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Episode #33
Filling Seats Podcast | June 6, 2023

Innovative yield strategies with a large public and private liberal arts school

In this episode:

You'll hear from Jordan Stevenson who is now the Executive Director of Admissions and New Student Programs at Kennesaw State University, as well as Sara-Jean Gilbert who is the Associate Director of Admission at Illinois College.

You'll hear:

  • How they’ve communicated with admits throughout the yield process over the past few enrollment cycles
  • What success they’ve seen from recent strategy shifts
  • PLUS: Learn about the new StudentBridge and what this means for institutions and prospective students
Jordan Stevenson

Jordan Stevenson

Executive Director of Admissions and New Student Programs

KSU logo-1-1


Sara-Jean Gilbert

Sara-Jean Gilbert

Associate Director of Admissions



Episode Transcript

[00:00:00] Host: You're listening to Filling Seats: The State of Enrollment Marketing in 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 from fellow enrollment marketers, thought leaders, and ed tech innovators.

[00:00:23] Host: Listen in for proven strategies to fill seats this cycle and beyond.

[00:00:33] Host: Welcome to episode 33 of the filling seats podcast. In this episode, you'll hear from Jordan Stevenson, who is now the executive director of admissions and new student programs at Kennesaw state university. As well as Sarah Jean Gilbert, who is the associate director of admission at Illinois college.

[00:00:52] Host: Both will reflect on how they've communicated with admitted students throughout the yield process. Over the past few enrollment cycles. And what successes they've seen from recent strategy shifts. But before we get into that conversation, we have some very exciting news to share.

[00:01:09] Host: Student bridge and full measure have officially merged to help colleges and universities achieve more with an unparalleled suite of enrollment life cycle solutions. This offers many benefits for institutions and students alike, including better perspective, student data and insights, simplified vendor management and cohesive experiences across the student journey.

[00:01:33] Host: Our goal is to alleviate friction from the enrollment process, helps students identify their perfect fit and help our partners attract and graduate right fit students. If you'd like to learn more about the new student bridge or book a meeting with our team, visit student Now let's meet Jordan and Sarah Jean.

[00:01:53] Jordan Stevenson: I'm the director of student recruitment at Kennesaw State University.

[00:01:56] Jordan Stevenson: if you're not familiar with us, where in northern metro Atlanta? Just the northwestern suburbs. We have a campus in Kennesaw and also in Marietta. We are a four year public research institution.

[00:02:09] Jordan Stevenson: we've been on a massive growth trajectory as, the city of Atlanta has continued to expand as well as the state of Georgia. so we're now just a hair under 43,000 students,

[00:02:21] Jordan Stevenson: we are a comprehensive institution as well, so we're offering degree programs on the undergraduate level, all across the board, and we're an extremely diverse institution. We have students from all 159 counties in the state of Georgia. It's a lot of counties only second to the state of Texas, and we have students from all 50 states in the United States and 126 countries represented in our current enrollment.

[00:02:45] Jordan Stevenson: So exciting time to be at Kennesaw State University.

[00:02:49] Sara-Jean Gilbert: I serve as a associate Director of Admission here at Illinois College. we're actually located in Jacksonville, Illinois, which is in the central part of the state. We're about 30 minutes from the state capital of Springfield, about four hours from Chicago, and we are a small private liberal arts college.

[00:03:06] Sara-Jean Gilbert: And, we're hovering around 1100. Students and looking to grow just a little bit more in that sense. even though we are a liberal arts college, we do have, 45 complete areas of study, and some STEM majors as well. We do offer a full four year nursing program as well as a full four year engineering program so not just the typical liberal arts, which we love. we were the first. College to,offer a degree in Illinois. But with that we have a little bit of a brand recognition issue. Even though we have the state of Illinois name in our name, it's sometimes it is hard for folks to, know, who we are.

[00:03:41] Sara-Jean Gilbert: So that was one of the things that we were looking at. We have that little brand recognition issue. We have a bunch of students who are really interested in our college. That's the first part. They know they wanna look into us.

[00:03:52] Sara-Jean Gilbert: We also have some who are very, interested because of athletics and so they've been talking with some of the coaches and so they're really excited about us. And then we have folks who see us on Common App or we get them on name by and they don't really know a whole lot about us. So we wanna share and get folks excited about us. Pretty much from the early on stages.

