Episode #15

Growing enrollment and the importance of video with an Interim VP

Featuring Mark Forehand Interim VP of Enrollment at Kennesaw State University
Growing enrollment and the importance of video with an Interim VP
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In This Episode

You’ll hear from Mark Forehand who is Interim Vice President of Enrollment at Kennesaw State University.

You'll hear him talk about:

  • how Kennesaw State nearly doubled its total student body enrollment in a decade
  • the importance of video to Kennesaw's online presence and how they create video without straining resources
  • what channels are most effective for meeting massive enrollment goals
Mark Forehand

Episode Transcript

[00:00:00] Host: You're listening to filling seats, the state of enrollment, marketing, and higher ed. Hosted by StudentBridge. In this podcast. You'll learn, what's working to grow shape and sustain enrollment. At colleges and universities directly for marketers thought leaders and ed tech innovators, because anyone can design a brochure, but not anyone can fill seats.

[00:00:30] Host: Welcome to episode 15 of filling seats. In this episode, you'll hear from mark forehand, who is the interim vice president of enrollment at Kennesaw state university. You'll hear him talk about how Kennesaw state nearly doubled its total student body enrollment in a decade. The importance of video to Kennesaw's online presence

[00:00:50] Host: and how they create video without straining resources. And what channels are most effective for meeting massive enrollment goals let's meet mark

[00:00:59] Mark Forehand: I started in , public higher education in 2014 and started in higher education in general, in 2007. Prior to that, I was an attorney. And prior to that, I was in the military. I have worked across a large spectrum of enrollment manage. Advising recruiting, retention, graduation, retaining private sector students.

[00:01:22] Mark Forehand: And at Kennesaw state university, I've been involved in international retention as well as, graduate and undergraduate. My current role is special assistant to the provost in which I perform the duties of the, vice president of enrollment services division, which is currently an empty role at the university.

[00:01:40] that is a unit with about 320 people in it that handles registrar financial aid, new student programs, retention, business practices, undergraduate admissions, call centers, communications and our CRM.

[00:01:53] Mark Forehand: Prior to this. my primary role was senior assistant Dean for graduate enrollment manage.

[00:01:58] Host: In your current role, is this on an interim basis or are you also applying for the role?

[00:02:04] Mark Forehand: Well, they haven't made any decisions about it, but, most people would say that, they've moved me to the floor where it's gonna happen. So something's going to happen.

[00:02:13] Host: Tell me a little bit about, your current role and then also, tell me a little bit about how you describe Kennesaw state. Wow.

[00:02:19] kennesaw state is a massively growing university with 44,000 students located 20 miles from the center of Atlanta. we have had. Significant growth over the last 10 years, we've gone from in 2014, we had 26,000 students today. Our fall class was a total of 44,003 students. So we've had some really significant growth across, both graduate and undergraduate.

[00:02:46] Mark Forehand: If I was gonna give you my elevator pitch about what I do right now, I am in involved in recruiting, admitting register. Retaining and graduating undergraduate students. My previous role, I was involved in the same thing for graduate students. we like most public universities are heavily tasked with how are we doing with retention and how are we doing with graduating?

[00:03:12] Mark Forehand: And are we creating opportunities for graduates to move on to the next level in their life? I

[00:03:18] Host: Would you say that something draws your heart a little bit more because you said. you recruit, you enroll, you register, you, retain you graduate. Do any of those phases of the student life cycle, jump out as, more exciting to you?

[00:03:36] Mark Forehand: would say admissions recruiting and admissions. once they've accepted and you've converted them, that's a journey. That's very specific to that person. But what we're trying to, for lack of a better word, sell to the university, to people who want to come, that's a very exciting thing to be doing and for lack, experimenting, trying to figure out it's a very. we're in right now, the technology changes constantly two years ago. I worried about what was on Instagram this year. I'm worrying about what's on TikTok and I just read an article where there's something new coming out and it's gonna win. you've really got, it's one of the hardest things about the job.

[00:04:14] keeping up with the student.

[00:04:17] How do you feel like your background , coming from the military and then

[00:04:21] Host: practicing law has kind of affected or shaped your experiences now?

