Episode 40 – Innovating Higher Education for Non-Traditional Students with Elliot Talbert Goldstein

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Shiro Hatori
All right. Hello, everyone. Welcome to the higher ed dimension podcast hosted by concept 3d. On this podcast we discuss higher ed marketing topics around creating and capturing demand. Before we jump in, we do have a quick message from our sponsors that concept 3d concept 3d Its purpose is to foster connections through technology, elevating the way businesses connect with their community by leveraging the power of events and location. If your school needs an updated interactive map, virtual tour or centralized events calendar, please reach out to concept 3d dot com. Thank you. Alright, so let me introduce myself. My name is Shiro Tory, and I will be your host today. And today I’m very, very excited to introduce our guest speaker. He is the Director of Digital Strategy in the Division of Professional Studies at UMBC. He’s leading a team working across departments in different units and piloting many new technologies and strategies. Please welcome Elliot Talbert Goldstein. Thanks for joining us.

Elliot TG
Thanks for having me.

Shiro Hatori
And I love to open up with this question on every episode. What do you love about higher ed Eliot?

Elliot TG
Yeah, I think it’s a it’s a tough question, but your people on the spot, but I really enjoyed, I think there’s a lot of great opportunities no matter what school college or university you’re working at, to give people the resources that they need, whether it’s they’re taking degrees, because it’s the most interesting thing to them, or they’re looking for career advancement. Or they’re trying to solve a problem in their field, their industry or their community. And so there’s always a great challenge and making sure you’re delivering those effectively. And you get to connect with a lot of really smart people, both students, and faculty, and other administrators and marketers. So bringing all those people together to really deliver education and higher education is just really exciting. For me.

Shiro Hatori
That’s fantastic. Do want to tell us a little bit about your background roles, responsibilities?

Elliot TG
Sure. So I work in, like we mentioned the division of Professional Studies, which is kind of a unique, like cutting edge division in the university, which is tasked with creating new programs, and new ideas that are at the forefront of higher education, but also connecting with the community with lifelong learners, and creating extension programs for non traditional professional graduate transfer students. And so those programs are rolled out in order to serve a specific need, with help from the state and from other programs in the university. And then based on those what we learned will that can inform other program development updates the majors and minors and other degrees. And we do the same thing in the marketing team as well. Because these are new programs and new, just new concepts that the community and the country in the world may not be familiar with, we need to promote them. It’s not your typical major or minor. So people don’t always know to look here for them. So in marketing, we have to come up with new ideas and really be cutting edge in order to promote them promote all this great work that our colleagues are doing in order to draw students. And so based on those marketing skills, just like what our programs, do, we bring that back to our communications teams at the rest of the university, to help them improve their skills and tap into some of the knowledge that we’ve created.

Shiro Hatori
It’s amazing. And now you’ve sort of already answered this question I’m about to ask around what makes you NBC and your division, specifically unique? Maybe what would help for me to understand is how, how would How would your division at another school look like? What what makes it unique? You know, if if you’ve seen divisions like yours, or maybe they don’t really exist in the same manner?

Elliot TG
Sure. So a lot of the kind of analogous departments that other universities are the extension schools, or the online programs, professional, and Adult Education is also kind of an area and we have a lot of similarities. We want to make sure that we’re delivering really crucial programs to career changers, people looking for specific fields and advancement and new kind of, I would say contemporary and modern degrees and programs that that may that aren’t people aren’t familiar with it. They don’t may not know that they need or maybe useful in their fields. So if you think about a sociology degree, you know, sociology is, you know, a century and a half old, you know, two centuries old or something So those degrees have been around for a while. But what about subsequent things? What else do people need? What’s new. So programs of ours like community leadership, entrepreneurship, and like technical management, they all tap into ideas from organizational behavior or Learning and Technology, stuff that you know, has been evolving over the years in order to give people really critical skills that they can kind of learn in the classroom or online, and then bring into work the next day. And while I think our colleagues are doing that, we also have a lot of this community focus, and a really, regional focus, just being near DC and Baltimore, where we have a lot of federal agencies. So we’re really connected with them in designing programs for the needs of the community, along with those companies. And I’m not sure that every every, not sure that everybody can say that. So it’s really cool. Graduate Baltimore and DC and stuff like that.