[00:04:12] Host: Could you share a little bit about how you've traditionally or historically communicated with students at the point of acceptance

[00:04:20] Host: and what were some of the ping points with that?

[00:04:23] Jordan Stevenson: We were using a large acceptance packet. Beautiful acceptance letter. But a very costly acceptance packet for students with next steps Information, roughly 28 page booklet, that was costing us including mailing around $60,000 a year to send out, something that we weren't sure students and families were understanding the next steps.

[00:04:47] Jordan Stevenson: Post acceptance. and so we were looking for ways to, have a mobile first approach to telling students that they were admitted to the university and what they needed to do post acceptance. The reason why we were questioning what we were doing with our acceptance packet is we were getting a lot of questions that wereas many of you may be getting, very mundane in terms of how to.

[00:05:12] Jordan Stevenson: commit to the university, what the importance of orientation was, why they should submit a fafsa, so on and so forth. Things that we thought, we were handling throughout the admissions process, the admissions cycle. And so we were really struggling with what we were doing. We were looking for new ways to connect with this generation of students in really trying to find a mobile-first solution.

[00:05:35] Jordan Stevenson: and something that would build excitement.

[00:05:37] Sara-Jean Gilbert: we're a rolling admission. so we want to get our students that admission decision really early on. And so what we would do is we would get them that admission decision pretty early on, and it would give them the next steps.

[00:05:47] Sara-Jean Gilbert: Pretty similar to what Jordan was talking about, but then we wanted to send them to our admissions portal. We were a slate school, so we had a really great built out, admissions portal that we used. And then at that point, we would go ahead and have the admission counselor reach out personally to the student, let them know that they've been admitted and that they could receive that packet sometime soon.

[00:06:08] Sara-Jean Gilbert: And then it kind of dropped off. We had some engagement. Maybe they'd come and visit, maybe they wouldn't. But we definitely knew that they were not accessing that admission portal because when it came to making critical decisions or having critical conversations with them, they didn't know how to access it, right?

[00:06:23] Sara-Jean Gilbert: So if we were dropping financial aid decisions or scholarship information, they didn't know where to find it. And that seemed to be a pretty big issue for us because we want that them to have that information as early as possible. So we wanted to build excitement. That was a big deal, but we also wanted to keep that excitement going so that we can establish that relationship with the admission counselor and the students who were looking at Illinois College.

[00:06:46] Sara-Jean Gilbert: What we could do then is help inspire them to do the next thing to, get excited about maybe visiting campus. learn a lot more about the next steps, that sort of thing.

[00:06:55] Host: So, what did you decide to do to shift communication at the point of acceptance?

[00:07:01] Jordan Stevenson: What we were looking to do was take that, very tried and true old process, that we were doing prior, for acceptance and make it exciting. Get it in the student's hands as quickly as possible. Get it in family's hands as quickly as possible through the magic of texting, and then have somewhere for them to go.

[00:07:22] Jordan Stevenson: Where they were able to still utilize their cell phone, that, piece of technology that they're used to utilizing and get the information that's vital to learning more about the university and ultimately committing to the institution. so students after acceptance to Kennesaw State University, the first communication they're getting is coming from our accepted student text.

[00:07:45] Jordan Stevenson: we're also on a rolling basis,like Sarah Jean was talking about. so I upload a list of accepted students to our accepted student experience platform and that text goes out to the students at the end of the day.

[00:07:57] Jordan Stevenson: They get a shortened, I would say more exciting version of our acceptance letter. Not all the formality of the actual physical letter that shows up in the mail. And then they're given some key things that change depending on the time of the year. that was another thing that we were frustrated with.

[00:08:14] Jordan Stevenson: With the old way of doing things was that the information was static in our next steps packet that was being mailed out to the students, whether they were being admitted in October or they were being admitted in March of the, of their senior year, they were still getting the same information. It wasn't dynamic, and so we were looking for a way to get dynamic information.

[00:08:32] Jordan Stevenson: In their hands, and this was the way we did it so one of the things that I really loved promoting through this process was, open houses that we had throughout the year. Some of our specialized tours, accepted student events that we had in the spring.

