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Episode #6
Filling Seats Podcast | March 15, 2022

Enrollment from multiple perspectives with the SACAC president

In this episode:

You’ll hear from Tyler Peterson, Executive Director of Admissions & Financial Assistance at the University of Alabama at Birmingham and current president of SACAC.

You'll hear him talk about:

  • How to engage employees through the great resignation
  • His perspective on what schools are doing well (and not so well!)
  • What to expect at the upcoming SACAC conference
Tyler Peterson

Tyler Peterson

Executive Director of Admissions & President of SACAC

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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 six of filling seats. And this episode you'll hear from Tyler Peterson, who is the executive director of admissions and financial assistance at the university of Alabama at Birmingham. He's also the current president of SAC ACC, which is the Southern association for college admission counseling. You'll hear tyler talk about how to engage employees through the great resignation his perspective on what schools are doing well and not so well and what to expect at the upcoming SAC act conference let's meet tyler

[00:01:04] Tyler Peterson: I have been in enrollment management. since 2001, I've worked at four different institutions all in the state of Alabama and all very different. where I am nail, uh, large, public research university of about 22,000 students and have worked at a school, a smallest 1200 students, a small private liberal arts college.

[00:01:26] Tyler Peterson: and then have worked at sizes and institution types in between those. Too. And so I'm just wrapping up my 21st year in enrollment management.

[00:01:35] Host: That's awesome. think it's pretty unique that you've worked at four very different institutions all in the same area. Typically people enrollment has. Scatter around the country. So I'm assuming that that was an intentional choice

[00:01:49] Tyler Peterson: yeah, it was an intentional because of family for both me and my wife nearby. But I do think you bring up a really good point when I think about, if I had to do it over again, I definitely value all the places that I've been at, but maybe there would have been a point in my career, maybe when I was a newlywed or before I had kids that were established that I don't know that maybe.

[00:02:12] Tyler Peterson: Branch that a little bit more. And go on to, a little further distance, but, that wasn't in the cards. So yes, in intentional in staying nearby and,it's been a good ride.

[00:02:21] Host: So tell me a little bit about your current role and your current institution.

[00:02:25] Tyler Peterson: I'm currently the executive director. Of admissions and financial assistance, at the university of Alabama at Birmingham. So we are in Birmingham, Alabama, a campus of about 22,000 students. UAB has been the most diverse institution I've ever worked at both in terms of, Race and ethnicity, but also, socioeconomic backgrounds, country, a and state of origin.

[00:02:50] we're a campus, if you are familiar with the south, that doesn't look like a lot of other kind of Southern campuses might, we're also in an urban university. And so there's not a lot of urban universities in the Southeast. and so that's been fun. That's been different because that wasn't my background.

[00:03:07] Tyler Peterson: That's not where I went to school and that's not where I had previously worked. Nowhere was really like an urban place. They're all sort of college towns, if you will. and so I lead a team here of about 50 people. they're doing everything from traditional sort of recruitment, also doing online recruitment,have a remote team of seven folks that are in various states working for us, financial aid processing, scholarships,a really good eclectic mix of folks I get to work with, every year.

[00:03:38] Host: When you say urban campus, do

[00:03:41] Host: you mean

[00:03:41] Host: urban as in being in a city or that the actual campus is scattered throughout a downtown area.

[00:03:47] Tyler Peterson: so I would say the latter, I have worked at, campuses that have been in, in, larger cities, but non that have been downtown, like truly downtown. and it's really cool when we bring people to campus. And if they have this idea of what an urban campus looks like, they typically think of campuses that, that don't have any green space.

[00:04:07] Tyler Peterson: And so it's pretty cool for our campus. it's urban, but with green space,my office is probably on the busiest street of Birmingham. Anda lot of cool things that, that come with that not only working here, but also for the students that come to UAB because of.

