The Higher Ed Marketer
The Higher Ed Marketer

Episode 59 · 6 months ago

The Steep Cost of Disregarding Transparency in Tuition


We talk with a lot of guests about college admissions from the higher ed perspective, but what can we learn from having the conversation from a secondary school angle?  

In this episode, Chris Cleveland, Principal at Wesleyan School, shares his perspective on how colleges can transparently and effectively market themselves to prospective students.   

We discuss:

  • How to effectively market to high school students and their families
  • What the benefits are of a personalized approach
  • Finding the balance between outcomes and experience    

To hear more interviews like this one, subscribe to Higher Ed Marketer on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, or your preferred podcast platform.  

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You are listening to the Higher Ed Marketer, a podcast geared towards marketing professionals in higher education. This show will tackle all sorts of questions related to student recruitment, donor relations, marketing trends, new technologies and so much more. If you are looking for conversations centered around where the industry is going, this podcast is for you. Let's get into the show. Welcome to the High Red Marketer podcast. I'm troy singer here with Bart Taylor, where each week we interview high read marketers that we admire for the benefit and hopefully the betterment of the entire Higher Ed Marketing Community. This week we talked to Chris Cleveland of the Wesleyan School in the Greater Atlanta Georgia area. What unique about this conversation is for the first time we speak to a administrator of a high school that is seeing what it looks like, from his perspective, of colleges and universities marketing to prospective students in his school, and he gives us some great insight of how the successful colleges and universities do it. Yeah, Chris has a great perspective and I really respect the fact that he joined us on the High Reed Marketer and kind of give us, you know that inside of what what a high school administrator, you know, a private school administrator, sees, especially when they have the different schools come in and and do campus new visits with the students and things like that. So just kind of pay attention to that. He does talk a lot about things that the admissions counselors can do, but I want you to kind of pay attention that. Even if you're not, you know, directly influencing enrollment, there are things that are brand associated and I kind of talk a little bit more about that at the very end of the conversation. So let's go ahead and get get started with this. It's a great conversation. Here's our conversation with Chris Cleveland. It's our pleasure to welcome Chris Cleveland to the Higher Ed Marketer podcast. Chris, thank you for spending some time with us this afternoon. It's my pleasure, troy, and thanks to you and Bart for welcoming me on the podcast. It's a pleasure to be with you, Chris. The reason why we wanted to talk to you is to get the perspective of a secondary leader or leader at a secondary institution on the successful ways that you see higher ed marketing being done being executed to the students at your school. So if you can tell us a little bit about the Wesleyan school and a little bit about your role there, absolutely well. Wesleyan school is a Christian, independent, nondenominational kindergarten through twelve grade school of just under one two hundred students. We are located on one campus in peastreet corners, Georgia, which is a suburb of Atlanta on the northeast side of town. We have a high school of just under five hundred students and in a typical year we graduate about a hundred and twenty five seniors. We are absolutely a college preparatory institution, so it's our goal that all of our graduates would be admitted to and enroll and matriculate to a four year college or university. And we send our children primarily to schools and a footprint in the southeast, everything from Virginia all the way down around through the Carolinas, Georgia, Alabama and as far west as Texas. And then we do have some outliers. We do send some students outside of the southeast Wesleyans first graduating class was in one thousand nine hundred and ninety eight. So we are still a relatively young institution when you consider the high school footprint. And my role at Wesleyan as head of school is that I oversee the administration of the School K to twelve. I have three division principles who report to me and they oversee each of their three divisions, lower, middle and high school. My background is that I did spend twelve years as a principle prior... coming into higher level administration. So I have been a high school principle two different schools, including Wesleyan school. So very familiar with the college process and navigating our students through the college admission programs that they go through. That's great. Thank you, Chris, for being on the show and I just want to point out that one of our other guests introduced us to you, Phil Cook, so I'm grateful for fulfill for for that introduction and having you on the on the show. I know he was so excited. He's like, Oh yeah, I have somebody on there to give you the perspective from from a high school, and so I thought that was a great idea. So this is our opportunity to kind of pick that apart and talk a little about that. So one of the things that I wanted to just kind of kind of start our conversation in is just the idea that I think so many times, as higher ed marketers, and especially colleges universities, they've really got to be well informed and they've got to be well prepared to talk about you know, at the end of the day, a lot of a lot of decisions come down to cost and I think that we are so often, you know, I think we like to think about, well, let's make sure we talk about our brand, are distinctive. Those are all important, but many times, unfortunately, decisions get made based on cost, and especially for small private schools, it's difficult because the sticker price that somebody sees on the website isn't necessarily what they're going to pay when it comes down to the financial aid package. And so I just wanted to kind of get an idea from you of how how do you see that playing out, with the idea of how do we make sure that we talk about scholarships aid, what's available to parents, especially to parents. I guess that's part of it too. Is that we're talking to the students, but I think a lot of schools need to understand that. You know, mom is the number one influencer anyway you cut it, and I'm sure you see that a lot more than maybe some of the hired marketers that we work with do. But let's just talk a little bit about that. So so what do you think about that, Chris? Now it's a great point. Barton, you know, I read recently that over the last two decade college tuition and fees have increased somewhere around a hundred and eighty percent, and so I think that for a lot of our parents there they're really their mindset on college tuition is really kind of what it was when they went to college, and so sticker shock is a real thing and I think in terms of your audience, you know, college admissions professionals, you hit the nail on the head. I think it's got to be a two pronged approach. It is making an appeal to students about the experience and the programs and all of the amenities that they might experience on a college campus, but for mom and dad there is got to be a conversation about cost and what's available in terms of scholarships and opportunities, and that's just got to be a part of the presentation to parents in this day and age. We feel that tension here at Wesleyan. Obviously we're a tuition paying school, so parents are already shelling out a significant amount of money to send their children to this school and then, on top of that they're looking at the potential burden of a college tuition as well, and that could be and most cases, for multiple children as they navigate through this process. So I think that colleges and universities do themselves a tremendous favor to to take on the role of educator and educate parents on what scholarship opportunities are available at their institution and to just understand that the advertised price is really not the real price, that there's a difference there between what you read on a website and then, when you dig into it, what the actual cost might be. I know that when we had spoken earlier, we talked about in the state of Georgia is it's an even more unique situation because we have something called the hope scholarship and the...

