Enrollment Management

Athletics and Enrollment: Communicating Across the Divide

(Jill McCartney, Doane College Athletic Director, is a guest blogger this week providing her perspective on the relationship and communication between athletic departments – specifically coaches – and enrollment offices)

Recruiting is the lifeblood of Athletics. While the same may be said for Admissions and the Enrollment staff, the way that we operate in Athletics and the strategies we use may not be altogether commensurate. For instance, admissions folks may be happy to welcome all applicants meeting admissions criteria, but sports coaches are not necessarily happy about welcoming all prospects.

As Athletics plays a larger role in enrollment management, ensuring good communication between Athletics folks and enrollment staff is important. Key to this communication is not only making sure everyone is aware of the lines of communication and who reports to whom, but also that the language we speak means the same thing to both groups. How the Admissions Office operates may not look like how sports coaches go about their work. Thus, making sure that both groups understand each other can go a long way in helping them function cooperatively.

To this end, I’ve listed some of the most important things for Enrollment professionals to know about how Athletics operates in recruiting:

  1. Coaches want the “Red Carpet Treatment” for their top prospects. What is interesting here is that coaches agree they want this, but they don’t necessarily know what this “Red Carpet Treatment” should look like. When I told our Admissions Director that this is what our coaches wanted, he expressed that this is how their staff attempted to treat each prospect they recruited. Admissions folks, he said, try to make each student feel wanted, so he wanted to know what specifically coaches were looking for. I had no definitive answer for our Director, even after asking our coaches a few more questions. I came to the conclusion that coaches just wanted admissions staff to know who their top prospects were and, therefore, needed to do a better job of communicating with the Admissions staff about their recruiting priorities.
  2. Coaches don’t like to be surprised with prospects. Coaches tend to be very intentional about their recruiting, which means they usually know most of the players in the area. They also tend to have busy schedules, so having an admissions staff member ask for a meeting within the next hour or, even worse, having the admissions ambassador show up at the coach’s office with the prospect and her family in tow, are not good for promoting good will between departments. Given that coaches now work under the expectation of maintaining larger rosters and supplementing campus recruitment, coaches generally understand the need to help out with students in whom they may not be very interested; but coaches still want to ensure that they make best use of their time, so having some background information on the prospect or having the time to delegate the visit to an assistant will go a long way toward maintaining good will and optimizing the time spent on the visit.
  3. In recruiting, coaches operate on a sped-up timeframe. Coaches live in a here-today-gone-tomorrow world. When they have a hot prospect, coaches recruit with an urgency, and they want others to show this same kind of urgency. For instance, when the arch rival down the road has already admitted the hot prospect, coaches expect their school to act accordingly—and right now. They want their prospects to be admitted in the same window as other schools against whom they compete.
  4. Coaches’ recruiting calendars can depend on the sport and gender of the student-athletes. And these recruiting calendars may not work very smoothly with academic or admissions calendars. Coaches of women’s sports tend to start recruiting players as sophomores and try to get commitments from their top prospects by December of their senior year (if not earlier!). On the men’s side, coaches typically find that early recruiting is not as effective, so they make their big push during the senior year. In football, campus visits get going in December and January, with many players making decisions by the first of February. For football recruiting, then, the winter break can make visits somewhat problematic, as December visits fall during final exams and January visits occur before classes start. We are fortunate at our institution that the Admissions staff and key faculty are willing to work with football coaches to set up visit days before the start of the semester to ensure a high quality visit for prospects and their families. While coaches would like for Admissions staff and faculty to be available during evenings and weekends—when many prospects are able to visit campus—finding other creative ways to adapt to coaches’ recruiting calendars is key to recruiting success.
  5. Coaches want admissions counselors to know about their sports programs. While coaches understand that they are the best and most effective promoters of their own programs, they want to feel as if it’s a team effort with admissions when their prospects are on campus. Coaches like to hear from the prospect that the student ambassador giving the tour talked about the football team’s big win over the top-ranked opponent, or that the admissions counselor told them about the baseball team’s unbeaten record in conference last year. On our campus, we have created promotional sheets for use by coaches and admissions staff, and these can serve admissions staff as “cheat sheets” for key talking points.

While this list reflects the specific priorities of coaches at Doane College, Crete, Nebraska, I believe the underlying principle—the need for clear and effective communication—pertains to all. What has helped our coaches and, I believe, our Enrollment staff, is the use of multiple means of communicating. Having our Director of Admissions as an invited guest to our Athletics Department meetings, creating an Admissions staff “liaison” to the Athletics Department, and using Google Docs for coaches to update offers and acceptances are all ways that we have worked to shore up communication and effective rapport between departments. The good news is that we are still speaking to each other, and the even better news is that both groups feel that we have benefited from the increased and improved communication.

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Enrollment Management, Higher Education

All you have to do is get them here!