[00:04:22] Host: You also are the president of SAC ax. So tell me a

[00:04:26] Host: about, that role and what that. And what SAC is. If

[00:04:30] Host: does it

[00:04:31] Tyler Peterson: so SAC act, we are one of 23 affiliates for. Larger national association for college and admissions counseling. So this is an organization that's made up primarily of college admissions folks. high school counselors, independent counselors, community-based organizations, and in the Southern portion, we are the largest affiliate.

[00:04:56] it's non-state and the. and we've got about 2000 members. and what SAC act does in, in short is we support the members that in turn support our students. that can be everything from advocacy to professional development. to, just support to,mental health to, just growth in a number of, of different ways.

[00:05:21] Tyler Peterson: And so I am about to pass the gavel to, the next president, at our annual conference in just a few weeks. So being a president of SAC ag has actually, as a three to four year kind of commitment. So first year you're president elect and then you're pressing. Third year, your past president, and then the fourth year, your past, past president, and you would work with the nominations and the slate for the future board member.

[00:05:48] Host: So,

[00:05:48] Host: you've had the distinct honor of having your presidency during the pandemic.

[00:05:54] Tyler Peterson: yes. And,when I said yes to this, it was probably in. February of 2020. So the first year, so my ears president elect, it was truly like, we never had a conference.

[00:06:06] Tyler Peterson: All of our meetings were online. so you live on both sides of, both being an administrator and enrollment and then also advocating for, and, helping out other.

[00:06:21] Host: Enrollment folks. What is it like being on both sides of that world? And I guess, how do you balance.

[00:06:26] that's really tough because,, there may be issues that. That you are passionate about as a person, but perhaps your institution's stance might be different and SAC, ax stance might be different. it could be,a belief about test optional admissions or,a belief about, setting policy of, what is it, what is going to be our COVID policy at conferences and.

[00:06:51] it's really interesting because, I'm just accountable to a lot of different stakeholders. And so the constantly put myself in the shoes of someone that doesn't look like me and doesn't believe like me, and doesn't think like me requires a lot of time for me to do that, but it's also a pretty awesome responsibility,to really think about.

[00:07:12] Tyler Peterson: Others that again, that, that don't share the same sort of positionality that you might. so yeah, , especially this year, I think we've had a lot of hot topics in higher ed, test-optional being one of them. and certainly, increased push with diversity initiatives that we saw, after summer 2020.

[00:07:30] so yeah, it has been it's been an interesting time to be not only in this profession, but president of an organization of 2000 members.

[00:07:39] anything that you're super proud of, that's come out of your time as SAC president.

[00:07:44] Tyler Peterson: . there are two things I'm really proud of. I think the first is that we just. Well, actually we did, we did it in the summer. but we were methodical about it. We approved what's called free access membership, for essentially for public school counselors and community-based organizations.

[00:08:02] we're all about access. And a lot of times we talk about access, but it's usually access with a student, right? Like access to support

[00:08:10] Tyler Peterson: services or access to this. We don't always think about access. Within our members. And, we spend a lot of time developing a plan for what would it look like if we allowed people to join for free in these populations.

[00:08:25] Tyler Peterson: And we've rolled that out. at the beginning of January and our numbers have grown, we've added over 500 members that previously were not members of SAC ACC because. We put in this free access membership plan. So I'm really excited about that because,the life of a high school counselor can be so very different than someone who's only focused on, let's say college admissions or college counselor.

[00:08:50] and then the other is, it was time to update our strategic plan and, not everybody gets excited about strategic planning

[00:08:57] Tyler Peterson: process but, I'm really excited about that because it has been a tough year. people are transitioning back to some aspect of pre pandemic world, but also the pandemic in many ways helped us. Be more creative. It helped us to say, Hey, you know what? We can do professional development on zoom.

[00:09:18] Tyler Peterson: You don't have to pay hundreds of dollars to come to our annual conference every year. you can attend these webinars and you can attend affinity groups, on zoom and various platforms.

[00:09:29] Tyler Peterson: that has been also fun to see and that it's not just, Hey, let's go back to normal. Let's just incorporate what this looks like as we move forward.

