4: Bridgewater State University’s Student Affairs Communications Technology w/ Dr. Ed Cabellon

ABOUT THIS EPISODE

Dr. Ed Cabellon, Assistant to the VP of Student Affairs and Enrollment Management at Bridgewater State University discusses how to leverage technology to build capacity and more effectively engage with and retain current students.

Attracting today's new post traditional learners means adopting new enrollment strategies. Helix educations data driven, enterprise wide approach to enrollment growth is uniquely helping colleges and universities thrive in this new education landscape, and Helix has just published the second edition of their enrollment growth playbook with fifty percent brand new content on how institutions can solve today's most pressing enrollment growth challenges. Downloaded today for free at Helix Educationcom. Slash playbook. You're listening to enrollment growth university from Helix Education, the best professional development podcast for higher education leaders looking to grow enrollment at their college or university. Whether you're looking for fresh enrollment growth techniques and strategies or tools and resources, you've come to the right place. Let's get into the show. Welcome back to enrollment growth university. I'm Eric Olson, a VP of marketing at Helix Education, and we're here today with Dr Ed Ca Beellen, assistant to the VP of student affairs and enrollment management at Bridgewater State University at thanks so much for joining us today. You're very welcome. Thanks for having me. Absolutely we're thrilled I've known ad for a while now. He's an incredibly gracious and generous thought leader in the highered community. He's also doing incredibly exciting things with student affairs at Bridgewater State as relates to student retention and therefore overall and home of growth. But before we dig deep into that, ed, can you get the listeners a little bit better understanding of both Bridgewater State University and your rule? They're sure so. Bridgewater State University is the largest State University in Massachusetts outside of the U Mass University Massachusetts System. So we have about eleven thousand students at Bridgewater State and about thirty five to forty percent of those folks live on campus and the rest are commuters and graduate students. You know, we've experienced tremendous growth over the last eleven years that I've been here. So I celebrate eleven years at Bridgewater back in January I first started to hear as the associate director for this for this campus center, was promoted to the director position and then over the last four years have served in this role as assistant to the vice president for Student Affairs in the Central Office of a division that has taken on the enrollment side of the house as part of the evolution of the division since I've been here. So it was division of Student Affairs and then it grew to the division of student affairs and enrollment management, and so now our colleagues from admissions, financial aid transfer services are part of our division and new student and family program is also part of our enrollment focus as well. So it's a great place to work. Love it here and I'm so grateful for Bridgewater for all the opportunity that's provided me over the last eleven years. I've been in the field for twenty years as a hire it administrator. I also teach in the school of business here at Bridgewater State. I teach a management a strategic management course, and I teach principles of marketing and I also teach online at Caldwell University in their higher Ed Masters Program I teach a curriculum and digital technology course there, which I'm actually in the middle of right now, which has been great. So that's all about bridgewater in me awesome. Well, one of the things that I'm really excited to talk with you today is is current student nurturing and engagement strategies. I think a lot of universities have built out these nurturing cadences and strategies to keep the perspective student engaged, getting them from in gree to the first class. Then, I think after graduation, advancement and alumni relations have been very good about creating nurturing cadences and strategies for alumni, keeping them engaged, happy and, best case scenario, participating or giving back. But can you talk about some of the weaknesses that you see kind of globally and high read in regards to current student nurturing strategies and, in your opinion, is it simply because it's hard to know who specifically owns that function? Yeah, it's a great question, Eric, and something we have, like most institutions, struggled with here at the university. So I think when you look at the landscape of marketing,...

