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Yield Your Class During a Time of Uncertainty

Episode 8

May 19, 2020 38 minutes


All the usual models and data sources that enrollment leaders rely on to assess progress against their fall enrollment targets are of little use right now. Madeleine Rhyneer joins Carla Hickman to talk about current enrollment challenges and about the importance of “re-recruiting” students who have already committed to your school. They also suggest ways to get incoming students to engage with your school and their future classmates in a virtual environment to minimize summer melt.


00:13 Matt Pellish: From EAB, I’m Matt Pellish and this is Office Hours, a weekly podcast exploring the top-of-mind issues facing higher education. Typically by this point in May, most colleges and most universities, they’ve got a pretty strong sense for what the incoming class is gonna look like in the fall. But as enrollment management teams, as they make their way through the spring of 2020, all the models, all the data, all the predictions, the indicators, they have pretty much flown out the window along with any expectations of a nice summer break. On today’s episode, we’ve got a familiar friend back. Carla Hickman’s here, and she’s joined along with Madeleine Rhyneer, EAB’s Dean of Enrollment Management, to talk about the enrollment landscape here in 2020; why and how do you have to re-recruit already deposited students, along with some of the challenges across the summer. As we’ve got students and their parents, they’re considering health risks, they’re looking at finances, and now there’s the prospect of a fully online fall semester. Thanks for joining and welcome to Office Hours.

01:20 Carla Hickman: This is Carla Hickman. I’m very pleased to be back with everyone for another episode and fantastic conversation here on Office Hours, and this week I am delighted to be joined by my colleague, Madeleine Rhyneer. Madeleine is our Vice President of Consulting and our Dean of Enrollment Management here at EAB. So Madeleine, welcome to the pod.

01:39 Madeleine Rhyneer: Carla, thank you so much. I’m delighted to be here and thanks for this exciting opportunity.

01:44 CH: Well, there could be no more exciting conversation to be having as we sit here in the middle of the month of May than thinking about enrollment management and how we’re going to be yielding that upcoming class. So I thought to get us kicked off today, we’re gonna talk about all things enrollment, talk about the undergraduate and graduate experience, but if you’re an enrollment leader and you’re looking at the calendar and it is the middle of the month of May, what are the big questions that are on your mind right now, and how should they be thinking about performance across the summer to be able to hit those goals they’ve got for the fall?

02:16 MR: Carla, what I’m thinking is, gosh, so many questions, so many still open, very open-ended questions. I think the biggest challenge that enrollment leaders are facing this year is their yield models pretty much went out the window. And whether you decided to keep May 1 as your commitment date, if you moved to June 1, or if you’re open-ended and will take enrollment commitments throughout the summer, one’s capacity to predict right now where one will be on census day, I think, is very challenging. Or I guess I would say my crystal ball would be pretty cloudy if I were an enrollment manager. And so I would be… I guess what I would be thinking about is how to get to the best possible result. There are lots of prognostications out there about enrollment perhaps being down 10%, perhaps being down 20%, and that would be a combination of reductions in returning students, as well as a lower than anticipated or hoped for number of first-time students who would be joining. And I think that, of course, everyone needs to be thinking about contingencies, but I think enrollment leaders still have an opportunity to get to the best possible result by taking some concrete actions right now, and then continuing over the summer.

03:47 CH: Well, I’ve heard you say before that it isn’t just the narrow question of how do we yield the incoming admitted student population? But for all enrollment leaders, it really is concrete actions to take across the summer to think about managing total enrollment. So you alluded there that it’s both a retention question, as much as it is helping those students to decide if your college or university is their best fit, if this is their first time in college. I would love to hear a little bit about what would be those concrete steps you’re taking on that summer plan if you’re thinking about both those incoming students as well as maybe some of the actions to take with your continuing population.

