The Higher Ed Marketer
The Higher Ed Marketer

Episode · 1 year ago

Mission-Fit Students: Graduate & Seminary Enrollment Marketing


There’s a degree of simplicity to enrollment marketing in the undergraduate world. The schools have the luxury of buying lists to recruit students.

When it comes to grad school and seminary enrollment, it isn’t quite so easy.

In this episode, we talk with Kevin Bish, VP of Enrollment Management and Student Services at Asbury Theological Seminary, about how to identify mission-fit students who will thrive at your institution and how to recruit them.

Join us as we discuss:

- Asbury’s approach for identifying mission-fit grad students

- Helping potential students find their mission statements

- Finding the ideal student through a stick figure exercise

- Using the institution’s 100th anniversary in enrollment campaigns

Contact Kevin:

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

Listening on a desktop & can’t see the links? Just search for Higher Ed Marketer in your favorite podcast player.

Student see through US faster today than ever before. Is when we send out marketing. This not authentic. Be True to yourself, be true to your mission, and you will be blessed in your enrollment. You were 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, don'tor 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. My name is troy singer and, as always, I'm here with Bart Taylor, my partner in creation. Each week, what we try to do is identify higher red marketers that we feel that our listeners could learn from, be entertained from and pull away with a better sense of how to do their job within their daytoday. Today we get to talk to Kevin Bish about Grad school and seminary enrollment marketing. Yeah, Troy, Kevin is a is a friend of mine that I've known for several years. He's vice president enrollment marketing at Asbury Seminary in Kentucky and thought we had to bring him on because I have a lot of different folks that are constantly asking me about, you know, the specifics of maybe a Dalton graduate studies or a Dalton Seminary Graduate School type of marketing. It's going to be different because there's not search campaigns like historically you might see in traditional Undergrad with sats and acts. It starts to really kind of focus in a little bit more on mission fit and how to really focus in on understanding the the right fit audience that you want to go after, and so Kevin does a good job of giving us some real tactical elements of how they're achieving that at Asbury and I think there's a lot of really good things for takeaways. Even if you're not a seminary, I would encourage to listen to it because I think that a lot of what he's talking about is relevant for just about any graduate type of program that you might be marketing. Thank you, Bart. Now for a conversation with Kevin Bish. It's my pleasure to welcome Kevin Bish, vice president of enrollment management and student services at Asbury theological seminary, to the highered marketer podcast. Welcome, Kevin. Thank you. Try Glad to be here. Kevin, to frame our conversation for today, if you can tell a little bit about yourself and, more importantly, about asberry. Sure I've had to privilege of being at Asbury for about the last twelve years. I was actually one of the first hires that are new president at that time was Dr Timothy Tenant made, and that was a strategic hire because of originally there was no vice president of enrollment management at the seminary and I think that was a neat time where Dr Tennant felt like we needed to have someone who came to work each day and thought about the enrollment process. So I was one of the first hires that he made and...'s been a real joy to be at the seminary during these last twelve years. I'm also have a lot of experience in nonprofit management. I've worked around Twenty Eight Plus Years and nonprofit higher education had the opportunity to work a lot in advancement as well as in the enrollment management area. I'm married, got three great kids and just happy to be with you guys today. Thank you, Kevin, and if you can give us the size of that asberry, and many people probably know this, but it is not an undergraduate school, it's postgraduate degree. Tell us a little bit about that please. Yeah, correct. So we serve master's degrees as well as doctorate degrees. At the seminary. We roughly we're around eighteen hundred students. As past fall we started at one seventeen hundred and fifty nine students and the year before we were around eighteen o six, and so we've had steady and growment, enrollment growth over the last seven years, you know, and that's kind of where we've been position. We think we're kind to be staying at that optimal enrollment level of being around one thousand eighteen hundred mark. That's great, Kevin. I appreciate being here and I know that we've known each other for a while now and I just can one of the things I often find when I'm engaging with with different folks and some of my clients, to be honest with you, as is the challenge there is and really doing marketing high and marketing for for graduate degrees. And I think there's a challenge there because I think so many times undergraduate have gotten used to being able to purchase lists, you know, sat you know act lists and being able to do that, and that's obviously been challenging. And you know, we had James Steen from Houston Baptist on a few episodes ago talking about kind of going test optional, and so that's going to start to change the landscape for undergrads. But those, those tests and buying those lists don't necessarily they don't exist necessarily in the Grad world. So tell us a little b about how you how you find mission fit Grad students to to recruit, especially at this size that you are. I mean one thousand eighteen hundred students. You're you're filling a pretty large incoming class every every fall. Yeah, we're roughly bringing in around four hundred to five hundred and fifteen, somewhere in that category, students to maintain that that particular number. And you know we've talked about this often bart over the years. It is it's a it's a real struggle for us because, you know, just because someone graduates from an undergraduate institutions with a degree doesn't mean that they're necessary looking at theological education, and so that's something and my prior life, when I was working in the undergraduate world. It was great to be able to buy list and look at sat scores and put different programming together and since of marketing. But you know, the challenge here is really trying to find that and so you know, there's no one silver bullet or one simple answer other than we really try to identify what types of students would flourish at our institution and then and how do we get to them? So, for instance, denominational support is one way we do that. We work with a lot of different denominations. Matter of fact, Asbury serves around eighty eight different denominations, and so we work a lot with denominational leaders because a lot of times they know...