[00:08:45] Jordan Stevenson: So we just continued to update and change. based on when housing opened up and orientation opened up,

[00:08:51] Jordan Stevenson: So we were able to highlight those key things that students needed to do. Filling out the fafsa,

[00:08:57] Jordan Stevenson: And then we were getting feedback instantaneously from the way that the students were interacting with messaging. And that was one thing, we get that from our C R M, but we were not getting that from our accepted student packet.

[00:09:08] Jordan Stevenson: And that's one of the things that we struggled with and one of the things we wanted to change. And so we've been able to take that information, are you ready to commit? Do you wanna get more information? Do you have questions about financial aid, questions about scholarships, things like that.

[00:09:20] Jordan Stevenson: We take that information, we, we spread it out throughout our admissions counselors and have them actually make contact . Post filling out this survey we even expanded, to different student populations, not just targeting first year students. Expanded to have different messaging for transfer students and adult learners.

[00:09:37] Jordan Stevenson: so this has been a great way to get very vital information in front of folks as quickly as possible.

[00:09:43] Host: And Sarah Jean, tell me a little bit about how your team used social media to build awareness and engagement within your asset pool.

[00:09:53] Sara-Jean Gilbert: We have an institution run social media channels that are run through our marketing department. they have a small team. And so what we did a couple of years ago is break away and do our own, admission focused, it's called the icy Life. It's really fun.

[00:10:07] Sara-Jean Gilbert: It has a lot of, really authentic content. Students take over, whether they are student ambassadors or if they are student leaders on campus, or we wanna highlight a certain athletic team, we give that over to that team and they take it over. it is really fun and it is that authentic approach that our students really do engage with pretty early on.

[00:10:27] Sara-Jean Gilbert: I inherited the IC life. from a previous admission counselor and then it has been taken on by a couple of different staff members over time.

[00:10:36] Sara-Jean Gilbert: So it doesn't necessarily have to be like your person who is involved with communication or technology.use the talent and the. Experience that you might have with, maybe some of your students, maybe some of the, your staff that might be a little bit more savvy. I am a big proponent of sharing the wealth and making sure that people can get lots of great experience.

[00:10:56] Sara-Jean Gilbert: So if you have somebody near you who's really excited about doing this, And maybe they don't know about it yet. it'd be really helpful, to bring them in and you can do it together. And I think that's really helpful cuz not everyone knows all of this stuff and I certainly didn't when I first started all of that.

[00:11:10] Sara-Jean Gilbert: then as part of that admitted student experience, we end up giving them, access to. This really fun branded effect that they can download and share. they go ahead and share it through a hashtag that we give them. And it is a really cool opportunity for them to share that experience, to let everyone know that they've been accepted and they're ready to go, whatever that looks like for them.

[00:11:32] Sara-Jean Gilbert: So we really loved seeing that all over our social media and it has really helped to get some information about our impact. Majority of our students are actually sharing it on Snapchat. That's a pretty big number for us too, and then some on Instagram as well.

[00:11:46] Jordan Stevenson: We're still going a little bit strong with Facebook. That number surprised me because it seems to be that everybody thinks nobody uses Facebook anymore, but I don't know, it's out there. , so we have really enjoyed seeing that impact and that excitement similar vein to what Sarah Jean's sharing about Illinois College. we wanted to continue to build engagement socially and build excitement. And uh,I will tell you what first turned me on.

[00:12:13] Jordan Stevenson: To the accepted student experience wasn't even just all of, the analytics and, even the mobile-first I was, immediately excited because of the social filter.

[00:12:23] Jordan Stevenson: It seems so interesting to me, so cool it was a new way of sharing the excitement of being admitted to the university and building that community. Engagement from further down somebody's social network. So not just with the student, but with the student's network and then with those other people's networks and from parents' networks and grandparents' networks.

[00:12:47] Jordan Stevenson: Whether they're doing it on Instagram or Snapchat or Facebook or,on TikTok as well,

[00:12:52] Jordan Stevenson: that they would tag us in it and they would use our hashtag, we have a hashtag called Find Your Wings, and that way we can grab them, we can re-share. it's all about that snowball effect. So when we re-share, we're spreading out our social engagement. Uh, We're showing other students, people that follow us that haven't seen the filter yet, look how cool this is.

[00:13:12] Jordan Stevenson: And then they get that feeling. I want that as well. I want to be able to share this. And we've used this now for a number of years and we also use the tagging and the hashtag to identify new, brand ambassadors. so student influencers that are part of our program.

