Increase Graduate School Enrollment through Strategic Enrollment Management:

Changing Higher Ed Podcast 191 with Host Dr. Drumm McNaughton and Guest Dr. Justin Grimes

Table of Contents

Changing Higher Ed podcast 191 | Increase Graduate School Enrollment with Strategic Enrollment Management with host Dr. Drumm McNaughton and Dr. Justin Grimes
Changing Higher Ed Podcast | Drumm McNaughton | The Change Leader

January 23, 2024 · Episode 191

Increase Graduate School Enrollment through Strategic Enrollment Management

40 Min · By Dr. Drumm McNaughton

Strategic enrollment management (SEM) as a solution for growing graduate school enrollment in declining markets (e.g., minority and STEM).

The higher education landscape faces a troubling decrease in graduate school enrollment, markedly among minority groups and engineering programs.

Dr. Justin Grimes, founder and CEO of Stick With It and Apply to Graduate School, joined Dr. Drumm McNaughton to shed light on transforming graduate school enrollment through strategic enrollment management (SEM). Dr. Grimes, with over 17 years in higher education, brings a wealth of experience in diversity, equity, and inclusion in graduate education. His insights focus on simple, realistic approaches to address the declining trend in graduate school enrollment, particularly among minority groups.

Insights from the Council of Graduate Schools Report

The Council of Graduate Schools’ “Graduate Enrollment and Degrees: 2012 to 2022” report presents a significant challenge for institutions aiming to diversify and strengthen their graduate programs.

The report outlines a 6.9% drop in graduate enrollment over a decade, impacting various demographics and fields of study. Notably, the engineering field experienced a substantial 16.1% decrease in enrollment, which is troubling, given the growing demand for engineering professionals.

Underrepresented minorities, particularly African American males, have seen a 7.8% decrease in graduate enrollments. The data indicates a multifaceted challenge, with the decline in minority graduate enrollment posing a threat to future workforce diversity and innovation.

However, it also presents an opportunity for institutions to reimagine their approach to attracting and nurturing graduate students.

A Possible Solution: Strategic Enrollment Management (SEM)

Strategic Enrollment Management (SEM) is a comprehensive process that involves more than just recruitment and admissions. It requires a deep understanding of the institution’s mission, the unique value proposition of its programs, and the specific needs of prospective students. This holistic approach encompasses marketing, recruitment, admissions, and retention strategies, all aimed at achieving optimal enrollment and graduation rates.

Recruitment vs. Admissions: Understanding the Difference

A key distinction in SEM is between recruitment and admissions. Recruitment is about actively attracting and engaging potential students, tailoring communication to diverse groups, and showcasing the value of the programs offered. Admissions, on the other hand, involve the process of evaluating applications and making enrollment decisions. Successful recruitment strategies are characterized by well-orchestrated communication and marketing efforts that resonate with a diverse pool of prospective students.

The Enrollment Funnel: Catering to Different Student Types

The enrollment funnel comprises various stages, each catering to different types of students – from potential students with limited interaction to enrolled students committed to their educational journey. Tailoring strategies and communication at each stage are important for effectively moving students through this funnel. This requires understanding the unique needs and concerns of each group and addressing them through personalized outreach and support.

The Importance of Data and Trends Analysis

Innovative recruitment strategies are grounded in a thorough analysis of data and trends. Identifying underrepresented groups, understanding demographic shifts, and recognizing the evolving landscape of graduate education are all critical for developing effective SEM strategies. Institutions must also consider the public perception of their programs and align their recruitment efforts accordingly.

Pathway Opportunities and Community Partnerships

Creating pathway programs and building community partnerships are effective ways to attract diverse students and ease their transition into graduate programs. These initiatives can provide additional support, funding, and resources, making graduate education more accessible and appealing to a wider range of students.

Tailoring Strategies for Masters vs. Doctoral Students

Recruiting strategies should be tailored according to the level of the graduate program. Master’s programs often focus on the immediate return on investment and career progression, while doctoral programs emphasize research opportunities and long-term academic and professional goals. Understanding and communicating the unique aspects of each program is key to attracting the right candidates.

Three Key Takeaways for University Presidents and Boards

  1. Resource Allocation for Comprehensive Support Systems: Focus on academic aspects and ancillary support systems central to student success, such as counseling services, student activities, childcare, and housing.

  2. Data-Driven Analysis of Needs and Equity Issues: Leverage data analytics to understand and address the needs of the student population, particularly focusing on areas of inequity.

