Guest Contributor: D. Terry Rawls, Ed.D.
President, Strategic Transitions Group
Here is your challenge: Find the longest whiteboard that you have on campus; thirty feet or longer would be best (although this can be done in a smaller space). Now, draw a horizontal line from one end to the other. Excellent! On the leftmost point of that line, write: Brand Management Activities. On the rightmost point, write: Proud Alumni.
Now, invite everyone in your school – staff, faculty,
students, even administrators – everyone, to mark in chronological order the critical
points of a student’s journey at your institution. Common points will
likely include things like Saw a Banner Ad, Started an Application, Attended
Orientation, Enrolled in First Class, Volunteered for Something, Enrolled in
Fifth Class, Graduated, anything and everything that you consider important.
The resulting roadmap tells a big part of the story that
we’re after, but it’s missing an important part. . . and it’s the fun part!
Using a sticky note for each item, document ALL communications that go to
prospects and students (direct mailers, email, phone calls, texts, whatever),
as well as the triggers for each communication. CAPTURE EVERYTHING!
Go ahead. I’ll wait. . .
Congratulations! Not only have you raised your awareness of
how students experience your institution, and that’s important, but you have
also created a tool that you can leverage to improve both new student
acquisition and existing student retention. Because you now have the BIG
PICTURE, you can now organize around the student experience.
In my experience, it is impossible to over-invest in organizing around the student experience. Students are why we are here in the first place, right? This process facilitates the removal of intra-institution silos and clumsy communications– challenges that arise from the best of intentions– assuring that we are aligned with student success.
Is this the Big Picture that you expected? Are your
communications coordinated, consistent, meaningful, and timely? This exercise
typically leads to opportunities that extend across the institution:
● Marketing – Do you have clearly articulated
personas of your prospects? Are you speaking with a consistent voice and
message? Does your message align with things that your students care about?
● Recruiting – Do you follow up on inquiries in a
timely manner? Are your messages designed to facilitate prospects taking the
next step? Are you making it easy for prospects to become students?
● Enrollment – Do new students know what to do when?
Are schedules known well in advance? Do students, particularly working adult
learners, have a clear path to their goal?
● Curriculum- Are your programs meaningful, relevant,
and challenging? Can your students put into practice tomorrow what they learned
in class today? Are your online courses more correspondence courses or well-developed
● Policies and Procedures – Are your P&Ps built
to facilitate student success? Are they up to date? Are they clearly
communicated and relevant? It’s a digital world, are you meeting students where
they are, or do you expect them to meet you in 1985?
● Support Services – What services, specifically, do
your students need and use? How do you know? Are you using the correct modality
of delivery of services?
We’ve focused on communication plans here, but I suspect you
can see that many other challenges will surface in this process. In fact, I
guarantee you this exercise will identify plenty of opportunities for
improvement in several areas that impact your students.
If you’ve never done this exercise, I have two cautions: 1) set aside plenty of time, because this is a complex, engaging task; and 2) understand that once started, this becomes a work in progress that you will continually update. Add to this exercise regular surveys and focus groups of graduates, dropouts, and prospective students and you will truly be organizing around the student experience.
Interested in learning more about improving adult and post-traditional student enrollment at your institution? Dr. Rawls is presenting at the 2020 Conference on Adult Learners Enrollment Management in Orlando, FL.