...communications and digital engagement across the institute, any institution, why shouldn't say any most institutions. You know, the Markom folks at most institutions are focused on the external message or the external brand and working with constituents and stakeholders that are connected to the institution, as well as our admissions folks who do a lot of that marketing and communications to for recruitment, for those recruitment cycles and you know, given the state of High Ed and the importance of enrollment, that makes a lot of sense. And to your point around in alumni and development, you know, depending on the staff structure, you know, some alumni development folks only have staff who do event based marketing and communications for the alumni and not really someone who has a full time role in communications and engagement for those populations. I mean, given the generational span of those alumni, I can see why. But given that many of more of our alumni are becoming, you know, digitally aware and digitally engaged, that may have to shift. But you're right. You know, who is really owning the day to day engagement of our student, our current students? And we saw the gap here at Bridgewater and so when I was moved up into this role as a division leader within our division of student affairs and enrollment, no one was really catering to those students daytoday, unless it was a decentralized approach from departments. Right. So you might have an activities office that definitely does engagement through events and and in community building around student organizations and so on and so forth. You might have residence halls, who have our a's and Rd's and area coordinators who might be creating online communities to expand upon conversation that are happening in the residence halls, you know. But beyond that, Oh, you think about athletics to, you know, with coaches and things like that, but there's not one. It's hard to find guidance for best practice on, you know, what they should be doing. And, even more portnly, how do you partner with marketing communications so that you're not stepping on toes or taking the brand and in a direction that they may not be comfortable with? And so, over the last four years we created BSU LIFECOM and an integrated marketing team made up of students that focuses on engaging students daytoday, and it's led to many great opportunities to engage current students, particularly our first generation students, are students of color, and our commuter students, who are the majority at our campus. Because we when I when I first started tinkering with this, with social media in particular, you know, in the late two thousands, when twitter and facebook were really ascending in Higher Ed you know, we started a blog, we started doing things is our commuters were coming in and leaving and we didn't really have a chance to really engage with them. So we found that social media was the one way to do that on a consistent basis. So we scaled that at the division level and really looked at opportunities to do that, and our student marketing team has been really a driver in a lot of that, because these students are communication majors, marketing majors, graphic design majors who are all looking to build their portfolio anyway. So we've created this great co curricular experience for them to help engage our current students because, Eric, you and I both know that it's it's cheaper to retain students and is to recruit students. And given that first a second year attention rate, depending on your institution, this is where folks can really make some headway in that number if they really focus in on a digital strategy to engage current students. And so as you think about the landscape of what could be done, you know we've bits, we've taken off bits and pieces along the way. We're the last four years to find and tinker what really works for us, because we have what works at Bridgewater or may a hat work at another institution. But you know that engagement piece of a constant flow of information and response to our to our current students, is critical. Love it, super good aspirational thoughts, I think for a lot of our listeners. Now, last February you successfully defended Your Doctoral Dissertation Redefining Student Affairs Through Digital Technology, a ten...

