PeopleGrove and Santa Clara University Partnered to Drive Yield, Decrease Melt, and Create a New Access Point to the Bronco Community
Recruiting the class of 2024 was already challenging enough.
Much of the talk throughout the enrollment cycle had been focused on what then seemed like the distant future. On the horizon was a predicated 15% drop in the college-going age population by 2026 — the result of lower birth rates after the Great Recession. On top of that, a national conversation about the value of college seemed to be in full swing as studies and reports on the declining public confidence in higher education were published almost weekly. While these were pressing challenges, they still seemed a few years down the road.
Then in September 2019, the National Association for College Admission Counseling (NACAC) made changes to the widely accepted guidelines for recruiting. These changes created more competition throughout the recruiting process and did away with traditionally observed deadlines around which schools could recruit.
More competition for fewer students. Suddenly, schools had more urgency than ever to prove their worth to prospects. All this before Covid-19 accelerated that urgency and change to lightspeed across higher education.
Why use backwards-walking student ambassadors in the first place?
A huge part of the value that admissions offices strive to demonstrate is the power of their university communities. And most often, admissions offices turn to students and alumni to share the inside look. That’s why, nearly every institution has the now standard student tour guides — a battalion of energetic undergraduates who walk both wide-eyed prospects and their excited parents around the neatly manicured lawns of campus.
These student guides are chosen not just for their presentation skills, but also because they are actively involved in campus life. How many training sessions has your office done with your tour guides where you encourage them to share the other clubs they are involved in with their audiences?
Even before Covid-19 took away the campus visit as a recruitment tool, Santa Clara University was in search of ways to scale their student and campus ambassador programs. By committing to innovation and forging a partnership with PeopleGrove, Santa Clara University is creating a new experience for prospects, admits, and even first-year students with an enhanced focus on the Bronco community.
Higher Ed in the Land of Technology Innovation
In early March, Becky Konowicz, Randy Wang, and the Santa Clara University (SCU) admissions team decided to evaluate technology tools that could help in their work. As they approached admissions decisions going out to the class of 2024, they wanted to make sure that all their accepted students had the chance to learn as much as they could about the university.
“We’ve seen an increase in the number of students interested in Santa Clara from across the country and around the world,” Becky, now Interim Dean of Undergraduate Admissions, said. “These students want to visit our campus, but the timing of those visits aren’t always in sync with the college process.” Those visits were the traditional access point that students had to the Bronco community.
“We wanted to reimagine that access point,” Becky shared. And the student ambassador team was where they focused their attention.
For Santa Clara University, these tour guides and student ambassadors have always been incredibly important in helping the admissions office achieve the goal of sharing the community with prospects. “Students are going to trust those closer to their own age,” said Randy Wang, Assistant Director of Undergraduate Admissions. “It’s simply more authentic.”
The team turned to technology for two main reasons.
- To scale. If SCU was going to make these ambassadors available to every student, technology was needed to facilitate that. Given all their responsibilities, the admissions officers were not going to be able to drive the connections manually.
“Technology can bridge the gap of human resources,” Becky said. “If our staff is stretched and not able to connect with a student, bringing in volunteer students to connect with prospects on PeopleGrove is the answer.”
- To associate the Santa Clara University brand with innovation. As the institution is located in the epicenter of technology and innovation, the admissions team feels a responsibility to demonstrate that culture in their work.
“We are in Silicon Valley,” Becky said. “We constantly have to ask ourselves ‘Are we representing the innovation that’s happening in our backyard in higher education.”
As a university in the heart of the technology capital of the world, it’s important to Santa Clara that their prospects and their families have an experience that reflects that geography.
Every admission’s office measurable goal: Strong Yield, Low Melt
In April, Santa Clara University launched the Bronco Exchange, powered by PeopleGrove. This platform allows accepted students to search for and connect with student ambassadors that matched their interests — all without the intervention of the admissions staff. The platform not only alleviates staff time, but also ensures students are getting the right information from those who know best.
“When [prospects] want the opportunity to connect with a history major, what they’re really asking is ‘What can I do with this major? What internships can I get? How’d you get to law school?,’” Becky said. “That’s what they really want to know. In the past we used to have to ask an ambassador to reach out or copy an email from them. Now we have an environment that allows for those conversations on their time, and in their space.”
As the May 1 deposit deadline passed, the focus of the Bronco Exchange platform shifted. “The goal started as increasing yield,” Becky stated, “but everything moved so fast that it quickly became anti-melt.”
To this end, the admissions team partnered with the orientation team at SCU to create a virtual experience for first-year students on Bronco Exchange. Student orientation leaders were given the ability to create groups and events on the platform. With a private group for each leader, and dozens of virtual meetups and events on the platform, incoming students have a plethora of choices to serve their unique interests.
Becky and the team credit the work done by these orientation leaders for much of the success on the platform and for preventing melt during a particularly challenging summer. “If we can empower students in this platform, they can drive it and keep it going,” she said. She encouraged other schools to mobilize their student volunteers. “Let your students create and run. They’re leaders for a reason…trust them!”
The long term impact of mobilizing your Student Ambassadors
As orientation comes to an end, the Santa Clara University team is now looking ahead to the possibilities for Bronco Exchange. However, what’s already clear is that the impact of programs like these are felt well after the admissions process. “We have great retention rates and one of the many reasons we believe students persist is because, in admissions, we encourage students to connect with our ambassadors and community to hear and learn what the Santa Clara University experience is all about,” Becky said. “It takes the entire SCU community to recruit a class and in particular, the experiences shared by our student ambassadors resonate and help prospects truly know our campus.”
The team’s attention now turns to the Class of 2025. With the usual open houses and college fairs now online, the team is planning on using PeopleGrove’s integration with Brazen to host these necessary virtual events. This integrated platform allows interested prospects the opportunity to experience a meaningful event, and gain exposure to the entire Bronco Exchange community where a collection of amazing student ambassadors are ready to help.
With stakes this high, how do you choose the right technology partners?
The right technology is important, especially now. The guided connection process, specialty groups, virtual events, platform integrations, and back-end data that PeopleGrove provides Santa Clara is helping to build a new, differentiated admissions experience for future Broncos.
What’s even more important is the team behind the technology. “PeopleGrove stood out for us because I had a good relationship with the team,” explained Randy. “Everything was so transparent and upfront that it allowed me to trust that we could work together and get this through.”
Becky also appreciated how her team was able to lean on PeopleGrove for ideas and strategies. “It was a relationship where sometimes we had to rethink the way we did things,” she shared. “We weren’t just saying ‘OK, replicate everything we do in-person online’ but PeopleGrove helped us rethink what the online space could look like. That’s where we need help sometimes.”
The Bronco Exchange continues to have measurable impact.. Our work with Santa Clara University exemplifies the work we do with all of our partners — a true partnership, based on a foundation of trust, with a mutual drive to reach our shared goals.. As the new student journey evolves, we’re proud to work with innovative institutions like Santa Clara University who want to create relationship-rich experiences for their prospects, students, and alumni.
For insights into the tools that Santa Clara University is using to drive this impact, take our product tour: