The Higher Ed Marketer
The Higher Ed Marketer

Episode 17 · 5 months ago

Accessible Admissions Starts with Reducing Friction


When you’re looking at changing the “way we’ve always done it,” you’re working to remove barriers and ultimately move your organization forward.

Being able to then communicate change as an advantage to both prospective students and internal stakeholders is a challenge. But it’s an important one for driving growth.

In this episode of The Higher Ed Marketer, Bart Caylor, President & Founder at Caylor Solutions Inc, and Troy Singer, Senior Account Executive at Think Patented, chat with James Steen, Vice President of Enrollment Management at Houston Baptist University, about how Houston Baptist went test-optional, and how they’ve been able to communicate the benefits of such a critical decision.

They also talked about:

- How test-optional makes admissions more accessible.

- How to approach merit awards without test scores.

- How test-optional reduces friction in the application process.

- How to market test-optional both externally and internally.

Know of a higher education marketing change agent you’d like to hear on the show? Does your university have an interesting story to be featured? Connect with Bart Caylor or Troy Singer. If you’re not on LinkedIn, check the Caylor Solutions or Think Patented websites instead!
To hear more interviews like this one, subscribe to The Higher Ed Marketer on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, or your preferred podcast platform.  

You were listening to the Higher EdMarketer, a podcast geared towards marketing professionals in highereducation. This show will tackle all sorts of questions related to studentrecruitment, donut relations, marketing, trans new technologies and so much more.If you are looking for conversation centered around where the industry isgoing, this podcast is for you, let's get into the show, welcome to the high red marketerpodcast, where every week we try to create wonderful and interestingconversations with hired marketers that we admire, for the sake of other hiredmarkers to green ideas from or just have something in common with, I'malways joined with my co host Bart Calor, and we are talking to JamesStein and he's with Houston Baptist University, and he is going to give ussome wonderful tid bits on a transition that they made here recently Bart. Ifyou can help me explain a little bit about James and what they're doing yeah,I think we're going to have a great conversation with James and I met Jamesa number of years ago at a council for Christian colleges, universities,meeting and Tampa Bay and hand. I got headed off while and had a chance tokind of get to know each other a little bit better and I've kind of followedhim for a couple years on what he's been doing and it's been fascinatingand he's an excellent leader and really kind of looked up to several of hispeers and especially in faith based Christian higher education, and I knowthat recently he spoke at at a conference that I spoke with with natcap, and so it was great to be a part of that with him. But he he's done somevery innovative things during his time at HBT and it's it plays out intohigher enrolment numbers, and so I really like the fact that sometimes doing innovative things and making what might be hard decisions sometimescan really pay off and really, in the long run, creative momentum that thatyou can really ride. For a while, and one of the conversations that will talkabout today is the idea of this whole test optional. You know whether or notyou need an act or an sat scored to come to college. It's controversial,there's been a lot of conversation on inside Higher Ed and other industrypublications about different aspects of test optional, as far as you know, fromfrom a racial equality and dividers ty standpoint to just a pragmaticstandpoint within the pandemic, and I think it's interesting to hear JamesTalk about his journey on that that, on that thought process and the decisionsthat H B, you made this year as it related to that and how H B is a kindof an interesting place as far as diversity to so it's going to be somereally good conversations to hear from James, yes, he's a smart, individualand a very engaging conversationalist, and it's time for us to bring him intothe conversation. We're excited to welcome Jane Steen,Vice President of enrolment management at Houston, Baptist universities toshow welcome James. Thank you so much for having me Troy. I appreciate itJames if you could. Please tell us about your role at Houston Baptistabsolutely so. I've been in Houston Baptist University for almost fifteenyears now and before that I was at Baylor University for a little overthirteen years, and I describe myself as babies, basically a recoveringadmissions counselor. I started way back when right out of college. I was atour guide whenever I was a student at Baylor and would drop families off overat the admissions office. So when I was graduating- and I had no idea what Iwas going to do after graduation- I thought I could I could get one ofthose admissions counselor jobs and do that for a year or two and then go geta real job right. So, twenty eight years later here I am and I'm still arecovering admissions counselor,...