04:24 MR: So let’s start with a little bit of a dive into, what are the actions we could take to try and get to the best possible result with new students. And we’re gonna be talking a lot about re-recruiting because I think one needs to re-recruit one’s current students, as well as continue to recruit. And what I mean by re-recruiting is those students who have made a commitment to you and told you that they plan to be on campus in the fall, I think we’re in an environment where we can take nothing for granted, and I think there would have been some of this already pre-global pandemic with the changes in NACAC rules and just the challenges of too many seats chasing too few students nationwide and the first-time undergraduate population, so I think that being incredibly mindful and intentional about recruiting doesn’t just stop when the student raises his or her hand and says, “Yep, I’m with you, I’ll be there in the fall,” because they’re going to continue to be vulnerable. Some of that vulnerability will be, again, ongoing family concerns and potentially economic dislocation related to coronavirus, ongoing fears about proximity or lack of proximity, and how far will I be from home, and right now my choice feels really good, but I might get more anxious over the summer, or more importantly, my mom might get more anxious over the summer about my distance from home.

05:48 MR: And so I think building a plan that’s really predicated on strong, ongoing communication, and rather than what would be sort of the historic shift to the wooing part, and you’ve gotten them to, for all intents and purposes, fall in love with you, and now the onboarding often becomes a bit more about business processes. And we were talking about this in post-NACAC, that it will be important to have an onboarding experience that continues to engage and deepen the relationship between the committed student and the family, the parents, in addition to taking care of things like pre-registration and advising, and getting a parking permit for a parking place, and getting your ID, and the other things that would naturally occur. And I also think helping students, again, in a much more intentional way, build social connections between themselves.

06:46 MR: I’ve seen some schools do that really effectively, and for me, it’s a combination of what are the tasks that need to be done, and how do we present those in ways that don’t feel like kind of a pain in the neck for students? And also how do you intersperse those with things that are fun? And I feel like I’m way beyond the Gen Z, so I wouldn’t consider myself an arbiter of fun, but I actually think asking students themselves and certainly asking your own current students, “Talk about what you enjoy, talk about what might be fun, and how is it that we can create these opportunities for relationships where you’re getting to meet people in a fun way as opposed to, it’s a pre-advising session and I’m just in a Zoom meeting with other new students in my class. What do you think about the engaging people in fun ways?” however young people are determining fun.

07:45 CH: I think it’s such an important point to not just immediately switch to those onboarding, check-the-box activities. Those are important, but as you were talking there, I thought, “What a great opportunity to engage your current students as well and to shore up their retention,” because there’s no better person to talk about the experience of the campus or what it means to be part of the campus community than your current student population. I was talking to one partner who was using their student government leaders and their club and activity leaders to do proactive outreach to the incoming class. And not necessarily to make it explicitly about recruitment or are you definitely coming in the fall, but to just start to engage them in what it means to be a member of that campus community. I think a lot of institutions have been focused on virtual orientation because that’s a very clear event that would typically be on campus that they’re trying to move to a virtual environment, but I almost wanna zoom out and say, “What are all of the touch points and activities and events that you could plan from today all the way through the start of the fall term that just get people engaged and already starting to feel like they’re committed to you?”

08:53 MR: One of the things that I often talk about with leaders is, at its most fundamental, what students really care about is Maslow’s hierarchy. Where will I live? Where will I eat? Who will teach me? Who will be in classes with me? Will I make friends? Do I fit in? Because really what you’re trying to do is answer the question, “Is this a school for someone like me?” And so to use that really great example that you have about lift your head up and don’t just think about business processes but think about all the potential touches that you could have, I often think that sometimes universities are really focused on what they need and their desired outcomes from interchanges, exchanges with students. And I think if there ever was a moment to rethink what is it that students really need from us? What is that families need from us? We know that they need a lot of reassurance right now. We know that there’s still a bunch of uncertainty about how will school open? And then what happens if coronavirus really does return next fall?

09:56 MR: And so I think building your communication with an eye towards, “Here are the things we really need for you to do, and here’s what’s in it for you to do it.” At its most crass, what is the benefit and advantage to the student to help them understand, as opposed to it’s just, as you said, checking things off. But at the same time, probably I think doing a lot more communicating and thinking about using those important touch points. I think some outreach from faculty members over the summer who would be in your area of academic interest, some reassurance that they see your path to success in their program. And of course, it’s brilliant to you students because they’re the consumers of the services, and there’s a high degree of authenticity in what they say. They’re usually relatively unscriptable, and this is a good time. They can be honest about their feelings.

