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Episode #14
Filling Seats Podcast | July 5, 2022

Shaping enrollment through social media at a selective institution

In this episode:

You’ll hear from Chelsea Holley who is the Director of Admissions at Spelman College.

You'll hear her talk about:

  • What shaping enrollment looks like for a truly unique institution like Spelman
  • How social media has played a huge role in showcasing Spelman online and how they've done it with a small team
  • What strategies she's using to retain her staff if pay raises are not an option
Chelsea Holley

Chelsea Holley

Director of Admissions

Podcast Inst Logos-14

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 14 of filling seats. In this episode, you'll hear from Chelsea Holley, who is the director of admissions at Spelman college. You'll hear her talk about what shaping enrollment looks like for a truly unique institution like Spelman. How social media has played a huge role in showcasing Spelman online and how they've done it with a small team. And what strategies she's using to retain her staff if pay raises are not an option let's meet chelsea

[00:01:00] Chelsea Holley: Up until this point, my career, has been kind of the typical higher education story. I got into admissions right out of undergrad. I graduated from undergrad in 2011. So if you know anything about the recession around that time communications degrees, weren't just like the most highly sought after major.

[00:01:21] and being an admissions counselor was. The job that I landed. and I never looked back. I will say that my trajectory is maybe a bit atypical for, directors of admissions in that I didn't do the typical assistant director associate director. I have worked in, the college of architecture and design at Georgia tech doing major specific outreach.

[00:01:45] I built a number of pre-college, residential summer programs. and then ultimately summer programs is what landed me, at Spelman college where I am.

[00:01:54] Host: were you a tour guide or an ambassador? what made you look into being an admissions counselor soon after graduation?

[00:02:01] Chelsea Holley: . I wish I could say that I had, that ambassador story or I was a tour guide all four years, but no, I wasn't involved in admissions at all. I was a first generation college student and I worked. Throughout, undergrad. And so I wasn't super involved on campus, which is atypical for folks in our field.

[00:02:22] and when I went on an interview, I had to do a presentation. I remember thinking, oh, this is so strange. I'm 21 having to do a presentation for a job. It's not even that important. It can't be, But I think that piece, the communications piece, really is what drew me into the field, talking to people presenting.

[00:02:40] and then I felt like, oh, I could kind of do this for a living.

[00:02:43] Host: and what did you first think about higher ed, as a fresh college graduate, first time in the field, what were some of your first thoughts about the industry as a whole.

[00:02:56] Chelsea Holley: so first thought is probably that we were underpaid so initially I'm like, wow, this seems like an important job. but the pay might not actually match it. We have a slew of responsibility really, really early on in our field, which I think is unique, responsibility to recruit the students that you're interested in, or that you can make a case for, and, really to build your own travel schedule and get out there.

[00:03:23] Chelsea Holley: So I enjoyed, the autonomy that the field offered, and it, it allowed you to. Really independently, I think earlier on in your career than other, in.

[00:03:35] Chelsea Holley: So Tell me a little bit now about your current role, and your current institution. So I currently serve as the director of admissions at Spelman college. Spelman is located in Atlanta, Georgia. We're. 10 minutes, west of downtown. we are a liberal arts college. We are also a women's college as well as an H B, C U. so we straddle, a few different institutional types and I think, those things are really core to the Spelman experience, a dis development 2300 students total on campus. about one third of our students study in the stem disciplines. So lots of students that are interested in going to medical school, law school upon graduation. and then of course, as one of the few women's colleges that are left in 2022, sisterhood. Really cultivating leadership skills in women early on, are really core to what we're doing.

[00:04:32] and then obviously as an H B, C U, students can know that their curriculum, their student life programming, their faculty, really will be centering them in everything that we're doing in our approach. so it is an incredibly dynamic. Place to work. and I think that I may be one of the very few institutions who can honestly say there's no one else out there.

[00:04:55] Host: Like.I went to a conference one time and someone stood up. Likestop saying that your school is unique. There are probably 60 other schools exactly like yours, but I think that you really are. it's the only women's college. H B C U and liberal arts institution.

[00:05:12] Chelsea Holley: Indeed.

[00:05:13] Host: And tell me about your current position.

[00:05:15] I oversee the recruitment and selection of our undergraduate student populations. we are an undergraduate only institution. I also oversee our transfer recruitment international recruitment, and we are getting into the stackable credential. so we have a new, brand eSpelman, which focuses on adult learners.