[00:13:28] Jordan Stevenson: Much like Sarah Jean was talking about that are doing takeovers that are involved in the day-to-day work, of content creation within our different social platforms. So we have a pretty, robust group of brand ambassadors and some of them have come from the initial social filter

[00:13:45] Jordan Stevenson: so it's really cool how that has helped us continue to build out that excitement for KSU

[00:13:51] Host: And what are some things that you've done to keep students engaged with your school? Post acceptance.

[00:13:57] Jordan Stevenson: For us it was about how do we one, use a mobile first approach to engaging with students and parents,

[00:14:05] Jordan Stevenson: so yes, in the immediacy, they open it up, they're seeing their own. Personalized portal, and they're able to see information that's vital to them. But what happens two weeks later? What happens a month later when mom asks, Hey, where are you with signing up for orientation?

[00:14:22] Jordan Stevenson: Is this something we need to talk about? so on and so forth. so we, we loved having the content available at their fingertips but we were excited to take advantage of this drip functionality that's a part of the accepted student experience where we can tailor these subsequent messages. We actually have four cards that go out at strategic Times post Acceptance to keep driving engagement with the student, with the family, to tell them pertinent information during the time of year based on when they were accepted again.

[00:14:53] Jordan Stevenson: With things that they need to do and push events like open houses, campus tours, accepted student nights, all of those kinds of things. and make it so easy for them to sign up for these events they didn't have to log into something else. They didn't have to remember their password, make sure they pulled it up on their computer.

[00:15:12] Jordan Stevenson: It was all right there. On their phone. So it was, something that, that we have loved using. We've looked to continue to expand, what we're doing within the accepted student experience. And again, I've had data all along the way. That's been something that's been so vital, for me and my office is being able to see what are students truly interested in at different times of the year.

[00:15:34] Jordan Stevenson: What are they clicking on? What are the questions that they're asking us? Getting that information to our admissions counselors so that they can follow up very quickly and keeping that pulse on where they are in the process. and,We noticed when we went to this type of campaign, 500 more students signed up for orientation in the month of December.

[00:15:54] Jordan Stevenson: So we open up,orientation for the following fall in December and was really exciting. Housing signups were also up during that time period. So some of those key metrics, we were paying attention to 'em and we could tie it back to the work that we were doing so we sent out almost 84,000 campaigns. and again, we didn't know , what was happening with our accepted student packets and whether students were en engaging, other than what we could see, , in signups and from, our crm.

[00:16:21] Jordan Stevenson: but we know almost 43% of students were engaging in the content that we were giving. And they were clicking on things. They were signing up for things, they were asking us questions. really exciting looking to continue to grow this.

[00:16:33] Jordan Stevenson: I'm trying to get more cell information from students. We don't, have a mandatory cell phone requirement on our application. That's something that, that we've been pushing for on our end. so we think we'll have even better engagement once we have, more cell phones in our accepted student class.

[00:16:49] Sara-Jean Gilbert: in previous years, we, did some get excited to deposit campaigns, which did not do very well. We didn't have as much engagement with that, and so with that we decided to do something a little bit different.

[00:17:00] Sara-Jean Gilbert: We wanted to drive some engagement and attendance. To, our really key events admitted student day and ready set go, which is our, registration days but what we wanted to do, was to put together a. Whole bunch of campaigns related to these events, and they would get an invitation that would say, Hey, sign up for admitted student days.

[00:17:20] Sara-Jean Gilbert: And then they would get a lot of different information in the card there. They would also get an event companion, which would give them information about what to ex. Expect from the day how to get the most out of their experience. And then they would get a follow up highlighting those sort of next steps that are secret, ne next steps that we like to put in there.

[00:17:39] Sara-Jean Gilbert: and then also with the ready set go, it was really important for us to do that because they're coming to campus, they're meeting their advisor, they're registering for classes. There's a lot of unknowns and we didn't want them to be apprehensive about it, so we wanted to give them some additional information.

[00:17:53] Sara-Jean Gilbert: so we were getting . Them, the event companion piece as well as a follow up too. We decided to try and, dip our foot into, engaging parents and families so we were able to gather a lot of, family mobile phone, numbers through event registration as well as through just asking our students to give us some additional information so we could engage their families in the college search process.