10:48 CH: I think that’s the case with faculty and instructors too. I’ve worked with some institutions who say, “Do I need to overly script or orchestrate?” I think no, absolutely not. Let those be authentic conversations, let people feel open to ask the questions that are on their minds. And thinking more expansively than just your enrollment leaders and your enrollment team who of course are engaged in this work, to all members of the campus community. We’ve talked about students and faculty, but I’ve seen folks using their athletics directors, I’ve heard of advancement officers. It feels like an all hands-on deck moment to reach out and make those connections real across the summer months.

11:25 CH: I’d love to, Madeleine, touch a little bit more. I do think that your point is well taken, that people’s questions about, What does school look like as circumstances are changing, not just with the pandemic but maybe with your their family finances is an important one. I’ve heard you say before that one of the things to communicate across the students is, don’t wait for them to have to raise their hand and come to you with an issue or a question. Could you talk a little bit about how we could be proactively communicating that we’re flexible with certain policies or, you know, allowing people that moment to indicate their financial circumstances may have changed. What more should we be doing there?

12:00 MR: Yeah, this is a really great point that you make, Carla, and I think it’s an enormous opportunity. And this is not just an enrollment leader opportunity, it’s really a campus-wide kind of opportunity. One of the things that we know is there’s a certain portion of our population that understands about asking and understands about things, and then there’s a pretty significant percentage of our population that doesn’t understand about asking or thinks it’s not okay to ask. And so this is a prime opportunity for universities and colleges to open the door for conversation. So one of my favorite enrollment leaders actually titled an email, “Are you concerned about finances?” That was the subject line. And he said, “I never, ever dreamed in my career that I would start an email like that,” because you’re actually not necessarily inviting people to have that conversation with you in a regular year, but of course, these are not normal times. And they got an incredibly great response because what you’re signaling is, “I wanna open the door and I wanna create the place for us to have that conversation because we stand ready to help you.” I think that that is a really great place.

13:12 MR: The other place where I think you can hardly communicate enough is about safety, health and the care that the institution will take of the student, particularly if we’re talking about a residential experience. And I think one of the… I read a really nice opening in a message which was, “Because we care so much about you, and because we so greatly value the opportunity to be with you in your journey of academic discovery, that it’s because of this that I wanna tell you all of the things that we are doing now and will be doing to ensure your health and safety when you arrive on campus,” and then to go into what those are. And this is definitely a message for students, but I think it’s a hugely important message for parents, because of course, many of the people who are listening today are parents themselves, and you know there is nothing that matters more to you than the safety, the well-being and the success of your sons and daughters, at all points in their life, but certainly as you send them off and they set forth on their college experience.

14:21 MR: So I think finding ways to invite people in and to communicate really effectively. And I do think, although, some schools have put together some amazing COVID-19 websites where they have done fabulous jobs enumerating all the things that they’re doing and changes in any policies or procedures, you know, did we go and test flexible, test optional, how are we handling if you can’t get a final transcript, what if you only get pass/fail grades for your last term, and I think a repository of information. But to just to step back to that safety message again, print really does matter to parents, and I think that this actually might be an opportunity where a printed piece might be helpful to get into the home, and especially for those committed students.

15:08 CH: It’s interesting you bring that up. I think folks have assumed everything right now needs to be digital or virtual or digital first, and there are actually lots of communication channels and formats that we can be using across the summer. And while it’s obvious to start with an email that you could send or a virtual community you could build, interesting to hear you say that there’s still some value to a printed material and printed message as well.

15:31 MR: Well, I think especially when the message is really important, that may be used judiciously because of the cost. But I think it definitely it has some staying power, and I think more sometimes the digital resources at university websites, perfect, but I think sometimes emails, people get a lot of emails, and I think it’s easier to not give it the same level. It doesn’t have the same weight, I don’t think, with families.

16:00 CH: You know, we’ve talked a little bit about the incoming class. One population of students that certainly impacts your overall enrollment performance are your transfer students, and I’ve been thinking about if there are any particular messages or ways that we should be thinking about those populations as we head into the uncertain fall. I’ll admit, Madeleine, I actually haven’t heard… I haven’t personally had as many conversations with enrollment leaders around how they’re thinking about transfer and if this is gonna change any of the challenges sometimes we see when it comes to articulation agreements or credits we’re willing to accept. I’m curious if you’ve got any thoughts there, or if you’ve had conversations with others on that group.

