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Conversation #64: Keyana Scales on Enrollment Management

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Keyana Scales
A conversation with Ms. Keyana Scales on enrollment management.

Keyana Scales is vice president for enrollment management at Xavier University of Louisiana. She is charged with strengthening the university’s enrollment through effective outreach strategies; overseeing the management of all aspects of the enrollment process; and ensuring that high ethical standards are maintained in admissions, recruitment, and financial aid policies and practices.

Ms. Scales has conducted presentations for national and regional associations within higher education. She attained both a BA in Communications and a M.Ed. in Counseling from North Carolina State University. She is a National Board Certified Counselor; an alumnus of the BRIDGES Academic Leadership for Women Program; a former member of the Southern Regional Council for The College Board; and a former executive board member of the Southern Association for College Admission Counseling.

Links for this episode:

  • In terms of helpful links to faculty, here is an article that may be helpful for faculty with high school-aged students as they prepare for the college admissions process.  There is also quite a bit of literature that speaks to the trends related to increased anxiety levels students are currently presenting upon their arrival to college that may be helpful.  A recent article featured in the NY Times speaks to this issue.  There was also an article in Inside Higher Ed that talks about the increased number of students who present mental health challenges on college campuses.   Finally, with regard to how faculty can best support students, our approach at Xavier will largely mirror what is described in the EAB whitepaper that can be found here.


Elizabeth Hammer: Hello. I’m Elizabeth Yost Hammer, and today I’m talking to Keyana Scales, the vice president for enrollment management at Xavier University of Louisiana. In this position, Keyana is charged with providing leadership, supervision, and direction to the Offices of Admissions, Student Financial Aid, and the university registrar. She ha more than 15 years experience in college admissions and recruitment, and she came to Xavier from the University of Minnesota in Twin Cities. Prior to that, she served as Director of Admissions at North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University and was the associate director of admissions at North Carolina State University. She began her professional career at the latter as an undergraduate admissions counselor. She holds a B.A in Communications and a Masters of Education and Counseling, both from North Carolina State University. Today I’m speaking with her about enrollment management and what faculty should know about the work of enrollment management. Keyana, thank you so much for speaking with me today and Happy Halloween.

Keyana Scales: Happy Halloween to you, too, and thank you very much for the opportunity.

EH: What I was hoping we could talk about today is what exactly enrollment management is, what would you want faculty to know, how could faculty intersect with your work? So let’s just start with what exactly is enrollment management.

KS: So enrollment management, in a nutshell, is the process of identifying a strategy to ensure that universities meet their overall enrollment objectives. That looks like many different things on many campuses, but for our current position, it looks like making sure students are successfully on-boarded and introduced to all of the offerings that they are well-positioned to take advantage of the resources that are available to support them, but most importantly, that they are thriving in the classroom space and understand what exactly is required of them to move forward in their pursuit of personal and professional goals.

EH: Okay, thank you. WOuld you back up one minute and tell me what is meant by “on-boarded?” I have heard you and others say that word before. What exactly do you mean in that context?

KS: Sure. That means reaching students early on in their academic career and, in many cases, that means as early as middle school, which is really hard for students to conceptualize when they are working through all of the developmental challenges that go along with adolescence and talking to them about what it’s like to best prepare for college, talking to their parents, and helping them to really think comprehensively about what they want their college experience to be, how to appropriately plan academically and financially for college, and introducing them to the specific offerings of particular colleges and universities. So for Xavier, what that means is helping students to understand the breadth and depth of offerings that we have, talking to them about what it means to fund successfully a college education. That is the onboarding process. That is the preparation piece on the student side, and also ensuring that the business processes on the college side are aligned with the expectations and needs of the students. So making sure that technology is implemented where appropriate, making sure that students and families fully understand what is required of them to successfully enroll, making sure that our events- such as orientation and the likes- are positioned well to meet the needs of students so that they really understand how to maximize their success once they’re here.