...that's Great James. I don't think I'veever met a small girl or boy who says I want to be.You know vice president from Roman when I grow up, sometimes so exactly it'snot one of those jobs that you start and you say that's that's my careerpath, but that's exciting. It's definitely not on the top ten last isit so you know when we first kind ofstarted talking a little bit about this podcast James. I know you and I'veknown each other for a few years and we reached out to you and said Hey, let's,let's kind of talk a little bit about what's going on at Houston Baptist andin the pre interview you kind of talked about a number of things, but one ofthe interesting topics that I found, especially in line of- what's happenedin the last year, eighteen months with Covin and the pandemic is just the justthis journey and maybe the success that Houston Baptist has, after you made the decision to go testoptional, and I know a lot of people are aware of that. I just like to talk o a little bit aboutthat, because I mean we have a lot of different people on the listening tothe show. Some people might totally understand. What's going on what whyyou made that choice, other people might be like what's test optional,tell s lit it about what what end of that topic when it went to thatdecision for Hbai and where you guys are on that yeah thanks born it's agood question and I know I'll qualify my my stance on test hoptional bysaying you know, probably five or six years ago I wrote a paper when I wasworking on my Doctora just about the whole test optional process ingeneral, and I really took the stance in that in that paper, arguing thatit's not necessarily the problem is not necessarily with the test as much as itis with our admissions policies right. So where is the the the sat or the act?Certainly, standardized testing is certainly biased in favor of someversus others. As long as the stance I took was as long as we as in rollingmanagers as directors of admission as long as we're, you know able to have policies that are fair andequitable. It's not necessarily the test, that's the problem, so that wasthe argument that I took several years ago. So so I didn't necessarily go intothe pandemic or go into two thousand and twenty with this whole bind set.That test optional was going to be the greatest thing since slice spread, butI've kind of I'm coming out of this crazy coved year that we've had reallyas a convert. If you will to test optional- and I think for for us for H,Bu, especially it really has been a game. Changer and I'll also say towe're H, B. Houston babis university is a really unique institution. It's notyour typical private or Baptist University were a majority Hispanicwith well over forty two forty three percent of our freshmen are Hispanic.Were about twenty one, a d: Twenty two percent African American were aboutnineteen twenty percent wide and even you know ten to twelve percent Asian.So it's a really really diverse institution, so we didn't necessarilyneed to go test optional to help more students of color access, H B.We that that was not the impetus we really made. That switch because we hadto literally students we were not able to take standardized test. They did nothave star act, scores readily available, so we really just did it as a strategicdecision. Much like everybody else did, and I know we can. We can dig into thenumbers a little bit further, but but I...

...would save for us at H, Bu. It reallyreally has been a game changer, it's great- and I guess just out ofcuriosity since since we're talking to a lot of marketers on this podcast, howdid you end up kind of communicating that and really kind of selling that asa benefit for Ahbeesee? I mean not everybody's doing that, and certainlythere's various reasons why people might go test optional mean certainly alot of it's the right thing to do as far as diversity and accessibility forfor different different groups, but but I think that you know the pandemic costant things. But how did you end up kind of communicating that an a d? How didthat become part of the marketing yeah? I think that's a good question. We youknow from from our perspective, you know, as you said, we didn'tnecessarily go into it, trying to increase our diversity, and I will saythere. There are very legitimate reasons to do that. I know a lot ofinstitutions have had success, doing that even prior to the pandemic, and Ithink it's important. You know to note as well, on the back end that that thatinstitutions that go test optional, ther their men sat or mean act goes upright, because those with lower test scores tend not to sell report. Thosewith higher tes scores do continue to provide test scores and go that route.If you will and we've seen all of those things happen at H, b this year as well,but I think we really went into it with the message that we understand whatyou're going through. We understand that there are problems and issues,there's limited access to standardize testing, and so we want to do whateverwe can to make h Bu, and this admissions process is accessible to youas possible and and and quite frankly, I think, the the marketing of testoptional. In a lot of ways has almost become ubiquitous, so I don't know manyinstitutions who have really you know planted a you know a steak in theground and said we're not budging this is our policy come hill or high water?I think really, all of us at least every enroll of manage that I now hadto make some hard decisions or or change their processes in terms of testoptional. In terms of how to get this class is two thousand a D twenty oneclass in the door, so I don't want to say it's sold itself, but but itcertainly was not a hard cell if you will, from a marketing perspective, it's great and from what from what Iunderstand, what you've said is that it was not in an impediment to buildingyour class, and I think that's probably an important thing. Is that sometimes,when we're looking at these things, trying to make decisions about howthings move forward, it's like, what's going to hurt you versus what couldhelp you? If you move those things exactly exactly, and I think in doingthat, we've now in some ways created an expectation, atleast externally, that this is going to be the new norm,and I think it'll be interesting to see over the next several years how manyinstitutions go back to requiring an SAT, our an act, how many institutionscontinue to have test optional, as as as one of their admissions policies,and I think not to speak for the the administration at Houston, BabishUniversity? I think I think, for the short run. We are very happy remainingtest optional and I think there's even you know several more ways to leveragethat in the future, if I would call correctly in our earlier conversationtested test optional, certainly, as you said, the higher scores tend to selfreport. You still require scores for merit awards. Is thatcorrect? That is not correct, so actually yeah. So we started the year. You know with this with this bigquestion: mark of okay. What are we going to do about those who areadmitted under test optional? That...

