The Admissionist Winter 2021 | The Power of Community

Winter 2021




T hank you for reading the newest issue of The Admissionist , Liaison’s quarterly magazine dedicated to the art, science and industry of college admissions. If you have read The Admissionist before, welcome back. If this is your first time, welcome to our community. We launched this magazine in 2018 so you could not only learn more about our products and services, but also gain insights into what we have learned during three decades in the recruitment and admissions space. Little did we know that within a short period of time, our lives — and the world of higher education — would be radically reshaped by forces few of us could have anticipated. We all hope for a better year ahead. In many ways, I believe lessons we have learned from the unfortunate events of 2020 will help make that possible. First and foremost, being cut off from each other for so long has made us all realize how powerful and important it is to be a member of a community in which everybody works together for the well-being of all members. It has made us appreciate each other more, and underscores the need to be better prepared for whatever may disrupt our lives next. Liaison builds communities. By its very nature, for example, Liaison’s Centralized Application Service (CAS™) creates community by bringing institutions and students together on a global recruiting and application platform that allows students to apply to as many participating programs as they please using just a single set of application materials. In addition, I heard from client after client last year about how effortlessly they were able to maintain business continuity during the pandemic because they had joined the CAS Community. I am also pleased to inform you that in 2020 we enhanced Liaison’s corporate community by acquiring TargetX, a top provider of recruitment and retention software specifically built on the Salesforce platform. This move will simultaneously broaden Liaison’s reach and consolidate some of higher ed’s most popular tools under one platform. Now we will be able to reach potential applicants earlier and engage students, not only after they enter the classroom, but when they are about to enter the workforce and beyond. Please reflect on the power of community as you read the following articles. Topics include the changing nature of admissions during the pandemic, the new training we provide and how campus leaders are pivoting to a better future. You will also find information about Liaison’s entire range of products and services, including our Enrollment Marketing Platform (EMP™) and SlideRoom™. We Are in Good Company Together

IN THIS ISSUE 04 How Savvy Campus Leaders Are Pivoting to a Better Future 06 The Acceleration of Change The Future of Admissions — During and After the Pandemic 08 The Undergraduate-to-Graduate Connection

20 Do More with More CAS Gives You More Time and Resources to Focus on Enrollment Results 22 An Interview With Innovation & Technology Hub and SlideRoom Partner The Ion “An Expansive Set of Solutions for Applicants and Programs” 28 Success without Disruption How Liaison Helped Our Partners Overcome the Pandemic’s Game-Changing Challenges 30 Welcome to the CAS Community Higher Education Admissions Professionals Working Together for the Common Good 36 Digging Deeper How Graduate Engineering Programs Mine Data for Better Enrollment Outcomes 38 Five Reasons to Re-Think Print Highlights from a Liaison Enrollment Marketing Webinar

How Colleges and Universities are Working to Bridge the Gap Between Undergraduate and Graduate Programs 10 GME 101 Exploring New and Evolving Best Practices in GME Administration 14 Building the Liaison Academy Community 16 Discovering the Power of the Pivot Admissions Leaders Share Their Strategies for Tackling Higher Education’s New Challenges and Opportunities

I hope you enjoy the magazine and I am very thankful that you are a part of my community.


George Haddad Founder and CEO



I t would be an understatement to say that life changed dramatically on Friday the 13th of March 2020. That was the day we sent staff home for what we thought would be a few weeks. Kids came back from school thinking they were getting a long weekend. They didn’t yet understand that summer vacation had both already started and already been cancelled. Businesses began closing and wondering how they would survive. And of course, colleges and universities had to scramble to manage students who were still on campus, including international students who couldn’t leave easily. Most importantly, schools began struggling with the task of converting academic programs that had traditionally been run on campuses — in some cases for hundreds of years — to virtual forums that were still capable of engaging students. Operating in a fog at first The Coronavirus forced everybody to pivot, even though they didn’t necessarily know they were doing it just yet. We all needed to start making decisions, but in many ways we were operating in a fog. We didn’t know what to expect, and we didn’t know when it would end. We didn’t know what was right and what was wrong, and we kept getting a steady stream of information that was really just based on guesses. But we still had to learn how to teach in this new environment. We still had to learn how to operate a campus with a skeleton crew. We still had to figure out how to maintain our businesses so that our employees could continue to be employed. We were forced, on a fundamental level, to think about how to survive. COVID-19 quickly became the ultimate plot twist of our lives, and people began to ask themselves, “Can we find opportunity in this crisis?” From my perspective, the answer, in most cases, was yes. The power of the pivot executed at TargetX and at so many of the schools we work with has inspired us all to think about how we can do even more in the months and years ahead. Campus connections Consider, for example, Mid Michigan College, which serves about 4,000 students in Harrison, Michigan. Mid Michigan has always prided itself on the outstanding student support it offers, whether it’s academic advising, financial advising

or just overall support on campus. And they always want to raise the bar.