[00:09:38] Host: What are you seeing at other universities

[00:09:41] Host: that you think that they are doing really well at

[00:09:44] Host: in terms of enrollment market?

[00:09:45] the schools that I'm saying that are, and that we're able to adapt quickly, or the ones that, it didn't come as a surprise to me to see, this institution or that institution, quickly pivot with some things and not just dig their heels in and say, Hey, we're going to, we're going to market, we're going to have to do it differently.

[00:10:04] Tyler Peterson: We're going to have to incorporate, different virtual opportunities. how do we meet students where they are? And I think that was what I, what I feel like I've seen the most is, schools that truly care about students are saying, okay, wait a second. We've got to meet them where they are.

[00:10:22] Tyler Peterson: And not only that we've got a market, not just the bells and whistles of our school, but also how we're going to support your student when they come. I, how are we going to support a student who for the past two years has, had to learn virtually or even at home, and is now coming to college and maybe the expectations are that they had a normal year or a normal high school experience and they didn't.

[00:10:46] Tyler Peterson: So I think when we talk about marketing, where I think we're talking about, not just, the outcomes that I think has always been important, but also supporting the student,that's a key piece. I think that some schools are doing really right

[00:11:00] Host: at UAB, what are some marketing wins or successes that y'all have.

[00:11:04] Tyler Peterson: I think that we were, fortunate that we were able to quickly say, all right, , so we're a university. hospital university medical center, which means we were going to take, COVID probably more serious than most. And because of that, that meant when other people were opening up their campuses for visitors, we were not.

[00:11:24] Tyler Peterson: And I'm really pleased how we were able to quickly get some virtual assets, online, too quickly. link a lot of one-on-one zoom appointments for prospective students and their parents to keep the conversation going, that we could quickly say, okay, all of these dollars that we typically travel with, we're not traveling.

[00:11:44] Tyler Peterson: And so let's put this in a way that really allows a student to truly see who are we at our authentic self. and not just who are we on paper, but at the core, what type of institution are we and what. Community. are we, so I think we adapted to that, really well, and I'm really pleased with it.

[00:12:02] I'll share another piece that I think has just been interesting in higher ed, that we're not immune to is the great resignation higher ed is typically a slow to change, slow to adapt. a world and, the great resignation hit higher ed, just as hard as it did in other markets. And, that's one thing is I look at, and these next few years I'd really like to see higher ed say, okay, how do we keep talented people in our profession?

[00:12:31] Tyler Peterson: Because we quickly saw a lot of talented folks now had way more options because they could work from home and they could work remotely or in a hybrid setting and higher ed for the most part has kind of said, whoa, wait, wait, wait. That's not how we do things. like we're largely bricks and mortar.

[00:12:47] and so I'm anxious to see what the future of that looks like for higher ed, because I think if we're committed to, staff and staff development, and when I say we, I mean, all of. we've got to find ways to meet the needs of the new workforce.

[00:13:00] Host: Is there anything you're doing that you're excited about in terms of. Attracting staff, keeping staff, or are you your head , just as much as everyone else.

[00:13:12] Tyler Peterson: Yeah, I think I'm doing both. I think we're doing both right. Which is,in one way I would say at UAB specifically, we have always, invested a ton in professional development. Whether that's attending conferences or when there are conferences or speakers that we can bring in. we've been really successful in doing that, that we can identify talented people early on and get them connected in the profession. butthe head-scratching part is, at the end of the day, There's a lot of options and there's a lot of opportunities, for people. And yeah, I think we're doing both and I think it's the, we've got some good things in place, but what do we need to do differently to engage in and keep people sort of part of a, of an evolving culture?

[00:13:58] I just finished my doctorate this summer. interestingly enough, my dissertation was in employee engagement. And so all the times where that was the most important, I'm seeing now that all of the work that I did, I've got a greater opportunity right now to put that new knowledge into play than I ever did.