...don't have a test score becauseobviously merit wards were so so integral to that process. So weliterally came up with an entirely new process forawarding merit and I'll be honest. It was, it was a little touching go. Wecertainly ran numbers. We worked with RL to come up with. You know aformulation for our scholarship and merit, awarding that we thought couldwork with test optional and and in doing that, the tricky thing was ourour acceptance, letters actually double as a scholarship or merit a ward. Soit's congratulations. Bars, you're, accepted to Huson, Babis University andyou've been awarded the X Y scholarship. So so so we couldn't even get anacceptance letter out until we figure this process out and and and theinteresting thing was, is we we did have some tweaks along the waywith the formula that we were using for test optional, but but in the in thegrand scheme of things, if you think of your admit, pool is kind of a bellcurve with you know, you know those at the top and the bottom and theneverybody in the middle kind of form forming a nice, pretty bell curved sofar, we'll see what it looks like once we get to sensus date and how you knowthe the final yield comes in, but so far we've been able to maintain in thatnice pretty bell curve, if you will, even with our merit award distribution.So so that was something at the beginning of the year. I would havetold you there's no way we can do a merit award with how to without atesticle arrive, but we've been able to even pivot and figure out a way to dothat going forward. That's great that's great, and then I guess one finalquestion about the test option before we move on. Is there any place in thefunnel that you saw a greater increase in in results? Becauseof this? This new approach I mean, was it? Was it the applications? Was it theadmits? Was it the deposits? I mean where, in the funnel did that kind ofplay itself out yeah. So I think that was the thing that was the the mostexciting and the biggest surprise to us. So at the top of the funnel or for those who, you know, don't knowthe funnel. You know you got your inquiries and your applicants, so ourinquiries and applicants year over here were down about seven percent. So when your applications are downseven percent, you certainly don't expect to be up at the bottom of thefunnel. However, because of test optional, our application completionrate is literally up year over year about ten points better, so we're ableto complete more applications. Even though we had fewer of them and myacceptance rat, I was able to accept more so of my acceptance rate a yearover year is up about ten points. So so so you do the compounding of that. So,even though we're down on applications, I'm able to complete more and admitmore at a higher rate because of test optional, so we literally have twentyseven percent more admits this year than we did last year and and currentlyat the bottom of the funnel were sitting on twenty four percent moredeposits this year versus last year, and I think the the exciting thing is,is you know a lot of us? I think, and I was just on an EAB call the other dayand about two percent nationally, you know of all institutions. Their datawas showing that deposits were up nationally about two per cent andthat's as compared to last year. Well, a lot of us were down on deposits lastyear. So really, if you go back to two thousand and nineteen and compare thisyear, were e, two thousand and nineteen we're still up on deposits, and andbecause of I mean I'm literally, giving... to this new test optional policy.Because of this, this new test, optional policy, we're going to enrollfar and away a record number of freshmen, this fall, which of course,were thrilled about us, an congratulations on that and- and Iguess one of the takeaways I'm listening to from from a marketingstandpoint- and you can correct me if I'm wrong. But would you say that thetest Optional Decision? Obviously there's a lot of things that went intothat, but you removed one piece of friction for a student being able to get enrolled to Houston BaptistUniversity. I often talk to my clients and people about removing friction fromthe students engagement. You know whether we on the FI form, if we'reasking way too many questions, and they just decide that I can't I can'tcomplete this. This is crazy anywhere. We can remove friction. Ithelps kind of smooth it and keep it for, and it sounds to me like you know,there's a lot of factors involved, but maybe there was a little bit offriction in that you. I've got to gather my scores. I've got to gathereverything for my application. Do you think that maybe that was part of whatincreased your application completion rate yeah I mean, I think it's I thinkit's all of the above and we're even you know. Good marketers are obviously good aboutdoing research and market analysis where we're we're trying to do a asurvey of this incoming class to really understand the. Why? Behind you knowsome of these numbers and some of these metrics that were experiencing, but butbut I do think as as enrollment managers and you use the word frictionI use the word barriers. I think we have to be very intentional about removingbarriers right and so so so the argument to be made is you know if youdon't have to have an application fee, then then, why do you have winter orone of my mentors bill royal used to say the only reason to have anapplication fee is, if you're willing to waive it right, and I think thereare really good reasons to have an application feed, but but if you don'thave to have an application fee, do you really you know? Should you have one itbecomes a barrier to entry right, so you can you can ask those things aboutevery you know every different stage of the Fodan, certainly in the applicationprocess. If you don't have to require a test score, then should you and- and Ithink I think, especially after experiencing just some of theincredible success that we've had this year- I think the answer for us is no.We don't have to do that and I think, if we're going to do it, we're going togo all in and and one of the things that we're looking at even for nextyear is. Is this idea of do no harm and, and if an applicant comes in and maybechecks the I want to go traditional route or checks the test optional route?If, for some reason they submit a test score and maybe they're not admissiblewith that test score, but they would be admissible under a test, optionalreview process or or the other, the other scenario could be or what? If astudent who comes in on the traditional route, maybe would qualify for a lowerscholarship than they would if they were test optional right, so do no harmpolicy would say it doesn't matter what what methodology you choose when youapply we're going to we're going to do no harm right, we're going to give youthe benefit of the doubt and if, if it's best for you to go the traditionalround or if its best vidio test optional, that's how we're going toconsider you for admission and or Award Your Merit Scholarship. So so I thinkthat's how we're researching and really looking into how to make this evenbetter going forward next year. That's great, and I liked what you said aboutyou know what what royal said about the idea of t now, ifyou need a, if you don't need a fee,...