[00:05:39] I'm also involved in the operations, of that program as well. so your typical admissions office, I did inherit summer programs because of the way that I came into the role. so that is something unique. That's under my portfolio. but I really do believe that, some of these really rich pre-college programs are feeders into recruitment.

[00:06:00] Chelsea Holley: In building the funnel early. so I actually think, more admissions offices could look at, building that piece in

[00:06:06] Host: I would assume, and this might be an incorrect assumption that there's a really high demand for Spelman being that it is so unique.

[00:06:14] Host: Is that accurate? do you wanna talk a little bit about what your main focus is is it growth or is it, finding the best students that are. Fit,, what are your goals, as an admissions office.

[00:06:26] Chelsea Holley: . I think it's interesting given how niche our population is, that we're not at all in a growth phase. we. Particularly over the past three years have seen, a pretty sharp incline in our application numbers. it began with the adoption of a test optional policy. So like many other institutions that removed, one of those barriers to applying.

[00:06:52] so we saw about a 20%. when we adopted test optional. And then in addition to that, in 2020, during the nation's racial reckoning, there really was a spotlight placed on H B CS. and Spelman has been the number one H B C U for the past 15 years. so oftentimes Spelman feels synonymous with historically black colleges and universities.

[00:07:16] Chelsea Holley: So we've also seen a ton of students who were. Maybe considering HBCUs two years ago, having this new interest, in that type of experience.

[00:07:28] Host: So you would say that your focus is much more on finding the best fit students versus grow the numbers in the funnel.

[00:07:35] Chelsea Holley: Absolutely. it's been a really interesting. Two to three years,that I've been in the position because this growth has coincidentally all happened around this time. and we have had to quickly focus from making the class to shaping the class. our yield percentage jumped up three percentage points in a cycle.

[00:07:59] Those that are in the field, knows what that means. We over

[00:08:02] Chelsea Holley: enrolled, we had a huge class. And so this past year we really had to, look at our models, and look at how many students we were admitting. And again, similar to other selective institutions or institutions with a national brand, we're seeing those admit rates really plummet.

[00:08:21] as some of those barriers have been knocked.

[00:08:24] Host: Let's talk a little bit about enrollment marketing. What are some recent wins or successes that you've had?

[00:08:30] Chelsea Holley: I think I would start with the transition to virtual events. I. All admissions offices had to go through this. some did it gracefully, some bumped around and kind of made their way through. but I think it provided an opportunity for everyone to be innovative and do things that they weren't used to doing.

[00:08:52] for Spelman tradition and, , legacy, is a huge, huge part of what draws student. To our college. And so not being able to invite families on campus and have them feel what it feels like to be on our campus was huge for us and it felt, like a blow. and so we worked really hard to convey emotion through our virtual events, telling stories, on our Instagram that has just become such an amazing platform for.

[00:09:27] I like to give a great shout out to our social media manager, Ms. Nayati Schuler. She does an amazing job. she's one of our counselors, but also manages the social media. And so for a lot of schools, we're lean. and so making this transition and thinking about who would take on these roles, was a challenge.

[00:09:46] Chelsea Holley: So I think getting over that is, is a win in.

[00:09:49] Host: you have separate social media accounts for admissions recruiting versus like the main Spellman account? is that what y'all are running?

[00:09:58] Chelsea Holley: We do. Spelman college has all of their accounts. and then Spelman admissions has separate. we work closely with this full-time social media manager for the college. so sometimes we'll do some co-branded, Instagram lives or Q and a sessions. but for the most part, we are running a F.

[00:10:19] Chelsea Holley: Full social media content plan out of the office of admissions. we have two, full-time staff that are leads on that project. And we also employ a number of student workers, that, do video content host Instagram lives do a day in the life. we also have, Student social media ambassadors now, which is amazing.

[00:10:41] these are the girls that are already on YouTube and TikTok and living on their phones, producing content. and we have them really just sharing how much they love Spelman. So those few things have been pretty impactful, and really getting our story out during the.

[00:10:58] Host: Since you mentioned Instagram, what channels do you think or. Know are the most effective.

[00:11:05] I would have to say TikTok, although . TikTok would not be our largest following, and we're not even quite as active on TikTok as we are on Instagram. and I think it is still new, for a lot of, in-house social media teams to be able to keep up with the content demand on TikTok. we did one, I think our very first video was during, what we call blue.