Zell Miller scholarship, and those are a product of the lottery in Georgia and the way that the funding is used for the lottery is to reduce the cost of tuition for students who live in Georgia and who attend schools in state, and it's very, very attractive. If you get the hope scholarship, it's essentially pays for ninety percent of tuition on the state university hourly rate for credits, and if you get the Zell Miller it's a hundred percent of tuition. So as our students are looking at schools and the state of Georgia and then looking outside the state of Georgia, there can be a substantial difference intuition cost for a family based on that hope and Zell Miller scholarship. And so again, to your point, I'm beating a dead horse here a little bit, but for for colleges outside of the state of Georgia who are recruiting students in Georgia, taking the time to educate families on scholarship opportunities that are available is well worth the effort because it is something that is on the forefront of virtually every parent at ever of every high school senior in the state of Georgia. Yeah, and more and more states are taking that measure. I mean, you know the idea of, you know, making sure that there's not a brain drain in the state, and so I know Tennessee has a similar program where they will cover a lot of tuition for in state students who are staying in state, and so that's and I know there's several others college or several other states that are doing that as well. And so, especially privates, I need to kind of be well aware of that because sometimes, and and you know, we had a conversation with another guest recently about the idea that privates sometimes think they're competing against one another when in reality they're competing against the state schools, especially state schools that can have these types of scholarships. So just, you know, keeping that in mind, I think is really good too, and I'm guessing to that the idea that not only do we need to make sure that the as high red marketers we can, we can convey that information, but we also have to put it in ways that people can understand and and just they I mean I'm sure that you see it even even educated parents, parents who have college education, and you start throwing around Faftsa and all these other terms and cost per credit hour. That doesn't really, you know, ring true. A lot of times it's like, you know, it's one, it's been a long time and too I just need to know how much I need to budget. So, I mean, do you hear that a lot in your school? Yeah, absolutely, part it's an excellent point and I think colleges and universities are guilty of what all of us are guilty of within our chosen field, which is we talk about these topics so much that there we take for granted that there's a an assumed level of knowledge with the people were speaking with. In while I don't want to encourage admissions officers to patronize or talk down to their audience, you shouldn't assume that they really know anything and again that you can be really bright and accomplished and well educated and not understand the complexities of college finance and not be familiar with the terminology. And so I think finding a way to to really scale it down and and be able to not only talk about it but when when you leave a school or when a school a family leaves, a tour of your school to be able to hand them, you know, a one page piece of paper that really kind of gives an overview of how financing education can work at that individ vidual college or university is Super Helpful. It's a complicated landscape.

