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Episode #28
Filling Seats Podcast | January 24, 2023

Serving students' needs at a nationally-known institution

In this episode:

You’ll hear from Drew Granucci who is the Associate Director of Admissions at University of Connecticut.

You'll hear him discuss:

  • Advantages and disadvantages of working at a big-name school
  • The positive impacts the pandemic has had on their in-person and virtual visits
  • How they strategically and successfully use outbound phone calls to engage with prospective students
Drew Granucci

Drew Granucci

Associate Director of Admissions

Podcast Inst Logos-28

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.


[00:00:27] Host: Welcome to episode 28 filling seats. In this episode, you'll hear from Drew Granucci, who is the associate director of admission. At university of Connecticut. You'll hear him discuss. Advantages and disadvantages of working at a big name school, the positive impacts of the pandemic has had on their in-person and virtual visits. And how they strategically and successfully use outbound phone calls to engage with prospective students let's meet drew

[00:01:01] Drew Granucci: I am what I would consider an admissions lifer. I started admissions my first week on campus when I enrolled at George Washington University in dc. I became a tour guide, and I've pretty much been involved in this field ever since, which at this point, I guess 16 ish years so my passion and interest in the field of admissions definitely was developed at gw. We had an amazing office. That really cultivated future leaders.

[00:01:39] Full credit to them to, to raising me up in this field. And I started my professional career at American University for a brief stint, working on campus visits and events and then returned to gw, where I set my foundation as a professional. And worked there for about five years doing pretty much anything under the sun from evaluating our, outside reader program to our campus visit program, our student interviewers,

[00:02:16] Drew Granucci: lots of recruitment and territory management and all the traditional admissions work that happens so that. Five years and then I graduated with my master's degree and was feeling kind of stale in, in what I was doing. So I was looking for other opportunities and ended up at EF Academy, which is an international boarding school in New York.

[00:02:42] Drew Granucci: And I worked with international students on the college application process. I lived on campus. I was a dorm parent, did everything 24 7 with those students, and got to really work with them through this process from a very personal standpoint, because their parents were not there with them.

[00:03:05] Drew Granucci: They had no one else to come to except for me, and most of them were very unfamiliar with. How our process works. So it was a great experience for me to truly learn how our students think, and particularly our students who are probably at the most disadvantage in this process because they aren't being raised up in, in the culture of admissions and selective admissions and what to do.

[00:03:31] Drew Granucci: And it can be very complicated for an outsider. That was my next three years, and after that I had the opportunity to transition back to admissions and I took a position at Louisiana State University, lsu, and I got to do pretty much everything I loved. And in the last year I've transitioned to the University of Connecticut where I find myself now as Associate director of admissions.

[00:03:57] Host: , so we've got UConn, lsu. American University and gw, you've worked at some very big name national brand schools. Obviously with a big name, school comes a lot of name recognition and oftentimes, Courses, what do you think are the disadvantages of a big name school?

[00:04:20] Drew Granucci: The pressures are different every place I've been. So even if a school is quote unquote, a big name, there's always things that are gonna put pressure on an admissions office. with big name and reputation. It's not as much about filling your class every year, but more so about who's in that class, and a lot of people have a lot of opinions on how you do that and what is most important because you can't take everyone that's in front of you. So that really becomes the pressure and trying to work through that on a campus that is larger, has more name recognition. So there is still pressure. It's just a different type of pressure. . Think about it in terms of trying to fulfill the mission of an institution.

[00:05:12] Drew Granucci: It can be different based on where you are, but ultimately it's still a lot of work to be able to fulfill that mission.

[00:05:21] Host: Let's talk about where you work currently at University of Connecticut. Tell me a little bit about your role and how you would describe the institution.

[00:05:31] Drew Granucci: I am from the state of Connecticut originally, so it's an interesting background to how I ended up here. But I had lived away from Connecticut for 15 years. I applied to ucon, but I did not choose to attend ucon. When I was applying to schools, very much wanted something completely opposite of Uon.

[00:05:53] Drew Granucci: Uon is. As you mentioned, a pretty big name and definitely a national research. University has great resources and name recognition around the country and around the world. Attracts a very talented student body, both in state, out of state, and internationally as well. but it's a very rural location.

