Consultant takes up Cincy State's marketing

Posted at 4:48 PM, Dec 15, 2015

CINCINNATI — Cincinnati State signed an agreement with a private contractor in October, relinquishing oversight of its marketing and recruitment efforts in a bid to improve enrollment numbers and revenue.

Cincinnati State’s enrollment is down 10 percent compared to a year ago, at 9,664. The technical and community college also is grappling with a state-mandated tuition freeze and, as a consequence of less money coming in, unfilled faculty positions.

The 10-year contract with Pearson, a multinational testing and education consulting company, was signed at the end of October and states that Pearson will invest in Cincinnati State to increase student access and retention, said Todd Hitchcock, chief operating officer of Pearson Embanet, a subsidiary of Pearson.

Hitchcock added that only 28 percent of students who start to enroll at Cincinnati State complete the full admissions process, and, of those students who are admitted, 80 percent go into remedial education before they’re admitted into their core courses.

“How do we focus on that group of students – the majority at Cincinnati State – who are underserved because they’re first-generation college students, who have a lot of barriers and who drop out at a much higher rate than traditional students?” he said. “The challenges Cincinnati State is facing are not unique, but the school is taking a very unique approach to them. I hope this is a watershed event for Cincinnati State and proves to be a model for other schools across the country.”

Representatives from Pearson have been visiting the school’s campus since the contract was signed to host implementation and kickoff meetings, and to hold discovery meetings to learn more about the culture at Cincinnati State, Hitchcock said.

Pearson’s role will be to make recommendations and manage Cincinnati State’s annual marketing and recruitment budget of $550,000, which will continue to be funded by Cincinnati State, according to the contract. Hitchcock said the company also will add positions at Cincinnati State and amp up the school’s recruitment and engagement initiatives.

The first part of implementation, which began as soon as the contract was signed, is optimizing marketing and recruitment efforts for the spring semester, he said.

“We’re building out the brand on Facebook, LinkedIn, the radio, web, Google Search, anywhere people may find Cincinnati State, to present information to students,” Hitchcock said. “Once students engage with us through any of those channels, our recruitment team will reach out to them.”

Pearson also is in the process of hiring four full-time, on-campus managers, in the positions of director of recruitment, director of student coaching and persistence, and managers of student coaching and persistence, although there likely will be more position openings to come as the partnership evolves, Hitchcock said. In addition, Pearson plans to hire three enrollment coordinators and 10 or more “pathway coaches,” who will work on non-academic retention, such as helping students with issues they face outside of the classroom that might get in the way of their success at school.

The pathway coaches aren’t expected to be hired until the spring or begin work until the summer. That’s because Hitchcock said his team wants to be mindful they don’t step on faculty members’ toes.

Defining “non-academic” is the single biggest concern Pam Ecker, a Cincinnati State faculty member and spokeswoman for the school’s faculty union, has in terms of how the agreement specifically touches faculty, she said.

“Pearson’s model is to have coaches interact with students and provide a buffer to students and help them with things outside of the classroom that might interfere with their success, and I think they want to translate that here to Cincinnati State for the entire student body,” she said. “But the way our faculty interacts with students is very hands-on and supportive and goes far beyond ‘meet-with-me-before-the-semester-starts-and-we’ll-figure-out-what-your-schedule-will-be.’”

Hitchcock said his team is working to identify what services faculty members provide so they don’t duplicate services.

Although Cincinnati State’s contract with Pearson is good for 10 years – through the spring semester of 2026 – both parties can choose to opt out earlier.

Hitchcock said the amount Pearson invests in Cincinnati State likely will change over time depending on the school’s shifting needs. He also said the service fees the company will earn through the partnership will be based on a tiered system and will depend on whether retention targets are met, but are estimated at around 20 percent of tuition generated by more than 4,000 students – the number of new students Cincinnati State typically attracts each year.

Ecker said it’s too early to tell whether the partnership with Pearson will be a positive or a negative change for Cincinnati State.

“We (the faculty) didn’t think it was necessary to bring a for-profit onto this campus to resolve some of the problems and challenges we have had related to enrollment and recruiting, but we do appreciate the administration’s transparency,” she said.