16:38 MR: Transfers are an interesting question because, of course, they can be a substantive pool of new students at some places, and then a relatively small percentage at others, so I think that sort of drives the level of attention and focus. I think for institutions where transfer students who are a substantial part of their entering class, that coronavirus may be a reason to get even better. They’re obviously doing well if they’re being successful, but to, again, think about what potential barriers are. And of course, with the NACAC rules really being relaxed about one’s capacity to re-recruit students who may have enrolled at another four-year institution, I think circling back is actually a good strategy. We certainly know that many people are doing it to try and entice students who had been thinking about them before to maybe reconsider you, because it’s possible that the family circumstances have changed.

17:35 MR: I think that… I had a great conversation with an enrollment team today, and they were talking about their transfer students, and this is an institution where it would be a relatively small percentage of the enrolling class, and they actually had determined that they were going to offer a new $2,000 scholarship, which would be in addition to any previous scholarships. Say a student had applied, been offered admission, received an academic scholarship or merit scholarship, but chose another institution, they were going to reinstate that and add a $2,000 coronavirus grant to try and help families who may be experiencing financial challenges. An incentive is an incentive by any other name, but I think incentives that deal to concerns and anxieties that families have are never a bad idea. And so I see people doing some sort of creative things to try and build their pool, which is simply going beyond their regular outreach, their regular articulation, and whatever articulation agreements that they had, and then the idea of re-recruiting people who may not have chosen you in the past. Again, this is a good time to try and look for every potential zig in the road that’s a barrier for students, and use coronavirus and your concerns about helping students and families is the leverage to try and make that be less of a zig.

19:00 CH: That makes perfect sense to me. We’ve talked before about people seeking a local option, not wanting… Being worried about straying from home, simply being concerned about finances, and so turning to a community college because they see that as a more affordable path. And so a tactic like the one you just mentioned, just getting in front of that conversation so they have another piece of information that might change their ultimate decision, seems like a wise one.

19:24 MR: Right. And interestingly enough, we’ve said to people, “Just trumpet it, put it right out there.” If you say, “Oh we’re gonna have a $2,000 scholarship for transfer students who apply now,” I said, “Well, don’t hide the lead that you are going to add that on top of the scholarship that the student had already received.” I said, “That’s a message that will get people’s attention.” And I think you get more, you get more good will out of recognizing, “We were not your choice before, but in case your circumstances have changed, we wanna honor our previous commitment to you, that academic scholarship, and we wanna add something more to help your family.”

20:00 CH: I’ve been thinking about that as well. I was having a great conversation with someone who has a really strong portfolio of online courses in the summer, and they of course have students registering for those summer courses, and they worked with their team and they started to notice there were students who were registering for those summer courses who were from other institutions in the state. And they said, “You know, it’s not that unusual that someone would enroll in a different institution over the summer and then try to transfer those credits back in the fall, but maybe this is an opportunity for a conversation just to open the door to understand if their circumstances have shifted, if their plans for fall have shifted.” So I think we’ll see more people looking very carefully at those various [20:42] ____ pools and enrollment pools, especially if you have a strong online portfolio or you perhaps live in a metropolitan area that there are a lot of students here who might be wanting to stay close by instead of traveling to the institution they were enrolled in last year. So I don’t wanna suggest that everyone is re-recruiting students from other institutions based similarly on summer enrollments, but it is important, I think, to notice those patterns and change.

21:09 MR: I really like this idea that you raise about students from other institutions taking courses over the summer, because I think there is a really soft way to say, “Hey, we’ve loved having you. It’s been a great experience. We hope you’ve really enjoyed our teaching and learning community, and we’re open to a conversation if down the road you are ever thinking about maybe perhaps wanting to transfer.” I think there are lots of soft ways with many conditionals, so the student doesn’t feel pushed or it doesn’t feel too market-y. It would just be like, “Oh, I had a good experience here and they’re acknowledging that and they’re saying, ‘Hey, we’d love to talk with you if it ever feels right for you to consider making a full-time change.’” I think, again, that’s positive messaging that lifts up a student and his or her experience. It doesn’t feel quite as nasty as, “Oh, okay, good. Oh wait. You took one course. Maybe you’d like to take more.”