[00:06:15] it's a large state institution. Although even though we have that reputation, it's not quite as large as some of the largest in the country. I would actually say we're probably more toward the medium size. But it still has a little bit of that feel.

[00:06:33] Drew Granucci: It's a university that's really proactive and trying to be in the national conversation for the best students, the most diverse students around the country, and really truly representing. Both our state, our country, and the world in our student body.

[00:06:49] Drew Granucci: And my role at UConn is Associate Director of Admissions, and I work specifically with the campus visit experience and the guest experience. So I oversee all of our tour guides, our whole. guest experience program. We have visitor center here at the university, so I oversee that and number of other initiatives that I could get into, but that's the basics of it.

[00:07:16] Host: . And what are your current enrollment goals

[00:07:18] Drew Granucci: The two things that I hear consistently from our leadership all the way down are thinking about serving the needs of our state and truly representing the state of Connecticut connecticut is a very diverse state. There's large cities, there's small cities, there's very rural areas, and how are we serving the needs of all of those students across our state?

[00:07:41] Drew Granucci: But then, as I mentioned earlier, being competitive nationally for the best students that we can find and really being able to bring in a competitive class each year, our professors are doing tremendous things inside the classroom in terms of research, and we want to be able to support that mission as well.

[00:08:04] Drew Granucci: So you see those two type of goals in terms of enrollment, thinking about the competitiveness, and also serving the needs in every corner of the state

[00:08:14] Drew Granucci: of con.

[00:08:16] Host: Where is the importance placed on visits as a.

[00:08:20] Drew Granucci: Every office I've worked in visits are a key part of any enrollment strategy because we want to be able to create an environment where we're engaging students across a number of different areas, whether it be the on campus experience, via phone, email. However, we're doing engagement, we're driving people to visit because we know that those can be some of the most impactful students experiences, some of the best times for students to really form a connection with the institution.

[00:08:56] Drew Granucci: So the visit becomes a very important part of the enrollment cycle, and we have a number of different visit programs obviously we have a robust campus tours program that runs daily throughout the year. Monday through Friday, Saturday, the whole run. we have a great student shadow program, which is, this is actually the first time I've been running a program like this, but we engage a large portion of the community to serve as student hosts and welcome students to come one on one to shadow their day at the campus.

[00:09:30] Drew Granucci: And I really love seeing. Prospective students engage with UConn in that way outside of a formal tour environment. And then we have a number of other events, whether it be our group tours, which are focused on our first generation students and engaging with some of the school districts in the state of Connecticut, as well as our major open house.

[00:09:57] that brings students to campus as well. So there's a number of different ways that students can interact with UCON over the course of the enrollment cycle.

[00:10:08] Drew Granucci: We know that students interact with universities in a number of different ways, and it's important to try and meet students wherever they are. Acknowledging that can be different for any number of students.

[00:10:22] Drew Granucci: So we try to offer variety of options, both virtually in person and really through a number of different communication methods as.

[00:10:33] Host: Tell me about some of your virtual options.

[00:10:36] Drew Granucci: We offer a virtual campus tour that is hosted live by our student tour guides. We host that every week so that people can actually interact. This is shown by our tour guides to really add that personal touch and offer the question answer and that type of thing.

[00:10:55] Drew Granucci: We also do a number of different webinars about the admissions process. Transferring financially, pretty much any type of information we know these can be more accessible for students and families who may not be able to get to UConn or may just be dipping their toes into their engagement with us and learning more about us initially before putting the resources towards a campus visit.

[00:11:23] Host: , looking back to a pre covid time, it's almost like, why weren't we doing these virtual things all along? someone could have watched an info session about applying for financial aid at any time, instead of only when they were at an open house event that only lasted eight hours and they had, you know, a limited amount of time on campus.

[00:11:46] Drew Granucci: Absolutely. I mean,c forced us to really adapt. And while I am sure that many institutions around the country have found that the in-person experiences more impactful, the virtual experiences still have a role to play and are an important part of this process.

[00:12:09] Host: Is your virtual visit monotonous or mindblowing? Schools are expected to do more with less, especially in a post pandemic world. Enrollment staff don't have the bandwidth to pull off live and virtual events at the same time, but still want to provide access to open house events for students near and far at any time. If you're listening to this episode soon after it's released register for our upcoming live webinar on Thursday, January 19th.