[00:11:31] Chelsea Holley: Week in December, and this is us stuffing all of our admit envelopes. So we had tons of content and we did a really cute video, introducing the counseling team and showing us, handing off blue envelopes to the male people on campus. and it got. Tons and tons of views. And I'm like, wow, that took four hours of our time to do what felt like.

[00:11:52] and so those opportunities are exciting. I'm just really wanting to see us, build up more content and build up more in influencers to help us with that.

[00:12:02] Host: What about, email, text, print ads, digital, are there other channels that are top producers or are most effective for you?

[00:12:12] Chelsea Holley: We are still, running a decent amount of our communications through slate mailing. So our communication, plans in the CRM. but I really feel like during the pandemic, folks were getting inundated with emails and it kind of lost. the zing. and so returning back to print for us was something that,was a new strategy for us.

[00:12:35] Chelsea Holley: We hadn't had a true print campaign in a couple of years. and right now that is top priority for me to make sure we're getting, pieces in the mail as well to really,get at the novelty of that in this day and age. In addition to that, we have stuck our toe in digital marketing, where we have a few campaigns under our belt at this point.

[00:12:59] something really neat that we are working on currently is some geofencing, uh,With popular community based organizations, that would be good spaces for our prospective students or students that are likely to enroll in Spelman. so we're doing a slew of those this summer, and I'm really excited to see what we are able to generate from that.

[00:13:22] Host: What are some things that.

[00:13:23] Host: your team struggles with in terms of marketing?

[00:13:26] Chelsea Holley: Balancing the demand for virtual content and virtual access while revamping on campus, programming has been tough. there are a number of technology platforms that can help with this. We haven't adopted it yet. and maybe that's part of the struggle, but it kind of feels like we're unsure to where to put our energy.

[00:13:49] we just didn't admit it student event that is this huge two day event pre COVID. It was overnight. and. There was not a real live stream option. and part of it was, we haven't had an admitted student event in two years. We want you on campus. so it's really just, balancing where our energy might be best spent, on those.

[00:14:11] Chelsea Holley: And then finally, capacity and staffing. It is the great resignation and higher education. and so I think, being able to get over. Six months of a admission cycle down to staff members or down a processor or a counselor, has really been a handicap, I think for us. and instead of me being able to spend my time focused on strategy, I'm in the weeds with, HR, and personnel.

[00:14:41] Chelsea Holley: So that has been, definitely something that's been a challenge for our.

[00:14:45] Host: So You mentioned earlier in the interview that when you first got into enrollment as an admissions counselor, one of the things that shocked you was how little admissions counselors were paid. And then I feel like that goes hand in hand with, you know, some of the. Qualms of the great resignation is, not being paid enough, going elsewhere, especially getting outside of higher ed to make more money.

[00:15:07] Host: And so , are you able, or have you been able to advocate for, higher pay for your staff or what are some ways that you are , trying your best to, retain your current staff?

[00:15:21] Chelsea Holley: higher ed can no longer ignore, the issues with pay. especially in the face of inflation. Spelman announced a couple months ago, that they had completed a salary study, to make sure that folks were at the median for their role in their state. so I think that is, a good step towards, Some pay increases, but again, I think it's an industrywide issue.

[00:15:46] and to be Frank it's education as a whole, not just higher ed. and so it that's a huge problem. I really hope that folks don't have to really leave in mass, for schools K through 12, systems or colleges to really, you. Get the message, outside of pay, I think, the pandemic has taught us flexibility in how we work and where we work.

[00:16:12] our team is currently still hybrid. and so we are, going on two years,I do hear rumors of us being back on campus in the fall. but I think being able to. Have our staff members have that flexibility has been major. and I think for me, I will continue to advocate for that flexibility, even if we are 100% back on campus, because there are so many.

[00:16:39] Chelsea Holley: Seasons of a, of an admissions counselor's year that it just makes sense. think about how hectic it is to be coming back from a one week trip on the road during travel season, just to come in the office, just to say that you were there.

[00:16:54] Host: When you have laundry piled up for days at your house and you somehow have to find clean clothes to where to work on Monday.

[00:17:01] Chelsea Holley: you're just a hot mess. And oftentimes there is not a, a true, true reason, why you need to be in the office that Monday. so those are things that I think we can do if we're not able to raise pay to a level that makes sense quickly, we can be flexible. We can make sure folks have, a good work life balance.