Even before the pandemic, Mid Michigan wanted to be able to offer support services in different modalities rather than just through in-person office visits. But it was difficult to find the time to even start a pilot program. Then COVID forced the issue. When campus closed, the team at Mid Michigan embraced it as an opportunity to look at creating a pilot program. They began trying extensive advising online through Zoom, and they leveraged some of TargetX’s technology as well. They were soon able to offer new programs on campus they hadn’t even thought of in the past because the pandemic gave them the opportunity to leverage existing resources in new ways. In my opinion, Mid Michigan clearly offers a great example of how to harness the power of the pivot. A new paradigm Valencia College, which serves more than 40,000 students across seven campuses in Florida, has a different but equally compelling pivot story to share. Valencia had wanted to initiate a true digital transformation across every campus. However it soon became clear that the “offline” processes it had in place for advising, financial aid and even basic enrollment were specifically designed for face-to-face interactions. Imagine their shock when COVID hit and they realized none of their existing processes would work anymore. Valencia, in turn, opted to work more closely with the TargetX team for effective online student engagement solutions. Together, we viewed the predicament as an opportunity to fundamentally reimagine how to coordinate communications across multiple campuses and created a new paradigm about how to grow and evolve. Rather than look at the challenges that we continue to face today as obstacles that are going to beat you down, I encourage you to take a cue from Mid Michigan and Valencia and view this moment in time as a huge opportunity to embrace innovation, unleash the power of the pivot and, ultimately, emerge stronger than ever. The pandemic won’t last forever. The changes you make during the pandemic, however, have the potential to pay new dividends for years to come.



N early a year into the pandemic, many of its potential effects on higher education are still not easy to discern. There is no clear answer, for example, to the question of why undergraduate enrollment was down 4.4% this fall, while graduate enrollment was up 2.9%., according to National Student Clearinghouse. At the same time, other pandemic-related developments make more sense at first glance, such as the 20% increase in applications to master’s in public health programs for the current academic year as reported by The Washington Post. Regardless of whether the latest trends confirm or confound your expectations about the state of higher ed today, most experts agree that they underscore the need to deploy new ways of recruiting and enrolling students — now and in the future. “Despite the pandemic, uncertainty about attendance and curriculum delivery, the economy and the election, I personally remain optimistic about admissions for many reasons,” said George Haddad, CEO and founder of Liaison.

Why does Haddad feel that way?

Renewed investment in education (particularly in health professions)

behalf — by managing recruitment campaigns, marketing, applications, customer service and transcript and document verification — frees up resources that can instead be devoted to engaging with students.” A catalyst for a changed perspective While the ever-increasing amount of applicant data at your disposal will always be useful, the pandemic has also highlighted the benefits of looking at applicants in different ways, according to Sasha Peterson, CEO of TargetX, a higher- ed enterprise software business recently acquired by Liaison. “What we’ve found during the last eight months is that clients want to know, ‘How can we engage with students more deeply on personal levels?’,” he said. “I think not being able to see each other in person has opened up our eyes to how important it is to look beyond the data and not just have an algorithm decide whether this student is going to be successful or not. We need to enhance the communication that should be happening between individuals. And because of that, I am actually more optimistic about the future of admissions now than I was a year ago. “There has been a very slow evolution on most campuses to accept the fact that students today are not the same as they were 10 years ago,” Peterson said. “If you’re looking for a silver lining in a global pandemic, one of them is the acceleration of change. This pandemic, combined with the shift to more hybrid online/offline teaching, is really going to change the next five years in ways that I think would have taken 15 otherwise.”