[00:12:39] Host: 2023 at the link in the show notes. At this webinar, you will find out how colleges and universities can capitalize on the benefits of virtual events. Learn how to actually convert curious onlookers into engaged, enrolled students. And get five best practices for virtual events that will invigorate your funnel without putting any students to sleep.

[00:13:03] Host: Register at the link in the show notes. If you're listening to this after january 19th, 2023, click the link in the show notes to register for an upcoming webinar or watch a past webinar recording

[00:13:16] Host: What is a technology that's making an impact for your school?

[00:13:20] Drew Granucci: There's a number of different technological platforms that we utilize. It seems like they grow every year, but we definitely do so much through our CRM now. I remember when I started admissions. We didn't have a crm and it's obviously revolutionized the field, so that's a huge part of it and touches pretty much every area of our work.

[00:13:45] we have a chat bot now, the virtual tour that I mentioned earlier, webinars really a number of different things. Like I could probably go on and on about different opportunities to utilize technology, but it's definitely as. Worked in this field been something that has offered us increased opportunity to interact with students and meet them where they are.

[00:14:13] Host: . How are you telling the story of your school

[00:14:17] Drew Granucci: In telling the story of UConn, we have to acknowledge an institution like ours. There's. A number of different stories that a student can have. So we have to be able to offer opportunities for as many as we can, and part of that is really galvanizing our student community to be a part of our visit opportunities, our marketing efforts.

[00:14:40] Drew Granucci: We engage them in pretty much every part of this process. Pretty much everything that I've talked about today, we engage our current students. being able to work with our prospective students and help them see the many possibilities there are at UConn. I think that we also have spread across any of the communications channels that you could think of.

[00:15:05] Drew Granucci: We wanna be present in all of them because again, we don't know. Is it gonna be the postcard that's gonna make the difference for one student, or the brochure or the phone call, or the email or the campus visit, whatever it is. this is about really building an ecosystem a, a way that we're able to tell UConn story that affects student.

[00:15:31] Host: So you're relying on both one to one connection as well as putting student stories out in your marketing pieces. Is that accurate?

[00:15:41] Drew Granucci: Absolutely. We have a number of student stories in our brochures and in our different marketing campaigns. But obviously when they do come to campus, they're able to see that in person upfront and close, and really get to know that quite intimately.

[00:15:58] Host: Tell me a little bit about the marketing channels that you rely on most. So you said that you wanna be everywhere, but if you had to pick. Top few or which ones are making the biggest impact, what would those be?

[00:16:11] I'm still kind of a, a stick to the basics type of person. I think you have to have a strong foundation in your direct mail, in your email, in your campus visit, and events opportunities. I think those three you have to focus on and make sure they're really good and very effective.

[00:16:32] Drew Granucci: I think. the other areas though, are important in terms of driving those results that you're looking for, but can add to the basics. So whether it be our social approach, our phone, , outreaches,including recruitment in that as well. That's a very big part of everything that we do here.

[00:16:54] Drew Granucci: So it all has to come together. I don't think you can. Easily eliminate one and say, oh, this is the most important. But I think that , sticking to those basics and doing them really well is still always gonna be the most important. I've worked in social over the years, I've worked in some other areas, and I think it's a nice addition, but I don't see.

[00:17:19] Drew Granucci: Driving results the way that traditional direct mail, email recruitment, and campus visit and events are going to.

[00:17:29] Host: So I don't often hear people say phone calls as a channel that they rely on. Are you seeing results and success with getting current students to make outbound phone calls to prospective students and do they actually pick up the phone and talk?

[00:17:44] Drew Granucci: So do they pick up the phone at a hundred percent rate? No, but for example, if I have a calling night where we have. A thousand calls made. We're seeing about 25 to 30% of the students pick up the phone, so that's 250 to 300 students a night. That's a pretty big amount, and we're not making calls.

[00:18:08] widely, we're making calls strategically where it makes sense with students who need extra information about the process, perhaps aren't getting that information from their school or other channels. we definitely work hard to make sure they know about our process and how to. Be able to navigate that and provide an extra level of support so it's not cold calling everyone in our database, but it is being targeted with that to drive results.

[00:18:40] Host: . What is something that your team is doing differently?

[00:18:44] Drew Granucci: One thing that I've loved at Uon is our strategy, working with some of our instate districts and being able to really push hard to bring them to campus.