...and have their eye on certain individuals that were likely have a high probability at least of coming to seminary. The other thing is our alumni base. You never want to overlook your alumni, your we have over tenzero alumni and they love their for the most part, love their experience at Asbury and they're a huge resource for so we track references and referrals and a lot of times will find our alumni have been a key role in helping us identify future students and I think that sometimes even as you're bringing those four five hundred students in, and especially from a theological and seminary education. I mean a lot of these people are being called by God to come and do do their education, but some of them might be a little hazy on what that call might look like and where that is. How do you guys help even in the recruitment process, because I'm sure that there are some people are like, well, I kind of feel calling, but I'm not sure you know that. That's a little bit different than saying I kind of feel like going college but I'm not sure. I mean, how do you kind of help? How's your admissions team in your marketing help with that? Yeah, that's a million dollar question there. You know, one of the things that's really challenging is the age spectrum on which we work. So we have those students that are fresh outs, are Undergrad twenty three, twenty four years old, and then we go clear up into our six these and so that's a wide spectrum. We also see a large bivocational group. A lot of them maybe already be in ministry and just looking for credentialing at some level. So that's a much different approach. But let's just focus on the younger younger students day, those students that are just out of their Undergrad and are challenge with that. We identified real quick when I started at the institution that a lot of time students knew that seminary, they had to attend seminary if they were serious about going into ministry, especially working for one of the mainline denominations. But that what we found out very quickly. They were struggling with was that call that you were talking about and they're trying to figure out if we could answer their calling component, for instance, then we could overcome a lot of the obstacles that would prevent them potentially of not coming to the seminary. So we talked about inform of a missional enrollment and we talked about the ideal student and we're just really trying to identify what we think are the attributes, in characteristics of a student that would thrive at the institution, and so we start with that in mind. We do a lot of different exercises. Actually don't draw stick figure of a person on the wall and we talked about if you can't use words and only pictures describe the type of person that we're looking for at the seminary. So, for instance, a lot of times you'll see ears, you know, drawn on the person. So they have ears to hear what's going on around them. They have a heart of service for God, so draw a heart. They'll have big shoes on. They have feet to walk out what God's calling him to do. And so then we take that and we lay that into the recruitment and our marketing plan then saying what are those key things that we want to translate? If you have these types of attributes, you're heading done that right track of being someone that could come to Asbury and have an amazing experience and thrive there. It's it doesn't do us any good to bring... students that's going to struggle with who we are want first and foremost, but then struggle continually struggle with who they are and are calling with God's placed on our life. So we try to do a lot of stuff with that up front. Our Roman advisors are a little bit different their recruiters, but they also continue on as their academic advisor. So we eliminate one of those handoffs that usually happens in the traditional model where the recruiter goes out on the road meets with them and then then they turn them over to the academic advisor and there's that odd handoff where they're the recruiter knows everything about them and the advisor knows a little bit about them but not enough to really make that connection. So we've taken that out of there, and so the recruiter and the enrollment or the advisor is the same individual, and so we've eliminated that awkward handoff and what we've seen is a much higher retention rate, especially past those first initial fifteen hours, because of the connection of relationship. And so when they get into their first class and they say man, this is hard and I thought it was going to be more difficult, we focus back on the relationship component it and that seems to really help with the calling component and they can say now you know when I talk to you back and whatever will. We were talking about events and such, or you're calling. You said this to me. Did that change? And a lot of times we know you're right. Thanks for that call out. I really appreciate it. Yeah, that's great. I think that that. We had nate Simpson from the Gates Foundation on a couple weeks ago and he was talking about the I forget how he described it, but just the the travesty sometimes where we try it. We work so hard to get a student in and then, like you said, a lot of times those handoffs or fumbled or things happen and we really end up losing them from retention, from other from a whole host of reasons. So I really like that idea of being able to kind of have the same recruiter and then turning into advisor for those students. That really I'm sure that does kind of build that bridge. And so just one last question. I'm thinking about just kind of finding these mission fit Grad students. Is the idea we talked a little bit before the recording, with the idea of, you know, I was I was looking at your website if a few weeks ago with another client, a very small seminary, just trying to help them understand the importance of, you know, the way that you want to present your tuition information. I was I was impressed with the way that Asbury does their tuition presentation on the website. I'm not going to go into too many details on that, but I think that there are elements in the marketing that you're doing whether it's the way that you're presenting your tuition so that people understand you compared to other markets and cost of living and things like that. There's beyond just the tuition but also just you've made a comment about you know, you're basing a lot of the decisions on your marketing and you've just already outlined that a little bit with the mission fit student. But you're basing a lot of that of just understanding the market and the context of where these students are and what's around them. Maybe talk a little bit about that. Yeah, well, we realize most of the students that are looking at Asbury there we have used a one of two categories, and usually the first categories they're fully...