“We predicted back at the beginning of the pandemic that the world of higher education will need to pivot to what we call a ‘preparedness era,’ in which we recognize the need to better prepare to overcome an invisible enemy today and other challenges in the future,” Haddad said. “As a result, we can expect to see more investment in health professions — as well as in health administration — to create models for healthcare delivery in times like these. That, in turn, will lead to

more opportunity and success for students.” A new appreciation for innovation

“The pandemic has served as a catalyst for acceleration not only in the corporate world but in higher education as well,” Haddad said. “This will not change any time soon. It creates space for innovation and fosters the belief that doing something different is possible and will be welcomed. The old taboos that used to prevent this type of new thinking have been shattered.” More productive collaborations According to Haddad, ongoing budget cuts at schools across the country will likely make it even more difficult for admissions offices to operate at peak efficiency — unless they enter into strategic collaborations with trusted partners. “An admissions professional’s core competency is to nurture students and to highlight the value of the school to attract best-fit applicants,” he explained. “Therefore, entrusting partners such as Liaison to do administrative work on your

The Future of Admissions — During and After the Pandemic

This article features highlights from The Future of Admissions — During and After the Pandemic , a LinkedIn Live session hosted by Jeff Selingo that is now available for on-demand viewing at future-of-admissions.



Retain now, enroll after graduation In that spirit of collaboration, Dr. Rickard recently spoke with several admissions professionals from programs across the country about building stronger pipelines between their undergraduate and graduate programs in order to boost retention and drive enrollment. “There’s a declining population of traditional-age students in the pipeline. We were already seeing a decline in international enrollment even before the pandemic, and it’s only gotten worse,” Dr. Rickard said. “Right now, it’s really important to look closely at recruiting and retention as we move forward so that we can get undergraduates interested in continuing their education and enrolling in graduate programs.” Of course, many graduate programs are already seeing a spike in interest: Nationwide, graduate enrollment was up 2.9% this fall, according to the National Student Clearinghouse. “More meaningful contact” “We’ve seen a significant uptick in the number of inquiries that our undergrads are sending out to our graduate programs,” said Kelly Lootz, Recruitment & Outreach Manager at University of the Pacific. “I think there’s a huge opportunity for us to capitalize on keeping our undergraduate students around for our graduate programs by using an intentional communication strategy to make sure they take that next step and apply to our program. Students need more engagement, and they are looking for more meaningful contact.” At the City University of New York (CUNY), the “Pipeline Program” fosters

that type of engagement by providing educational and financial support to underrepresented minorities who are interested in pursuing a PhD. “It’s a year-long program that’s based at the CUNY Graduate Center and operates in conjunction with the central office at CUNY,” said Director of Graduate Recruitment Sonja Prophete. “It prepares students for research and doctoral work, walks them through the graduate admissions process and provides intensive GRE preparation. The peer mentors who guide students through the process are all underrepresented doctoral students who are currently enrolled at the Graduate Center. They can answer any questions students may have and help them both personally and professionally.” At other institutions, including Missouri State University, the COVID-19 pandemic has created unique new opportunities to reach out to undergrads about the benefits of enrolling in grad school. “Because of COVID, many of our NCAA athletes now have additional semesters or years of eligibility,” said Julie Masterson, Ph.D., Associate Provost and Dean of the Graduate College. “So we have really made a concentrated effort to reach out to our athletes to talk about pathways into graduate education. Some of these athletes are very strong students who wanted to do a graduate degree from the beginning. Others came here to compete and get their undergraduate degree. We’ve identified pathways to graduate education for both types of student, and we’re really excited about that.”

THE UNDERGRADUATE-TO- GRADUATE CONNECTION How Colleges and Universities are Working to Bridge the Gap Between Undergraduate and Graduate Programs W hen Common App CEO Jenny Rickard, Ph.D., looks at the latest undergraduate enrollment numbers, her thoughts turn to the challenges that today’s trends are likely to create for graduate recruitment and enrollment in the years ahead.

The undergraduate-to- graduate connection is

critical, particularly when we think about what’s happening today. How do we help our society educate more students who can fill the jobs we so desperately need in the workforce? It takes

collaboration.” Jenny Rickard, Ed.D. President and CEO

Application preparation Dr. Masterson and her colleagues are also thinking about other ways to start engaging with undergraduate students now in order to prepare them for standing out in the grad school applicant pipeline when the time comes. “One of the things I really appreciate about Liaison’s Centralized Application Services, such as GradCAS™, is that students aren’t starting with a blank piece of paper,” she said. “There are very specific questions to guide the students through the application process. I think we need to do a better job of introducing freshmen and sophomores to these applications so they know what’s going to be expected of them in a graduate school application and so they have plenty of time to prepare.”

As of November, she said, the number of students filing the Common App was down 8% compared with 2019. Applications from first-generation and fee waiver-eligible students declined by 16%.

This article features highlights from The Undergraduate-to-Graduate Connection: Establishing Programs to Boost Retention and Drive Enrollment, a webinar presented by Liaison and the Common App that is now available for on-demand viewing at




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GME 101 Exploring New and Evolving Best Practices in GME Administration

University of Kansas School of Business At the KU School of Business, Steinle looked at a different but equally challenging issue: enrollment management during a crisis. The School has a strong reputation for a culture of teamwork, small classes and open access to faculty, but the many challenges of the pandemic disrupted traditional student recruitment in a way that makes standard operations impossible. Steinle runs an MBA program with an enrollment management philosophy focused heavily on institutional fit instead of growth, and while the program has a max capacity of about 45 students, the program traditionally has enrolled between 25 and 35 in order to make sure the candidates with the best alignment of experience, goals and program offerings are admitted. Steinle oriented her enrollment management practice to include partners who help generate leads and applications. One such partnership with BusinessCAS allowed Steinle to maintain business continuity and generate awareness with new populations. Steinle’s program growth came from looking to enroll students with the right “fit” to the program, and while the enrollment is currently at max capacity, the real success story here is in using partnerships to find new pipelines and pathways into the program.

Shannon Deer (SD) , Texas A&M University: Yes, faculty have certainly been partners for our success. Regarding returning to campus, faculty have been supporting one another as we all adjust to teaching courses via dual delivery (or fully online). Our faculty have been holding teaching development sessions to share best practices. Faculty have also been instrumental in ensuring we have delivered high quality education to our students. Further, presenting a cohesive strategy with staff and faculty has been important in doing the best we can to meet and manage students’ expectations. Regarding recruitment, we do involve faculty in very strategic ways to support our enrollment efforts. We may connect faculty to a prospective student if the prospective student has a specific interest aligned with the faculty member’s expertise. We also invite faculty to recruiting events. Students are interested in our faculty and what they do inside and outside of the classroom, so we involve them whenever possible. Dee Steinle (DS) , the University of Kansas: As Plato once theorized, “Necessity is the mother of invention.” When our international enrollments retracted in 2016, we knew we had to make some big changes. In order to stay viable, it was time to reimagine recruiting and our population in general. We desired a small cohort of full-time MBA students with outstanding admission credentials and high potential for career success. While we had relied on traditional recruiting avenues such as paid/unpaid media, international recruiting tours and marketing to qualified leads though GMAC and GRE, we had not looked at the qualified candidates in our own backyard. When we stopped to think about the smart students who were already at KU, we realized we needed to look at partnerships. Although we had a long-standing relationship with our School of Law, we had not formed partnerships with other professional programs that attracted top talent. We started with our School of Medicine and, thanks to the leadership of our Dean, we gained an MD/MBA program.

If there is one strategy I would recommend for maintaining business continuity, it’s joining BusinessCAS. The relationships I have formed with other folks using BusinessCAS have been invaluable.”

by Stephen Taylor Research Director

T he adage “you can never go home again” is meant to communicate the sense of nostalgia we develop for the past; there is a natural psychological tendency to see the past — either positively or negatively — in ways that make it impossible to recapture. Regardless of any shared nostalgia for the simpler days of campus life, however, colleges and universities across the country restarted operations this fall and were faced with the difficult task of creating a new normal. In the case of GME, “business continuity” is more than just a catchphrase that’s popular because of the pandemic; it’s a commitment to the creation of an environment and a culture. Two leaders in the GME community stand out this year specifically for their success in managing the return to campus — not just in planning and execution, but in their attention to the texture, the details of the return and

how they shape a program. Shannon Deer, Ph.D., Assistant Dean of Graduate Programs Programs at the Texas A&M University Mays Business School and Dee Steinle, Executive Director of MBA & MS Programs at the University of Kansas School of Business, agreed to share their experience with the BusinessCAS™ Community in a widely attended webinar, which is now available for on-demand viewing at back-to-b-school, to kick off the semester. Their virtual conversation focused on two key areas that drive the business of business schools: creating a new campus culture and enrollment management. Texas A&M University Mays Business School For Dr. Deer at the Mays Business School, returning to campus wasn’t just about the esprit de corps or navigating multiple buildings for new students, it was about making sure everyone felt safe coming

back during a pandemic. Because the University was taking comprehensive action on the public health front, Dr. Deer had a chance to focus on the foundational feelings of safety. To do so, Deer and her team worked to create a set of simple tips to create the right environment. Recommendations included unconventional tips like starting group emails with the opener “Dear Mom,” as a way of setting the language and tone ( to be replaced with something more appropriate to the audience prior to sending, of course ). Also included were suggestions to “focus on empathy” when working with stressed students and staff, “don’t ask why” in an aggressive or challenging sense, to “over-listen” in small group communication to make sure people feel heard and to focus on the future in both mindset and operations. These recommendations come together to create a framework in which staff and students feel holistically cared for and start to relax enough to allow true learning experiences to take place.

