Tending the Student Success Garden with The Major Key: Bloom Better with Smarter Methods
As I begin my work at RHB and transition from an institutional role into one of enrollment management consultant, I’m struck by the magnitude of the shift. I have spent many years elbow-deep in the daily activities of admissions and enrollment management, much like working in a flower garden (ironically my only gift in gardening is how much I freely invest in plants that will surely not make it past a couple of weeks). Regardless, I was in the weeds enough that, when asked to share my experiences with The Major Key (TMK) and its implications for enrollment management I paused in panic and stared at what could have been described as dirt under my nails. Sure, I have worked with TMK, a student-centric, academic major exploration system, for the last six years, and I believe in what it does for students and institutions. But how do I articulate that from a higher-level perspective? How could I thoughtfully step away from the garden and describe it from the street?
I took a deep breath, texted a mentor, laughed at the irony that someone as chatty as myself was stuck without words, and then I got to reflecting (and writing). As a professional, TMK was a game changer for me and my institution because it is a powerful tool for brand awareness, for recruitment and ultimately for student success, and that is an easy story to tell.
TMK as a tool to increase brand awareness
In many cases if you search for a list of majors and their details on a university website you’ll be directed to the bulletin or academic catalog and, while this is a helpful and meaningful tool for students and advisors alike, its utilitarian nature doesn’t do an incredible job of telling an institutional story. Candidly, the academic catalog or bulletin would be the last place I would want to send a prospective student and their family for information because it’s clunky, hard to navigate and so full of academic jargon that even I have a hard time navigating it.
This is where TMK comes into play. It offered a solution that gave us an opportunity to share information about majors, concentrations and areas of study in an easy-to-navigate, beautifully branded format. It removed the academic jargon (well, as much as we were able to commit to rewriting) and provided a place where prospective students and their families could explore without necessarily being bombarded with academic speak and the barriers that institutionally we may not realize exist.
Beyond the ability to make majors and concentrations more beautiful, I appreciated the opportunity to use TMK to tell student stories, to connect majors to outcomes and potential job opportunities and visually represent the university beyond words on a paper. What I loved about TMK goes hand-in-hand with its versatility as a tool for recruitment.
TMK as a tool for recruitment
Fundamentally I think a key part of recruiting prospective students and their families is the ability for an institution to tell their story authentically and in a format that is accessible–TMK gave us the ability to do that.
First, TMK gave us the ability to make our majors accessible and searchable in a way for students to explore on their own using their own language. With the ability to add slang search words to majors, students could search for CSI, Beyoncé, or cybersecurity without the stigma or concern of sounding silly or uninformed. And, because I know that as administrators it’s been a bit since we were considered hip with the kids, TMK also offers a snapshot of commonly searched words that don’t appear to be connected to a major.
Beyond the ability to break down institutional jargon, TMK gave us a level of data collection that was insightful and fascinating. I’ll touch on the long-term and strategic potential in a bit, but for immediate and tangible impacts on student recruitment, the ability to track student traffic and gather student data through TMK allowed us to segment and target messaging to specific students based on how they searched and their specific major interests. And the seamless integration with our CRM system gave us the ability to set up the communication and automate it.
TMK as a tool for student success
TMK as a tool for external audiences is great, but I also think there is significant appeal to using it as a tool for institutional planning, cross-functional conversations and as a roadmap for transition for both new and current students.
During my time using TMK as a client, it was the most-trafficked website for the Office of Admissions. Because of this, the minable data is pretty incredible. We could use search statistics and page visits as a metric to begin conversations about majors and interest from prospective students. For example, we didn’t offer nursing as a major, but like clockwork, our metrics on TMK offered insight to making a strong argument to support student enrollment in nursing if the university ever decided to pursue it. It also offered a snapshot into the viability of new majors (although one could argue the snapshot was anectdotal at best).
Another component of TMK that we observed was the organic use of it as a way for new and current students to confirm their major and/or find new majors when they wanted a change. The platform’s accessibility, ease of use and student-focused language provided a safe space for current students and advisors to explore majors with ease. Then, coupled with student stories and outcome information, students had the information they needed to make an informed decision or have a jumping-off point for a conversation with their academic advisor.
Last, TMK offered an opportunity or baseline to begin cross-functional or cross-departmental conversations. With a collaborative approach, it is easy to pull in campus partners to tell a comprehensive story of the experience in a major. You can collaborate with academic advising, the office of the registrar and career services to create an experience for students that breaks down silos, affirms their decisions to pursue their major and provides the student success bumpers that promote retention and on-time graduation.
Let’s talk about weeds
From this narrative you can tell I’m a fan–there is a reason that I was part of the team of early adopters of TMK. As a tool in my strategic toolbox, the opportunities were tremendous. However, let’s take a minute to talk a little bit about the maintenance, time commitment and initial lift.
Bear with me, I’m going to go back and talk about gardening for a minute (even though I’ve told you it’s not my gift!). If TMK is a section of your enrollment management garden, it’s not going to be without some weeds and some maintenance to keep it pristine. Ultimately TMK as a tool in your enrollment strategy is only as good as the time you commit to it. There is the initial lift and buy-in stage from campus partners to get good data and student stories–and you all know there is an element of herding cats to make that happen. With limited resources and many ideas, it’s important to quantify the outcomes and potential and, if you can get colleagues on board with the commitment, the return is worth it.
Then, after that initial lift, it’s important to remember that TMK is a living, evolving solution and platform. Whether it’s annually or quarterly it’s important to do a check of majors, outcomes and student stories. Then, even more important, have a team member familiar with current student language, terms and jargon go in and add search terms that are relevant.
As I wrap up my thoughts, I have to say this has been a great exercise in reflection. I have spent so much time deep in the garden with TMK, weeding and watering, that I never took a step away and looked at it from the street and wow, it really is a beautiful site (both figuratively and literally)! In a time where institutions are testing the capacity of their enrollment management leaders and asking many to do more with less, it is important to be thoughtful about tools, strategies and solutions that not only focus on efficiencies and institutional needs, but also on prospective students and their families. TMK offers the best of both by taking a student-focused approach while capturing data and providing the opportunity to drill down and use that data to make informed decisions. If you would like to learn more, I would encourage reaching out–you know how gardeners love to talk about their flowers, or in this case, our solutions.