While surprising Tropical Storm Ophelia expedited an end to NACAC 2023 for several participants — many made mad dashes to the airport for early flights home while others cautiously drove home in the wind and rain — the conference was a terrific success with more than 7,000 attendees.
For this year’s edition of Capture Higher Ed’s “NACAC Recap,” we talk to two members of our team who made the trip, one a grizzled NACAC veteran in Geoff Broome, the other a conference rookie, Nicole Bumphrey. Both are enrollment solutions consultants at Capture.
Has the NACAC annual conference changed much over the years?
Geoff Broome: Although the conference set up has remained relatively the same over the last 15 or so years that I’ve attended the national conference, the companies in the exhibit hall have certainly changed over time. New companies, mergers, new technologies are certainly doing more to catch your eye — spending resources on elaborate set ups to draw in potential customers from venture capital-backed tech companies is apparent.
But it works. Larger booths, live podcasts, guest speakers in the booth etc. were a surprise. Hey, if you didn’t get an official NACAC session, just host your own mini session in the booth if you have a large enough space. CollegeVine executed on this masterfully. They had a crowd of at least 100 people at their coffee and open bar station where they hosted a live podcast question-and-answer session with guest speakers. Brilliant.
What issues and trends were people wanting to talk to you about this year?
Geoff: There are key topics every year, mostly in response to poor legislation, or a bug in a technology that affects how people do their jobs — think Common App several years back) — or whatever the soup de jour. Years ago, we were debating whether we should be texting potential students. Does that invade their personal space? Now we are discussing Diversity Equity and Inclusion, FAFSA, and the Affirmative Action decision by the Supreme Court.
What the public see in the news is really only affecting the top 5 percent of the colleges in the country — the name brands we all recognize. For the other 95 percent of colleges in attendance, they go on about their work of making a class. I know that’s a bit of an oversimplification, but the main concern of most colleges is meeting their enrollment goals. How can we best get in front of students? What can we provide and how can we position ourselves as being different? How can we increase our yield rate? These are the concerns I hear in the exhibit hall year in and year out.
“It’s the relationships that keep me coming back year after year. We are all in this together. And we all have the same passion in common.”
What’s your favorite part about going to NACAC each year?
Geoff: What I enjoy most about the National Conference is seeing friends, acquaintances and colleagues from the different high schools, colleges and other vendors that I’ve developed relationships with over the years. Although more than 7,000 were in attendance, higher education is a small world. We can play the Kevin Bacon game with just about anyone. Spending time, catching up, talking shop, and getting life updates help build the community that I’ve been part of for the past 23 years.
For me, I don’t want to be just some vendor sales guy. I want to be seen as an expert in my field, a trusted advisor, a friend that can be relied on when someone needs a career move, an honest assessment, or just a listening ear. It’s the relationships that keep me coming back year after year. We are all in this together. And we all have the same passion in common. We believe in the pursuit of Higher Education. Pure and simple.
How did your first NACAC compare to your expectations?
Nicole Bumphrey: Most professional industries have conferences, and I’ve attended a few in my past life. Nothing compares to NACAC! With over 7,000 attendees, the energy was electric.
What were some of your favorite moments?
Nicole: As a newcomer, you sheepishly smile and introduce yourself to everyone. Every mildly confident handshake was met with a welcome grin, a kind hello, and sometimes an unexpected hug! Each new friend had a story about their admissions experiences (or lack of) or even a NACAC of the past. But we also discussed how difficult it’s becoming to keep up on the ever-changing industry trends and standing out among the competitive world we live in.
What were the issues and trends people were most talking about?
Nicole: Collaboration and teamwork. NACAC’s theme, “Power of Us” was evident from the moment the exhibit hall doors opened. Most attendees, regardless of if you came from K-12, Higher Ed, or a Vendor, traveled in teams. From getting to and attending the conference, plus the sessions and after-parties, no one was ever alone. This industry continues to challenge the most seasoned admissions professionals. The only way to overcome the hardships and celebrate the wins is by working together!
That message was driven forward with Jay Shetty’s keynote session. He asked us to participate in an activity that ended up separating attendees into four groups: outgoing and task, outgoing and people, reserved and task, reserved and people. Each quadrant of people cares about the same thing but their care stems from different perspectives of the lens. Capitalizing on the strengths of each individual member of the team creates an opportunity to empower each person towards achieving the big picture goals.
“This industry continues to challenge the most seasoned admissions professionals. The only way to overcome the hardships and celebrate the wins is by working together!”
When you look back on your first NACAC, what will you remember most?
Nicole: The people. As we reenter the normal routines of the admissions realm, I appreciate the relationships that were forged during NACAC 2023. Building a network of supportive, compassionate and trustworthy connections lightens the burden of the demanding daily grind.