[00:14:18] Because it just maybe didn't matter as much. And there weren't as many options, for a person to choose from. And Now I'm thinking, okay. I didn't realize how quickly I was going to use all of this new knowledge to strengthen our culture and be more engaging with our teams. So,constantly learning constantly trying to make it better.

[00:14:36] Host: You've definitely had a lot on your plate these past couple of years.

[00:14:39] Tyler Peterson: Yeah Yeah. And we, I have a nine month old

[00:14:43] Tyler Peterson: baby so it, yeah, it was an interesting time.

[00:14:48] Host: Oh my, what do you feel that your team currently struggles with in terms of marketing?

[00:14:54] trying to market value and outcomes is still something that can be really hard. And by that, it's always easy to market and promote, what scholarship offerings you have or, majors, but when it comes to really marketing, what is the value in this place in this degree that allows a student or a parent to say, yes, I see the return on investment.

[00:15:22] Tyler Peterson: And I see it in more than just dollars and cents, because that's, what's really important to families, is dollars and comparisons, but also thinking about how do we continue to communicate that I don't know, for 500 more dollars a year or a thousand more dollars a year, that, this program may be exactly what the student needs.

[00:15:44] so I think that's an area that we've really got to improve. in is selling the value of education. And it's hard because it's not a tangible product. I don't think people would think twice about buying a new shiny car, for $40,000, if they felt like they needed it because they immediately get it right.

[00:16:03] Tyler Peterson: Like they immediately put their hands on the steering wheel. They immediately drive it off the lot. I think for us in what we're doing, it's sort ofsaying, Hey, trust me. Trust us. And in four years, we'll give you a sheet of paper with your name on it, and that's going to punch your ticket for the next 40 years of your career.

[00:16:21] Tyler Peterson: I think that's hard for colleges to communicate, and I think at times it's hard for families to also, see.

[00:16:27] Host: And you've also got some other big dogs and state that you're competing against that have big national brands, and don't necessarily have to talk about value as much.

[00:16:40] Tyler Peterson: That's right. Yeah. And we're a young institution. ,for the past two years we were the number one young university. and times higher ed, we're not anymore because now we're 51 years old, so we're not eligible for it anymore, but you're right. We're, we are competing against, in some cases, institutions that are three times as old as us, parent great-grandparent great-great grandparents all went to that school. we're a school that, maybe your parents came here, but the chances of your grandparents coming here probably pretty slim because we're just not that old. So you're right There's not a lot of,tenure, I guess I'd say with what we've done over time.

[00:17:17] and so yes, we are constantly trying to advance our. In a really tough market, and differentiating ourselves. And I think that's what marketing is all about. for us,we are unapologetically proud to say that, yes we are in Birmingham, Alabama, and yes, we know that the Birmingham you may know is only the one that you read about in the history books, during the civil rights movement.

[00:17:39] Tyler Peterson: But let us tell you. Why we are where we are because of that. And we are a better city, we're a better institution, from that experience. And that was a terrible experience and it's not something we would ever want to repeat. but I think there've been times in our past where we apologetically.

[00:17:57] Tyler Peterson: Sort of be like, oh yeah, we're in Birmingham, like we're in Birmingham and there's great food and there's great entertainment and there's revitalization taking place. And, and I think as a marketer,that's a piece that we have to look at as that's differentiation. we're not sort of small college town.

[00:18:13] we're big, we're urban, and let's own it and let's embrace it. And what that means for the students and employees.

[00:18:18] what channels are most effective for y'all in terms of market?

[00:18:23] Tyler Peterson: our personal phone calls that they are still impactful when it comes to a conversation with mom and dad, as it relates to cost, but text messaging is probably the most effective. we do a lot with our digital strategy campaigns, whether it's ad words, whether it's targeted ad campaigns.

[00:18:41] but we still see a lot with texting and we still see a lot with the digital strategy that we offer. paper is interesting because we struggle with that a lot because there's this feeling that we all have to have a view book, like that, that, that big shiny glossy thing that you take to a college fair and well, the past couple of years we haven't needed it.