[00:04:27] Mark Forehand: I would say my background in the military has helped me because, I worked with people and got to learn how to lead people without being offensive. My background in the law is helpful in higher ed because there are a lot of rules.

[00:04:43] Mark Forehand: And those, and being able to understand how those rules are built, the rule, the purpose behind those rules and the common theme of, unless it is expressly forbidden, it is allowed somehow, is very important to. Again, deal with the 21st century higher education model. It's things have got to be, it's all, it's a terrible phrase, but everything's gotta be outside the box because this set of students is incredibly unique. Like every group of students ever, but they are the most technologically savvy group of students we've ever seen.

[00:05:22] Host: Do you wanna share some examples of some things that y'all are doing that are quote unquote, outside the box?

[00:05:27] we have done a lot of work with student bridge to build opportunities for people to drive the learning experience about the university. And what that really means is, with our virtual maps, the. User decides where they want to go on the map, the map isn't built to say, okay, here, you're going here and here and here.

[00:05:49] Mark Forehand: And then we've got videos of students talking about the university that people can choose. They're not chosen for them. It, they, in the virtual experience, they get to drive the experience. And we're also using some areas where we are explaining to. People who've been accepted, why they've been accepted to this program as a stepping stone to the next program. all three of these have been really successful along with our efforts to, not just student bridge, but to find that sweet spot of what engages students, which is like I said before ever changing.

[00:06:30] you mentioned earlier on that, y'all have almost doubled your student population in a little over a decade. what are some things that y'all have done to contribute to that success?

[00:06:41] Mark Forehand: The smartest thing we did was change our CRM and use the materials we have with our various vendors to communicate with students, with video, not words. and that's been very important and we've learned a lot, Over the last four to five years, about how that's more important to, this generation, even graduate students than long wordy documents from faculty about how great the program is.

[00:07:06] another thing we've done is gone really strongly forward in the graduate market about getting rid of test requirements, only. Probably three of our 90 programs now require a GRE or a GMAT. and our doctoral programs, we have really worked hard to make it accessible. and accessibility is another way that we have shown a lot of growth as well, especially in graduate where we've done a lot of online, but in undergraduate, it's the accessibility of making the experience user friendly and something that. User drives, not, the university.

[00:07:41] Host: I think a lot of people in higher ed would agree, the importance of video and how impactful it can be. But often, people say, well, it's expensive. It's time consuming. It's, a big drain on resources. We just can't do it. how have y'all managed to.

[00:07:58] Host: Put out, more and more video create more and more video. And then, how frequently are you creating video?

[00:08:05] because we're a large university, we have pretty large infrastructure also. So we have a strategic communications unit. However, when you're using a private vendor, for lack, the quality's better, it has a better shelf life. because the quality is just better because you've hired a private sector, individual to do this for you, and that's where they're making their money.

[00:08:25] Mark Forehand: So for example, with an operation like student bridge, the quality is imaculate and it has lasted over time. And we've only in a, in the four years, we've only changed the videos twice. and the thing that is, really important of its shelf life, you can do different things with it because it is still, relevant to what you're trying to do. Even though the student demographic has changed.

[00:08:51] Host: So it's really about, being strategic with working in house, but then also, bringing on a partner or a vendor and then repackaging that video footage

[00:09:00] Mark Forehand: exactly.

[00:09:01] Host: in terms of enrollment marketing, obviously I would say a win is.

[00:09:06] Host: You've drastically increased, your student population and grown enrollment. Is there anything that you feel like your team struggles with or your institution struggles?

[00:09:16] Mark Forehand: with the same things everybody does. leadership always wants you to grow. You can't grow every. and also at some point you reach appointed diminishing returns in terms of facilities, unless you are one of these universities that's only online and has this massive server farm to operate everything.

[00:09:35] Mark Forehand: You have a appointed diminishing returns, you don't have enough faculty, all of these sort of things. And so parents ask these kind of questions. And so you've gotta be able to answer that question in recruiting, and at the graduate level, you have to be able to answer that question of an.

[00:09:50] So I'm assuming that you have had to build, residence halls and hire more faculty and what have been some of those down the chain implications for the rest of your campus.