Shiro Hatori
That’s amazing. So it looks like you’re very involved with the communities when I’m hearing and that’s when one unique identifier about you’re gonna be seeing your vision. And if I remember correctly, demit the majority focus isn’t online, right? With your division, it’s,

Elliot TG
that’s right. Yeah, most of ours are in person or hybrid classes, we do have some online programs. So it just depends on what you’re looking for. But you know, the community aspect and that, you know, that also is networking, it doesn’t mean you’re necessarily going to go to every football, you don’t have every basketball game, but you will connect with your classmates. And they probably work in a field similar to you, or are looking for jobs similar to yours, or you might people meet people who have jobs that you’re looking forward. So it’s a great opportunity to connect with them. In person face to face.

Shiro Hatori
It’s amazing. Tonight, I just wanted to ask a very, like level set a question here. What What are non traditional students and professional graduate students? And why are they an important demographic?

Elliot TG
Sure. So it’s funny because the term non traditional is even starting to become out of date, because so many students do not, or not just the four year college degree, right? So many, like young people, do not just graduate from high school, go to college for four years graduating, get a job, they may take a gap year, they may go to community college nearby to save money and stay close to home, they may find better programs or maybe somewhat more indecisive about what they want to do. They may be interested in focusing on community, they may be returning students. So maybe you started agree a few years ago, and you need to come back. So the the number of what they used to call non traditional compared to traditional students, that that ratio is changed quite a lot. Then there’s a lot of lifelong, you know, what they call lifelong learners sometimes, but also people who want to change or adjust their career. There’s a lot of stuff going on, and people may need additional credentials. So this professional graduate students, you know, that’s a big demographic, people who have entered the field 510 years and realize they either need an advanced degree, or they want to change careers. And so we’ve built programs meant to help them with that career change process, both from, you know, transitioning from being a working professional to being a working professional and student. And then what you do with that degree afterwards, how do you apply that to your, your career?

Shiro Hatori
That’s amazing. And so like, you know, maybe I’m someone who graduated 10 years ago, and I got a degree in arts and science and, you know, I have a family now, and I want to go back to school that would categorize me more as a lifelong learner, or professional graduate student.

Elliot TG
Yeah. And lifelong learners is a term they use for people that want to come just take classes for the rest of their lives. But now it means so much more. Your your degree, the microcredentials, you might want to change. A lot of people end up in fields, they didn’t realize, you know, we can talk about colleague of mine, who was a theater major and ended up in it. We can talk about people who started in technical fields, but decided they wanted to get into more management, or community based work. And they can use those skills that they’ve learned in all those places. But they may need some additional upskilling in order to understand how they do it, and make the connections that can that can help them figure out how to how to really apply it

Shiro Hatori
to interesting and so even within your division and the students who are part of it like I’m, I’m hearing, there’s a couple of different segments or groups of people. How do you how do you go about marketing to students in your division?

Elliot TG
Yeah, so we really think a very personalized approach. We know that everybody we talked to is going to look very different from another person. So we’re as personalized as possible It takes a lot of extra work, but the kind of user first, the audience first perspective, is really the most important thing. It definitely needs some extra hours. But the ability to make sure that we’re giving you the information you need. So somebody who’s looking at, you know, a degree in engineering management is going to look very different from somebody who’s looking at a degree in biotechnology, right, they could have some overlap. And there are some similar pathways. But we want to make sure that we’re not sending you information, you don’t need prospective undergraduate students who are returning to finish their masters or transferring from community college, they have a different set of requirements, applying to grad school is very different from applying to undergrad or transferring to undergrad. So we need to make sure we provide a lot of that information and, and give it to you in an easy to understand format. Otherwise, it can be really overwhelming. And you can just get lost. And you may not simply because it wasn’t communicated well, you may just never come back to study because it was too confusing or too difficult. So we really need to personalize it, get people to get in touch with so that they can start talking about how to approach this because because it is complicated, but we want to make it as easy as possible.

Shiro Hatori
Definitely. And I know in our intro conversation you mentioned sort of like your big three steps you take when you’re, you know, looking at a generic audience are very specific as well. Do you want to share that with our audience as well?

