Our Work In Practice
How RHB’s qualitative student experience research helped Auburn University articulate what it means to be a family
When Auburn University reached out to RHB at the height of the Covid-19 Pandemic, the institution sought to create a comprehensive enrollment marketing campaign including print and email to engage prospective students and their families. RHB helped Auburn reflect on what it meant to be a member of the Auburn Family through intentional assessment of the current student experience.
- Ensure that what Auburn was currently saying about itself matched what students believed to be true about the Auburn experience
- Provide alignment for Auburn’s stakeholders
- Identify key features to highlight in the next phase of our work together
We began Circles with seven listening sessions with faculty, staff, administrators and alumni to get multiple perspectives on what the Auburn student experience should and can look like, from different institutional positions and from people who both had the student experience and the opportunity to reflect on it with some distance. We then conducted seven Circles and one small listening session with current students. Our conversations introduced us to three major themes: The Auburn Search, The Auburn Experience and The Auburn Family. These themes are heavily interrelated. As we learned during our initial seven listening sessions, Auburn takes the idea of the Auburn Family very seriously. Many people at Auburn believe it to be a real, if difficult-to-articulate concept. In many sessions we heard some variation of the statement a student made that, “You can’t explain it until you’re here and you experience it.” That set out precisely the challenge for RHB, which was to tease out the vocabulary to create an accessible narrative of an experience that defies language.
Our eight student conversations featured current students whose families had built generations-long relationships with Auburn. These legacy students were close friends with students who were the first in their families to attend any college, let alone Auburn. Our conversations with these students also included faculty who walked alongside students during moments of deep self-discovery. It was clear to us how important—and hard to define—the Auburn Family is to the experience of this university. Students shared stories with us about how the Auburn Family can appear to be at times exclusive or harder to break into for some people than others. At the same time, we also experienced what happens when the Family lives up to its promise: when people from a broad spectrum of racial, gender and citizenship backgrounds come together in a deeply supportive group.
“Throughout this process, RHB has been our guiding force, shaping our enrollment marketing materials and strategies. Their profound understanding of Auburn, including our unique story, has been invaluable. RHB’s expertise has illuminated the essence of what makes Auburn distinct, enabling us to convey it in ways that were previously beyond our reach. Our partnership has elevated Auburn’s story.”
—Dr. Joffery Gaymon, Vice President for Enrollment Management at Auburn
Caring about others who have different experiences produces a caring that transcends background or perspective. Collecting stories of the ways that students went through the process of becoming vulnerable in their friendships aligned with the experience of being both vulnerable and tenacious in meeting the challenge of their coursework. Through Circles we were able to surface the language and lived experience of Family and applying the self to “work, hard work” described in the Auburn Creed. As we measured what we heard about the Auburn experience against the University’s recruitment communications during our Coherence Inventory, we found that there were opportunities for Auburn to be more specific in the way it told stories about The Auburn Experience (another theme identified during Circles), particularly in regards to their host of distinctive student traditions. Our Circles and Coherence Inventory findings enabled us to assume a prominent role in redesigning enrollment communications. We continued to articulate what it means to be part of The Auburn Family–from caring for one another to participating in and contributing to decades-long traditions to holding one another accountable as students worked toward finding solutions through research and scholarship that push the world forward. “Thanks to RHB’s Coherence Inventory and Circles of Influence research, Auburn University has gained a deeper understanding of our identity and brand,” said Dr. Joffery Gaymon, vice president for enrollment management at Auburn. “Throughout this process, RHB has been our guiding force, shaping our enrollment marketing materials and strategies. Their profound understanding of Auburn, including our unique story, has been invaluable. RHB’s expertise has illuminated the essence of what makes Auburn distinct, enabling us to convey it in ways that were previously beyond our reach. Our partnership has elevated Auburn’s story.” RHB extended this newly articulated Auburn story across portions of the admissions website; through a targeted email campaign and print piece for parents; in the writing and design of a look book, travel brochure, postcards, and admitted student packet; and through the creation of personalized event and admitted student portal experiences executed in Slate. From Fall 2022 to Fall 2023, Auburn experienced a 5% increase in applications, a 9% increase in first-year enrollment and a 4% increase in enrolled students overall.