[00:10:03] Mark Forehand: So we've had to build, a new residence hall, 600 beds. We've had to build two new buildings for academic learning. We've hired just this fall 120 new faculty.

[00:10:16] Host: Wow.

[00:10:16] and then you get into things like food and housing around the campus. Cuz nobody's got 44,000 dorm rooms. so it's a, it becomes a huge lift for everybody on campus.

[00:10:29] Mark Forehand: And then you have how parking, all of these things require additional resources. that must be thought about because user experience, initially we all discovered user experience as part of using a app or using the computer, but user experience applies to everybody. Now it applies to everything you do.

[00:10:49] and applies also to higher educat.

[00:10:52] Host: . Whenever you were, planning to grow enrollment and successful in growing enrollment, were there any non-traditional populations that you targeted? we've had people on the podcast talk about the shrinking high school graduating class and how, their potentially planning on targeting, returning students and adult students.

[00:11:12] what are some of those populations that y'all target?

[00:11:15] from an undergraduate perspective, we're hard on first. Very hard into the first gen, because yes, there will be a cliff, but that means also that, we're looking at ways to become Latin X oriented and to become, first gen slash not identifying in the standard, model of,parents who went to college and in a certain economic demographic, looking at how we can , be more robust in our private scholarship systems to get those folks to come in graduate.

[00:11:47] Mark Forehand: It's becoming more and more about what online offerings do you have? The average age of a graduate student at KSU is 30. That's a person with a job who in a city with six and a half million people in Atlanta is a region with six and a half million people. That's not a commute. Anybody wants to make on at five o'clock at night for night classes.

[00:12:06] Mark Forehand: So those kind of things are where you're, if you're going to have that type of demographic, you've got to find offerings that people can do, from a computer. O,

[00:12:15] Host: What channels are most effective in. it's interesting. We track everything. So we've got Facebook live. We've got Facebook, we've got Facebook parents. We've got. TikTok, we've got Instagram, we've got,WeChat. we're across chat platforms all over the world. and then we've got, channel marketing, digital, redirect.

[00:12:38] so if you manage to get on a page and you're anywhere near Kennesaw you're gonna get a redirect about a program. If your IP address pops up somewhere in our area and you looked at anything involving schools, there's a good chance. You're gonna get a digital redirect to us. We use a great deal of digital.

[00:12:57] Mark Forehand: We spend a massive amount of money on that, and that's where something somewhere, because we have a. Pretty huge size. we benefit from having some infrastructure to do that. when you don't have that, because my graduate budget was much lower. When you don't have that, you use vendors, you invest in that you learn that your videos have shelf life and you use those vendors over and over again through your communication plans.

[00:13:24] Mark Forehand: The final thing is we're really working hard with. because we see through our customer relations management software, that people will engage with an email, but only to read it, they won't then, click on the link. but a text, is something that people will look at a lot of, um,talked about my wife.

[00:13:40] Mark Forehand: She has 12,000 unopened Gmails, but people will engage with a. And we're using that a lot. So digital and text is what we're really pushing at the moment.

[00:13:51] Host: What do you feel like other schools are doing a really great job with.

[00:13:54] brand awareness. There's some schools around us doing really well with.

[00:13:58] Mark Forehand: brand awareness. Now there are some schools that don't have to worry about it. Georgia tech is 18 miles down the road. They are the MIT of the south. but there are other schools that are not like that who are surrounding us in the sixth state area who are doing a great job with this is who we are, and this is what we're all about.

[00:14:17] and because. Brand matters so much to this group of students. They're doing a good, really great job. Yep.

[00:14:26] Host: On the flip side, what are some things that you

[00:14:30] Mark Forehand: There's a bit of a material misrepresentation by all of us. not everybody's gonna get a great job. Not everybody is gonna have a great experience. There needs to be, we all need to be doing a better job about wellness

[00:14:43] Host: think other schools could be doing better?

[00:14:43] Mark Forehand: and how we can assist you with your wellness while you're here.

[00:14:47] Host: So do you think that it's maybe less about misrepresenting yourself and more about truly caring for and providing for students once they're there and then counseling them to make the best decision, even if that means leaving your institution?