Elliot TG
Sure. So based on some some great research from our colleagues, you know, we really try and approach things, approach three, three ways to approach things approach our prospective students, we want to capture the attention of undecided students, they could be undecided about going back to university, or they could be undecided about UMBC. But we want to make sure that you’re you’re looking at us and you’re looking at programs that are relevant for your needs. You know, I guess if you’ve started to look for a degree, then there, there might be something that’s that’s there for you, and you may not be aware of it. Again, a lot of people just think, Oh, you have to go back and do a major or oh, I need to, you know, go take the standardized exams, or Oh, my grades weren’t great before. Well, come talk to us, you know, we want to get your attention so that we can talk to you about what those things mean, and how what might be the right path for you. Even if it’s not with us, you can get a lot of great information, and the faculty and administrative staff can all help you. The second thing that we want to do is make your transition as easy as possible. And like I said before, that’s both the transition to UMBC as a student or a working student, and the transition out of UMBC into your career, whatever your next steps are. So that means making sure the class schedules make sense to you, making sure that your forms and documentation and financials are on all in place. And then when you’re done connecting you with the people that you need, and making sure that you know you can put your new degree on your on your LinkedIn profile and describe what you did in your resume. And then the last thing is we we need to prove that this is all real, you know, so we use social proof, students stories, faculty stories, also. But the students stories really go above and beyond we have so many people from all walks of life. So we’re always just putting out there the quotes, the podcasts, the videos, just if you’re curious about what you can do in higher education, as a student, whether you NBC or somewhere else, I really recommend our content, it just goes everything from, from young people who just graduated from college, to people who are out of the, you know, out of school for a long time, to people who knew exactly what they wanted, and exactly what degree was going to get them there and found us and knew that that was the right the right path. So whether you’re a little unsure, or you’re very, very secure in your decision, right, the this material can really push you the proof of that is their

Shiro Hatori
right, I think my opinion is that the steps two and three are very, I think, aligned with your demographic of non traditional students and professional graduate students because, you know, they’re, like, you know, making the transition easy. Like, I don’t assume sometimes they have families or, you know, their, their life might be a little more complicated compared to a traditional student right out of high school. So I feel like that’s very important and very specific to your audience. And, and obviously, social proof and showing value. That’s if you’re an adult, you need you need outcomes, right? You’re not doing it just for social reasons or for for you have a mission that you want to accomplish when you come into this. So I feel like those are really, really specific and important to to your division and what you’re doing at UMBC.

Elliot TG
Yeah, I mean, just the example of students who may be caregivers, whether you’re an undergraduate, undergrad or grad student, you might need to take care of somebody in your family or it’s blended family and the traditional, you know, four classes per semester or whatever 12 credits, 15 credits just isn’t going to fly, you might have a job, in addition to being a caregiver, right? We have, you know, that is so common, and it’s just not something that comes you don’t see people putting them on the front page of their website very often. Right? And but you’ll be see, we have resources to help to help deal with that. And, you know, we, we know that there are people that are coming here in that situation, and so many others, and we want to make sure that you can, you can deal with this change, and that, at the end of it, you’re gonna be able to take advantage of the degree to help make your life even better, whether it’s changing to a better job that can help you afford things more easily, or just a job that’s more flexible in order to give you that space.

Shiro Hatori
of it. And I know you mentioned you started a podcast as well. I’m just curious, obviously, we’re recording a podcast right now. Like, you know, what, what made you want to start it? And you know, how’s that been going for you?

Elliot TG
Yeah. So for years, we’ve been doing YouTube videos, and we have just really great explanations and talks and bullet points and data on our programs. But we realized we wanted a longer format to explain this stuff, it is really hard to explain a college degree and a college career, graduate or undergraduate, it’s really hard to do. And a two minute YouTube video, I’m sorry, I really wanted to work in with the podcast format, which is, you know, obviously huge to let people listen, and you don’t have to be pursuing a degree to listen to this. We have great interviews with professionals in every field, biotech, you know, managers, community member, like nonprofit organizations, just a zillion things that are that are really interesting. And we’ve been able to really make sure if you’re interested in one of these topics, or you want to know more about what your career will look like, it’s there. But if you like hearing about just what do professionals do in other fields, that’s a great place to go. And we have interviews with professionals in the field that are just affiliated with UMBC, because they work with our programs, we have interviews with faculty, and we have course interviews with students. So there’s a really a lot of diversity there. And it’s been a lot of fun. And we’ll be giving a talk at that about that soon connecting that to connecting the podcasts, both both to how we engage with prospective students through the podcast, but also how we bring all these people together to talk about the amazing work that they do, it’s not always going to make it in the newspaper, it’s not always going to make it in the UMBC news. So we want to give them an opportunity to talk about it. And it’s been really cool. There’s a lot of really, really cool interviews.