...year historiography of digital technology use by student affairs administrators. So, first of all, huge congratulations to you. Oh, thank you very much. You cover a whole lot of interesting findings and ask a lot of great questions. You focus on two benefits of increased technology use that were fascinating to me and I was wondering if you could speak to both of them. One was how to use technology to better build capacity and then the second how to use technology to specifically better engage in the retention and development of students. Yeah, so I'll start with their attention and engagement of students piece first. You know, I think many of us, particularly those who have been living and growing through the explosion of the digital age, where technology, tools and access continue to grow and evolve at pace, at a pace that is head spinning. Right, you just get to understand one type of tool, a one type of approached and technology and then something else comes out, and so that level of change from many people is challenging. So as I think about as I thought about the research and went into this, you know, my my slice of the academic resource that I wanted to fill in was, let's push pause for a second and say, all right, how have we use technology over the last ten years? How have we been taught how to use technology, which was a huge question I asked in my dissertation. And then what do I what did I see for the future? You know, how do we project what's going to happen over the next ten years that Student Affairs folks in particular, who work with students day in and day out in a variety of capacities to ensure that their their co curricular experience there is a strong one and one that contributes to the academic mission of the institution. So in terms of engagement, you know, I I found a lot of examples from the folks I interviewed about of cursory ways that they were using technology. Right, so engagement through social media, engagement through maybe a video chat, you know, looking at changing the way they took in information on an online form, and there's there's a ton of examples from from my research, but the common thread was that it was cursory, that the idea that once we found something we were comfortable with as our own sort of our own use of it, we just stuck with that and even though there might be a new and better way to use it, folks found something and they get stuck with it. And so, you know, my recommendations to colligs across student affairs and really administrators throughout the academy anyway, you know, throughout the higher education or to really acknowledge your biases around technology and say look, just because you like something or just because it fits for you, if the student, at the end of the day, is our focus, right, if we're student centered, as many of my colleagues love to say, and if student and if students are the reason we're here, then we have to embrace technologies capacity to provide us other different ways of doing things. I think we pause and we resist because it may require us to change the way we do things and the way we're comfortable doing things. But at the end of the day, if it really is about students, then we have to really rethink that, and I mean ere think of it this way, right. You think of our hours of operation. This is the most basic thing I I always kind of have I love having arguments with my colleagues about this. We still operate a eight hundred and twenty five, nine to five, modality. Right. Why, given all of the evening and night students that come to our campus, given all the different ways that our students work and need questions answered? You know, some students work until eleven o'clock and start their homework and then I have a question and they how do they contact books? That not I'm not saying they're going to. We have to have people work in seven, but in that same sort of thought process of why do we still work our hours still in that format? We have to think about how technology can expand capacity. So part of the other part of the other side of the research was, all right, how are people expanding their work capacity through the use of technology? And again it was just cursory. It wasn't advanced, it wasn't sophisticated, it was just to get by. And you know, examples from that, you...

...know, include the ability to transform the officer. You know where are you for work, you know, so your office no longer is your physical office space, that your office can be anywhere. You have a laptop in the Internet connection. The idea that things like automated tasks, you know, whether it be through social through web or through email, where you, you know, auto send emails or auto reply emails or schedule emails to go out. You know, like these are ways that you know, our colleagues have figured out ways to expand their work capacity so they could take on more and do more in the interest of best serving our students. What I found in the research is that after they've hit that, they stopped and it's it was incredibly enlightening and in parts frustrating, when you think you know, if you just kept going down that you know that path a little bit more, you could discover more ways to do it. And I know that many of my colleagues plates are full, everyone is busy, everyone has you know, they're definitely doing it. There other duties, as a sign has growned, you know, to more and more and more because of the current climate. But given all of the technology that's out there, I think there has to be and I think I wrote this in Mygestation that there has to be carved out time where you allow yourself to explore tech, other technologies or talk to folks on a regular base about what they're using and in professional development opportunities, asking those questions, like what else can cloud based technology do? What about our website? Are they mobile friendly or they mobile optimize, like asking better questions about the technology and surrounding yourself with people who might have a more of a digital mindset to explore some of these questions. Yeah, taking it back specifically to your thought about the eight to five kind of traditional campus culture and environment, one participant in your study noted that specifically, when we're working with adult students, they are not going to be reached through the traditional campus activities office and so we have to figure out something else. What specifically have you figured out a bridgewater state for at least better engaging with adult students? So, given the fact that our our student I think our average student age isn't the eighteen, tod and twenty four. I don't want hate saying traditional age because I just don't think that's a thing anymore, but I think the average age of our adult students twenty five or twenty six. I have to verify that, so don't quote me on that, but I know it's older right, because of our bad student population, because of our turning student population and because many of our students work full time and are coming back for either completion of degree or they got their associates and are coming back pipeline through the community college system. But for us it's the integrated marketing approach where we have to figure out ways to partner with faculty, to partner with the deans and partner with, you know, the spaces on campus that every student goes to, our classrooms, right. So you know, how do we put messaging in the classrooms that enable us, whether it's through blackboard, so physically in the classrooms on white boards where we were, we advertise things written out or posted through a poster, but then also do something in blackboard where we ask faculty to include in their syllabuses. You know the help desk for it. There's ways you can get them besides phone, call and email. You can tweet them or you can send a message via facebook if they have a facebook page up. You know, I think it's just rethinking, you know, thinking about these adult students and they're coming from a you know, with their family responsibilities and thinking about from from work. Where the best ways? And we know that email while you know, I I think I hear this, a lot of students don't check their email. Well, I actually don't think that's true. I think they do check their email. If they want to engage with them on email, our emails have to become better. I generally think our emails sucked, like I really do. Like if the emails three paragraphs, all text, who's going to read that? Right? But if it's, you know, an image that's embedded in the email that's a meme or some kind of infographic that points to a link to a mobile optimized web page that they can then do their own search on, I think they will open their email. I think they will engage with us, but I think we still look at email as still a text base tool when it doesn't have to be right. Sure, that's the prime use of it, but I think if we're...