[00:15:03] Mark Forehand: It's not so much a misrepresentation as an, a lot of us have a misunderstanding of what student success means. So we brand student success as this very specific thing, whereas it's a huge deal. And one of the things that didn't used to be in student success was wellness and now it's in there.

[00:15:21] Mark Forehand: And a lot of us have not adjusted to that yet. So yeah, you've said it a lot better than I said it. I think. I

[00:15:26] what do you see for the future of higher ed? obviously we've just gone through huge change with the pandemic and then, we're I guess kind of coming through the other side of it, , how did that change and what do you see for the future?

[00:15:42] Mark Forehand: the pandemic forced us to conduct the experiment of online. And we discovered it's not the bandaid. We all wanted that a lot of people were hoping it would be if we could just do it online, they'll be okay with it. they weren't. the experiment showed us that there are, there is still a huge place for, in person learning. but the experiment also showed us. There's at the same time, the opportunity for a lot of undergraduate degrees to be online from valid universities. And I think people like UCF and Arizona state are really showing that to be the case. state schools with high impact learning practices in the online.

[00:16:23] Mark Forehand: Because, there's not enough space to put everybody on campus.

[00:16:27] and people will self-select into these over time. as people learn, as we do a better job with kindergartners and then middle school, and then high school people will self-select into this kind of learning. And over time, this self selection will allow us to, look at, how we offer these things and how we recruit students.

[00:16:48] Host: . What percent of your student population is in an online program? Okay. Yeah. And.

[00:16:54] Well, in graduate it's 60%. Yeah. In undergraduate. It's about 15%, but that's cuz we don't have the offer.

[00:17:01] Host: What are some things that y'all are doing specifically for online students to, tend to their wellness? Or is that something that's a goal for the future?

[00:17:10] Mark Forehand: it's gotta be a goal for the future?

[00:17:11] Mark Forehand: because we don't know how to do it yet.

[00:17:13] Mark Forehand: This experiment has only been going two years. There's not enough data. .

[00:17:16] Mark Forehand: I think we're really gonna see a lot of research papers from faculty though, that should really inform a lot of the conversation over

[00:17:24] Host: time. Is there anything else that you wanna, touch on?

[00:17:27] Host: Likethe thing about especially public higher education is everybody. there's a mistaken impression that it's this liberal deal. They're very conservative organizations. They're slow to make change. They're slow to get it done and things are moving so quickly. In the eight years I've been back in the United States.

[00:17:50] Mark Forehand: There have been platform after platform has come up, gone away. New one comes up that people just jump around to, and it's the same thing with education. currently all the rages stem, but it's about to be taken over by something called FinTech. so in five years from now, everybody ma says I'm gonna major in FinTech.

[00:18:13] do you know what that actually means? what is an app or a marketing tool that you could not live?

[00:18:20] Mark Forehand: tool would be a dashboard, an app I can't live without. For an old guy like me. it's probably,anything involving Google because of their ability to, SEO everything and get you, if you put in the right search tool, you can find out what an 18 year old's up to.

[00:18:38]

[00:18:38] Host: And if you could go back five to 10 years and give yourself advice, what would it be?

[00:18:43] if I could go all the way back to before I started practicing law, it would be just because everybody in your family's a lawyer, you don't have to be one also. and I think that applies to everything. The advice I would really strongly say, if you have siblings, there is no rule says you all gotta be the same. what I would say to myself from back.

[00:19:04] Host: if someone wants to connect with you, what's the best way for them to do that.

[00:19:08] probably through my email, I do have a LinkedIn profile for mark forehand for Kennesaw, but be careful because there is a, marketing full professor named mark Forehand at the university of Washington. And he and I get each other's emails all the time.

[00:19:23] Host: thank you so much for interviewing me with me today. This was such a great conversation.

[00:19:28] Well, thank you for having me. I really, was happy to be a part of it.

[00:19:34] Host: thank you for listening to the filling seats podcast, hosted by student bridge. If you'd like to connect with this episode's guest. Check out the show notes. If you enjoyed this episode, please leave a rating and review and don't forget to subscribe. For more information about the podcast or to let us know, you'd like to be a guest.

[00:19:54] Host: Visit student bridge.com/podcast. Thanks for listening