those individual students’ successes and those other unique value propositions. One of my favorite things that we’re doing right now directly speaks to, Dean Sole’s kind of concern around the undergraduate population not persisting into the graduate opportunities. We’re actually reaching out right now to over 4,000 alumni and current seniors of UCFs undergraduate nursing programs to communicate that value of continuing into the graduate level and building those pathways and pipelines.

0:12:58.2 AZ: So really excited about that piece of the work. One of the other things I think is really unique to the Progresando initiative project is that there are certain components of the marketing collateral that we have developed that do include some Spanish language elements to make sure that we’re resonating with that perspective student pool, right? While the programs are delivered in English, the majority of the communication is English to represent that. We’d love to have a headline or to show, you know, a Spanish language, sentence to make sure that they know like, we are here for you, we want you, you are reflected in this population and kind of get them to engage with us in that way. And so I’m really excited to test into those theories and then share back with you all what works well for your own populations. Also critical to this work is that we are evaluating the programs themselves to make sure that they are highly competitive in the market, right?

0:13:51.1 AZ: So we need to make sure one, programs are really competitive and then we have strong outreach. Two develop, new lead sources as well as cultivate existing lead pools to make sure that we’re kind of pulling those folks in, increasing the applications numbers for those graduate nursing programs and ultimately getting folks enrolled and matriculated and see. So, let’s talk about where UCF is in the process today. Dean Sole, when did UCF engage with EAB and Bank of America on the Progresando initiative? What metrics are we using to track success and where are we kind of currently in the journey of the overall project?

0:14:32.4 MS: Well, Abby, we have been involved with the Progresando since February of 2022 with this ongoing effort between EAB and our faculty and staff. And we’ve had at least two staff that have been amazing in collaborating with you to understand the demographics in our programs. So I can’t thank them enough for their support, ’cause I know they’ve been working every week or two weeks with you all to gather data and test out data. So we were able to launch in October and, that beginning launch and have the metrics in place to start analyzing our progress. We’re really just in that initial phase of our launch and excited to track our progress. So can you tell us a little bit maybe what that progress has been?

0:15:15.5 AZ: Yeah, absolutely. So when we think about monitoring campaigns and kind of what are the metrics that we’re tracking to make sure that we’re on the right path and going to be able to drive those results that we all, desire, those metrics are response rates. So how well are we doing at engaging the contact pool that we’re reaching out to, of course application intent shown through the campaign itself, right? How many people are we driving into the application as well as the number of new leads that we’re generating, through these efforts, right? So first time hand raisers that were not previously on your radar. What’s really exciting to me is that we’re already with just two months in seeing a 5% response rate, that’s a benchmark range of eight to 10%, six months in the field. So we are already well on our way to having a really successful campaign in terms of our ability to engage and drive action from the contact pool, which is awesome.

0:16:08.0 AZ: What might be even more exciting to you, Dean Sole is that right now on average we are driving, just over 20 individuals to the UCF graduate nursing application every single month. I definitely expect the number to increase as time and market grows and we go forward. Ultimately it’s all about the number of applications that we’re able to drive, that can move forward and matriculate into enrolled students. And so as we progress, we’ll start to monitor those application numbers, as well. And so that’s sort of how we are monitoring success of the campaigns at this point in time.

0:16:46.5 MS: That’s exciting to have 20. So now it’s really also up to our team to work collaboratively to make sure those applications turn into admissions and those admissions turn into registered students. So, you know, our journey is to double that enrollment and to combat the nursing shortage and the faculty shortage. And we do wanna match our enrollment figures to that of the institution and that of the region. And I believe we can do this soon enough. I had a young BSN student graduate, who’s gonna graduate in May, come into the office the other day and we were talking about the BSN to PhD option and I said, we want individuals to start thinking about the PhD early so that this is the future faculty and researchers that are gonna be in the professional long time. And I said, had you thought about it?

0:17:31.5 MS: And her faculty referred her to talk to me and I said, this is an opportunity for you and you in four years, four and a half years can have that PhD and look at the career you’ll have ahead and the students you can serve and the patients you will help, do better patient care with. And she said, you know, I’m looking at, what are those opportunities with funding and support? And so letting us think about that to drive that those students are here and they’re energized, they just need that little extra nudge to get them to that next level.