EH: Okay, so a little bit of work early on with the student as they’re kind of preparing for college, and then work on Xavier’s part- or any institution’s part- once they get here, being ready to meet them where they are, in terms of admissions. So what are- and I think I can sort of foreshadow this, but you have already- some of the benefits of having that kind of strategic vision for students, faculty, and the institution as a whole?

KS: Really it’s having a central point of coordination. With faculty and student support services, admissions, and the likes, people are really inundated with their day to day- as they should be- focusing on what it is that they are subject matter experts on and operating in that space. The benefit in having an enrollment manager is to really ensure that someone is taking a view of the student experience and capitalizing on their expectations and then funnelling what we know a student needs to the different stakeholders that touch a student.

EH: Including faculty in that?

KS: Exactly.

EH: What’s the process for funneling that to the different stakeholders? So you are aware of national trends, are aware of different things going on, how does that get passed on to others?

KS: It really varies based on the institution. So I’ll use Xavier as an example. We have a faculty that is very engaged and involved with students on multiple levels, so it doesn’t just extend to the classroom, but our faculty also serve as the primary points of contact as it relates to academic advising. One of the things that is really important, from an enrollment management perspective, is ensuring that faculty understand the other components to a student’s development that extend outside of the classroom, and how they can support the student- again- as they pursue life outside of college or after graduation. With faculty, especially- and rightly so- there is a lot of focus on their craft and being experts in teaching, but there is a great deal that is involved in whether or not a student will be successful at retaining or a timely graduate outside of whether or not they are able to master content. So I see my role- particularly in the context of Xavier- as being a conduit of information, really understanding what students require, and helping to drive changes if necessary, shape policy if appropriate, to ensure that students are optimally positioned for success.

EH: What are some of the kind of things that you’re noticing- specifically for our university or maybe nationalized- that are important outside of the classroom for student success?

KS: I think there’s a lot that plays into whether or not a student is sufficiently retained or graduating in a timely way. Retention is not just based on academic ability; there is an engagement component, there obviously is the worry that is associated with the rising cost of education, it is whether or not students are able to really identify with their career path of choice or identify an alternate plan if- for whatever reason- plan A doesn’t work. All of those are really important in whether or not a student will graduate in what we consider to be a timely way.

EH: And assuming their original plan was like “Oh, I was going to be pre-med, but now I’m realizing that’s not going to be my path-”

KS: Exactly. Or “What do I do, because I still want to do this.” If we are not a student, how do we help students to explore alternatives if it becomes apparent that their pathway that they have locked in on upon entering the university is not necessarily what will be a reality for them.

EH: And you mentioned the engagement component, that was an important piece as well. I wonder if you could unpack that a little bit, what do you mean by engagement component to student success?

KS: Whether students are taking an active part or owning their feat is really the best way to put it. So whether they are involved in different campus activities; how are they building or developing a sense of connectedness to the university as a whole? Do they feel like they are an important part of the community? What are the ways that we can really map out a student’s path to becoming- in this space again- a true Xavierite or a true member of the Xavier family? How do we help to build relationships that will ultimately provide avenues for students to exercise, should they reach a hiccup? Research shows that the more connected a student feels and actually is, meaning the more people that they have in their corner that they’ve built relationships with- the stronger the likelihood of them retaining and graduating in a timely way.

EH: Okay, thanks for sharing that. When I was getting ready to speak with you, I asked some faculty members “What would you want to know? What are some questions that you have,” and one question that came up regularly was “What does research show are the main predictors of retention?” Faculty members, I’m sure across the country, are charged with attention being to retention, thinking that retention in their programs, and in their own majors, and looking at this. But what does research show are main predictors of retention?