  3. Strategic Planning with Diverse Stakeholder Engagement: Establish a short to medium-term strategic plan, specifically a one to three-year framework, to address recruitment challenges effectively. This plan should be developed with input from a diverse group of stakeholders, including alumni, current students, faculty, staff, and community partners.


Final Thoughts

We urge you to listen to the podcast, as this episode is full of valuable insights for higher education leaders looking to enhance their graduate school enrollment strategies. Dr. Grimes’ expertise offers a comprehensive understanding of SEM, emphasizing the importance of tailored recruitment, strategic partnerships, and data-driven decision-making in increasing graduate school enrollment.


About Our Podcast Guest

Dr. Justin Grimes is the visionary founder and CEO of Stick With It, LLC, and Apply to Graduate School. In his role, he leads an education and consulting enterprise dedicated to facilitating meaningful connections between individuals and organizations. His firm specializes in providing insights and resources on Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) and Graduate Education. Through his leadership, Dr. Grimes assists individuals in navigating career and education decisions, offering strategies to propel them toward success.

Raised in Little Rock, Arkansas, Dr. Grimes is deeply committed to equity, social justice, liberation, storytelling, service, and healing. He holds an undergraduate degree in Computer Information Systems with a Minor in African American Studies and a Master’s in Workforce Development Education from the University of Arkansas at Fayetteville. His academic journey culminated with a Ph.D. in Counseling and Student Personnel Services (College Student Affairs Administration) from the University of Georgia.

Dr. Justin Grimes on Linkedin →


About the Host

Dr. Drumm McNaughton, host of Changing Higher Ed® podcast, is a consultant to higher education institutions in governance, accreditation, strategy and change, and mergers.


Changing Higher Ed Podcast 191 with Host Dr. Drumm McNaughton and Guest Dr. Justin Grimes

Increase Graduate School Enrollment with Strategic Enrollment Management


Drumm: Thank you, David. Our guest today is Dr. Justin Grimes, founder and CEO of Stick With It and Apply to Graduate School. Justin spearheads an education and consulting enterprise that facilitates connections between individuals and organizations, offering insights and resources on diversity, equity, and inclusion in graduate education.

His work assists individuals and institutions in navigating career and educational decisions and provides strategies to higher education institutions and prospective graduate students to propel them toward success. Justin joins us today to talk about how institutions can turn around their enrollment, especially their grad school enrollment, through the principles of strategic enrollment management and what he calls “keeping it simple and real”. Justin, welcome to the show.

Justin Grimes: Thank you so much for having me today.

Drumm: My pleasure. I’m looking forward to our conversation. You are in a very niche area about talking about increasing graduate school enrollment, especially around minorities. How did you get the expertise in this particular area?

Justin Grimes: So the expertise really came from both my doctoral work and research, as well as experiences working in higher education over 17 years. So the front half of my higher education experience was in student affairs. And then when I decided to pursue my graduate degree at the University of Georgia, I had the privilege of having a doctoral internship in the graduate school. And that was really the impetus for everything graduate school-related in my career, from my research topic, really looking at what factors influence Black males to pursue PhDs in education and really researching why people decided to go to graduate school and working in that office in the business section, in the recruitment section, and then post-doctoral degree working in the graduate school, at Virginia Tech and I had the unique opportunity to do diversity, equity and inclusion support and programming as well as recruitment and admissions. And so that, to me, really shaped my entry into this field of graduate education.

Drumm: Very good. That’s interesting now. University of Georgia, they’re the Tigers, right? No,

Justin Grimes: Now we are those wonderful Georgia Bulldogs.

Drumm: I’m

Justin Grimes: jokingly tell people, I’m not a Tiger fan as a, At one point, I’m born and raised in Arkansas, and so at one point, LSU was a huge rival. So as I used to joke, let me tell people, I don’t deal with anything Tigers, not Clemson, LSU, not the Zoo Tigers, none of them.

Drumm: I apologize, I couldn’t resist on that one. So we’ve got a problem with enrollment here in the U S, and it’s not only Undergraduate, everybody knows about the enrollment cliff or the demographic cliff, whatever you call it, the birth rate dropped off because of the Great Recession. Graduate studies saved us from a much deeper cliff. But even the graduate studies are backing off. They’re not as robust from an enrollment, in fact, the enrollment starting to decrease. Is it not?

Justin Grimes: it has. the Council of Graduate Schools, published a report. It’s called the Graduate Enrollment in Degrees 2012 to 2022, of which they outline that enrollment decreased about 6. 9 percent

Drumm: Whoa.