Dee Steinle Executive Director of MBA & MS Programs

Following up

The conversation with Dr. Deer and Steinle was so well-received, and there were so many questions, that both presenters agreed to respond to to some frequently asked questions after the webinar concluded to ensure full visibility

into the “how we get through this” planning and execution process.

Both of you cite working with partners to support your success — have faculty been one of those partners, and if so, how? Should they be involved in these types of initiatives?



GME 101: Exploring New and Evolving Best Practices in GME Administration Innovative Strategies and Best Practices from Across the Graduate Management Education (GME) Community

What’s one thing that absolutely must be rethought now that we’re in this era? Enrollment expectations? Relationships and student development? DS: The most surprising thing the current environment has required us to rethink is what content is most important and what is the best way to deliver that content. Before 2020, we assumed in-person and synchronous was the best delivery method. For us, 100% online is not the answer either, but the pandemic has required us to, first, be very particular about what is delivered. Then, if it needs to be delivered, what method is best — fully online (asynchronous, synchronous), remote synchronous, dual delivery or in person.

DS: I concur with Shannon. We have definitely learned a lot about course delivery and how we can do things differently and more effectively. As a school, we took some time this summer to learn about online course delivery from our faculty who teach in our Online MBA program. The tips and tricks shared among our faculty have been very useful this fall as we adjust to different modalities. Although we still see a lot of value in face-to-face instruction, especially in our full-time program, it is great to have options for continuous learning. On the plus side, we may never be slowed by a snow day again! Maintaining business continuity in the years to come On a broader level, we must now rethink how we prepare our students for work in a post-COVID-19 world. This time of unrest has certainly shown us where the weak spots are in the private and

public sectors. As future managers, our students must be much more adept at risk analysis and contingency planning. They will need to be project managers extraordinaire. Exposing them to case studies and real-life management issues is so important. There has never been a time that calls for experiential learning more than now. The virtuous circle is that this type of real-time instruction creates value for our students and value for our programs. If we get this right, we create value for our GME industry. Out of crisis, we can create opportunity. It’s clear that business continuity will remain an ongoing issue for leaders in GME as traditional models are disrupted, and innovation will be at the forefront for those who find success in the current moment. Partnerships – considered holistically across the entire value chain of activities related to students – can be a key driver to support growth during a crisis, as we have seen.

As a member of the BusinessCAS Community, we engage in a form of cooperative marketing by using the Centralized Application Service. It has served us well and delivered results, as I mentioned in our webinar. Dr. Deer, how are you seeing expectations shift with regard to being on campus? For staff? For faculty? For students? How have you communicated with stakeholders about those expectations? SD: Expectations have had to shift for everyone. Fortunately, for the most part, all parties have been understanding. We have found it easier to manage expectations this fall, because incoming students knew the format would be modified, unlike the continuing students who experienced an abrupt disruption in the spring. Furthermore, we have been able to bring in all students who wanted to be in person. That has made it much easier to better meet expectations, even though in-person instruction is not exactly the same as it used to be. All students also have the option to join the courses remotely. Of course, like all schools, we have had our fair share of managing expectations from all parties. Here are a few ways we worked to accomplish this:

Other health-related programs jumped at the chance to partner with us soon after. We also worked closely with our Schools of Engineering and Architecture to “bridge” students from their undergraduate programs to our MBA. In addition to partnering with other Schools and campuses, we also formed a partnership with our Undergraduate Admission Office to identify and recruit talented students into the KU pipeline early on in the process. More work can and will be done with top talent undergraduates, but the key has been to “shop local.” We have great students who are already “sold” on KU and have proven to be successful in the classroom. We simply made it our job to inform them of the value of management education. Our School of Business is small by comparison to other AACSB-accredited and publicly ranked schools. Faculty and administration must work together at every level to make it all come together. I work closely with the Associate Dean of Graduate Programs to ensure that program goals and faculty goals are aligned. In a small school, administration and faculty responsibilities blur. Partnership with faculty is essential. Dee, how do you make this enrollment success repeatable for KU? What are the things you know you will need to keep doing to maintain this level of excellence?

options for communication (e.g., stopping us in the hallway), so it is important to provide more formal opportunities to provide feedback. We have also reached out on an individual basis when a student’s expectations don’t seem realistic (e.g., a student who says all events must be 100% in person this fall or they want their money back). • One program director held one- on-one meetings with every student in his program. He was able to address the students’ concerns individually. It was difficult physically and emotionally for him, but it was an investment the director felt was important to make. • We have also tried to continually communicate choices to the students. We have worked to be much more flexible as we are asking them to do the same. Adjust quickly. We have tried to respond quickly to faculty needs. This means technology needs, but also needs related to teaching locations. For example, all of our MBA classes have an in-person option. If a faculty member was not comfortable teaching in person, we had to quickly find another faculty member to take their course for the semester or develop an alternative teaching accommodation. Things are changing quickly, so the rapid changes have required quite a bit of juggling. Be understanding. We can’t meet all expectations we normally set for ourselves or others right now. It is important for us to be understanding during this very challenging time.

Communicate. The primary way we have managed expectations and maintained business continuity is through communication. We have made sure the communication goes both ways from the faculty/ staff to students and from students to faculty/staff. Here are some examples of enhanced communication: • We have done several student surveys to determine their delivery preferences (in-person, remote), how courses are progressing, etc. Students are missing the informal

DS: I think the key to maintaining enrollment success is to never get

comfortable. Always think about your next partnership or next recruiting tactic. The world of GME has changed so much in the last several years. You can no longer count one type of student population to always show up for admission. Joining BusinessCAS has shifted the game for KU. We simply couldn’t afford to do the type of marketing that would move the needle on our own.



Building the Liaison Academy Community


Brought to you by the publishers of The Admissionist

by Jennifer Raab Learning Experience Designer

When more than 70% of Liaison Academy survey respondents told us they want best practices taught by actual admissions and enrollment management professionals, we listened. As a result, Liaison Academy has been working hard during the past year to create the training content you’ve said you want. So in addition to offering our standard and premium training, we’ve also organized six new training webinars (and counting) featuring real WebAdMIT users sharing best practices. Their case studies cover everything from scoring applicants to holistic review processes to implementing a new CAS on campus. Most recently, for example, Kristin McAuliffe from Boston University discussed how she uses Lists and Custom Fields. Tre Grue from Temple University talked about how he uses Local Statuses, and Kristin Chalberg from St. Catherine University explained Local vs. Prerequisite GPAs.

“I had been thinking about how to use custom fields better. Definitely cemented my idea that was going around in my head!” – PTCAS and OTCAS user “Thank you so much. It is very helpful and we’ll be reviewing the presentation again multiple times as we prepare for the next cycle.” – SOPHAS, HAMPCAS, and UniCAS user “Incredibly grateful. I wasn’t maximizing my use of the software, and this has helped me to make better use of my time as well as use WebAdMIT better. Thank you!” – PTCAS user Your voice matters. You can make a difference when it comes to the Liaison Academy training events we produce. That’s the power of the Liaison Academy Community. Is there a topic you want to learn more about that we aren’t covering? Tell us at Would you like to present a webinar with our team of WebAdMIT experts? Email us at training@liaisonedu. com.


Focus onwhat really matters: engaging best-fit students.

We know these webinars are helpful from the feedback we receive:

We look forward to hearing from you.

Find more training opportunities at




S cott Jaschik, Editor and Co-founder of Inside Higher Ed , sounds like a master of understatement when he refers to 2020 as a “tricky year.” However, there’s nothing subtle about the facts and figures he cites when explaining why that’s been the case. New realities

Jaschik points to the decision by the National Association for College Admissions Counseling (NACAC) to change its recruiting rules as one sign that 2020 has been a year of defied expectations and unclear outlooks. “Nearly 23% of the colleges we surveyed said they’re taking advantage of the NACAC rule changes by offering new incentives. That’s striking, because at the NACAC meeting where these changes were announced, very few colleges said they were going to take advantage of them. But many did. I suspect if we asked the question today, the number would be higher than 23%.” Even long-time traditions such as requiring applicants to submit standardized test scores may be falling by the wayside: 52% of colleges have changed their policies regarding standardized test requirements in the past year, and more than two-thirds of those that did so because of the pandemic said they expect the new policies to be permanent. Expert insights To get a better idea of the strategies different types of schools are using to address 2020’s challenges and opportunities, Jaschik recently hosted a forum with several admissions leaders, including Jamie Hansard (Vice President of Enrollment at Texas Tech University), Evan Pauken (Director of Retention and Completion at Kalamazoo Valley Community College), Adam Stoltz (Director of Enrollment Marketing at the University of Idaho) and Nate Tucker (Director of IT Systems at Lee University).


