Rethinking Service

Robynne Lofton reflects on the past year of NewCity’s enrollment strategy work.

A colleague recently shared a story with me about her brother. They had been talking about those inevitable low points in life, and he had shared his deep frustration with people who would reach out to someone in pain after a loss, and say “call me if there is anything I can do for you”. He couldn’t believe the insensitivity of these unaffected people, asking someone already suffering to shoulder one more burden of letting them know how they could help. He had said the best and only answer was to just start helping. If you think about it for a minute, there is always something you can do to be of service. 

I’ve been reflecting on the last year of leading NewCity’s enrollment strategy practice. I’ve also felt personally called to reflect on what it means to me to recommit to service, and I’ve sought to balance these two important themes in my life. As an agency, we set out to meet a clear industry need and have been busy developing and honing our enrollment strategy service offerings. We’ve designed our marketing strategy, built on our teams’ expertise, and developed content to promote what we do.

We wrote about our enrollment strategy mindset in the Seven Pillars of Higher Ed Digital Strategy, and we discussed the power of human centered design in a webinar with our partner Hannon Hill called Rethinking Student Connections. We’ve produced free tools to support graduate admissions, like our Graduate Enrollment Service Blueprint.

These efforts were our way of saying, “Here’s what we do. Let us know if we can help”.

And while it’s been important for us to do all this, I have realized that there’s another way, or a parallel path. I’ve started to intuit the subtle difference between providing a service, and just diving in right where you are with a client, and helping. Sometimes it’s the smallest things that can make the biggest difference. 

Because I know that my admissions and financial aid friends and family need help. This past year may have been the hardest one yet for higher ed. Between the Supreme Court’s decision to end affirmative action in higher ed, to the disastrous FAFSA challenges, we’ve witnessed trial after trial rattle our industry, disrupt long standing practices, and erect new barriers to and through higher education. I listened as my colleagues expressed a need to just survive the cycle. I kept listening in numerous conversations with admissions and financial aid folks as they talked about their service providers, the enormity of their contracts and expenses, the whispers of more mergers and closings, and the churn of persistent turn-over. All this, while the pressures of enrolling a class loomed larger than ever before. 

With the story of my friend’s brother in mind, I challenged our marketing and operations teams to reflect on what it really means to be of service to enrollment teams. I shared the heart and value of this service profession and the expertise and wisdom learned from their years of service to the recruitment and retention of students in higher education. Our rallying cry was to do more than invite you to call us for service. We wanted to lead with the intention of helping the helpers.

My first onsite was with Radford University. We weren’t contracted specifically for enrollment services, but as I began to work with their teams and understand their many complex challenges, some of which were brought on by their sudden growth, I couldn’t help but envision enrollment strategy solutions.

We led conversations to fully understand their audiences and program complexities. I met their students, toured the campus, and worked with their admissions and financial aid teams to uncover their student journeys and the ideal path they envisioned for their prospective students. We discussed how targeted communications plans and in-person touchpoints could support this journey. I took these discoveries home to our enrollment team of UX and content pros and together we began to unravel the complexities and opportunities for enrollment strategy. 

From landing pages to program pages to Slate pages, we brought clarity to page layout and content. These improvements were designed to deliver on marcom goals, but they supported enrollment outcomes too. Our discovery work had exposed the complexities of enrollment that lay beneath the surface, and as collaborative partners we saw that we couldn’t separate the goals of brand and enrollment, and the UX and content work that underpinned those goals. Both teams at Radford shared their approval and delight.

We proved two points with this project. One, that enrollment is centered in all we do. And two, that partnership with our clients is about rolling up your sleeves and helping. Not just delivering on the statement of work (don’t tell our Project Managers that I said that) – keeping an eye open for ways that you can be of service to them.  

There are many more projects in the works and I can’t wait to share them with you. I am truly proud of our enrollment strategy division. We sought to provide solutions without diminishing the expertise of our campus-based colleagues and offer real help in times of need. Clients have easily become friends, and there are a host of colleges and universities that I now feel a part of. It feels pretty great to say I was a part of that, that we added value in making their schools more accessible to their audiences, and when we saw the need – we simply helped.

Picture of Robynne Lofton
Robynne Lofton

Robynne is NewCity's Enrollment Strategy Director. She has 26 years of higher education experience within diverse colleges and universities.

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