Justin Grimes: in this 10 year span and some of the areas of groups that experienced the greatest decrease were those who are underrepresented minorities, domestic students started to see a decline and if we had to pick a field of study that has seen the greatest decline, it was engineering and that report indicated that engineering fields were down 16. 1 percent in enrollment. So we have A really challenging issue ahead of us right now. The graduate enrollment.

Drumm: 16 % drop in engineering. That’s significant. There’s a lot more engineering jobs out there that need to be filled than there are people. Was there any kind of breakdown from a demographics perspective, i. e. did they break down the numbers?

Justin Grimes: Absolutely. They did break down the numbers. So in that report, the group that had the lowest decrease was African American black; they were down by 7. 8%. Domestic first-time graduate enrollment declined by 4. 7 % between fall ’21 and fall ’22. Other information, of course, again, as I stated, African American blacks had the lowest rate. Another area in which we saw some changes in decline was around full-time graduates. So full-time started to see, let me say it differently, full-time and for-profit institutions saw a slight increase, but full-time graduate students who were in, I would say, your more traditional brick-and-mortar institutions started to see a decline. But in their report, they outline a lot of breakdowns in terms of each demographic in the racial minoritized population.

Drumm: That’s very concerning. But it also, to me, says an opportunity is there to turn that around and start to increase enrollments. Do you agree with that?

Justin Grimes: I would agree. Definitely. I think one of the things I tell people right now is because we see this decline in enrollment, but there is still, as you’ve already mentioned, a need in many industries and fields for more skilled, talented individuals who possess these degrees on top of, with the Bureau of Labor Statistics is predicting around the number of a percentage of jobs that will require graduate degrees. I think this is an excellent time for students for institutions to be really looking at graduate education as a means for career progression and really thinking through what are the strategies and processes needed in order for that to be successful?

[00:06:49] The Difference Between Recruitment and Enrollment

Drumm:  I agree with that. I think to set the framework, the foundational piece for our conversation today, I think we need to talk a little bit or at least get started with what’s the difference between recruitment and admissions.

Justin Grimes: Absolutely. I tell folks when I work with them when I’m talking to faculty, board members, whatever the group is, that oftentimes many graduate programs are doing graduate admissions work, and they’re not necessarily doing graduate recruitment. And so graduate admissions really involves the reviewing of application materials and making enrollment decisions.

it typically doesn’t involve direct interaction with prospective students, but it’s about deciding who gets into graduate school. While recruitment is about attracting and engaging with individuals who want to explore graduate programs actively, recruiters may not always have insight into the application status of a prospective student. Whereas those who do admissions work will they’ll know exactly where you are with meeting your materials. They’ll know your scores, all these types of things that go into your admission into it. Successful recruitment for me requires very thought-out, orchestrated communication, email outreach, follow-ups, persuasion, and marketing of your program to a diverse group of prospective students and individuals.

Lastly, it’s about making the connection between the proposition value and the value added as a result of being able to get this degree.

[00:08:23] Marketing, Sales, and the Value Proposition

Drumm: And I think that’s a key point that we need to discuss in a little bit, is what is that value proposition because most institutions, I’d say probably about a quarter to a half of them, understand what their value proposition is, but the vast majority don’t. Now, before we jump into things like the enrollment funnel, which is, that’s clearly sales, okay. To me, this is a difference between marketing and sales. The marketing is getting the word out there, figuring out who your, target audience is, who are the people that would want to come with. And that is a strategic decision, isn’t it?

Justin Grimes: Absolutely. A strategic decision.

Drumm: So with that, your board, your administration needs to figure out one, who you are, and then secondly, how are you going to reach out to, once you figure out who you are, where are the students that would be interested in your programs? That, to me, is a marketing question.

Justin Grimes: Absolutely. And I would even add to that is who do individuals say we are. So, we have our own narrative and perspective as members of an institution around what we offer and what we value. And then there’s the public perception. That public perception can sometimes drive decisions for prospective students. But no matter what, it definitely has an impact.

Drumm: You mean that what we think we are and what the outside folks think we are two different things? Is that what you’re

Justin Grimes: Absolutely. Every day of the week, right? you give me one person who looks at U. S. News world rankings and you give me a person who looks at some other marker of success or another periodical such as diverse issues in higher education, and we’re going to see, sometimes two different perspectives related to the value of this graduate program, their prestige, their accolades and what they’re going to provide me as an individual considering graduate education.