...committed to come to Asbury. They went to a particular church in the pastor that's that happened to be the pastor there's and Asbury graduate or there are some other connection to an alum or a board member or maybe a book that a faculty member wrote. And that doesn't mean we don't want to market to them and still communicate with them. It just means it's maybe a little bit different, almost like an insider approach versus an outsider approach. But then we know we have this other group that says they're like we talked about, they're struggling with that call of God on their life and they know they need to go to seminary and they may not even know a whole lot about seminary and they just know it's a graduate program. But what does that all on tail? And so those are types some of the things that you know, when we're looking at so okay, so what do they need to hear from us in regards to making these types of decisions? We sure don't want it to come down just a simple tuition pricing. You know, of course we need to talk about that. They need to know what what the return under investments going to be? How much is it going to cost them? What's the time commitment? How many hours is it going to take? But we also want to talk about the whole process. You know, we take a lot of pride at the institution talking about formation, for instance. A lot of schools talk about formation, but we take a really deep dive into the formational approach at Asbury. So we want to talk a lot about that. We're just right now in the process of making some really big moves and talking about the whole person formation. So just not just the academic side or not just a spiritual side, but also that professional side is one area, because we understand that that's becoming something of a big reality to them when they leave the seminary, as they want to know more about how to lead the church from even as this perspective great, and I think the exercise that you referred to before, the stick figure and finding that ideal student, that's also something that probably benefits the student and as you're trying to identify that student's mission statement why they are there, can you tell us a little bit about your philosophy and approach and how that helps in the long run with the students that come to Asbury? Well, I think anytime you start answering their questions and tearing down barriers that they have, it just makes the decision process that much easier and I think it also makes it that much clearer that they know they're making the right decision in that so we spend again, we try to spend as much one on one time with them. We try to drive students to campus. You know, just like most campus visitation programs, you'll get eighty five to ninety percent easily if they come to empus and actually see the product and get to experience the classroom and go to one of our chapel services. You know, again, we have a rich community at Asbury, especially in our residential campus in Willmore Kentucky, but also, you know, we're looking to how they implement that even more in our extension sites and even in the online environment, especially today with all this zoom technology and some of the advances that covid did and provided to us. Is it we're trying to be more facetoface and more relational and how we communicate. Try to use some of our customer relation management software and some of our other techniques to just really over communicate a lot with...

...students about what's important to them. We just finished a call book actually is another part of our why where it actually it's a particular passage of scripture that we're using. Then we have a factor. We ever talked about that in the sense of calling, but then we also have a real life testimony of somebody that that particular passage fits perfectly in to the calling that they have on their life and why they selected Asbury in that decisionmaking process. So we're getting ready to launch that, hopefully here by the end of the month. That's great and I know we'd also been talking about you. Obviously you talked about your your tenure there Asbury, but there's Asbury has been around for a while. I'm get coming up on a hundred years. So tell us a little bit about you know a lot of schools are kind of celebrating milestones different areas like that, but how are you planning on leveraging that in your recruitment, in your messaging? I think there's different ways to do that. I'm just curious if you can tell us that. I mean maybe it's a secret, but you can tell a little bit. Well, some of it's probably a secret, but but a lot of it's just good, good practice. I think so because of the obviously we're at an ex higher it institution and we walk off an academic year. It actually falls on the next year, two thousand and twenty to twenty three year, but the actual celebration or the actual Hundred Years Actually two thousand and twenty three. But I've also been in the process of redoing our view book. We're making some changes to our website and we're also creating some what I call lobby banners for each one of our sites and we're already starting to do some teaser so speak, in our legacy to talk about the hundred years. And then June of next year then we'll watch really heavy into a fullblown kind of campaign around the hundred year celebration. But the idea is, though, obviously it's a big deal for a seminary to be around for a hundred years and to be thriving at this in this season, and so we're really excited about telling our story but, more importantly, bringing along a lot of people who have come alongside us over the years, and and so that's going to be with board members and alumni from around the world. We're actually got to be doing a lot of different types of events. Some of them will actually will be global as well as here locally, and the idea is a lot of it's probably more branding than it is actual recruitment, but of course you know they're interconnected at some level. You can't discard one from the other. So we're real excited about the hundred years. Dr Ten. Then it's spending a lot of time and investment and putting that together he's fully committed to that. It will also be celebrating the wrap up of our comprehensive campaign at the same time. So we're celebrating our enrollment, we're going to be celebrating the wrap up of our comprehensive campaign and then we'll be celebrating all that together as part of the hundred year celebration. That's great and I love the fact that you mentioned that it's going to be a three year celebration. I remember, I don't remember when it was, but it was either Disney or Mickey or something like that. I mean they have always done that. It's like, you know, you start a year before and kind of build it up that year of you celebrate that and then the following year you continue to celebrate it until the next one. And so, you...