Shiro Hatori
It’s amazing. And, you know, of all these three steps, you know, do all the responsibilities fall in the hands of your team? Or do you are you’re working collaboratively with admissions and advisors and faculty as well. Oh, it’s

Elliot TG
total, so many stakeholders, you know, which program has, you know, a new faculty member that’s got something to say which program has a student that just, you know, totally excelled, and over which program as a student, that just is the great example of somebody that fits in at UMBC whether they were here just because they wanted to, you know, quick promotion, or they were, you know, they, they really took advantage of everything we had to offer, and they’re, you know, one of those people we would put on a billboard, you know, no matter what, you know, what you’ve done here, if you’ve got a story to tell, we want to we want to hear about it. And yeah, I mean, people just say, Oh, that person was great. I got an email from a from a colleague just about something work related. And I saw in the, in her email signature, she was one of our former students. We put her on the podcast, you know, invited her to the podcast, right? We didn’t even know she was there. She graduated a few years ago, didn’t make it, you know, we didn’t make the connection. But now we can talk about, we can have her talk about what’s about what she did and why she you know, decided on that program. So yeah, it’s it’s always like, kind of, I wouldn’t say all hands on deck, but it’s a real team effort from everybody. Collegial is the way to put it, right. Everybody’s thinking about this, like over I can tell that story now.

Shiro Hatori
It’s amazing. So you’re aligning on the vocabulary. And this this steps, this strategy together across the different units and departments, and it’s helping us sort of, you know, come together collegial in in your overall strategy.

Elliot TG
Absolutely. Love it.

Shiro Hatori
So let’s talk results. I love talking to results. I know, you know, you mentioned you’ve seen some growth at the you outlined 20% growth year over year. I don’t know the specific dates, but you know, you know, can you tell us a little bit more about like how you got there. I know all the things you just talked about? Were a part of it. But I think it’s amazing that you’ve seen these results and so, in it In a world right now, our enrollment clips and all these conversations are going on. So I’d love for you to talk a little bit more about that.

Elliot TG
Yeah, so this was roughly from 2017, to 2019, where we just we had had a big growth in the number of programs and the numbers, like you said, that was around that time. And we have many more programs now. So they look very different. But at the time, we had had some growth in the number of programs we had. And we wanted to make sure that we were taking advantage of all the opportunities that were available to us, when kind of expanding the website and expanding the marketing opportunities, marketing channels and messages. So we took a look at our, our some of our like advertising, like just on Google to make sure that every keyword met a certain threshold, you know, we wanted to make sure that the website was optimized for the keyword that people were searching for. So we take our cybersecurity degree, you know, not every search on Google about cybersecurity is going to be somebody who’s looking for a master’s degree in cybersecurity, right currently might be concerned about the news, they might be thinking about international relations, they might be thinking about a particular regulation or, you know, their own home security. So what we really had to do is prune all those words to make sure anytime somebody, you know, our information came up, we weren’t spending money on an ad that was going to appear for somebody that wasn’t relevant. And that just helped really focus our advertising on people that that were really interested in our degrees. Another thing we did is really structure all of our content, videos blog, we didn’t have a podcast at the time, but this fed into that later. But our blog and our videos, and our social media posts, we wanted to make sure that every single one supported those three goals we talked about earlier, getting attention, students making the transition easier, and giving social proof. Every single thing we had to create had to meet that and if it did it, then why were we making it. And then once people got came across our content, and they came to our website, and that could be through Oh, and emails includes email, blog, social video, people might read 10 emails before they even you know, the second time they visit your website, or they might see 10 social posts. At one point, I think it was 48 different touchpoints before they actually you know, enquire with you, right? So I need to make, right. So I need to make sure that you know, we’re out there and everything kind of drives you to take an action. So once you get to the website, I made it as we made it as easy as possible for you to raise your hand to fill out a form and say, Hey, I’m, I think I’m interested. And we’re not gonna bombard you with information. But we will follow up with you. And we’ll provide you with content that you may not have seen yet, you might have been on your YouTube on our YouTube, but you may not have seen our Instagram, you might have heard about us from a friend and kind of now you’ve visited the website, but our emails will show you the YouTube videos. Maybe you started that YouTube video and you didn’t finish it, and we send you that email now you’re reminded. So once you’ve been on there, and then we make it as easy as possible for you to reply, make sure that our staff are reaching out. The idea was to push people to really kind of let us know that they might be interested so that we can talk to you about how to make this, you know, fit out to make this work for you. And that was very effective. It really all all the programs, we had saw a great bump in the number of inquiries and the number of students that were attending. And we had a nice run. And that set the stage for you know, having all that in place all those processes that set the stage for 2020 when things went awry, and we really had to rethink what we were doing. But we had this great foundation, and that was huge. And now we’re going back and looking at the last three years to see what was effective and what was in and what’s changed, and what we need to do to keep that growth going.