Evan Pauken (EP), Kalamazoo Valley Community College: Personalization is key. We’re doing more to tell students exactly what they need to do rather than just blanket

“Undergraduate enrollment was

messaging students. We’re trying to become more targeted and more proactive by tailoring messages specifically to students. We’ve also been talking for a long time about having a student-facing portal where they could see their next steps; we’ve been able to develop that as well. Students who have applied can log in and see what they need to do to get enrolled.

down 4% this

fall. Freshmen numbers are down by 15%. Community

college enrollment is down 9%. In all my years covering higher education, I can’t recall similar numbers.”

Scott Jaschik Editor and Co-founder Inside Higher Ed

Adam Stoltz (AS), University of Idaho: We responded quickly. In less than a week, for example, we recorded, edited and published 17 videos focusing on different areas around campus. We integrated our CRM, creating opportunities for students to schedule a time to speak with an admissions counselor or one of our students. And because of restrictions limiting the number of people who can participate in campus visits to just 10, we created a QR code and put it on posters around campus. Students can scan the code whenever they happen to visit and then take a personalized, self-guided tour. Jamie Hansard (JH), Texas Tech University: We’ve really ramped up what we’re doing in the digital space. We’re also working with a company that helps each of our admissions counselors send personalized videos. What we’ve learned through this is that you have to meet the student where the student is. We’re doing a lot of phone calls in addition to videos, and we offer about 15 to 20 virtual events every week. They’re each about 45 minutes long and topic- specific. One might be a meeting with a dean. One might be a campus visit. We’ve also reallocated funds that were earmarked for travel to send out more swag and more print pieces and to purchase more products that allow us to be much more personalized in the digital space.

The following is an edited version of their discussion.

What are you doing in terms of virtual recruiting campaigns to keep potential applicants engaged? Nate Tucker (NT), Lee University: We’re shifting into some of the digital marketing and drip campaigns that we’ve been talking about for years. Now that we’re forced to get it done, we’re kicking that off. One of the things we’re doing is putting students on a cycle that is unique to them. We’re not just sending out university-wide information, we’re sending information that’s specific to them. That may be a video, or an email or a text message. Everything so far has been very positive. I think the key to all this is not just doing a marketing campaign, but pulling potential applicants in and letting them know we value them and want them here. That personal touch has been huge so far.

Admissions Leaders Share Their Strategies for Tackling Higher Education’s New Challenges and Opportunities



Discovering the Power of the Pivot Admissions leaders share their strategies for tackling higher ed’s new challenges and opportunities

How does the prospect of finally having a vaccine affect what you’re doing now as you prepare for spring? EP: There have been so many changes that it’s difficult to “future-cast” at this point. But we really hope that a lot of the practices that we’ve changed to be virtual will continue that way. We’ve moved quite a few processes that were done with paper and pencil to online form collection and processing, and we’ve developed new workflows utilizing those tools. AS: We’re trying to drive numbers for the spring more than we ever have in the past. But at the same time, we’ve been so proactive in our COVID response that we’re really trying to push our fall goal. COVID has forced us, in a good way, to work more collaboratively. We’ve been able to reach out more and work more with the colleges and other departments on campus within our CRM. COVID made things happen faster because we didn’t have a choice. But collaboration has been the key to our success. What do you expect to happen in the future regarding standardized tests? NT: Our current admissions policy requires them. We use TargetX to move that test data into our Salesforce platform, then we use that to market to students. We load those scores three times a week so we have the most accurate, real-time data. AS: If first-year students entering in 2021 can’t take the tests because of COVID then we automatically consider them for admission. If your GPA is below a certain level, an admissions committee will consider your application. I think it will stay this way, but for how long I can’t say. We have a special admissions