[00:17:22] Host: we are always promoting professional development in our office. So giving, even younger staff, the opportunity to go to regional conferences, encouraging them to submit proposals, and really showing them, some of the fulfillment that can come out of this industry. Thinking about higher ed as a whole and other institutions, what are some things that you think that they are doing well in terms of marketing? as a whole I'm loving the podcast space. And I am not saying that just because I am here today, speaking with you all. I listen to other institutions podcast. I, I spent many years working at Georgia tech, so of course I am a fan of Georgia tech and. Rick Clarks, both blog as well as podcasts, they are doing an amazing job.

[00:18:16] what I think, podcast and blogs allow us to do is be transparent and candid about the work that we do. And, there's a real need for that right now. especially in the, on the legal front. it's really important for people to understand. How this works, what's in their control. What's not under their control.

[00:18:39] and I think hearing a voice and having an informal conversation about college admissions and all of the things that we're balancing, is something that, conveys a lot of trust between the student and the institution really early.

[00:18:54] Host: What are some things that you think other schools could be doing better in terms of enrollment marketing?

[00:19:00] I've run into a lot of folks who still aren't maximizing social. and I think it feels like a big and scary thing, especially if you don't have a full-time staff member dedicated to it. but I think that. Almost anyone can stand up a social media program with the help of a couple student workers and one lead on the project.

[00:19:24] so I think that is really a missed opportunity. if we're not speaking to our students in that space,

[00:19:31] Host: Obviously we saw a lot of changes through the pandemic and I think there are definitely more to come. How do you think that higher ed has been changed? And what do you think that the future is for higher ed?

[00:19:44] Chelsea Holley: This question is so difficult because it is like crazy town right now and in higher ed. so many things are changing. the population that we are recruiting is drastically changing, in some areas it's shrinking and others it's diversifying. so that's super interesting. the cost of education, I think, is rising at a rate that I'm not sure how many more years we have left of.

[00:20:14] Chelsea Holley: Charging this amount of money and having this, business model, for higher education. So I think that we really are going to have to convey our value,in different ways. And then I think. doing PR for all colleges is really important right now around what's a good college, what's a good fit.

[00:20:35] Chelsea Holley: And what your real chances are of getting in somewhere. a lot of students are self-selecting, based on,Thinking that they may or may not get into,what a good college is. and the selective institutions are getting more selective. And so a lot of these other institutions who are, fighting for each application have to get loud and attract some attention because there's so many amazing institutions.

[00:21:01] Chelsea Holley: It is not helpful for any of us to just pay attention to, our big name or name brand.

[00:21:07] so what is an app or a marketing tool that you could not live without?

[00:21:11] Chelsea Holley: so I will say sprout social. which helps us push out all of our Instagram content. and then I would say Instagram, we have. Two social media, pages on Instagram for the office of admissions. I have one Spelman dot DOA, for the Spelman director of admissions page and then our main page Spelman admis.

[00:21:36] and so we really use those to talk to our students and get feedback. Sometimes I wake up to DMS from parents. so it's a very real time way, to stay connected to our.

[00:21:47] Host: And you're posting on the director page.

[00:21:50] Chelsea Holley: I am personally.

[00:21:52] Host: it looks good.

[00:21:53] Chelsea Holley: Thank you.

[00:21:54] Host: if you.

[00:21:55] Host: could go back five to 10 years and give yourself advice, what would it be?

[00:21:58] Chelsea Holley: oh, that one was so hard and introspective you probably won't be doing what you think. You would do your life will likely turn out completely different. and I think that's what we tell our students and it sounds cheesy, but it's really true. And you won't have it figured out by the time you're 30.

[00:22:19] Host: or 40 That just came up in a recent interview don't just do what the people around you are doing. And I think, that's great advice. But then again, we're not exposing students and children to all the different opportunities out there.

[00:22:33] Chelsea Holley: That. Have really great job prospects. So I think that's exciting to see how industry will begin reshaping curriculum and job opportunities in higher ed.

[00:22:48] Host: So. how can someone connect with you

[00:22:50] Chelsea Holley: You can connect with me on LinkedIn at Chelsea Holly, on Instagram Spelman dot DOA, or our main Instagram page Spelman admis.

[00:23:03] Host: Thank you so much for interviewing me with me today. This was great.

[00:23:06] Chelsea Holley: It's been wonderful. Thanks so much for having me.

[00:23:11] 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.

[00:23:31] Host: Visit student Thanks for listening.