[00:10:24] Strategic Enrollment Management (SEM)

Drumm: And that’s where I think we get into strategic enrollment management. As I was doing a little research for our conversation today, I went up and took a look where else Google They’re They and Wikipedia, the two authorities on everything, aren’t they? No, I’m just kidding.

Justin Grimes: Some will say so.

Drumm: Yes, absolutely. Strategic enrollment is defined by the University of Colorado is defined as a comprehensive process that helps institutions determine, achieve, and maintain their optimal recruitment, retention, persistence, and graduation rates, where optimal is defined as the academic context of the institution.

So that is taking into account not only the marketing aspects, the recruitment, which is the sales, and the admissions, which is the process. Does that make sense?

Justin Grimes: It does. And I like, I really liked the definition that they use to describe the way that this process works because graduate recruitment and admissions are very much connected to their enrollment management strategies.

Drumm: And so we’ve talked a little bit about the marketing, and that’s not what we’re going to talk about today. The public perception. We’re going to talk more about the recruitment and then the admissions process. But to give us a good understanding of that, I think we need to look through the enrollment funnel and what that is. Would you take us through that?

[00:11:52] Stages of the Enrollment Funnel

Justin Grimes: So one of the things that I talk about and want people to know is that there are different types of recruits. Perspective students in this, funnel, right? And so everybody enters into a different stage. And so, I’ll go through the five types of students that fit within this funnel.

[00:12:10] Potential Students

Justin Grimes: So the first group of students is the POTENTIAL STUDENTS. Typically, these are undergraduate students and working professionals, a lot of them who have recently graduated with a bachelor’s degree. They have limited interaction; oftentimes, institutions have very limited interaction with these individuals, but they are very curious about graduate education. You can find these individuals at historically black colleges and universities, minority-serving institutions, predominantly white institutions, and liberal arts colleges. They are spread across higher education. One of the things that people want to do when they are looking at how to address potential students is to talk about why they should pursue a graduate degree and what you can offer them in terms of program funding services support. And also talking to them about what you’re looking for. So, if you’re in a particular program that offers master’s degrees, what are you looking for in your prospective students?

What are you looking for in potential students, and then the career outcomes of this group,


[00:13:17] Prospective Students

Justin Grimes: The second group in that funnel is PROSPECTIVE STUDENTS. And so prospective students are potential students, but they have actually started to engage with you a lot more. So these are the students who are attending your recruitment events. They’re going and attending the faculty visitations. They’re showing up for the recruitment weekends, they’re at the conferences that you’re located at. And what you wanna tell this group is, you wanna talk to them about pursuing a graduate degree and the significance of it. How do you apply for the particular programs that you offer, what you’re looking for in the student, and specifically, do you really want to talk to them about the funding options? And so these are students you want to connect with. And the ultimate goal really is to show off what you do and show off what you want.

Drumm: And with that, I would assume that not only is what you’re offering but what you can give to them, i.e., salary bumps, et cetera, job placement, those types of things, not specifics. This is what typically students who go through our institution, they see a bump in their pay, et cetera. So there’s got to be the, what I call the with them, the what’s in it for me, for this prospective student.

Justin Grimes: Students want to know, and they want to be able to see this information listed. They want to know that when they’re having conversations with faculty and departments, institutional staff and members that they understand that for a lot of them, this is about career outcomes and what they’re going to achieve.

And so those who are able to speak specifically to those career outcomes, feel specific, have a greater opportunity to what I will say, convert these prospective students to APPLICANTS. And that’s the next group in the funnel. And so these individuals have already expressed interest in your program. They’ve already started the application. Sometimes they may be stuck in a phase on the application portal where they haven’t hit submit, but they begin to upload a lot of information about themselves. And really, the job of universities at that point is to connect these students to on campus resources to talk with them about different things, such as application fee waivers, always talk to them about funding and other initiatives you have, initiatives you have for students over the age of 30 first gen, diversity initiatives. These are the things you want to talk to them because there’s something this preventing them or causing them to pause on hitting submit. And so this often is when you have some type of management system that you’re using for your applications and you have email campaigns that means you can send out. This is when you want to be real intentional with this group.

Drumm: And, with these folks, these are the ones who are applying. They haven’t hit the submit button yet. They’re solding up. You need to be real specific with the messages you’re sending them. You need to have more personalized reach out to them than you would for somebody who is at the beginning of the pipeline, correct?