I can attest that as someone who is a professional educator. I've had a one son go through the college admissions process. My second son is a senior this year. It's daunting. Even for me and my wife, who are familiar with higher ed and familiar with the education landscape, it's still a daunting process to consider how to finance a child's education. So again I would encourage admissions professionals to not assume a foundational or base of knowledge, but to assume that you're talking to someone who may not have any idea, as you said, what Fafsa is, and just not to just glide over that like people completely get that that's not the case and it takes a lot of time, but I think in the long run it's worth it to have that educational piece. On the finance side. Over the past decade, since the financial collapse, there's a thought in high read that sometimes people are trying the way if tuition out of school is worth sending their children to that school. And we've talked to other guests about marketing outcomes. Would like to know from what you see good examples or your opinion on how schools need to market outcomes in order to effectively communicate with the parents. Yeah, that that's certainly a part of this continued conversation of just the the ever growing cost of college education and I think again you've nailed it in your question. There's a lot of discussion at the secondary school level, you know, is is that college degree really worth it? And and really what the question really is embedded in that is, at that price point, is there really a return on investment? That's something that my child is gonna realize and appreciate over time, and so I do think it's a little bit of a slippery slope. You know, we don't want to I don't think it's good to talk about college education solely in terms of cost and am I going to get a job that I can pay off my college loans quickly? I don't think that's the sole purpose of college. But I think for the purposes of your question, yes, I see there are some colleges and universities who are doing an outstanding job very clearly articulating the cost of their school relative to a whole series of statistics for their graduates. One School in particular that obviously I'm familiar with because I'm in Atlanta, is Georgia Tech. Georgi attack has done an outstanding job of really tracking their Gradu do it's and when you go there to take a tour, they can tell you what percentage of their graduates land a job within six months of graduation and what their average starting salary is. And again, Georgia text a little bit of a unique animal as an institution. It's in high demand. If you graduate from Georgia Tech, you are in high demand. Not Every college or university you know going to. You know different types of price, type programs and other things that you know that might not fulfill what our society needs in the end. So I mean, are you saying some of that too? Yeah, absolutely, Barren. I think this is kind of the slippery slope that I alluded to in my answer to troy. While I do think that there is value and looking at the hard numbers and looking at the the return on investment if I pay this tuition, what am I looking at almost fiftyzero applications, and so that funnel has widened considerably. For Georgia Tech,...

