The Council of Independent Colleges (CIC) once again kicked off the new calendar year with its annual conference for university presidents. The 2024 Presidents Institute, which convened, Jan. 4-7, at a blustery Diplomatic Beach Resort in Hollywood, Fla., welcomed presidents, their spouses and partners, and industry experts from across the country to discuss and explore a range of pressing issues facing independent colleges.
The idea was for attendees to renew their purpose, sharpen their vision and find some much-needed inspiration to start the new year. It was also a wonderful place to build and deepen professional relationships, which is why Capture Higher Ed makes the trip every year.
This time around, Capture Director of Sales Anne Freihofer and Vice President of Client Success Lauren Gold made the trip down to a stormy Sunshine State for this year’s conference. We caught up with our windblown colleagues shortly after they returned to hear how it went.
What were your overall impressions of the 2024 Presidents Institute? What kind of atmosphere or vibe did you sense among the attending presidents?
Lauren: Despite the chilly weather for South Florida, everyone was excited for the conference and viewed the week as a time to reconnect and learn from each other. The hotel lobby, coffee shops and seating areas were a continuous flow of small-group or one-on-one meetings. For presidents, this is one of the few times they can gather and focus on finding creative solutions to issues they face regardless of where their campus is located or the student types they serve.
Anne: One thing I really appreciate about this conference — and always have — is the transparency among the attending presidents. They share their strategies with each other. They recognize that, although they may compete against each other, they’re all in this together as leaders in higher education. They are facing the same big challenges and need to address them differently on their campuses. But the level of honesty and willingness to share strategies remains a constant.
Lauren: This is a “down to business group,” but they have great friendships. So, you really see the balance of mentorship with education. One thing I really appreciate is that it’s not just for the presidents but also for their spouses. There are very few career fields where, when you get the role, your spouse’s life changes this much. The spouse of a president has a lot of responsibility to the campus, and I love that they have their own track, customized to sessions about serving the community and the mental well-being of students and staff.
What were the most common themes or challenges discussed by the presidents you spoke with regarding student recruitment?
Lauren: Obviously, there are some big challenges ahead for CIC presidents, which were covered in several sessions. One session was called, “Cushion the Fall Off the Enrollment Cliff.”
What I witnessed during that presentation was a group that really wanted to learn from the success of their peers. They asked thoughtful questions on implementing similar strategies for recruitment moving forward. It’s not just about having the right recruitment strategy for first-year students. The schools that thrive over the next decade will serve adult- and hybrid-student populations, and there needs to be strategic planning campus-wide for those students to feel supported.
Understanding the data and behaviors of their student populations and knowing how to support their admissions team were priorities for these presidents. They’re very aware of the need to outsource some work to supplement their campus teams. They’re also very aware that AI can help their campuses find efficiencies. I would say AI was a “touchy” subject. From an academic standpoint, there’s lots of hesitancies. From an operational standpoint, they are looking to AI tools to help streamline work and simplify processes so they can focus on student interactions.
Anne: Agreed. AI was the “buzz” of this year’s conference. The keynote I sat in on focused on the notion that presidents can’t deny that AI is here. They must embrace technology. But the presenters also advised and encouraged caution about sharing data. The presenters mentioned that every company under the sun will start calling them and dropping the use of AI in their products. Presidents shouldn’t fall for gimmicks. They should ask questions about what’s in the “black box” and be very curious about what is happening with their data.
How involved are the presidents with their university’s recruitment marketing efforts? How receptive were they to learning about Capture’s services?
Anne: Presidents were intrigued by our work. Some are heavily involved in their institution’s recruitment and enrollment efforts, so they want to learn more about what we’re doing. Behavior always gets their attention. At the same time, many are not in the weeds, so discussing funnel conversions or micro-details of enrollment is often too deep for them.
The solutions that seem to generate the most interest are behavioral tracking to inform marketing and recruitment efforts and the notion of using data to streamline human and fiscal resources. Ultimately, saving money, supporting the staff, and reaching enrollment targets are what most interests them. And many, if not all, are interested in a similar solution for retention and advancement.
Lauren: For me, it was great to see presidents of institutions we currently work with and share the great work Capture is already doing. It opened the door to some campus visits and strategy planning with the president while we’re there, which is awesome!
In closing, how was the weather down there!?
Lauren: (laughing) It was an interesting week for sure! Ask Anne about the windy Welcome Dinner, with salads flying around!
Anne: The Welcome Dinner reception had flying salad, flying bread, flying tablecloths, votives … you name it! A tornado actually touched down nearby. The CIC staff did an excellent job of rolling with the punches Mother Nature served up.
By Kevin Hyde, Senior Marketing Content Manager, Capture Higher Ed