[00:18:55] Drew Granucci: So we fund. Transportation for them, a meal for them. And we're very aggressive about our outreach and getting them to our campus. And I think that is something that makes a huge difference for these students. We see in some of our survey results that most of them have not visited campus and would not have another opportunity to do So being able to dedicate some funding in that area, I think makes a big difference. And it's something I would say I've seen other places, but it's usually something that's not forefront or not really a priority. It's like, oh yeah, we have groups that come, but they're. Kind of a menace to us. the strategy here though, really is focused on that and bringing groups to campus and I love it.

[00:19:46] Drew Granucci: I think it's a really great thing that we're doing here.

[00:19:50] Host: and it goes back to what you said about meeting the needs of the students in your.

[00:19:55] Absolutely. In Connecticut, You think of it as a small state that people can easily get around, but that's not always the case, particularly for a school like ours that is pretty rural. It's not easy to get here with public transportation, even though it is possible, it takes a. A lot of effort.

[00:20:14] Drew Granucci: So if we can make that easier, that can be the only barrier that students experience is being able to get here. So showing them that they can do that and what that can mean to them is a big part of that.

[00:20:27] Host: . What is something that your school or your team struggles with?

[00:20:30] Drew Granucci: What we struggle with, I'm sure are not different from many other universities around the country and thinking about some of the big picture issues. That are really gonna impact our field over the course of the next few years. So whether it be the current Supreme Court cases that are currently before the court with Harvard and UNC and students for fair admission. And basically they have the potential to strike down affirmative action in the consideration of race in the college admissions process.

[00:21:06] Drew Granucci: So that could have a huge impact on how campuses are able to attract a diverse student body and be able to really understand the characteristics of their applicant pool and how we review applications.

[00:21:23] Drew Granucci: What are the potential outcomes of these cases and how will that impact our recruitment efforts?

[00:21:30] Drew Granucci: That's really gonna be important. Thinking about lead generation. A lot of schools, of course, have transitioned to test optional, so the name buys ,are gonna be more challenging. So where do you generate those names? In the same way that we've been able to for decades now through our testing partners.

[00:21:53] Drew Granucci: And then the last thing is. Thinking about how we are re-envisioning enrollment overall, there's a lot of conversation about how we can be more student centered and focus our enrollment efforts on driving results and going to the students. So nationally I've seen conversations around direct admissions and really working toward.

[00:22:21] Drew Granucci: A process that goes directly to the student and creates less barriers for them. So I don't think the issues here are different than what you see nationally, but I think that we are having those conversations in a similar way to everyone else.

[00:22:39] Host: , I was thinking recently about, the average student applies to 10 schools, and it's always seen as kind of like a nuisance and it's the student's fault and the reality is higher education created this environment where students felt that they had to apply to so many schools because they had no idea, am I even gonna get into this one?

[00:23:02] Host: Or, I don't know what I'm actually gonna pay until I get accepted and then I get scholarships. And so you're right, it's such a guessing game that we've created. this landscape that's just, confusing and unnecessary for everyone.

[00:23:17] Drew Granucci: Absolutely. when I worked at an international school and had to. Help students navigate admission systems in other countries. You see the complexity that we've built into the system here and how that compares, and it's very difficult to understand, particularly, again, if it's not something that you've been raised up in with everyone in your family going to college.

[00:23:44] Drew Granucci: In the US it's not easy. I know there are a lot of conversations about how we can streamline that and make it easier, but it's not always that simple. Again, going back to some of the earlier questions about the pressures a campus, like ucon in terms of enrollment, it's not as simple as making things easier because that can have other consequences.

[00:24:10] Drew Granucci: \ it's an interesting time in our field. we all know the demographic changes that are happening and how that can impact our field as well. I'm excited to see the creative ideas that people come up with to, to really continue to make progress in this field.

[00:24:28] who do you follow or learn from?

[00:24:30] I am so fortunate to have been surrounded by tremendous colleagues over the course of my career, and I've learned so much from them. I'm also fortunate to be in a PhD program right now in higher ed administration, and it's something that has really transitioned my thinking.

[00:24:52] Drew Granucci: Into a more academic sense and utilizing some of the amazing research that is done by our colleagues on the academic side of the house that we as the practitioners don't always know about or see or hear. A lot of what we utilize is based on best practices and word of mouth and that type of thing, but there's tremendous research being done around our field and access to higher education.