0:18:03.5 VM: I think that’s a very good point Dean Sole, financial hardship is one reason that a lot of students will get their BSN and then they’re making money, so now that’s where they want to stay. Having to pay for graduate school is definitely not on the top of anybody’s mind. Having to take out student loans isn’t something that most Hispanic students want to do. And so being able to provide scholarships or being able to somehow fund, Hispanic students in nursing education is really important.

0:18:35.4 MS: So those are some things we’ll be able to dovetail with the Progresando initiative, including a new grant that we got that is gonna support that, that we’re calling Informatica, and that is also gonna provide some scholarships. So all of these things are coming at such a unique time and are working collectively together that when we started them, we didn’t necessarily think they were going to. But that’s a real exciting part of linking that Progresando with the other initiatives that we’re doing.

0:19:01.1 VM: I agree. It’s a really exciting time for the Hispanic community at UCF.

0:19:07.2 AZ: You all are just kind of getting my wheels turning and it’s really exciting. Dean Sole you mentioned kind of the collaboration between what EAB is doing and what the UCF graduate admissions folks are doing, as well as Valerie mentioning that finances are the top concern. Right. So what I think is really unique about the way that EAB reaches out to prospective students is an intent-based way. So as people are more engaged, we’re able to identify which ones are the hottest prospects and send that individual’s information over to the team at UCF to do that really critical one-on-one outreach, right? EAB can continue to nudge and facilitate that decision-making process, but when we understand someone’s really high intent and can share that information over so that Ayana and others at the, you know, graduate admissions office can have those really high touch one-on-one moments, that’s where magic starts to happen.

0:20:03.0 AZ: And we see those conversion rates and we see the real impact on real student lives. Valerie, to your point about finances, one of my favorite pieces of this campaign is actually an outbound survey that we send that asks each prospect what their motivation and what their obstacle is so we can understand if they are motivated to advance their career or enhance their current skillset or change the world. And we also understand what that barrier is. Maybe it’s the finances, most of the time it is, but maybe it’s something like balancing their existing job and school, how are they gonna navigate that? But if we’re able to collect that data and pass it back to your teams as they’re reaching out and have that kind of starting place of understanding where the prospect is coming from, it just makes those conversations all the more impactful. And we, again, tend to see that increase in throughput, into the, applications and enrolled students.

0:20:57.1 MS: And then that will also help us understand, when we understand those things, that will help us to say to our fundraising, okay, we have this number of students and with your help and your additional scholarship support, we can help generate that next generation of the Hispanic population of nurses. So that’s one other strategy that I believe is good. Again, that partnership by your deep dive giving us the data to say, here’s what we’re doing, then we can translate it into fundraising.

0:21:27.7 VM: You know, one other barrier that I was just thinking about to Hispanic students entering grad school is that they might be intimidated by the writing intensiveness of graduate school, especially if they’re, you know, English is a second language, type of student. So that may be another area that we can look at. And by increasing diverse faculty, increasing Hispanic faculty, we would be better prepared to support those types of students who maybe English isn’t their first language.

0:22:00.2 AZ: I absolutely love where you’re going with that because I think the power of partnering with EAB in some of these instances is that we work with such a broad number of institutions and have insights from and best practices from many other, you know, areas that touch what we’re doing together. To your point about the writing component, I was just talking with a different partner about this the other day, but how do we maybe tap into some of the other resources that you all have on campus such as writing centers, but maybe add some specific, support for these nursing students so that we can make sure that these students that we’re going after and we want to, you know, make impact in these populations, have the support resources specific to those segments so that we can make sure that we are supporting all students as they go through, these programs.

0:22:52.5 VM: Yes, I think that’s gonna be really important. They need to feel supported, otherwise they’re not gonna stay.

0:22:58.6 AZ: Absolutely. Or they won’t persist through, and then we’re doing a disservice to everybody. So I think thinking about that student life cycle all the way from identifying and making them aware that this is an option to supporting them through completion of the program and, and Dean Sole to your earlier point, the job is waiting for them, we just have to support them through the program itself. Valerie, Mary Lou, are there any elements of this partnership so far that have surprised you? Whether it’s the kind of marketing work or the research work that we’re doing?

