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Tour de Force: How to Maximize Campus Tour Yields Based on a Magna Online Seminar titled “Tour de Force: Using Assessments to Improve Campus Tour Yields.”

By Aaron Basko, MA, GCDF, MBTI

A Magna Publications White Paper


Table of Contents Introduction ................................................................................................................................................................................5 Chapter 1: The Tour Difference: A Case Study ....................................................................................7 The Before and After ................................................................................................................................................8 Asking the Right Questions..................................................................................................................................8 Staff Leadership........................................................................................................................................................10 Student Leadership..................................................................................................................................................11 Quantitative Assessment ....................................................................................................................................12 Question Selection..................................................................................................................................................13 Tips for Creating a More Effective Survey ..................................................................................................14 Evaluating Survey Results ..................................................................................................................................16 Using the Data for Detailed Analysis..............................................................................................................17 Other Quantitative Tools ....................................................................................................................................18 Qualitative Assessments......................................................................................................................................19 What We Learned from Qualitative Assessment ......................................................................................21 Chapter 2: The Six Key Steps for Implementation ............................................................................23 Select the Right People ........................................................................................................................................23 Focus on Continual Training..............................................................................................................................26 Rebuild Your Route ................................................................................................................................................28 Send the Right Messages ....................................................................................................................................29 Solidify Your Logistics..........................................................................................................................................30 Create Strong Feedback Loops ..........................................................................................................................31 Chapter 3: Results ................................................................................................................................33 Additional Benefits ................................................................................................................................................34 Chapter 4: Frequently Asked Questions ............................................................................................35 1. How do you ensure that families fill out the survey after the visit? 2. Should we pay our tour guides? Are there other ways to reward them? 3. What is the best size for tour groups? 4. Is it better to use a “live” tour room versus a staged one? 5. Was it a challenge to attract enough guides to your program? 6. What do you think of the idea of giving students and parents separate tours? 7. What is the ideal tour schedule? 8. What was the biggest mistake you made in changing your tour program? Conclusion..................................................................................................................................................................................43 Appendix A: Tour Program Self-Assessment Form ................................................................................................46 Appendix B: Board of Directors Job Description......................................................................................................47 Appendix C: Tour Feedback Survey................................................................................................................................50


INTRODUCTION It is accepted wisdom in the field of college admissions that the campus visit is the most important predictor of whether a prospective student will apply and eventually enroll at a particular university. Research data demonstrate it, enrollment consultants swear by it, and common sense confirms it. If you are a student who has to make a four-year decision about your future, “seeing is believing.” Once a student is on campus, however, what factors influence that student’s decision? Surprisingly, the person with the most influence over both students and their parents is typically the lowest paid and least trained member of your staff—the campus tour guide. Your office can spend money on a well-appointed reception area, give away prizes, and have a flashy multimedia presentation, but if you send families out on campus with an unprofessional, unknowledgeable, or unfriendly guide, you won’t see them again. Why does the tour guide wield such influence? It is simple, really. Only the tour guide has the family’s complete attention for an hour of uninterrupted time. For that hour, not only does the tour guide shape the family’s perception of the institution with the facts and anecdotes he or she chooses to share, but the guide becomes the college to the family. Every student in the tour group is thinking, “Is this student like me? Could I be friends with him? Is this the kind of person I would want in my classes?” Every parent is looking at the guide thinking, “This is the college’s product. This is what my son or daughter will be more like if we choose this college.” That is why families go out of their way to contact the admissions office after their tour to praise or complain about their student guide. The guide makes the experience personal. The surprise is not that one student holds this much power over a prospective student’s experience, but that admissions offices, on the whole, do not seem to take that power seriously. Tour guides are often slightly trained volunteers who come and go semester to semester, without much screening and with even less evaluation. We assume that any student who is enthusiastic and involved on campus will be able to master and deliver the nuances of the college’s brand messages, parry difficult questions, and move prospective students to take the next enrollment step, all within an hour, while walking backwards. We frequently make the same mistakes about other aspects of the tour program, like the person selected to lead it. Often, whichever member of the admissions staff is closest to the age of the guides is tapped; in other words, the least experienced person you have. This person then has the responsibility of managing everything that comes out of the mouths of 50 students, who all have their own ideas about what your college is all about. Similarly, when we create a route for the tour to follow, it is often a circuitous one, as we try

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to avoid the eyesores of campus. And what residence hall room do we show? Whichever one housing doesn’t need. These tactical mistakes happen most often because we do not have the data to make better decisions. While many colleges have invested large sums of money in sophisticated predictive models for enrollment and financial aid, many have not taken the more basic and much less costly step of systematically collecting good data about the students who are actually setting foot on campus. At times we are like the shopkeeper who is too consumed with creating flyers to wait on a customer in his store. The part of our operation that is most directly connected with real students making real enrollment decisions is relegated to the bottom of the priority list. The campus tour program is one of the most essential components of enrollment success. It is the basic “block and tackle” skill that decides whether an admissions office reaches its goals. Reliable data about your tour program, and about whether it is performing as well as it could be, are an incredibly valuable resource that offers big rewards for a small investment.