[00:25:20] I think we have some tremendous professional associations in this field as well, and staying involved in the up to date with NACA and with our regional associations with acro.

[00:25:33] Drew Granucci: With a number of other organizations, vendors, companies, it's a great space to be in because it's not a place where people are unwilling to share ideas. It's a tremendous culture of community where we can work together to make a positive.

[00:25:53] Host: It's almost startling when you think about how much people share, especially with their direct competition.

[00:26:01] Drew Granucci: Yeah, I think there's an acknowledgement that we're. All trying to achieve the same goals, right? If we're truly thinking about the missions of our institutions, while we each individually represent different institutions, we're all trying to create better lives for young people and really make an impact on society through that.

[00:26:23] I see it as the opportunity that I believe the saying is like a rising tide raises all boats. If we can work together, everyone can be successful. There's plenty of students out there, and part of our role is not to take students from each other, but to help get more students into a higher education system and be able to positively impact their lives.

[00:26:51] Host: . What do you see for the future of higher education or higher ed marketing?

[00:26:55] Drew Granucci: lead generation is truly a fascinating conversation because I don't see a great replacement for the test. Companies and if students do continue to opt out of tests, and by the way, I am not a fan of testing.

[00:27:13] Drew Granucci: I think that it definitely creates inequities in the process, but we are able to see how. Having the names of students can positively impact the marketing around higher ed and be able to drive those students to attend our institutions. So I haven't seen a viable replacement for that, and I think that's gonna be a fascinating conversation as we continue down this path.

[00:27:42] Drew Granucci: Coupled with that is the demographic changes that are coming over the next several years and how that can impact institutions across the country. Again, there will continue to be enough students out there. It's more so about how are we. Engaging with them and including them in our processes and being able to recruit them to our institutions, that's gonna look different than it has in the past.

[00:28:12] so really thinking about that in enrollment is gonna be an important conversation,

[00:28:19] Host: what is an app or a marketing tool that you could not live without?

[00:28:23] Drew Granucci: I struggled with this question , but I think what I'm going to go with is that I'm a big Asana fan. It's basically a task and project management tool, and. Slowly over the years transitioned my life into that app in terms of productivity, which is not always the greatest thing, but it is a huge, impact on my day to day life and keeps me organized and keeps all the thoughts in my head someplace in an app so I don't have to remember everything all at once.

[00:28:56] Host: And if you could go back five to 10 years and give yourself advice, what would it be?

[00:29:02] Drew Granucci: My advice would be to chill out . I was someone who really just lived and died by every decision in admissions. I love this field so much. I always have, but there were definitely bigger picture things that I missed because I was so concerned about this little thing and I'm.

[00:29:28] Drew Granucci: Fortunate to have people who have been very patient with me over the years and who didn't discourage me, even though I probably didn't deserve to be engaged, with some of the things that were a huge deal at the time. So I really have, I've learned to try and take that bigger view to, to chill out as I say, and to.

[00:29:55] Drew Granucci: Not live and die by every battle, every single day, but to try and make positive progress and in the end , you're able to see the results.

[00:30:06] Host: Was there any one big moment that led to you chilling out more or was it a gradual change over.

[00:30:13] Drew Granucci: It was gradual over time. I think seeing different jobs being in different regions of the country, you're able to get more of a global view. This was probably most applicable during my time at GW because at the time it was the only thing I knew. I went to school there. I spent so much time in that office as a student and as a professional, and It meant the world to me, and so I, again, would live and die by everything that happened in that office, and really, I probably could have smoothed out a lot of the highs and lows and chilled out in that way.

[00:30:53] Drew Granucci: I think that came with seeing other places, seeing that there are issues in every office, every institution that you're a part of. So if you can find institutions that you identify with their mission and can really see the impact that you're making over time, it'll all be okay and we'll all survive.

[00:31:16] Host: How can someone connect with you if they'd like to do?

[00:31:20] Drew Granucci: Definitely on LinkedIn if you type in UConn admissions staff, all of my information is on the admissions contact website as well. So I'd love to connect with anyone that is interested.

[00:31:35] Host: . thanks so much for interviewing with me.

[00:31:37] Drew Granucci: Of course. Thank you.


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