...talking about engaging students, it's encouraging faculty to to try and think of new ways to engage them over either the blackboard system or the moodle whatever they're learning management system is, and find ways to integrate more video, more images, more things that, frankly, this generation, regardless if they're older adults, Gen x baby boomer or older millennials or even now, are, you know, our Gen Y and Gen z folks, and I think we need to rethink how we do that. And for adult students, particularly as they come in and out, because that's their sort of Mo doubt they come in and out. Parking garage as I know, have been a spot for our folks, and transferring commuter services where they do work, where they're physically out there talking to students. I think we lose some of that art of like that facetoface because we are so busy. But if you can carve out time to whether it's at high touch points of the in the year, whether it's at orientation or where there's the first week of classes, or whether it's doing mid terms or finals, you know, walking through the campus center, walking through the dining halls, making sure that anything you put in dining halls, you know, has easy to follow links for people to get to. One thing that I know we've been trying to do more of is using bit bit Ley and other links shortening technologies to create branded links so it's easy to remember. I know we have purchased Web urls just so it's easy to say it to people so they can remember. Yeah, you know we're in a fundraising campaign right now through the Founmouth road race organization. We're raising money for internships and scholarships. All fifteen of our runners have their name runs foulmouthcom if they want to contribute to our fundraising effort. So and runs filmothcom is a thing and it's easy to remember that. Then some, you know, are our friends and advancement use eye modules, which is a nice it's a nice piece of software, but I wouldn't say it's like it's easy to remember those links that are the actual link itself. So some of these things have helped us connect with our adults students a little bit better and, frankly, it connects with all students. So we've actually moved away from the idea that we have to do something different for adult students and something different for our you know, our traditional quote, I'm using air quotes right now, traditional age students, because I think everyone's in that same boat where we are bombarded with so many messages the day, like how do we get our stuff to stand out, and it's really that integrated approach where there's a poster, there's a flyer, there's facebook, there's social integration, there's a story that's pointed to a mobile optimized site, there's a call to action, there's a sense of urgency. Like all of these things. We don't separate it, we don't target it to a certain population anymore, because what we found on our campus is that everyone's in the same boat and I love it. Some really, really good ideas there on how student affairs divisions can change to better serve the role of retention and development. How does the university around the division need to change from an organizational standpoint, or how does one go about getting university buying, because a lot of those activities that you mentioned are broader than just student affairs. How do you get cultural and university buy and I'm big initiatives like this. Yeah, so this is where I think a lot of my colleagues struggle because it is sort of that navigating campus politics. It's it's being a change agent on a campus and it's hard for some folks, depending on where they sit in the organizational structure, because the academy is hierarchical. I mean you're not going to be able to work around it like you can in the other you know, in business or in nonprofit or other sectors of work. Higher it is. Is just naturally hierarchical. So depending on where you sit in the organization, you know, the first thing I tell folks if they're really exploring this, is understanding organizational theory. And many of my colleagues, who would live Pilo listen to this, have done this in their Grad work, if they've taken Grad classes. One of my favorite books is from Bollman and deal. It's an org theory book that many of us known and it covers what's called the for organizational frames. And so I I tell folks a lot of time understand your frame of reference. Are you someone who cares more? Are you a process person? Are you rules person? Then you're probably in the structural...