22:04 CH: Exactly. I think it’s all in the messaging there, which makes perfect sense. Well, we talked a little bit about the undergraduate, I wonder if we switch and talk a bit about other student populations. So certainly in the days pre-Covid, we were already seeing intensifying competition on the undergraduate side, so more institutions had turned to graduate and professional learners as well. I have been thinking quite a bit about opportunities to serve adult learners who have found themselves in a difficult situation, maybe displaced entirely or looking for retraining or re-skilling. But also just some interesting thoughts on how you reassure students who might be thinking about your typical portfolio of graduate programs, and is this the right time for them to be embarking on that educational experience. Do you think a lot of the same messages that work for your undergrads: Affinity, reassurance, proactive and positive messaging, work for the graduate populations as well?

23:01 MR: Yes, absolutely, I do. I think because I’ve not worked extensively in the graduate market, I think the drivers, the motivations in the graduate market, whether it’s for a professional degree, it could be for a degree completion, I think the motivations that bring students to those choices are different. And so I think what’s really important is to try and understand exactly what is driving not just the decision in general for people choosing a program, but the decision making… The decision tree that an individual student is using is incredibly helpful. Because again, Gen Z, and then if you extrapolate out, Gen Z is like up to 25-year-olds I think now, they’re very interested in messages that are personal and relevant to them.

23:47 MR: So this idea about, “I’m just gonna push macro messages out there and hope that some of the spaghetti I threw against the wall will stick,” we know that Gen Z is not really receptive to that. So sort of the graduate level version of this would be a conversation, whether it’s an actual conversation or a digital conversation about, “I see that you’ve expressed interest. What brings you? Why now? Why at this moment? What is it that’s causing you to think about this?” Because then it’s much easier to start or construct a potentially positive argument about why this is either a really good choice or help the person work through their own decision-making structure. Often in recessions, education prospers from that, which is terrible, you prosper from people’s economic disruption.

24:38 MR: But I think that potentially, this is a little bit different. So again, I do think that there’s a huge opportunity. We know from the research the Clearing House does how many adults in America have part of but have not completed a college degree, and it feels like this great untapped well of potential that we would just care about that as citizens, and I hope that that may have a positive impact because they may be the workers who would have been the most impacted and had either been furloughed or perhaps have been laid off from hourly work as opposed to salaried work, the thought work. But on the other hand, I also think people may… Sometimes out of difficult times comes opportunity, so if you were thinking about a professional program that might be able to get to the next level in the career that you’ve chosen, I also think that this can be a good time for people who think, “Oh, I’m actually gonna make some hay out of what has been a difficult time to try to elevate myself as things come back to normal.”

25:37 CH: And we talked about before… I think you’re 100% right. You gotta start with the student motivations. And I never find it particularly helpful to say, “What’s your adult or your professional program strategy?” because there are so many different answers to that question depending on what students we’re talking about. But one population I would encourage all of our listeners and our partners to focus on are the students who are members of the class of 2020. So they are graduating, which is… I think I’ve written before, it’s a bittersweet moment. They’ve achieved this incredible accomplishment, but they are entering the workforce at a period of truly… I know unprecedented is overused, but truly unprecedented uncertainty. I have been heartened by the universities and colleges that are creating special ways for those students into graduate programs, both certificates and masters, and offering financial incentives to ease that transition for them. Syracuse University is one that we work with who’s offering a special scholarship to all of their class of 2020 graduates who are meeting, of course, their admissions requirements, but interested in moving directly into one of those graduate opportunities. So I think to our point earlier about re-recruiting and total enrollment, don’t forget about your class of 2020 graduates as well.