[00:18:18] Sara-Jean Gilbert: And we decided to go ahead and. Send these event companions to the families as well, because we know that their involvement is very important to our students and very important to us because they end up helping us a lot through the whole process. So we gave them, a little, this is what you can expect, that this is what your student's going to be doing , during Ready, set, go and give them that companion and let them know what they can expect about it.

[00:18:43] Sara-Jean Gilbert: they were amazing. Like they were the best of click-through's everything. They're the ones that are engaging for sure.

[00:18:49] Sara-Jean Gilbert: I think with email communication, if you get like 17% in open rate, you're like doing great with these, just a little bit under 30% actually engaging. So going through, clicking through, accessing the information, engaging in some way, we love that because then we can go ahead and respond directly to them with that information and really be responsive in that way.

[00:19:11] Sara-Jean Gilbert: We try and be very high touch and very accessible to them always, and this is just one of those other ways where we are really giving them the information that they need and they feel very taken care of.

[00:19:22] Host: What are some of your key takeaways from these strategy shifts and what results have you seen?

[00:19:28] Jordan Stevenson: We wanted to have a mobile first option that was going to generate excitement. And drive enrollment. we did all the other traditional things. We have a robust c r m and communication plans.

[00:19:41] Jordan Stevenson: but flat texting was not enough. We wanted something that was mobile first and extremely authentic and relevant to the student in that moment. next we wanted to knock out some of these, what we saw as simple questions that were taking up time for the student, taking up time for our staff. So we wanted to get that information in front of the student as quickly as possible in a way that they were used to receiving information through, in this case, the accepted student experience.

[00:20:11] Jordan Stevenson: And then a huge win for us was we were saving tons of money because of the cost of printing, the time to develop, as well as mailing out our accepted student. Packets. So really exciting to show, how it affected enrollment.

[00:20:27] Jordan Stevenson: so we're a massive institution. We've been on a growth pattern,we had our largest freshman class in fall of 2020. Moving to the next year, we grew by almost 7%. Over a record first year freshman enrollment.

[00:20:41] Sara-Jean Gilbert: We definitely saw a lot of ability to engage students earlier on, which really does end up translating to developing relationships with students and their families.

[00:20:51] Sara-Jean Gilbert: and that really does end up, translating to a lot of success for us. So we really loved getting those decisions out and being able to interact in different ways, and really personalized ways, which is helpful too. we definitely doubled our student engagement, that student admission portal.

[00:21:06] Sara-Jean Gilbert: Like I mentioned, those students know how to get into it. We don't have to teach them it every time we call them. So it's a critical piece for us and we, really love that we're able to use it in a different way.

[00:21:17] Sara-Jean Gilbert: And that brand recognition always does help. So even if a student doesn't end up choosing Illinois College, they'll end up sharing the information or their experience with their families, with their friends, and so it ends up making a little bit of a reach and that brand recognition builds on.

[00:21:33] Sara-Jean Gilbert: If they do decide to come, they're gonna have a great experience and we love all of that. So that's really been helpful in terms of that building, that brand recognition over time. we've had a lot of really great experience with, some record enrollment. And so that mobile first strategy really , did help, especially during pandemic recruitment.

[00:21:51] Sara-Jean Gilbert: And all of us are seeing some of that. Still to this day is that, students got really very used to being mobile, everything. And that has been a really, important thing for us. So we have really been happy with our results. we've also had a lot of opportunity to minimize some summer melt, which has been helpful as well.

[00:22:11] Sara-Jean Gilbert: And we've had two consecutive years of enrollment, over 1100 students, which is records for us. And, a third year even despite recruitment challenges, it's been really helpful to have this, this little tool in our toolkit. To, offer to our students. And, we would love to be growing enrollment to about 1200 students.

[00:22:30] Sara-Jean Gilbert: and we're looking into all of that as part of our strategic plan. We want strategic growth, not just growth overall, since we are a smaller institution, we wanna keep that feel.

[00:22:38] Host: This is the Filling Seats podcast, hosted by StudentBridge, where we help enrollment teams achieve more by fusing authentic storytelling with industry leading technology and personalized digital experiences.

[00:22:54] Host: If you're looking to attract more, amaze more, and achieve more, visit To connect with this episode's guest, check out the show notes. If you enjoyed this episode, 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, visit

[00:23:17] Host: Thanks for listening!