KS: I think that varies depending on the campus. So what we do internally is, there’s a lot of data that goes into analyzing a student’s academic credentials prior to enrolling. So we know that there’s a strong correlation between a very high-level student who presents a very strong academic profile coming out of high school and their ultimate success, and we’re defining success in this context as graduating within four to six years. However, there are certainly other students that present a very strong profile that, for whatever reason, don’t make it to the end goal of success, meaning graduating in a timely way. So those things, again, are directly correlated to whether a student is engaged, whether they are able to afford the education or whether there are burdens to that student- having to, for example, support a family, or have additional responsibilities- does not necessarily extend in a classroom. So all of those things are impactful when you’re thinking about retention, but again, predictors of success will go back to what I described earlier: how well you’re performing in the classroom; how connected you are to people who can help you to identify an alternate course of action, if needed; how connected you feel to the campus as a whole; and how well you’re able to afford your ultimate academic career.

EH: Okay, and I know those are things being talked about on our campus and I’m sure they’re being talked about elsewhere. With the factors you just listed, what can faculty really do, or what should faculty do or not do in order to aid with retention issues?

KS: I think really understanding where a student is now is really important, and what I mean by that is how do students learn, how do they digest information, how do they communicate, and meeting that student where he or she is is really critical. What we’re seeing now is ramped-up anxiety levels with students, and increased levels of anxiety that students are presenting upon entering the college environment. That anxiety is really increased, particularly in freshmen students when they have been introduced middle-of-the-road grades or what they are perceiving as poor grades. In an environment where students are particularly high-achieving, this is a challenge. So having faculty to understand how students are feeling, what developmentally has changed from the time they entered into the faculty space until now is really important. Finding ways to deliver content in a way that meets students in a way that they are used to communicating and digesting is also important. But, in the event that faculty are asked to take on a different role- again using Xavier as an example with the advising space- it is thinking holistically in terms of the student’s needs, and what I mean by that is really taking a look at where the student presented him or herself at the time of application, and managing conversations relating to coursework and completion in a way that meets the student in terms of where they are as opposed to a more prescribed method of completing courses is really key, making sure you understand any other challenges that the student may be presenting outside of the classroom is also important. I’ll take this time to put in a plug for our new retention software that is really designed to kind of triangulate data that is being received at different areas throughout the university, so not just academically, but is this office managing conversations with students? Is the student experiencing some type of social or developmental issues that should be taken into consideration as he or she is planning their next semester in terms of courses? So all of those pieces in our context- again, “our” being Xavier- is really important for faculty to understand. It’s also a really complex issue for faculty, particularly when they are primarily used to engaging students about their academic discipline in that particular lens.

EH: So looking further, we have such a focus on the classes that they teach, and I think that’s why we’re having- at least on our campus- so many discussions about advising, and what is advising, and how should it look, and- like you said- using new software to kind of share advising so that we as faculty know what’s happening in some of our student success offices and vice versa. I wonder- I will back you up a heck of a minute, I’ve been taking notes as you’ve seen- if you talk about the anxiety levels of students coming in, do you think that is a nation-wide thing, or do you think that’s specific for school’s like Xavier who have a mission to accept students who might be under-prepared and might not get in elsewhere? Do you think that’s specific to us or do you think that’s a nation-wide thing?

KS: It’s very much a national trend, and it is reflective of the level of importance that colleges and universities have placed on the academic record. THe competition to get into selective institutions has increased significantly. The need for the competition that comes out of merit scholarships and the rising costs of tuition and the ability to afford it as a family puts the burden on the student to not mess up. So there is a really strong correlation between the desire to enroll in as many AP, IB, or dual enrollment courses as you can; the race for valedictorian and salutatorian has also increased. So students have put a tremendous amount of pressure on themselves, even before entering into the college environment; couple that with everything that comes with being a new college student developmentally, and- again- perhaps introduction to what they are perceiving as academic failure and all of the implications that come with that lends itself to an increased anxiety level.

EH: Wow. To hear you say all that, yes that’s just different than when I applied for college. I mean all that pressure in terms of the next thing.