26:54 MR: I’m so glad that you raised that, Carla, because it feels like an incredible kindness. For many students it actually would be the right step, but that proactive outreach that says, “We think you would be terrific, and we know that these are uncertain times, and perhaps this would be a really good fit for you to move forward immediately with your graduate school plans.” I mean, again, messages that are positive and uplifting about opportunities for young people, I think, are never… They’re never misplaced. And even if it’s that, “That’s not the right fit for me right now,” or, “Oh no, I don’t see myself doing that,” any time that you indicate you totally see potential in someone, I think that it matters. And I feel like we’re going to need to build up our high school students entering college in the same way that we wanna build up our college graduates as they embark on graduate school or enter the workforce, to help them understand that they are valuable and they do have a lot to offer, even though they’re trying to begin that march in a difficult time.

27:54 CH: That’s right, and I think if we learned anything in the Great Recession, it took some of those students several years. They really struggled out in the job market, or they were working in a part-time capacity when they were seeking full-time employment, so not leaving that to chance and proactively communicating immediately the options that your university or college can provide. And I think connected to that is it may not always be a full degree program. UVA is another great example, offering an intensive across the summer that combines very workforce-relevant skills with immersive opportunities that would already have been part of their summer curriculum, and really pitching that specifically to these class of 2020 graduates as a way to get a leg up, perhaps explore an area of interest that’s more tightly career-aligned than they thought was gonna be necessary with their original post-graduation plans. So I love that creativity, and I think it’s another way for us to continue to use that creativity.

28:52 CH: Well, Madeleine, we have covered a lot already. I wonder as maybe a final question, and I’m gonna cheat and make it a two-part question because why not? But one, I wonder, again, not for the enrolment leader who him or herself are very focused on these issues, doing a lot of great hard work across the summer to do their very best bringing this class together, but for the other leadership members of the Cabinet, what’s one way that they should be either supporting this activity or thinking about what to monitor and do? What do we need so that we can help our enrollment teams be successful across the summer months?

29:23 MR: You know, it’s a really good question. I see… Unfortunately, out of great challenges come great opportunities, and I have seen enrollment teams sort of… Sorry, senior leadership teams, it’s almost a bifurcated response. Sometimes really challenging moments bring out the best of a team and bring people together in collaborative thinking and thinking about what barriers can we remove, and other times it does not bring people together, they become even more entrenched in their silos and even more concerned about protecting their own turf and whatever political power that they have. And actually I’ve been thinking about this a lot, and I know that David Attis and Sally Amoruso have been doing a ton of work around this, which I find fascinating. It’s about supporting leaders, meaning presidents and then leadership teams, to really lead in times of great challenge because people need a leader and they need someone and something to follow. And so it’s charting the path, having the vision, charting the path and creating the narrative that enables and allows people to go with you because people wanna follow something that they believe is leading to a better outcome in a difficult time. And so I think that for leadership teams, if they have the capacity to really think about… Enrollment success really is everyone’s job, and I know that’s crazy because if people are not individually responsible, it’s hard to be held accountable, and I completely understand that.

31:00 MR: But having said that, if you create an enrollment frame of mind where your focus is always on what will be the best for our students, rather than we’ve always done it this way, and we just need to have a lot of rules. Well, who are the rules helping? Because if they’re not helping the students, talk to me about those rules again. And in some cultures, those are really hard conversations to have, and if there’s the potential to free up some space to actually have those conversations in less defensive environments, I think that that’s really helpful. But the notion of financial success is really what fuels one’s ability to fulfill one’s mission. No margin, no mission. I mean you can’t afford it. And all of us want to be doing exceptional work serving our students and helping them achieve the success and the dreams that they’ve been seeking and launch in the way that they wish to. And so trying to strike the right balance between the things we need them to do, and then what are the things that where they need to do it, but perhaps we could find more efficient or effective ways, ways that we’re more meaningful for them and relevant…

32:10 MR: I think that that’s a possibility. So thinking about enrollment very holistically and recognizing that every interaction that you have with a current student has a potential impact on their desire to return or their desire not to return, and that you don’t want a student’s experience to be sort of death by a thousand cuts. It’s no one big thing, but it’s a bunch of small things that makes me feel like, “Yeah, no, I could do something else.” And how to recognize that’s happening, and then how to try and go after it. And I’m actually a big fan of asking. ‘Cause if you ask students, “Tell me the three things that just annoy you or are your pain points,” they will tell you. And if some of them… And some of them will just be, “Really? Parking? Come on.” But on the other hand, they’re gonna tell you some things where it’s gonna be legitimate, and you can think, “You know what, if we made a shift there, that’s gonna make some people happier,” and then that’s a good thing for us all.

