After participating virtually in 2021, it was refreshing to reconnect with old colleagues and make new connections at the 2022 FACRAO Annual Summit in Daytona Beach last week.
The conference’s theme was “Building Castles on the Shifting Sands,” we find this an apt focus based on the seismic shift occurring at the constituent organizations and their efforts to adapt. Our observations fall into 3 main categories:
- How the face of higher education is changing
- The importance of innovation and adopting a culture of “change”
- The shift from communication to engagement with constituents
The Face of Higher Education is Changing
Continuing education, dual-enrollment, transfer students, reverse-transfers, traditional, and non-traditional students - these terms were mentioned in every room in almost every presentation. It’s clear that institutions, regardless of size or program offerings, are seeking to attract and engage with new populations of students. Some institutions have developed strategies for reaching more non-traditional populations. While others took copious notes - eager to implement new techniques upon returning to their campuses.
One thing that stood out to our team was Embry-Riddle's presentation in which they discussed their approach in simplifying the process for non-traditional students using their transfer portal. They have taken measures to ensure that non-traditional credits, including U.S. military credit, Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) licenses and ratings, and national exams, to create a more inclusive student experience.
Our team was thrilled to also cover the topic of non-traditional students in our first presentation. Understanding that institutions are facing enrollment decline and increased competition, we focused on the development of strategies and tactics for effectively engaging non-traditional applicants to improve down-funnel yield. By implementing a highly engaging and customizable experience tailored to each non-traditional persona during the application for admission, admissions teams will be able to serve students more effectively and meet even the most challenging enrollment goals.
To Build Castles, We Must Adapt
The world of higher education is changing – this was no surprise to FACRAO members attending the Annual Summit. From the COVID-19 pandemic to the impending enrollment cliff, those institutions that have decided to be strategic and innovative are finding new ways to thrive in an increasingly challenging environment. The institutions who are winning and will continue to win are those colleges and universities willing to go beyond the mantra of "This is the way that we’ve always done things.”
While traditional strategies and tactics still may be the most effective, turning a blind eye to the industry changes and new approaches will undoubtedly lead to increased challenges in the future.
“There are one million fewer students than there were two years ago,” William Gil, Director of Government Relations AACRAO.
Unlike conferences that we’ve attended in the past, there seemed to be a collective sense of openness to new or different approaches by FACRAO members. Institutions seem to be more keenly aware of their unique strengths and weaknesses, the challenges faced by industry, and the willingness to explore new methods or solutions. As grim as the future may be for the higher education industry, it was encouraging to witness the resourcefulness and ingenuity displayed by the FACRAO institutions in attendance.
Our team was fortunate enough to make great connections with several attendees. From the energetic team at Florida State University to a number of innovative community college attendees changing the game at their institutions. Regardless of what the future holds, it’s clear that many of the FACRAO members are building castles at their institutions.
It's Not Just Communication. It's Engagement.
From leadership focused sessions to technology talk, a recurring theme emerged – the importance of meaningful communication in the workplace and to the students we serve. Breaking down silos in the office, classroom or on the recruitment trail requires a deeper form of communication. It requires engagement. This type of connection goes beyond the simple act of communicating. It’s corresponding, clicking, creating a bond. And as the best admissions reps know, relationship building is crucial in recruiting students but even more when supporting a student to commit and enroll at their institution.
We are fortunate to live in a time where communication is more accessible than ever before. From video conferencing to online chat to text messaging to email to the traditional phone call – the ease at which we can communicate with one another seems to be infinitely increasing. But as these options increase, we need to be mindful to employ the right form of communication to the right audience at the right time.
The general rule of thumb that everyone could agree on is simple – people aren’t mind readers. Regardless of one's title, role, or set of responsibilities, it’s important to have a plan for effective communications. Three quick tips that we can apply to our own daily conversations are:
- Prepare - Doing your due diligence by researching and finding possible solutions by yourself then helps you to know what exactly need you from the other person.
- Ask Questions - We can't know everything. Come prepared with what you already know, and ask specific questions to help arrive to your answer or solution fastest.
- Collaborate to Solve - Working together by bringing different perspectives and ideas creates the best of solutions.
There was an echoing of the topic of importance in communicating. No matter the role a person holds – Admissions Director, Registrar, IT Specialist, etc. Once the collaboration has led to a solution, it is just as crucial to share the credit. To make everyone’s job as easy as possible, voicing the good, the bad, and the other is the only way to accomplish anything. Do your due diligence but then ask questions and collaborate to solve. The need for conversation and direct communication is dire for success.
Mutara was thrilled about the opportunity to attend 2022 FACRAO Annual Summitt — it gave our team the opportunity to connect with partners, share knowledge and experience with colleagues, and have fun with peers. As the higher education industry continues to evolve, we will continue to share thought leadership and solutions for our college and university partners. We look forward to FACRAO 2023!