The campus tour program is one of the most essential components of enrollment success.

The key is to develop feedback mechanisms, both quantitative and qualitative, that can provide an accurate picture of the quality of experience that your tour program is delivering. You need to know what message your guides are sending, how your campus is perceived, and whether your guests are getting the information and service they expect. Assessment is the way to accomplish this. This white paper will demonstrate how to utilize assessments to dramatically improve the results of your campus tour program. Beginning with a case study of a complete audit and overhaul of a poorly performing tour program, we will discuss an altered staffing philosophy, design and implementation of quantitative and qualitative data channels, and a stepped process of transformative change to help bring tour programs to their highest potential. An exceptional tour program will bring you results—from increased applications to a better on-campus perception of your office. If you collect good data and implement informed change, the tour program can drive the success of your office and deliver an on-campus experience that families find unforgettable.

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The Tour Difference: A Case Study Although I have helped to engineer the significant restructuring of tour programs at three different institutions, both public and private, none was as clearly needed as the tour audit and rebuilding effort at Franklin & Marshall College between 2003 and 2007. It offers a good case study to begin our examination of program assessment. I arrived at Franklin & Marshall’s campus during the 2001–2002 admissions cycle. At the time, the college’s leadership was not happy with the admissions results of the preceding years and had just employed an outside consulting company to conduct an evaluation of current practices and an environmental scan for marketing purposes. One of the areas of research was the perception of students in various stages of the applicant pool. A month or two before the consultants were to present their findings to the campus, Franklin & Marshall’s new vice president reassigned the tour program and visit functions to me to oversee. On the day of the presentation, he approached me beforehand, saying, “Just to warn you, there’s some really negative stuff in here. I just wanted to prepare you for this.” I replied, “Honestly, that’s good. We need to know if something isn’t working, and this will get it out there, so we get the kind of support that we need to fix it.” It was midcycle in the admissions year, and since inheriting the visit programs, I had not really had much of a chance to look under the hood. I sensed, however, that things were not what they should be. I knew we had previously received some complaint calls from alumni who had brought their children to campus for a tour. I also knew from previous experience that with a tour program, no news is not good news. If you are running it well, you will get positive feedback on a regular basis. Things had been a little too quiet. The presentation represented those realities graphically. The feedback that the consultants had received was that visitors’ experience on campus was a cold one, and they did not get either the information or the service they expected. One particularly eloquent graph illustrated visiting student responses to a question about whether their visit to campus made them more or less likely to apply to the college: Only 42 percent said they were more likely to apply. A second group of 32 percent said they were neither more nor less likely, and a sizeable group of 26 percent said their visit actually made them less likely to apply. Here we had our best opportunity to convince students that this was the right place for them, and instead we were chasing many away. It was an important reminder to us all that the work the admissions staff performs recruiting on the road, via the Web, and in publications is largely wasted if students come to campus only to be disappointed. While it was difficult to see it at the time, this initial assessment turned out to be a huge asset for our ability to drive change in our visit program. There was no question now that change was necessary. At the conclusion of the report, I told our staff, “There is a positive

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result of letting other folks see this. The president is here for part of these meetings; we know we’re going to be able to get his support to help us fix some of those things that we need to fix.”

The before and after That was the day the remaking of our tour program truly began. It was this assessment that set the process of change in motion. Four years later, another study provided the other bookend to demonstrate just how significant a transformation we were able to achieve. In 2007, the college’s Center for Opinion Research, which provides polling and research data for some of the most important political races in the country, did a follow-up study of the college’s applicant pool that paralleled the early consultant report. Once again, a primary area of focus was visit data. Visitors were again asked how their experience on campus affected their likelihood of applying to the college. This time, 72 percent said they were much more likely to apply after having toured campus. Another 27 percent said they were “somewhat” more likely to apply, and only 1 percent said they were less likely to apply. Our re-creation of the tour program had moved the “neutral” and almost all the “less interested” respondents into a category indicating that the campus visit made them more likely to apply. The proportion of students with whom we had missed an opportunity was down to only 1 percent, from more than 50 percent in the first study! Seeing the dramatic difference between the two studies was a true moment of celebration, because it represented the hard work that had changed the whole culture of how we interacted with visitors. In those four years, we disassembled and reassembled all the major components of our tour program and the visitation structure that went with it. The results graphically showed us just how far we had come.

Asking the right questions So how did we achieve that kind of change? Whether you find yourself in the same situation of receiving tough feedback about the state of your visits, or you just know that your tour program is not delivering all the results that it should, the key is assessment, and the first challenge is to start asking the right questions. After the initial shock of the first report, I pulled together everyone on our staff who worked in any way with visitation to figure out our first steps. It was a daunting task. We began by creating a list of questions that we felt we would need the answers to if we were going to make good decisions going forward. Without the right questions, we could easily be building in the wrong direction. The list we came up with included the following:

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How to Maximize Campus Tour Yields  

Great campus tours garner higher enrollment numbers for your campus. However, at many schools, the tour program is an afterthought to admis...

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