...know, if schools have that coming up, I would encourage them to think that way. And then I love the fact too, that either end or start a capital campaign around those major milestones. To a is another another tactic that I've seen in high had marketing that works really well. So very good. Yeah, that was that was actually part of our strategic plan as well. So, in other words, when Dr Tenne came here. That was the first thing we did and we had the we look down the road that far about ten years ago and said this is what we want the end resolve to be and it was a capstone around the hundred year anniversary. That's great, very good. As we wrap up the episode, Kevin, we always ask the question, is there a thought or maybe a quick tip that you can leave your fellow marketers or enrollment executives with that you feel that to be either immediately implemented or a thought that they could take away that will make a difference in their day to day yeah, I probably leave it with a thought. I love a there's a Zig zigler quote that I love. It says if you aim at nothing, you'll hit it every time, and I think that's really important to people enrollment manage today. I mean we're living in a disruptive environment more than ever before and, you know, being doing this as long as I have, we used to say the ball of education roll slowly and change and adaption, and now it's really rolling at box speed and so you know, I'd really encourage people, instead of trying to do the shotgun approach and going after everything, really become a focused right for or laser and focus on what you're good at and be authentic about it. One thing studency through US faster today than ever before is when we send out marketing. This not authentic. Be True to yourself, be true to your mission, and you will be blessed in your enrollment. That is wonderful and thank you so much for the blessings that you gave us few your time and your talent and wisdom today, Kevin. If someone would like to reach out to you for any reason, will be the best way for them to do so? Yeah, I think the probably the best one to be just my email at Kevin Dot bish bish at asbury seminary dot Edu. Thank you, Kevin. You're welcome, barn. Do you have any closing comments? Yeah, I just wanted to point out a couple things that Kevin said just for everybody to kind of think about or either go back and view it again listen to it again. But just this whole idea of really being able to take a look at how mission fit is working for your campus, whether you're an Undergrad, whether you're a seminary graduate school. You're really going to go after those mission fit and you know, one of the things word that Kevin didn't use, but obviously the stick figure was a persona exercise figuring out who your personas are, who you're going to market to, understand their attributes and their traits and then really, you know, develop your messaging and all of your voice around that so that that really attracts them. And I also like the fact of what they're doing with the calling book. You know, there's questions their perspective, students are asking, and so I'm a big believer and in Jay bear and the book utility, where he really outlines the fact that, you know, those those organizations that tell people provide answers to the questions that people have,...

...are where you're going to see success. And so what Kevin and Asbury are doing and basically saying people have a lot of question about their calling. So if we can provide them answers around that, that's not only going to endure them to us and our brand, but it's also going to help them along their path, whether they choose to come to to Asbury or not. And then, finally, I really love the idea of, you know, thinking creatively and outside of the box, of using your recruiters to also be your your advisers moving forward. The relationships today are so critical and I think as we move down the generations from boomer to xt millennials to to Z, that that importance of relationship gets even tighter. You know, it's kind of funny because I think people always joked about while you've got, you know, five thousand facebook friends, but I think even more today relationships, because we have so many ways to do them, are becoming even more true when they're authentic, and I think that was another term that Kevin us. So those are just a couple thoughts that I have just to kind of wrap everything up, way to put an exclamation point on it. Thanks again, Bart Kevin. Look forward to seeing you in the future. That wraps up another episode of the High Ed Marketer Podcast, which is brought to you by Klo Solutions, which is an education the marketing branding agency and, by think patented. We are a marketing execution company specializing in printing and mailing for Higher Ed marketers. On behalf of my cohost, Bart Kaylor, I am choice 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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