How are you keeping your staff motivated and excited during this long pandemic? NT: It’s important to have some fun when you can. One of our plans is to have a Christmas party, as a team, on Zoom. I’m planning to have gifts mailed to everyone. Then we’ll meet and open the gifts together. When we stop thinking about ourselves and start thinking about others — our needs are going to be met. That’s the approach I’m taking, and my team is starting to do those types of things as well. AS: I try to lead by example to make sure people feel okay about taking time for themselves. You can’t take care of other people if you’re not taking care of yourself. For a while a lot of us felt pressured to work all the time, even before COVID. Then with COVID, the question became, “Can you do even more?” And some of us did. But at the same time, you can’t pour from an empty cup. So take a half day to go biking or kayaking or whatever. I think people appreciate that. EP: Just trying to be as flexible as possible at this point in time is the approach we’ve taken. From the very beginning, our President said he wanted to hold every employee harmless from COVID, and that their jobs were secure. Sometimes that involved shifting responsibilities, especially in the beginning. But it was obviously a morale booster to hear that you wouldn’t be losing your job. What’s one thing you’d like to do after the pandemic? AS: We don’t take enough time to celebrate the wins and successes that we’ve had. We’re trying to do that more and more here. A lot of us have been away from each other since March. I look forward to getting to see each other again and celebrating the fact that we made it, knock on wood.


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“COVID made things happen faster because we didn’t have a choice. But collaboration has been the key to our success.”

committee with shared governance through the entire university having discussions about that now. There are pros and cons to different scenarios, but with COVID that’s our policy for now. EP: The closure of our testing center, and students’ lack of access to test- taking technology, really forced a lot of changes. We wanted to give students the opportunity to take courses without needing to take a lot of tests in order to enroll. So we’ve done quite a bit with that, and so far, those changes have been really positive.

NT: I hope we find a way to continue embracing technology. We need to, because it extends our reach and has been a great asset for us during this time. EP: We’re right in the midst of in-depth discussions about equity gaps and attainment gaps, and how COVID has exacerbated them. I’m really hopeful that this conversation continues and that we really start to address some of these issues.

Evan Pauken Director of Retention and Completion Kalamazoo


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An Interview With Innovation & Technology Hub and SlideRoom Partner The Ion “An Expansive Set of Solutions for Applicants and Programs”

by John Tierney Director of Partnerships

T he outlook for the new decade — and even during this relentless pandemic — is decidedly bright for SlideRoom partner The Ion. The Ion is an innovation and technology hub located in Midtown Houston, which is accelerating innovation and connecting communities. “In the Houston-Galveston area, there aren’t any other organizations like this,” said Courtney Cogdill, The Ion’s vivacious Program Manager, who works with startups, city leaders and industry partners affiliated with The Ion Smart and Resilient Cities Accelerator (ISRCA). Stewarded by Rice Management Company, The Ion has an impressive partner list, including Microsoft, Intel, Chevron Technology Ventures, DivInc and the City of Houston.

Prior to operating virtually, The ISRCA’s selection committee had met in-person to determine finalists. However, with COVID-19 challenges, meeting in-person would not be possible. Cogdill saw this as an opportunity to introduce a new tool. She was familiar with a tried- and-true application-processing tool from her experience working with a healthcare accelerator. “I had come to know SlideRoom a few years ago, working for a different accelerator that used the platform, and our mentors and everyone raved about it. It’s collaborative. Everyone can log in at their ease. They can rank applicants. It can be done so asynchronously, which is fantastic. And it’s so important for today when I think we’re all kind of ‘Zoomed out.’” Cogdill and her colleagues wanted a cohort application platform that could track applicants geographically and to gain insights on when and why certain candidates weren’t completing their applications. They also needed their mentors to easily access the applications, as well as the ability to create an internal ranking system of candidates. “SlideRoom took the three different programs and processes we were using and rolled them all into one, which was a time savings for me of at least six to eight hours per week during application season. I didn’t have to go from my Google Forms to my e-mail to do all this. I can get into SlideRoom and do it all. It solves more than just one problem for me,” Cogdill said. Clients continue to inspire during COVID-19 The ISRCA has begun accepting SlideRoom applications for its third cohort, to be held in March 2021. Due to its decision to operate virtually, The ISRCA is seeing a lot

“We have a lot of really great people that are very invested in what we’re doing,” said Cogdill.

New goals for next cohorts The ISRCA has already built two successful cohorts – one executed in-person and one executed virtually. With Cohort 2 drawing in over 450 unique viewers in over 12 countries, Cogdill and her colleagues realized they needed to rethink their application processing system as they sought to scale and streamline applications for Cohort 3. While the team’s prior application process, Google Forms, served The ISRCA team’s needs, Cogdill quickly realized that it was not equipped to manage tracking desired metrics and to enable asynchronous collaboration on a larger scale, at a glance and with ease. “A big part of the application process is the user experience, and I began to wonder if we were truly offering a seamless and enjoyable experience for applicants, mentors and reviewers,” said Cogdill.



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