In my opinion, the campus visit is the single greatest indicator of student interest in a college or university.  While it’s true that students may enroll without a visit, it’s rare.  Colleges will host large number of visitors throughout the academic year and also some in the summer.  The visit can “seal the deal” for many who visit their first-choice college.  For others, particularly those that have not already applied for admittance, a visit may prove that a school isn’t the greatest fit and an application will not get completed.  At Doane College, we have a beautiful campus – many will argue the most beautiful in Nebraska.  It’s amazing no doubt.  As a result, I hear many people – not those in admissions mind you – share the sentiment, “All you have to do is get them here.”  I have two issues with that statement.  First, if that were only true and second, we still have to get them here!  I’m going to address these in reverse order.

Do to the continued ease of online applications; a large number of applicants will not even visit a campus to which they apply.  Getting a student to visit campus is not as easy as some might think, particularly those that visit from “away”.  Without the visit, we are almost guaranteed that the student will not enroll.  Given the incredible “noise” generated by all schools encouraging student visits during the fall, how can a college break through to be noticed by students and have that opportunity to WOW them with a visit experience?  First, it’s about exposure early.  Students need to see the college as early as their freshman year in order to have a real chance.  Second, it’s about consistency in the message to students and families.  Colleges and universities must articulate value and how they are different from other schools.  For example, at Doane, we provide a world-class education excelling at teaching tomorrow’s educators and conducting real-world scientific research.  We provide guarantees in both three-and four-year programs with an inclusive community where students can fit in her and stand out after college.

It’s also about opportunity.  Again as an example, Doane College offers an opportunity for each student to earn a $1,000 grant (renewable annually) simply for visiting Doane College during their senior year.  Visit campus and earn the $1,000 upon enrollment.  And, this isn’t just for high school students.  Students who are looking to transfer from their current institution can receive the grant by visiting campus as well, provided it’s within 12 months of their enrollment.  Finally, it’s about convenience.  Location matters for sure.  Doane’s main market is within 100 miles of campus.  For those outside that radius, the college provides a bit more incentive beyond the $1000 visit grant.  For this reason, Doane has a travel reimbursement program allowing students with limited resources to access funding to support their travel to campus and their time on campus.  Truth be told, even these strategies don’t guarantee (remember, no silver bullet) chart-topping visit numbers.  But they can definitely help.

So, let’s say we get them to campus…what next?  As I mentioned (and it’s worth mentioning again), Doane College has a beautiful campus.  But to even think that campus beauty in and of itself gets the job done over simplifies the college decision, particularly today.  I’m going to give students more credit for college choice than simple campus beauty.   The reality is as admission professionals, we have limited exposure to how a visit is done at other colleges and universities.  How many college visit coordinators have the opportunity to see how others coordinate visits?  How many admission counselors visit other colleges as a prospective student in order to do a real assessment of what we do well?  How many faculty interview or meet with prospective students at different institutions throughout their career?  Professional conferences can give us a little exposure to how others coordinate and manage visits, but generally it’s not enough.  My point is that it’s easy to believe we are doing it well, but most of us in enrollment will still want our yield on visitors to increase.  We can always do better.  Just getting them here won’t get the numbers.

The fact of the matter is that while beauty counts, it’s the substance of the visit that really makes the difference.  It’s the whole visit experience, including things we cannot control (at least not easily), i.e. the weather, families showing up late, the menu in the cafeteria that day,..people!  🙂   We try to create an environment where each visitor can have an exceptional experience in order to determine if they are a good fit at Doane College.  We talk about “Orange Carpet Treatment” or “Concierge Service”.  I want our admission team to be genuine with students and families while at the same time making sure that our prospective students leave the visit knowing as much about their Doane potential as realistically possible.  I also hope that all staff and faculty recognize the opportunity they have to influence a visitor when they greet a student and a parent or when they say hello on the sidewalk.  There are a lot of moving parts that we manage (and some that we can’t), and we must strive to do them incredibly well.

Other than looking at yield rates, how can a college determine where they can increase the quality of visits?  Admission offices will mail surveys or seek feedback from visitors regarding their visits.  Unfortunately, at Doane we only hear about the great visits (which unfortunately don’t guarantee enrollment) or we hear about the horrible visits which can guarantee enrollment….elsewhere!  We jump to “fix” that issue immediately, but we also want to hear about the typical visits.  We generate schedules and manage visits trying to keep the student in mind while at the same time managing the relationships with our colleagues on campus recognizing that their time is valuable as well.

As professionals, we sit down and try to determine how we can be better.  Is it the schedule?  Is it the people we have student’s visit with?  Is it the route of the tour?  Are our ambassadors/tour guides saying the right things?  We consider employing a “secret shopper” experience to try and identify our weaknesses from an outsider.  We want to make the best experience for each visitor.  We can and should want Doane College to be right for every visitor even though we know that’s not reality.   Our goal at Doane is to influence and provide an exceptional admission experience.  You hear the saying that beauty is only skin deep.  Our beauty comes from within (value and outcomes) reinforcing what is easy to see on the surface.

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