...frame. You care about people and how they feel. I'm making sure everyone has a voice, then you're probably more HR focused. Are you concerned about owning this and the sort of the responsibility and power that comes with owning the message and messaging capabilities? Then you're probably political. Do you care more about the symbolic nature of how you know and who does this work. Because, you know, you become that person on campus or that group on campus that's known as the people to get it done, then you're probably symbolic. So just running through those, understanding where your supervisor fits in those frames, understanding how your cabinet and other leadership groups operate. You know, to me the best thing I ever did was get to know my marketing communications folks and my it folks through, you know, various cross divisional projects I was already working with them on anyway. And when we pitch the idea of creating our own website and something that was focused on, you know, student facing communication, current student you, we asked them, he said, what do you think about this? Do you think that something you guys would want to do that we can help you with, or can we own it and run with it, because it looks like you guys are really you folks are really busy? And they were like no, you guys go, we got all this to worry about and and at the time they were a little hesitant. And the way I approach it. At the time, this is again three or four years ago, I said, look, can we just try it out for six months. Give us a sixmonth window, you know, because then at least people aren't like all this is a permanent change, and now people are going to ends like now we're not, you know, in my mind, yeah, it's going to be something permanent, I hope, and something that will will be a legacy piece that, even if I were to leave tomorrow, will stay. But when you frame it in a way that's that's not threatening. Right. So it's a Beta three six months. Let me run with this, let's see what we can do. Okay, Great. So we ran with it and we bought BSU LIFECOM for like ten bucks, like it was low cost. You know, we had we had hired a firm at that point to help us build out the site, our first very run version two of our site now, but our initial version, so they wouldn't put strain on our it. Folks or web boats have to build out infrastructure. I mean, again, you kind of have to know the language in the lingo, right. So what kind of web infrastructure does your website use? Like for us it's droople. Our internal facing website is sharepoint, which I think is crap, but that's the whole nother. But, you know, like knowing that, I said, look, I want to use word press because that's what I was used to using for myself and that's what I knew at so what I knew and if I was going to be doing a lot of the back end stuff, I and they didn't have a wordpresserver on campus, so they had to be okay with US hosting this stuff off campus and knowing that it's not Bridgeweedu Bsu life, it's Bsu Lifecom and making sure that they bought into that idea. To write. What we found at the end of it was I was able to share so much data with them around engage a bit. What time we're people engaging with the content? What type of content were they really loving and eating up, like really, really well, you know, on social we were able to look at demographic data around all right, so it looks like Geo fencing most most of the folks looking at this are within a twenty to twenty five mile radius of bridgewater. That's good. Most of the people on social, on facebook and twitter, were in that eighteen to twenty nine year old great, we're hitting that target. So it helped us really figure out, you know like, all right, who's our audience online? What kind of content, the scheduling of that content. We started taking phone calls and writing down what would the content of those phone calls. So cyclically we would know, all right, it's August, guess what people are going to be talking about? Moving in transitions, paying bills, finding a job on campus. So our content became focused on all of that. So, you know, people get overwhelm with this idea, but it's already happening around you. You just have to rethink that that point of contact where if you get a phone call about something, chances are there's probably thirty, forty other people who think of the same thing but they haven't college yet. So let's figure out a way to put it out on social put it out on on a website that's engaging for people. And we just built off that. We just kept building. So we had a we have...