I think it's a bit of a perfect storm. It's the hope scholarship and the Zel Miller scholarship in the state of Georgia. It's a national brand and reputation, but then it's also a very tangible, objective, hard number that they can provide in terms of job acquisition and starting salary for their graduates. And so they are one school that I think has done an excellent example of that and I think you're going to I think other schools are going to almost be forced to start to provide some of those numbers, almost as a justification for their increase intuition, and so I would imagine that other schools are going to follow suit and begin to talk more about that end product, as tech has done. I think there's somewhat of an industry leader in that regard. To me, this is the downside of the escalating cost of college. But I do think the schools to make sure that we're having good conversations with our families, not just about things like starting salary and job security, but all the intangible things that take place in the college experience. I look back on my own college experience and I'm thankful for what I learned and I'm thankful for where I am now professionally, but the most important thing for me in college is that I grew up. I learned how to go from being a boy to being a man and how to be responsible and how to take care of myself and to be independent and to take initiative and to be my own advocate, and those intangibles, I'm afraid, are getting lost in the conversation because we're so focused on cost and outcome and we can't exclusively define outcome as just starting salary. I think that's important and I think it should be a part of the conversation. We can't ignore that. If we're going to charge what we're going to charge for college tuition, than I think we have to be a realistic and provide people with some outcomes. But but I think there's a balance and I think that the colleges and universities that can find the balance of selling the overall experience while also selling the the hard number outcome, I think those are the schools that are going to really find some traction in what is undoubtedly a challenging admissions environment for colleges and universities. Yeah, I think you're right and I was having a conversation with another client yesterday about just trying to help them identify the affinity versus transactional relationships that we have with anything that we deal with. I mean, it could be a college, it could be it could be, you know, our smartphone. I mean I I carry, you know, I use an iphone. I have an affinity for Apple. There's a lot of reasons behind that, but I know I could probably go out and find a lot cheaper, burner smartphone. That would be, you know, if I'm really looking at a cost perspective, but looking at an experience as part of my whole thing. And so I think the college is need to kind of keep that in mind of water we actually portraying when we doing our marketing. How are we doing that? And speaking of that, I'm just curious because, I mean you are in a you know, you're in a secondary school. You've a high school there, you've got college reps coming in, you know, making presentations and and and meeting with students. Where do you see? You know, what colleges are not necessarily what college is, but what most what are they doing that's effective that you say, oh, that's that, kids are taking notice of that, or mom and dad are taking notice that, or guidance counselors are noticing that. Talk a little bit about that. Yeah, but I think you actually said what I was going to say in your last comment. Sorry, now, that's...

...okay, but it it's really about being relational and not transactional, and I think that the colleges that I see that are getting the greatest traction in the marketplace are the ones that are able to establish some sort of personal capital with students and families. And, let's face it, we live in an increasingly impersonal world. Communication is more heavily rooted in efficiency than it is being personalized. You know the impact that a simple handwritten note from an admissions officer makes. Hey, thanks for visiting campus last week. I really enjoyed touring you and I hope you'll consider to keep our school on your shortlist. You know kids today, don't they don't get mail, they certainly don't get handwritten notes in the mail, and so if the goal is for a college or a university to stand out from the crowd, maybe think of it in these terms. There's a lot of noise in the college market place right now. How do you cut through that noise and effectively deliver your message? There's no singular way to do that. I think it takes a whole series of communications strategies. But I think the more that schools can personalize their approach, the more that they can say a student's name in a phone message or in a handwritten note, that is going to make you stand out from what has become, I think, a little bit of an impersonal process, particularly at your larger state schools that are just generating, you know, double digit thousands of applications. It's virtually impossible, and in my state that's almost impossible, for a university of Georgia or a Georgia tech to personalize those admissions contact points. But a smaller school like a Lee University, where our friend Phil Cook was you know, that's a school that can make it personal. I think if colleges can find a way, if a college admissions officer could find a way to communicate to a student, our college cares more about who you are then what you've accomplished on your resume. And again this this kind of pulls in a lot of the things we'd discussed today. It's personalized, it's talking about the broader experience and not just a money in, money out transactional relationship. It's communicating our college cares about you and we want to certainly we want you to we want to see you reach your goals, we want you to achieve and accomplish, but you need to know that if you come to our school we're going to make an investment in your character and your development as a human being. And regardless of what you're chosen field of study is, regardless of what your professional life where that lead you, those character development things will serve you well in all areas of your life. And so if I was recruiting a student from Wesleyan School, I would really want to lean heavily into that and say to that student, Hey, if you come to my campus, this a place that's going to invest in developing all of you, not just your intellect, not just your professional development for a career. Of course we're going to do those things where a college. That's what colleges do. But what...

