One-Stop Student Experience Management at St. Catherine University

Students today have higher expectations than ever. They’re scrutinizing the ROI from their college experience, demanding more efficient services, and expecting a seamless education.

Decentralized models of student experience management may be traditional but they don’t work well in this environment.

Drew Melendres, Senior Vice President of Enrollment Management and Student Affairs and Athletics at St. Catherine University (St. Kate), joined the Enrollment Growth University podcast to talk about the benefits of centralized leadership over the entire student experience.

Aligning Marketing and Enrollment

St. Kate is recreating its brand under a new vice president of marketing. She and Drew work together closely on programmatic marketing across the three schools. They’ve also brought student affairs and athletics into the mix.  

“We essentially control that student experience from the first time that they hear about us out there in the marketplace all the way until they walk across the stage at commencement,” Drew said. “We’re connecting the dots and making smoother handoffs from one area of the institution to another, just because now we’re all together in one place.”

Benefits of Unifying and Centralizing the Student Experience

Students today have high expectations.

“I had a dean of students that looked at me one time,” Drew told us, “not here at St. Kate’s, but in my previous role at Collegus and said, ‘You know, we really can’t be all things to all people.’ And I said, ‘Well from a student services perspective, your students have that expectation now.”

And sometimes that can be a challenge.

Students really don’t want to be traded off or shuffled around from office to office. By eliminating the university shuffle, you create a higher level of engagement with the student, who says, “I came here because you had the program of study that I was looking for. I stayed because you seemed to really care about me and you really want to see me be successful.”

An Example of One-Stop Student Experience Management

“There’s a real-life issue we’re dealing with right now that our athletics group brought us,” Drew said. “They would really like to do athletic stoles at graduation signifying that they were an athlete here at our institution. We think that’s a great idea.”

If these systems were not connected, athletics would move forward, make that distinction, order their stoles, and show up at graduation with them. They may not be aware, however, that St. Kate’s leadership is having a similar conversation with all the multicultural groups who have been asking for similar things.

“And if we didn’t connect these conversations,” Drew explained, “what we might end up with is one group moving forward without the rest of the institution, (which) does not feel as included or as a part of the conversation.”

Next-Steps Advice for Other Institutions

Look at your student demographic. Ask yourself: Is this the right model for you?

An increasingly diverse student body is looking at your school and asking themselves, “Is it worth it for me to come here?”

That concern coupled with a demographic decline in high school graduations creates a perfect storm that means universities have to work hard not only to attract students but to retain them as well.

Do you have the right team and levels of services in place to do that?

“Right now,” Drew said, “we are having these active conversations and doing a tremendous amount of educating because our student body has diversified by more than 20% over the past ten years.”

After you’ve looked at your students, then look at your team and take inventory of where you have strong experience. Get all your voices at the table, and think about how to create more with what you have. This is not about doing more with less, it’s about doing more with what we have today.

Next, measure and analyze everything. “We must bring multi years worth of data, and also look at what we expect to happen for that,” Drew told us.

Finally and most importantly, be open to change.

This post is based on a podcast interview with Drew Melendres from the St. Catherine University. To hear this episode, and many more like it, you can subscribe to Enrollment Growth University.

If you don’t use iTunes, you can listen to every episode here.