Shiro Hatori
That’s amazing. Thanks for sharing that. Always, always love talking numbers and results. So that’s that’s huge. I’m wondering, just super high level question. Where do you think the trend of the student demographic you’re currently marketing to, which is the non traditional and professional graduate student? Plus some other segments as well that are included in there, but where do you think that it’s going directionally, is this going to be an increasing like, student demographic in the future? Like I know, I’ve heard a lot of, you know, obviously, a lot of students dropped out during COVID. And a lot of you know, like you said, a lot of lifelong learners are coming back to school, like where do you think the direction is going?

Elliot TG
Yeah, so there’s like two things that we talked about. One is like we talked about, you know, non traditional, whatever that means at this point. There’s going to be a lot of differences and what and what students are looking for, what they we know they’ll be looking for is return on their investment, what are they going to get out of this degree? If they’ve made any decision, like you mentioned, to drop out or take a break for some amount of time? Right, it’s gonna bring them back, if they are affected by what is currently, you know, a bit of an academic economic downturn. You know, what is? Is there a degree that’s going to help them refocus. And then there’s another big shift in that’s how people look for degrees. So right now, we’re already at like, 20, or 25% of our even graduate students are now Gen Z. So Gen Z has graduated college

Shiro Hatori
is crazy to think of.

Elliot TG
They’re already in grad school. So we need to make sure we’re addressing their their needs, both in terms of the degrees, right, but also in terms of how they’re shopping for them. Right. They’re used to Amazon, and millennials are too. So millennials are coming back for a degree there. I think millennials are currently about 60% of the market. They may be looking at grad school now, having been born, you know, 40 years ago, and between 40 and 25 years ago, 2720. Probably, they are thinking about that they are thinking about, Okay, well, if I’m going to go to a school, what am I going back to school for graduate degrees or new bachelors? What am I going to get out of it? And now we’re, you know, millennials are also used to shopping this way. So we need to make sure you’re giving we’re giving them and all of these people the information that they need in order to make an informed decision. So it’s both that kind of okay, what is the demographic of the moderate student? What are the things that they’re looking for in the degree? And how are they looking for it? Are they shopping on Tik Tok? or Instagram or Snapchat? Are they getting information from colleagues? Are they looking at their email at all? Do you want text messages? You know, it’s you asked one person, do you want to get text messages from from somebody trying to recruit? You know, you asked another person? Yeah, absolutely. Like I had to remember all the deadlines. So all that stuff kind of factors into how do we create these degrees? And then how do we make sure people, you know, find them?

Shiro Hatori
Okay, got it. Thank you. That’s, that’s a great chair. Well, you know, it was so awesome to have you on today. Thank you so much for all your insight in all your knowledge sharing and number sharing, as well as wondering where our listeners could connect with you. And I know you said you have a speaking engagement coming up as well, if you’d like to share that as well.

Elliot TG
Sure. So in April, I’ll be at the Upsee, a conference, which stands for it’s a professional continuing, professional continuing and Extended Education Conference, if you’re in higher ed, if you’re in technology or nonprofits, I’ll be at the Nonprofit Technology Conference in Denver next month also are April, both of those coming up. And you can also find me on LinkedIn, or just hanging around DC and Baltimore.

Shiro Hatori
That’s awesome. Thank you so much again, and thanks for our listeners. And of course, if you need to interact map event solution virtual tour or events calendar, please reach out to concept 3d dot com. Thank you so much. It was so great to have you on.

Elliot TG
Thank you

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