KS: Well I think there was some naivety on both of our ends. It never occured to me- and maybe that’s arrogant- that I would never get into my college of choice. I didn’t have the burden of really having someone say “Okay, you’re on your own with being able to afford it.” I was a first-generation college student, but the level of statewide and nationwide funding that was available was completely different than what we’re seeing now.

EH: Yes, and that’s exactly- I feel like the pressure that I didn’t feel was that I was never expected to know what my next step was. When I entered college, I was able to enter college and be in college for a little bit before I decided what my career was. And I’ve noticed- at least with Xavier students- they come in with the next 10 years planned out, and that can put a lot of pressure on them, because they don’t even know what’s out there sometimes.

KS: Or they’re not quite sure of the pathway to get there, and when we’re talking about retention, one of the factors I forgot to mention earlier was true mentorship and being able to have someone who is actually doing what you aspire to be. So mentorships is also really critical: the exposure to co-ops and internships and other opportunities that really expand your network and allows you to engage with professionals who can serve as mentors outside of what you’re receiving on the college campus is really key.

EH: Very important. I wonder- and I’m just keeping in mind the time here- what are some things you wish faculty knew about enrollment management, about any aspect of your job. If you have an opportunity to speak directly to faculty members right now, what are some things you wish we knew about it?

KS: I wish that you knew how strong of a partnership and how valued the partnership between enrollment management and faculty truly is. Faculty can articulate, even at the recruitment end, faculty have the ability to talk to students about what life will be like in the classroom, and it helps the student to crystallize, it helps the student to visualize what life would be like should they choose to enroll on our campus. For Xavier specifically, faculty serve as tremendous mentors, and so being able to introduce a prospective student and say, “Hi, this is Dr. Hammer and she is on our campus, and you’ll have the opportunity to connect with her or even engage in some of the wonderful research opportunities she does every single day,” that is incredibly valuable and helps to, again, pain a picture beyond what an admissions counselor or admissions professional is able to do. Also- really again, if you are in the advising space- the conversations that you have in the advising period and beyond really help a student to chart their path and, again, pushes them to either remain connected with the university or helps me to know, “Oh, well this student is in trouble, we need to implement some type of intervention to ensure that other students who are experiencing this have a way to manage out.” Finally, when students are looking for careers and opportunities beyond the undergraduate space, faculty have connections to industry and the likes that will help students to become successful. So again, I could not have a stronger partner than faculty, and I don’t know if I have communicated that as well as I should, but hopefully the other podcasts you’ll help me.

EH: Well thank you. I really appreciate your time today, I appreciate you explaining these things to us, and I know you’re really busy. At this point of the year, what’s your main work? Like right now, I know the academic has been closed to faculty life, but what are you the busiest with right now in your office? Where are we in the cycle of recruitment and retention?

KS: We are at the peak level of the application phase of admissions, so our counselors are really busy with meeting students where they are and connecting with them- either at their high schools, or at college fairs, or other recruitment events. So November 1st is the national date that most admissions professionals know because it correlates with application deadlines for many selective institutions, so we’re there. We’re also looking to make sure that student who have submitted their applications are receiving decisions and their scholarship awards timely so that they can make a decision as quickly as possible, in terms of whether Xavier- in this case- is the best fit institution. On the current student side, we have just completed midterms, and so I am analyzing data to see what- if any- interventions we need, particularly for our new students to help them to understand that even if midterms did not come back the way that they expected or dreamed about when they thought about college, there’s still a pathway to improve their academic credentials and salvage their academic scholarships, in many cases. Also communicating with families, in terms of how to best support their students and direct them to resources that can support them academically. So we’re doing all of that right now.

EH: So just a few things going on.

KS: Just a couple.

EH: Well thank you so much again. I really appreciate you talking with me today, and thanks for enlightening me about enrollment management.

KS: It was my pleasure. Thank you for having me.

Transcribed by Raye’ Tabor.

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