...we're going to do is we want to invest in your character, we want to help you become a better leader. We want to help you become a man and woman of integrity and character, and we see those things in you already and we think if you come to our school those things will just be further developed in you. So I don't know if I'm answering your question with a really short here's what you could do next week. But again, I think it's about speaking about the experience more than I would speak about the the return on investment, and if you could do that in a personalized way, I think you'd be even better served in that regard. The important thing, Chris, is that you gave me the best answer something to thank you. For those who would like to connect with you, what would be the best way for them to reach out and get your attention? Yeah, absolutely, and I'd be happy for anyone to get in touch with me. The best way is through email and my email address is see Cleveland, cell Evela and D at Wesleyan school dot o Rg and be happy to answer any questions or kick around any ideas if anyone wants to do that. Again, thank you very much for being a guest. Really enjoyed our conversation with you, Chris. Well, Troy and Bard, thanks so much for having me on and appreciate your questions and appreciate the work that you guys are doing in this area. Think it's really important and I'm happy to just be a little small part of the conversation. Thank you. But do you have any closing thoughts? Yeah, this has been a great episode and Chris, thank you again. I just really feel like a lot of what Chris talked about with you know, I think it kind of goes all across the board. I really appreciate the fact that Chris, you know, talked about some of the successes that he sees like a Georgia tech doing and how how they're doing that and how they could improve what they're doing and how smaller schools might be able to learn from that and do and implement those things. But the thing that stands out to me is this idea of personalization, whether that is in, you know, printed or automated email or all kinds of ways to do personalization. That's that's you know, it's not as necessarily as laborious maybe as you you might have heard. Oh, I've got a right thank you cards to everybody and that's Fiftyzero. Thank you cards. I can't do that. No, it's a part of that. It's the idea that somebody gets something and they feel like, Oh wow, they actually paid attention to me, they know my name or they actually heard me when I said this. There's a lot of ways to automate those types of things and there's there's tools to do that. So I really like the idea of personalization and I do like the fact that Chris is kind of reflecting back what his experience is, where he's at. I mean he's in the middle of your perspective, student audience, if you are a traditional Undergrad, and so I really like the fact that Chris was talking about that and also like the fact that the personalization and even just some of the details, you know, learning the counselor's names when you come to the visit and you some of you might be on listening and saying, well, I'm in the Marking Department, I'm not, I'm not the admissions team, so I don't need to listen to that. Well, you are in charge of the brand and the brand can be processed out and developed into a process. There's a reason why if I go to a chick FIL A in Indianapolis, Indiana, or if I go to one in Atlanta, Georgia, they always say my pleasure instead of you're welcome. That is part of the brand and part of the training that goes into it, and so don't try to tell me that I'm not in charge of the admissions rep and what they do when they go to a school. Actually, if you're in charge of the brand, you're in charge of that, and so you need to insert yourself into that. Use The chick fil a examples as as a way to do that. But I think it all comes down to the brand and how you're reflecting and how everyone who's a part of your organization is reflecting that brand, and you can help train that and guide that. So, Chris, thanks again so much. This has been a great conversation and we're really appreciative. Thank you. The hid marketer podcast is sponsored by Kaylos solutions and education marketing and branding agency and by Think, patented, a marketing, execution,...

...printing and mainly provider of higher et solutions. On behalf of my cohost Bart Taylor, I'm troy singer. Thank you for joining us. You've been listening to the Higher Ed Marketer to ensure that you never miss an episode, subscribe to the show in your favorite podcast player. If you're listening with apple PODCASTS, we'd love for you to leave a quick rating of the show. Simply tap the number of stars you think the podcast deserves. Until next time,.

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