Justin Grimes: Absolutely. This is when a faculty member doing some follow up, this is when your emails going out and being specific. Hey, we see you haven’t completed your application. Would you be willing to jump on a 15 minute virtual phone call with one of our faculty members? Hey, we got an upcoming virtual event, would you mind joining us there? And that’s when you’re going to be able to get the opportunity to find out what’s the reason why they haven’t hit submit and making sure that you answer or respond to whatever those issues or concerns are for that student.

[00:16:49] Admitted Students

Drumm: Great, so you get them to hit submit they’re admitted

Justin Grimes: Absolutely. That’s our next group. So the next group, the fourth group are the ADMITTED STUDENTS. These are students that again, have already completed the application materials. You have reviewed their information. They may have participated in an interview weekend, maybe for funding or just in general for programs to make their decisions. But nevertheless, this student has already received admission. And so here’s the challenge with that group is they may not have replied yet, to your admissions request or information indicating that, “you know what, Hey, we’re offering you this. This is what the assistantship looks like. This is what the funding looks like. Here’s what we’re offering you.” And so now it’s going to be making sure with this group that you follow up again by answering any questions. Provide additional resources. By this time, you begin to know this candidate a lot more. You may know that they have a family, so they’re really concerned about child care. You may know they live in another state, so they’re concerned about, relocation. You know that this person may be working professional, and so what are the resources they need there? And this again, regardless of the institutional type, this is the group that that excites a lot of individuals because they’re already in and we just don’t want to get them to the finish line, which is to start enrolling.

Drumm: Absolutely. So the enrollment is, you know, you’re answering a lot of questions for them And then there’s that old, the saying from the movie show me the money.

[00:18:21] Enrolled Students

Justin Grimes: Absolutely. So that last group in the funnel are the ENROLLED STUDENTS. These are students who have already went on to your university website, looked at the graduate school catalog. They already have been assigned a faculty mentor or advisor. They’re here, right? And here, what I mean is, that they are already officially a student of the University or the institution.

The challenge with this group, that people need to really consider is, starting them day one by making sure that they show up day one, right? So they’re listed on your roster or on your group. when you’re looking at your online website, black board, whatever it may be. But this is the group that you want to answer any questions within the first few weeks, because sometimes you still have folks to have a little bit of buyer’s remorse, if we’re looking at it from that model. And so they may still decide that this is not what they want to do. But oftentimes when you reach the stage of or in the funnel of being an enrolled student, you’re committed.

Drumm: So in moving along and I, it always amazes me how quickly these conversations go, we’re, we’ve already been doing this 20 minutes and we’re halfway through all the information we want to go through.

[00:19:34] Strategic Enrollment Management a Clear Identity

Drumm: So when I look at it from the strategic enrollment management, we touched on this a little bit. The institution needs to really know who it is. But that knowing who it is also goes further down to what the program is, what the particular college within the university is, knowing your mission and knowing what your value proposition is. To me, that’s marketing 101.

[00:20:02] Consistency in Experience: Website Continuity

Drumm: One of the

Justin Grimes: Absolutely. And to add to that, it’s not only for individuals within the institution to know that, but for people to be able to look on the website and see this information explicitly stated. when I talk to graduate programs about their recruitment needs or the challenges they’re facing, oftentimes I start with asking them the question, where do students go to find out about information related to applying to graduate school? And do they have multiple touch points to receive the same information? If I have the link on my department and website to the application. I hope that’s the same updated link that the graduate school is using. And sometimes these challenges do exist, but you want to make sure that individuals aiming programs are making sure that they are explicitly stating what they stand for, what the opportunities are, what value these degrees provide them with on your departmental website, on your graduate school website. People want to see themselves represented. They want to see information about the program and what it’s going to be like.

[00:21:07] Help Prospective Students Experience the Program

Drumm: neatest things that I’ve ever seen was a montage of people’s photos, students photos. And, human nature, we’re going to click on somebody’s photo that we identify with, and when they click on that photo, you’ll hear that person’s story, or you’ll be able to read that person’s story, what they came to school for, they’ve graduated, it’s all alumni, etc.

To me, that’s a great way to get people to start to identify with the school.

Justin Grimes: I would agree. One example that I love to use is Georgetown. So Georgetown has a video that’s described as the life in grad school. So on this video, you look it up on YouTube, you wind up seeing a description of an experience, right? This student goes through their entire day of being a graduate student, their interactions and engagement with their classmates. Their interactions and engagement with faculty, and the types of research that they’re doing. You are able to, from that video, understand not only the expectation of those who are attending this program or what it’s like to be in graduate school, but you’re able to see yourself represented and say, I can do this, And so, often I find too many programs don’t have enough content information on there. They don’t have enough photos. They don’t have enough videos showing to the person looking at it. This is what it’s like to be a part of our program, and I often tell them you’ve got to add more information on your website besides the words people want to see what it’s like.