0:23:34.3 MS: Well, for me, I think the surprise has been a prize. It has been very data driven, very specific graphically, visually, easy to understand. So having that data to really look at helping us be the best Hispanic serving institution in the country for our nursing students, I believe has been probably the biggest surprise. It’s not like you’re creating an ad, you really are creating a process and that process is going from start to finish. So that is, I would say the best takeaway I have and that’s the best part of this.

0:24:15.6 VM: Awesome. Yeah, I mean, I’ve been very surprised with how much marketing has gone into recruiting Hispanic nurses at this point. And we’re still very early on and we’re already having an increase in Hispanic, student applications. So I think that’s really exciting to me as a faculty member and as program director that we are able to reach these students or potential students.

0:24:43.5 AZ: Both, some potential, some will be students. So I know that there’s a lot more that we could talk about in terms of how to increase minority representation in the healthcare field or about how Progresando initiative fits the broader UCF mission. I do wanna be respectful of everyone’s time. So I think I will go to my final question now, which is, based on what you’ve learned through the project so far, what advice would you offer to leaders at other institutions who may be looking for ways to recruit Hispanic learners or about how to get the most out of a partnership like this one that involves outside funding and outside consultants? Mary Lou, why don’t you go first.

0:25:24.1 MS: For us, the key thing was identifying those individuals at first who could work with you closely, give you the data that you needed. So identifying those key stakeholders that are right there at the front lines, that has been really, to me, the best thing that got us started working at that level where they understood what calls they get and what students they get. And so that was good. I think another one has been investing then for us to invest in those key staff members to have the time to do this, because I know this has been very time intensive so that they have that ability to prioritize their regular meetings and still participate in this initiative. So in my mind, that is, the key takeaway I would say. And then let’s, the other second key takeaway I would say is then let’s really look at how do we maximize the data you have to work collectively with our internal marketing and recruitment to get that return on investment.

0:26:27.9 AZ: I love that. One of the things I would add there in working with the UCF marketing folks is, our ability to quickly test kinda what works in this space and share those learnings back with your team. I know the marketing folks were super eager for us to be able to run some tests in very fast and nimble ways. And so I think, making sure that we’re sharing not just what’s working well, for UCF, what’s working well for all of the Bank of America Progresando schools that we’re working with, but also what works just in general in the graduate market, right? How can we, work together to make sure whether it’s nursing or otherwise, that we’re providing you all that best in class research and best practices to make sure we’re seeing, success across the board. Valerie, would you wanna share any of your take aways, from the project so far?

0:27:18.5 VM: Yeah, sure. I mean, I think the key takeaway for me is the impact that recruiting more Hispanic nurses and nurse educators will have on the Hispanic population and how the partnership with EAB allows us to take a more broad view and utilize national research to recruit. I mean, the US population is becoming increasingly diverse and this translates to a greater need for a diverse nursing workforce. So nursing schools are really the only pipeline to achieve this. And we know that Hispanics face great health disparities when it comes to chronic health conditions like heart disease and diabetes, and they’re also less likely to have health insurance. So since it’s well-documented that health outcomes improve when patients and their families receive care from health professionals who share their racial and ethnic backgrounds, Hispanic nurses can have a great impact on reducing the disparities and working towards health equity.

0:28:16.5 AZ: Awesome. Thank you Valerie. And thank you both for sharing, all of these deep insights and kind of takeaways from the partnership thus far. I thank you both for your time and I look forward to sharing more with you in the coming weeks and months about the outcomes of this campaign and the impact that we’re having for UCF, and the Hispanic populations that you all serve.

0:28:35.7 MS: Thank you, Abby. This has been a great partnership so far and I anticipate it’s gonna be even better as we go along.

0:28:42.1 VM: Thank you, Abby. I’m really looking forward to how this all progresses.

0:28:52.1 S1: Thanks for listening. Office Hours is taking a break for the holidays, but we’ll be back right after the first of the year with a fresh new episode. Until then, take a breath, hug your family and unplug when you can. And as always, thank you for your time.

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