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Leading Through Change

How To Drive Equity and Access Through Higher-Education Admissions

Universities are reinventing recruitment, admissions, and student retention to meet their students where they are online – and make learning more accessible and equitable.

University of Colorado President Mark Kennedy, and NACAC Director of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Dr. Crystal E. Newby

First-generation college students have struggled particularly hard during the pandemic, and undergraduate enrollment in the U.S. fell by 4.4% in 2020. To boost enrollment and provide a better experience for both applicants and admissions teams, Salesforce.org launched Admissions Connect, a new product of Education Cloud that helps K-12 and higher education admissions teams with applicant engagement and application review. In a recent Leading Through Change episode, Senior Vice President and General Manager for Education Cloud Nathalie Mainland spoke with two education leaders about the current landscape of education, the importance of driving equity and access at the beginning of the student journey, and how Admissions Connect reimagines recruitment and admissions.

Her first guest was University of Colorado President Mark Kennedy, who is using Admissions Connect on two UC campuses serving 67,000 students. They were joined by the National Association for College Admission Counseling’s Director of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion, Dr. Crystal E. Newby. Her organization has been leading recruitment and admissions globally for nearly 80 years. Together their discussion unpacks the current state of student recruitment and admissions, how to improve the process to provide more students with access, and how technology will shape the future of lifelong learning for all students.

[58:31] Nathalie Mainland of Salesforce, University of Colorado President Mark Kennedy, and NACAC Director of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Dr. Crystal E. Newby

If you’ve watched this episode of Leading Through Change, or even if you haven’t, here are a few highlights from the episode:

Why is recruitment and admissions so critical to improving equity and access in higher education?

Dr. Crystal E. Newby: This is really a critical time for colleges and universities to be mindful and intentional around their recruitment strategies so that they’re able to reach more students than they have before. Students need to know that they have options and that college is possible. Talking with students provides access to colleges and universities that they may not have heard of or known about before. 

When colleges and universities are thinking about their recruitment plans, it’s important to consider vulnerable populations and rural students. Our first-generation students may not have parental figures or family members in their corners. These students rely on colleges and universities, or maybe their school counselors, for the college experience.

How has recruitment and admissions changed coming out of 2020?

Mark Kennedy: Here in Colorado, we’ve been in the bottom two or three in the nation in support for higher education. Both by necessity and design, we and other universities in the state have focused on being efficient and attuned to the needs of our students.

We need to provide that same level of support, counseling, advising, and career advice both online and on campus. Our system investment is helping us bring the best of all four campuses through one portal to make it easy for our students. I think in time, you’re going to see online and on-campus mixing within a course. Hopefully that will allow us to achieve even more access for our students across the state and the nation.

How do you see technology helping to improve the admissions process?

Dr. Crystal E. Newby: I look at technology as an access point that has evolved over the years. We knew that there were students who have access to a laptop or a computer at home, but we also knew that there were students who didn’t have access at all, or maybe just a cell phone. We already knew there was a digital divide, and the pandemic has widened that gap even more. You can only do so much on a cell phone when you’re filling out a college application.

We have to re-imagine how we are communicating with students and how we’re reaching them. We have to meet students where they are. A lot of colleges and universities have utilized text messages as well as email as a way to keep in touch with students. Because let’s be honest: for students nowadays, email isn’t necessarily their thing. They’re looking to access information in different ways. There’s an opportunity for admission offices to be more creative in how they utilize technology to reach students. You may have to create a couple of TikTok or YouTube videos that give transparency to your application review process. Giving students that behind-the-scenes look is a great way to relate to them. And that can bring a little more trust.

How do you see recruitment and admissions evolving over the next five to 10 years? 

Mark Kennedy: First of all, technology is going to allow us to have a high-tech, high-touch, personalized approach to both recruiting and student success. And I think it will allow us to better connect with those students and better guide them on a path towards their ultimate degree or educational objective. 

Secondly, we’re going to have more modalities to deliver to them wherever it fits into their lifestyle: on campus, online, or some mix thereof. 

The third thing I think that’s coming is moving beyond degrees to non-degree credentials, badges, other things that can help prepare them for that first rung on the career ladder, and then keep them at the top of that ladder throughout their life. Lots of good things are coming in education. I’m excited to be able to help however I can.

This post is the latest installment of Leading Through Change, our video conversation series with industry and thought leaders who use Salesforce products to transform the way they work.

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