Drumm: I can relate completely. I remember when I started my doctoral program, and it was in human and organizational systems. I was a physics major undergraduate. It had been 20 years since I had been to any kind of school, and I felt so far out of my league, until I went and attended, , they opened, the dissertation, the PhD defenses to anybody who wanted to come. And I went, and I listened to one, and I was like, I can do this. And from that point on, it wasn’t, oh, I can’t do this; it was like, I can do this. It was a huge thing to be able to do that. So to be able to identify and, in the D E I world, they talk about belonging, this is

do I belong at graduate school? The answer to that for 95 percent of people is yes. But you have to believe that yourself and that’s one of the ways to do that. Let’s talk a little bit about

[00:23:40] Recruitment Strategies and Data

Drumm: recruitment strategies because with the enrollments dropping off as they are, we need to do things a little differently than we’ve done in the past. Do we not?

Justin Grimes: I would, yes, I would definitely say that we most definitely have to start to begin to think through what the future of higher education is going to look like in particular with graduate education. And so, for me, in order to look forward, we have to look back, and we need to look at not only the historical context around our institution’s mission and vision and goals but look at the data that drives a lot of decisions to help people understand what are the trends, what are the gaps?

Drumm: And it’s interesting because you mentioned data. The accreditors would love you because you’re talking about data-driven decisions. But you’ve also got to look at where markets are going. You also need to take a look at where are your potential students.

Justin Grimes: I would agree. And one of the things that I tell people to do is with, particularly with data, it’s really looking at what is the story being told through our data, who’s missing from our demographics if we programming historically has provided access admissions to a majority of those who identify as male or men, then we have a challenge there, right?

[00:25:05] Identify Your Underrepresented Minoritized Groups (URMs)

Justin Grimes: And so in a conversation, people are often bringing up. We want to find our U. R. M. S. Are underrepresented, minoritized groups. And so too often, I think people are starting to look at race and gender, but there are so many other identifiers and demographics that are important to this.

And so I always encourage people to really look at who’s missing and figure out why they have been missing. And sometimes we got to look at the demographic and information that represents our faculty. We also need to look at other markers and places where students are, one example that I give people is to look at diverse issues in higher ed. So, diverse issues in higher ed produce a top 100 every single year. And so their top 100 degree rankings rank institutions by those who confer the most degrees for minority students. For example, I identify as black. So, if I’m looking for a program that tends to graduate the most number of black doctoral students in a specific field, I might look at this top 100; it’s available on their website. I might look at this and see that this institution or these types of institutions tend to thrive. And so I encourage institutions to look at that to see where do you rank. And if you don’t see yourself ranked on that list, here’s a place of where you got a lot of work to do. And it’s achievable; there are ways to chip in and change that.

We could talk about that more, but people need to definitely spend time looking at the trends, looking at the gaps. Looking at the future related to how many can we actually enroll. If we’re a program that offers real funding, how many can we afford to fund? Where are we in our grant cycles and being able to admit more students? What happens? Are we in a field that is changing and evolving in particular, where we’re competing against new forms of technologies or just interest in general? Do we typically have a lot of international students and not enough domestic? Whatever the challenge is, data is going to help reveal that to you.

Drumm: Absolutely. And so with that, once you’ve identified the types of recruits that you want, build your campus story, and tell it on your website, what goes from there?

[00:27:14] The Three-Click Rule and User Experience

Justin Grimes: From there, you want to start really to review the content that shows what it’s like to be that. So that is going to be looking on your website. I often recommend to institutions to go through, what I say, the three click process. So, can I find the information that I’m looking for as a prospective student within three clicks? Can I find the GPA or GRE requirement, GMAT requirement, and test score requirement within three clicks? Can I find the application link to apply to graduate school within three clicks? Can I find information about the faculty and their research, maybe even their CVs, within three clicks? And so these are the types of things that people really want to work on developing, is that type of information.

And then the next thing is really understanding and talking about pathway opportunities and community partnerships. That’s a really important one.

Drumm: Yeah, before we get into that pathway opportunities and community partnerships, I want to emphasize that three-click rule. And it’s not just three clicks if you hit the right click; it’s three clicks from multiple areas, am I right?