...a content calendar. Now we have, you know, sort of our ebenflow, and then we're also now doing marketing for other people. So we've expanded now into this. We've almost become a little mini ad agency on campus where people outside of our division are using our marketing team now because they know and they can see the the quality from our students, number one, and the and to the fact it's coming from their voice. It's not, you know, forty year old Ed Cabellen, who's not cool at all, but it's but it's my students, who are absolutely cooler than who can mimify it, who can, you know, create videos that are really engaging and funny, and I find it funny, but I wouldn't have thought of that stuff. You know, like I get the concept, I get the strategy, and so that those successes and even our failures too. I mean we look at you know, how do you cost this out? How do you scale it? There are years we've overspent our budget. We have to figure out ways to backfill things because we're hiring students, were hiring internships, we're doing practicums and sometimes we would overspend because we would know, how much does it cost to create a video? How much the cost here graphic? So we've had to back, you know, take a step back and say, all right, so over the years we have the we have a pricing guide online. Now we're able to share but it's evolved Eric to a point now where it's pretty soft. Says Sustainable. People know the brand. We've found ways to integrate with Student Affairs Divisions at major touch points, like I said earlier, at orientations a big one. At convocations another where they just say check out bsfcom and because of that are now our student portal is now integrated with Bsu lifecom because of the content piece. So if you go to my bsu Dot bridgew dot edu now you can see our student portals been evolved into something more more modern and the focus point of the student portal is our content from bsu lifecom, which is really cool. So certainly I'm not saying every Student Affairs Division used to do this, but my advice to my colleagues who are in leadership in student affairs is that WHO is at the wheel monitoring and managing your student communications for your entire divisions efforts, not just student activities, not just residents life and housing, but for the entire division? I'm not saying you take away that control from those departments. I'm saying you you help them, you augment it and you provide guidance to them. We've provided guidance through social media handbooks. We provided guidance through writing job descriptions that they can then cut and paste and remix for themselves. That are learning outcomes based I just published a post on my blog at Cabellacom digital training that I opened up my playbook. Here it is. This is what we do. Take it run with it, because that's a question I just kept getting from people. All right, how is a sausage made? You know, because the sausage looks great. You know, the the meal looks awesome. About how do you make it? So I wrote a post. I put it all the it's really dense, it's a lot, it's heavy. It's definitely longer than I usually write, but I think based on the response I've gotten, it's like this is exactly what I've been looking for. So my great take it, use in the end it's to help that our profession get better and ultimately engage our students in a way that makes them want to come back year after year until they graduate. Love it. Will make sure we link to that blog in the show notes as well. Really good practical stuff. Anything else you want to make sure we cover before we close today, or any practical next steps for listeners who are just looking to get started improving the effectiveness of student affairs at their own institution. Yeah, I would say, Eric, to folks listening, if you're in student affairs and student affairs and Enrollment Services Unit, you know I would start asking questions to your digital folks in it, in the Web Services Division, in marketing communications, and just get their take on the work you do in Student Affairs and start offering stories that highlight some of your best work. Right so we know in student affairs. I know in Student Affairs all of you are doing fantastic work and there's positive stories that are coming out and students are being impacted positive because of the work you do.

Well, who better to tell those stories than you? And who better to tell those stories to then you're marketing communication and your and your it folks, that they can put it up as part of the news cycle. I don't think we take enough time to even share a quick email with our folks. They're saying, did you know that this student just lay in a killer internship in Washington or in in an apple, or this person studying abroad for the first time here, or you know the work you're doing in career services. Of We have to be better about sharing those stories and either we frame it and give them something digital the post, or they work with us to post something, because they are in control of that messaging. So I think we need to do a better job of tuting our own horn, if you will, and creating and or augmenting digital channels on your campus is the best way to get started. Really great stuff that. Thanks so much for joining us today. What's the best place for listeners to connect with you if they have any follow up questions? Sure, obviously twitter for me is like the best place professionally to connect. So at Ed Cabellen is great. Linkedin. You can search for me on linkedin and you know email. You Know Ed Cabellen at Gmail. Everything's pretty much brainted from my name now. So if you need to find me on any of the socials, it's Ed Cabellen and then Ed Cabell in at Gmail. Awesome and thanks so much for your time and for joining us today. You're welcome. You've been listening to enrollment growth university from Helix Education. To ensure that you never miss an episode, subscribe to the show in Itunes or your favorite podcast player. Thank you so much. For listening until next time,.

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