...don't you don't charge one. I'm sure,though, that some people on campus when it comes to tests optional, especiallyacademics and faculty, would say. Actually that is something that'srequired. It's something that we need, because you know, for whatever reasonthey have their belief. How did you deal effects? I'm sure that came up indid it did, and I think and just talking to colleagues you knowand in different areas of the country and at other institutions. It is sotrue. I think that you know if faculty want to know that the students areteaching in the classroom are qualified to be there, and I think we had to do alot of a lot of homework with with data in terms of looking at studies andresearches showed really G, PA and and high school rank, and these othermetrics that we can get from a high school transcript. That's literallybased on three or four years, as opposed to a standardized test score.This based on three or four hours, truly is a better predictor. So when,when we made the decision to go test optional, we had to we had to sell itor market it externally, but we also had to sell it internally to yeah andand and convince faculty that this student that were considering throughthis new holistic review process really is not only going to be a good fit, butis going to be a contributor is going to be successful in the classroom. Soso it really is kind of a both end approach. We, yes, we had to marketexternally, but but we did have to do some work internally to convincefaculty and again we'll know when it comes to fall spring. You know what ourfault of Spring retention is and we're going to be very, very methodical aboutgoing through the data and making sure the decisions that we made were theright ones. That's that's fascinating! That's great! I love the fact that itit takes internal marketing, sometimes as much as it takes external. So I wantto Pavitra quick before we kind of close up and everything and just talk alittle bit at the very beginning. You talked about Hbai some of the diversityissues and I just wanted to kind of touch base on that, because I thinkthat you know it's naturally occurred onyour campus with diversity because of your location and but I think that manyschool struggle to to build diversity- and you know- We'vetalked a couple different guests about that- and I've been in situations whereyou know people have actually said: Can you do some marketing so that we havemore diverse students come in and- and I look at their- you know- staff andfaculty page and I'm like? Well, you probably need to have more people whoare diverse on your staff before you actually can market more people,because that's what that's? What they're going to look for? That's whatanybody is going to look for is am I going to fit in here and if they go toyour website and they don't see that they're going to fit in don't care. Howmuch marketing that I do! I'm just curious. What you think about that is,I mean, certainly you've been natural bust to have that where you are- and Ithink it's brings a richness to the community, but tell me about you knowwhat your what your advice is yeah. I know I think you you're absolutelycorrect Bard and you you've hit the nail on the head, that it really doesmatter who we hire and and and I really we don't have a you know, a specific.You know metric that we're trying to hid in terms of hiring policies, but Ido have a very diverse team working for me and so, when you know, whenprospective students come to campus when they go to our admissions page,you know when they're, when they're visiting, they see lots of students ofcolor and they see admissions counselors from from many differentbackgrounds. And and so it's sometimes it's a challenge right to really try toconnect with everybody and find that institutional fit with everybody. But Ithink it absolutely...

...begins with a D and hiring your hiringpolicies are so so so so critical. That's great! That's great! I'm gladthat you've shared that with us and that that's what you've found as wellso great James you've been so generous with your wisdom but Bart, and I aregreedy and every week we ask our guest if there's an additional idea orsomething that you've come across. That would be an idea worth sharing to yourcolleagues that may be listening to the show. If you could share that, pleaseand anything that's top of mind, yeah yeah. Absolutely thanks, try. I thinkone of the things that you know this this this Covin nineteen pandemic, I think, hastaught us more than anything and- and I think this is true for all of us in asense- is that we we have to fly the plane and I'm kind of borrowing at thatquote from the movie sully, and you know it's hard to go wrong with a witha clinic wood directed movie that that Tom Hangs his starring in right. It'sjust hard to go wrong with a movie like that, and it's a true story. But but you know, when everything isblowing up when everything is going wrong, you still have to fly the planeright and I think that's true for all of us, whether we're in women managers,whether we're you know chief academic officers, whether we're chief financialofficers, whether we're in marketing or or wherever we are during a pandemic.We still have to fly the plane right during during a hurricane we've had twohurricanes at H, Bu, since I've been here, we still have to fly the planeright. We may be under water, we may be without power, we may be all zooming from home and andhaving to figure out how to do things virtually. But, ultimately, you knowwe're still called to do everything that we're supposed to do, and so,regardless of what's happening, you know we still have to figure out how tofly the plane. James, that's wonderful and brilliant, and you did a great jobof bringing this episode down for landing. Thank you so much. If someonewould like to reach you, what's the best way for them to do so, absolutelyyou can ping me or connect on linked end. You can certainly shoot me anemail at it's just first initial last name: J Stein at H, Bu, dot, Edou, I'dlove to hear from you. Thank you, James Bart. Before we departdo you have any final thoughts? Yeah I just wanted to. I really appreciateeverything you said James and I just sometimes I like to just kind ofsummarize a couple key points for everyone to kind of think about. Ithink that a lot of what James talked about one of the key points I wanted tokind of point out is that a lot of times when you're, making decisions andmaking change you removing the barriers and then being able to communicate thatto the perspective, students is very important. I think marketing that andexplaining that. Sometimes I'm a big believer that, even if you're on youron your application, page or even as you're getting ready to start theapplication explain to them what they're getting ready to do, explain tothem, how it's going to work, remove any barriers of them wanting to justjump because they're overwhelmed. But I think the other thing I really wantedto point out is that just how Hbai took and had to do some internal marketing-and I think sometimes we forget about that. I think that we're so busy andfocused as marketers and sometimes we're in small small offices where wedon't have you we're overwhelmed already with the amount of work that weneed to do. But I think that sometimes, when big major changes are happening,especially in the enrolment office, being able to communicate thatinternally will save a lot of political headache and heartache later on, and soI think it's so important to kind of think about how do we make sure thatour messaging is coing both ways both internally and externally? So I reallyappreciate you know you pointing that out. James and that's just kind of akey take way, went everybody to think about absolutely...

...well said Bart, and thank you both fora wonderful episode to all of our listeners. We just wantto remind you that the hired marketer podcast is sponsored by cale solutionsin education, marketing and branding agency and by thing patented, amarketing execution, Penine and mailing provider of Hirat solutions on behalfof the Co host Bar Cayler, I'm troy singer. Thank you for joining us. You've been listening to the Higher EdMarketer to ensure that you never miss an episode subscribe to the show inyour favorite podcast player. If you were listening with Apple Podcast, we'dlove for you to leave a quick rating of the show, simply tap the number ofstars. You think the PODCAST deserves until next time.

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