Justin Grimes: That is correct. People should be able to go to multiple places on an institution’s website and find the information that they’re looking for.

Drumm: I can’t tell you the number of higher ed institutions that I look at, and I’m trying to find specific information, whether it’s student outcomes, whether it’s the board of trustees, the names, where their meetings are, and I have to click five, six, seven times to find that information. If I’m a prospective student, you’ve lost me. You’ve already lost me.

Justin Grimes: Yeah, you definitely have lost me and it begins to create my perception around the institution, institutional fit. My perception around institutional effectiveness and none of these things necessarily may be accurate indicators or accurate stories in people’s minds. But I am at the beginning to start formulating ideas around this.

And this may make me say, You know what? This institution was in my top three. and I’m looking at two other institutions that are also very comparable. And because of not being able to find the things that I need within three clicks, I’m now going to remove this from my top three and replace it with another.

Drumm: And along those lines is, don’t think about it from looking at your desktop computer You’ve got to think about it from using a phone to get at that information.

Justin Grimes: Absolutely. My strategy for institutions to address the three-click rule is to talk with your current students, ask them to give them three or five different things that you want them to review, and see if they can find them within three clicks. These are the people, especially your first-year students. They’re the most recent, recently actively looking at this. So, that’s a quick strategy of how you can address the three-click rule by talking with your current students. And alums, that’s another area, another group to really tap into to help you to understand what are the issues, what are the challenges, the gaps, the three click rule, all these types of things.

[00:30:19] Pathway Opportunities and Community Partnerships

Drumm: Pathway opportunities and community partnerships. This is critical stuff. I know one institution, Dave Decker, President of Franklin University, has agreements with over 1200 different community colleges to be able to accept enrollments, and they already have the course equivalence mapped into their computer system so that they know when a student presents their transcript, they already know what credits are going to be accepted, and they go beyond that. That’s an example of a pathway opportunity. What are some of the other ones that folks need to be looking at?

Justin Grimes: I can name a couple of them that I think are really helpful. One, I brag on my own, alma mater, University of Georgia. They have this program called the FUSE program,

Drumm: of Alabama, is that what you said?

Justin Grimes: I wish them nothing but the best and congratulations to Nick Saban on his retirement, but at UGA, we have this program called the FUSE program, facilitating underrepresented student experiences, and so, this is a pathway program for students from certain HBCUs, generally, relatively close to the University of Georgia, Clark, Spelman, Morehouse, Florida A& M University, which I’ll talk about too. They create opportunities where assistantships are provided to this group. Tuition is often reduced to a particular amount per credit hour; I think it’s like $25 per semester. They provide them with a stipend, and they begin to start their graduate program the summer before they enroll in the fall. So this is a great pathway in the sense that students who are coming from an HBCU or minority-serving institution are coming from a place that tends to be racially homogenous in a way, and they often are entering into environments where they may not be the only ones which look like them.

And so, the transition was not always easy. And so I’m gonna applaud UGA for thinking through that and saying, how can we make this path into graduate school easier for this group? Another group that I think about is Florida A&M University. They have a what they call the graduate feeders program. It’s a stellar program where they go through and students who are in this program, I believe it’s one to two years, they go through training around applying to graduate school, writing personal statements, and interviewing. You are getting the cream of the crop. You’re getting top students who are very well versed in not only preparing for graduate education, but they’re going to be successful, and they have a history and a track record with doing this.

And then the last one I will mention is the fraternity that I’m a part of, Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity Inc. We have a partnership with Indiana University’s Kelly School of Business. And so members of our fraternity, our brotherhood, are able to receive application fee waivers and the opportunity to receive less than three full-tuition fellowships to be admitted into the Kelly School of Business, full-time in-residence MBA program. So there are a lot of places that I recommend institutions look into your Greek organizations, look into your HBCUs and MSIs, look into creating pathway programs that make the transition much easier for individuals, underrepresented students of color, and parents. Another example is partnering with folks who have community organizations that help provide support for parents. Childcare is a challenge around the world, right? Especially in the U. S. It’s a huge challenge. And so, for many parents who want to go to graduate school, they’re figuring out how to navigate that. But if you have partnerships that include funding and resources to support parents, that’s a great way you’re going to attract individuals who say, you know what, this was on my list of needs, and now I don’t have to worry because I noticed they have a partnership in the supports and I can easily transition into this community.

[00:34:04] Differences Between Recruiting for Masters and Doctoral Students

Drumm: We are getting right to the end of our time. This has been fascinating for me. Just very briefly touch on some of the differences in recruiting master’s versus Ph.D. students.