[00:19:01] we've cut back on that. However, I think mom and dad expect to see something in the. And if it's not in the mailbox, they may think, gosh, why don't you want my son or daughter? And you know what mom and dad don't know as well. We do want your son or daughter. we emailed them, 14 times.

[00:19:20] Tyler Peterson: And they replied back and said, leave me alone. so there's this, this is tough balance that you have to strike where we know mom and dad checked the mail, or maybe the students do, but they see it where we don't know sometimes about the emails that we send. And how effective, they are.

[00:19:35] all of the channels are important. And it's really frustrating that you, that you can't always know what is the right thing, because it's different for each person and each type of person. some, a little bit of everything. How about.

[00:19:47] Host: what are some creative approaches that you all are taking to be able to get what need to get done without, huge budget and all these people.

[00:19:58] Tyler Peterson: Each school, each leader, each culture has to do what works for them within the context, Of the rules of that place. And that makes it pretty tough because there are some things that may limit our creativity. then, another institution may be able to easily do. And, but I think for us, it's been a couple of things.

[00:20:17] Tyler Peterson: One it's it's how can we flex your hours? To make sure that you are not just your best professional, but you're your best person too. And that if flexing your hours in order to also take care of some of your family needs,is going to make you your best employee at UAB or in our office at UAB, then we want you to do that before.

[00:20:41] Tyler Peterson: If you're not your best self at home, you're not gonna be your best self at work. Andthat doesn't cost any more money. that's not over time. That's not, in, an environment, especially recently where there weren't a lot of raises. that's really just trying to let people know, like we care about you, as a person and first and foremost, that's what we care about.

[00:20:59] Tyler Peterson: And then from there, everything else is going to. Fall in line, if you will. so I'm really pleased at what we've been able to do there. because I think it's mattered for people and,again, in a field that, that doesn't pay near as much as maybe some others,a big part of engaging.

[00:21:15] is, creating that environment where someone can bring their whole self to work. And, that's where I think the culture in what you do comes into play, because I don't know that I can win a bidding war, If you're looking to go work somewhere

[00:21:27] Tyler Peterson: else that do think I can, I think we can win a culture war sometimes of,what's important to you and helping you reach your goals while simultaneously UAB reaching our goals.

[00:21:38] Host: aside from lack of resources, because we could talk about that forever in higher ed, what do you think are some things that you see other schools struggling with?

[00:21:48] Probably wrestling with, are they going to be here in 10 years? I think what we saw the past two years is this trickle down effect where, everyone was uncertain about what type of class they would bring in.

[00:22:02] Tyler Peterson: And if you had the mains and you had the applicant pool, You would admit more the past few years in order to make sure you hit your class, That even if you over enroll by all means make your class well, eventually that trickles down to everybody. So depending on what, where you as an institution, think you are in that pecking order, maybe you're up here.

[00:22:24] Tyler Peterson: Maybe you're here, maybe you're here that still impacts you. So maybe there's some students that we've. Gotten that now all of a sudden we're seeing, you're getting admitted to schools that never admitted them before. that, that trickles down. And I think to some schools that are, and we're still struggling from the recession of oh eight.

[00:22:44] here we are 14 years later in, in the outlook. It's tough.

[00:22:48] Host: And the population string.

[00:22:50] Tyler Peterson: Yeah. . And who's going to be gutsy enough to make that bold move that says, Heyin 20 years, this is what the population is going to look like. We need to make changes. Now we need to invest in mail in, I don't know, maybe it's a non-white Hispanic initiative, you know who's doing it now and is going to be aggressive about it. And so I think what schools are struggling with is the uncertainty. of short-term gains and long-term gains, and what's going to move the needle now because the budget requires it versus, Hey that's great. No, but we also got to be thinking about five years from they all.

[00:23:27] Host: Let's talk a little bit more about the future. What do you see for the future of enrollment and enrollment? Mark?

[00:23:34] the institutions that are really paying attention to the changes in demographics. And are realizing that, if you always drew from, let's say the Northeastern part of the United States, that's an area that's about to undergo a massive, reduction,that you better be thinking about where that next market is.

[00:23:54] and yes, I think there are some brands that will be able to just say, now we're just going to keep doing what we're doing and maybe admit a few more do this a little differently, I think the future is going to be, competitive. And I think we're going to have to answer questions more about the value of a college degree, in an environment where, over time across the country, tuition has increased.

[00:24:20] and, and some of it's because family. I have demanded certain things, They demanded nicer residence halls. They demanded student unions, they demanded rock climbing walls, right? these are all amenities that we know people have wanted. but moving forward, how important will some of that be?

[00:24:39] and, who's going to be able to be bold about saying who they are and who they're not. And, Who's a good fit and who's not a good fit. I think that if families can't find exactly what they want, when they want it about your school, then you'll, just be, an afterthought, off the list again, unless you have a prestige profile that doesn't matter.

[00:25:03] Tyler Peterson: But if you're a school that is working hard and scratching and clawing, yeah, you're going to have that if,someone's. Does this go to a search engine and looks up your school and they, they can't find what they need within a couple of clicks.

[00:25:16] Tyler Peterson: Or they don't like what they see or your content is not refreshed or, or you're not personalizing their experience.

[00:25:22] we still live in a world of customization, and I think we're going to have to continue to do that in higher ed.

[00:25:27] what does that look like for a student that says, Hey, You don't have a major, I would like to major in this and this, or I'd like to take this minor in that minor and make it a new degree. Why can't I do that? and we should be able to say, maybe you can. and creating those types of programs.

[00:25:44] Tyler Peterson: I think we're just going to have to be very customizable, very personalized and continue meeting those needs of people in market.

[00:25:51] Host: . If you could go back five to 10 years and give yourself advice, what would it be?

[00:25:55] Tyler Peterson: I'm thinking about the people that I feel like I've mentored over the. Five 10 years. Not understanding , the business that enrollment management in college admissions is, not understanding, that

[00:26:08] Host: it's dollars, and cents.

[00:26:10] Tyler Peterson: it's dollars, right?

[00:26:11] there's a reason you can't give everybody a full scholarship. You'd be out of business. Like we wouldn't have jobs. I think five years ago, I definitely knew that. 10 or more so years ago, I'm not sure that I understood it as much. And I think that's, that can be really eye-opening for professionals as they grow that it's not just always giving someone the good news, because you have to maintain your net tuition revenue or your discount.

[00:26:34] and we don't always think about that because, we don't think of education, always as a business.

[00:26:38] Host: . Tell us a little bit about the upcoming conference and how can someone register if they're interested in.

[00:26:45] Tyler Peterson: It's going to be awesome. first conference in person since 2019, when we planned this, we thought if we got 500 people, we thought that would be a great number because typically the conference can have seven, 800, sometimes 900 to 10. Right now we're sitting on about 750 registrants for the conference.

[00:27:07] it is at the Omni champions gate outside of Orlando. Friday, March 18th is the last day to register the conference, officially is, April, third. through the fourth.

[00:27:19] Tyler Peterson: we've got 75, sessions. great professional development opportunities. over 251st time attendees and, it's a fun conference too. So I think, folks will learn a lot. They'll have fun. And we are just in a space right now where we all need a boost, A shot in the arm . a reminder of the work that we do and why we do it because we've been staring at screens for a really long time. It will be a mask optional conference. And we also hope to have some other, ways to identify your comfort level. Proximity and closeness to others. we're excited about it and I think it's going to be a lot of fun and a good chance to recharge for a lot of us, including me.

[00:28:01] Host: And if someone wants to connect with you, where can they find you?

[00:28:05] Tyler Peterson: You can email love. Continue conversations, whether it's about enrollment management, admissions, higher ed, marketing, or just getting involved with SAC act, whatever it may be, would love to connect. So reach out to me.


[00:28:23] 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.

[00:28:43] Host: Visit student Thanks for listening