33:09 CH: So I completely agree, and you actually started in that answer to get to part two. I told you two parts, so part two. Now, if that’s the advice for the president and the senior leadership team, if you’re having a conversation with, let’s say, a high school senior and they are contemplating the decision, “Do I go in the fall? Do I take a gap year or a deferment? Do I pick a two-year versus a four-year?” I have heard you say many, many times, “It is value, not cost,” it is about helping them find their best and right fit, but tell me a little bit, words of wisdom, for that student. Many, many out there right now trying to make that decision.

33:45 MR: I think that it all lies in the questions, because I think that students are always confused about their college choice. They get to the end, they have these opportunities, and you’re like, “Oh my goodness.” It’s not easy for them to choose. And of course now their lives are even more complicated as are their parents’ lives. So I think trying to help the student understand, which really means you understand as an enrollment person, “What is it that’s most important to you about your college experience? What is it you’re really looking for?” And that would be on the academic side, what kind of a learning community is really important to you? And then if you’re thinking about a residential experience, what kind of a community is it that you wanna join? What values? What will make you feel comfortable, like, “This is a really good decision for me”? And if you can help a student enumerate what those things are, then you can help them through the values clarification process of “Okay, prioritize. You’ve identified four or five things that really matter. Is there a way that you can prioritize them, or is there a way you can think through of your potential college choices right now, sort of benchmark them against the list that you’ve had?”

34:58 MR: And I guess what I’m saying in a sort of a long way is I think that there’s both that emotional connection. Sometimes students walk on campus, they walk around, they do their visitor things, whatever they are, but they realize… They do have that fall in love moment, and they look around and they think, “This is a place for someone like me,” or some sort of other way. So there’s the feeling part, but I also think if we know nothing about Gen Z, they’re very practical in their choices. It’s not, “Whatever it costs, I’ll do it.” They’re concerned about their own debt, they don’t want their parents to assume a lot of debt or not be able to afford retirement. So it would be, “What are the… It’s not just how I feel, but I’m also gonna apply some practical criteria against my choices.” And the advice that I’ve always given my own team and use myself is, understand exactly what that student is looking for, and then either help them see, “Here are some ways where I think this school would be a really great fit for you.” Or, “Based on some of the things that you’ve said, we love you and we think you’re fabulous, but I’m not sure this actually is your best fit.” Because the best sales, if you will, is about right fit. It’s not about trying to make the shoe fit every student. It’s trying to make the shoe fit students who really will come, stay, be happy, be like, “Oh yeah, this is what I thought I would have, and it is what I’m really having.”

36:23 MR: So it’s a process of discernment and values clarification, and not being afraid to have those conversations where you’re asking people questions and then talking through with them what they’re thinking and feeling, without feeling the pressure to say, “But of course, you should choose us.” ‘Cause of course, you wanna say that but… And in many cases, you absolutely do because you think the student’s amazing, and you couldn’t wait to have them as part of your community. But for some students, even when they are amazing, their best fit is gonna be somewhere else, and people I think respect you the most, when you’re honest with them.

36:58 CH: I think that’s a great place to end this conversation, Madeleine. There’s… Probably we could go hours more, but I’ve really appreciated the conversation today. And I know that you and I both will be continuing to work with our enrollment leaders and our partners across the summer months as the enrolment landscape continues to unfold. And thank you, I hope this is not the last time you and I get to have a conversation here on Office Hours.

37:17 MR: Well, Carla, thank you so much for including me. My best to all enrollment leaders across the country and around the world. Challenging times, but huge opportunity. Thanks so much. 37:34 MP: Thanks again to Carla and Madeleine, and thank you all for listening. Join us next week when we sit down with Ann McElaney-Johnson, the President of Mount Saint Mary’s University in LA, to talk about leading a university through a crisis and what she learned from the emergency evacuations and the aftermath of last year’s wildfires in California. Until then, thanks for listening to Office Hours with EAB.

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