Justin Grimes: So one thing you really want to think about when it comes to the recruitment of masters students is really knowing the funding models, right? So we know that funding for master’s students, a lot of master’s students pay out of pocket. And really thinking through what’s the connection point between when they’re paying for this, what’s the return on investment, and how is this going to more immediately help them jumpstart into a career or transition into a career? So it’s really about explaining the value of this master’s degree and talking about the timeline to complete the degree.

And then we start getting to Doctoral degrees. It’s important to really think through the research, right? So, explaining to people what research is and how we utilize our research within this institution. What are the things that we’re trying to accomplish with this? I think that’s really important when it comes to understanding the difference between recruiting master’s and PhD students. It’s also their needs and their goals, right? So I always tell people to really think through the questions that you’re asking, not only the application but, let’s say, you’re having a virtual event. What types of things do you want to know about this particular group? But more importantly, what are the things you want to share? And so being very explicit that if you have a different set of requirements for your doctoral students, you have different expectations. For example, like some graduate programs, doc programs required you work three to five years and some masters programs don’t have necessarily a job, a professional experience requirement.

These are things you want to be very explicit on and talk about why you have this requirement and why it’s important, how this shapes the experience that they’re going to have. These are the things that I think are very essential when differentiating between the two degrees.

Drumm: And I would also interject that especially at the PhD at the doctoral research level, getting the faculty involved, based on the prospective students’ interests, getting them involved as a mentor and potentially as their research advisor, I think is important.

Justin Grimes: Definitely.

Drumm: this has been, Justin, just a fascinating conversation for me.

[00:36:17] Three Takeaways for University Presidents and Boards

Drumm: I love it when I can learn new things. Three takeaways for university presidents and boards on, on everything that we’ve been talking about.

Justin Grimes: Absolutely. So the first one I would say is to really think through the reallocation and providing resources, and for me, resources are time, people and money, around the support areas. So a lot of students who may get a chance to really dig into it, but a lot of students, prospective students are concerned about additional supports outside of the program. So counseling services, student support and activities, child care, housing, making sure that you are resourcing these areas, because we know the students need these additional things to be able to thrive in their programs.

Number two, take away is to really look at your data to identify the issues around needs, who’s missing, what are the equities that exist, particularly around funding, knowing that there are a lot of graduate students that are trying to unionize because they are not experiencing living wages and some of these things. So really thinking through that and identifying trends, not only in admissions for your institutions, but even your peer and aspirational institutions.

The last thing I would say is to really think through establishing a one to three year plan to address your recruitment needs, utilizing different groups. I encourage people to get a group together of alums of current students, faculty, staff, community partners with the focus on addressing graduate student enrollment. Part of that is talking about these pathway into graduate school.

Drumm: takeaways. Thank you. Justin, what’s next for you?

Justin Grimes: So one of the things is I’m on right now, my, spring tour for my book and workshops that I’m doing. I’m the author of the book, “20 Questions to Answer Before You Apply to Graduate School”. So right now I’m going to many different institutions talking about applying to graduate school, helping students write their personal statements.

In my business, Apply to Graduate School, we offer support in helping students to find, identify, admit, and thrive in graduate school.

And then the last thing I’m really working on now is my graduate recruitment work with institutions. I have a whole workshop, talent magnet or attracting top talent to graduate studies. And I’m really looking forward to more institutions. I got a few lined up this spring and looking forward to the opportunity to really help graduate schools develop strategies and a plan, a fully implementable, low cost, effective strategies that you can implement, that faculty will buy into, institutions will buy into and ultimately see success in their recruitment and admissions of graduate students.

Drumm: Those sound great. Justin, thanks so much for being on the program. I’ve enjoyed our time together. Look forward to staying in touch and the next time we have you on the program,

Justin Grimes: Thank you so much. I appreciate the opportunity.

Drumm: Thanks for listening today, and a special thank you to my guest, Dr. Justin Grimes, founder and CEO of “Stick With It” and “Apply to Graduate School” and author of the book, “20 Questions To Ask Before You Apply To Graduate School.”

Justin, thanks for being on the program. I look forward to the next time we get to talk.

Tune in next week when we welcome Erin Hennessy, Executive Vice Presidents at TVP Communications to the show. Erin is an expert at crisis communications and she’ll be joining us to talk about communications and polarizing situations, something that everyone in a leadership position in higher ed needs to know about in today’s hyper political environment.

Thanks for listening. See you next week.



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