Prather Points Photo

The Franklin Co-Executive Editor Isaac Gleitz catches up with Franklin College President Kerry Prather to chat about digital fluency, admissions staffing changes and the new athletic annex. 

Read on for a lightly edited transcript from their conversation.

Isaac Gleitz 

I feel like digital fluency is where I want to start. Ashlyn Myers, one of our reporters, is writing about it. So she interviewed Andrew Rosner a couple of days ago. Let's start from an institutional standpoint: Why are we doing that? What's the point of it?  

President Prather 

Honestly Isaac, I think when this grant came through from Lilly, it enabled us to go in a direction that no other small school is going to this extent. So there are little pockets—some places they're more interested in digital literacy, which is different than fluency, but it tends to be isolated to certain academic areas or it's a non-academic venture. What we proposed was that we were going to adopt this across the curriculum so that no matter what area of study you were pursuing, what ultimate career you wanted to go into, we would provide you with the technological expertise proficiency to be as prepared as you could be to use the applications that fit with it—If you're an English major, if you're a math major, or if you're a journalism major. And then when you go into the marketplace, you take all that expertise with you. So that is a significant leg up. And part of the motivation was listening to our alums talk about what they found when they got into the workplace. So every year we meet with alums at Salesforce, at Cummins, at Lilly, at One America, and one of the questions we always ask is, ‘How could we have better prepared you for what you found?’ Almost everything that has come back to us is some variation of digital aptitude—Technological aptitude. So I've explained this to people as kind of a third layer of education, the liberal arts foundation, your content specific education, and then the technological education that goes with that book. And I really think it gives us a distinction that no other small school provides.  

IG

Right. Okay. So what specific changes are we seeking with this?

PP 

I think the process as it's evolving, which is working well, is Andrew [Rosner, director of digital fluency] is taking his expertise into the academic departments and having a conversation about what's available, how might it be used, how does it apply to the coursework and how does it apply to the career aspirations of the students taking those courses?—And helping educate not just the students, but also the faculty on what's available and helping them facilitate the use of that technology. So it becomes a part of how we do business.  

IG

So I'm going to write a story about enrollment and its staffing changes. So I've been looking into the past of who's held the higher ranking positions and trying to just figure out the more or less progression. So can we start with this: Why have there been, you know, a few different people that have had the role of vice president of enrollment and marketing?

PP 

That's a great question. Number one, it's a tough job in a tough environment. I can't speak from this chair about what followed Alan [Hill, former vice president for enrollment and marketing] immediately. But when I came into this position, we had an interim. She and I talked about her career ambitions and her comfort level in that position. And she really preferred the director of admissions position to the acting V.P. position that she had been put in. So the two of us together came to the decision that we would put Andy Hendricks into that role. So this would have been early 2020. So Andy served in that role that year. We ran a national search and that brought us Thanda [Maceo, former vice president for strategic enrollment management and marketing]. So I can really only speak to it from that point moving forward, because that's when I had been in this position. And I think the takeaway from Thanda those two years is we didn't reach our goals. And I think philosophically, his approach to student recruitment was very data-driven, which to an extent is helpful. The execution of that effort simply didn't produce the results we needed…But in the current climate, for small private colleges, this is the toughest job there is. You know, everybody is trying to grow at a time when the supply of students is actually going down. So it's a very competitive market. I'm convinced we can achieve our enrollment growth goals if processes and execution both succeed. So there's the development of the process and then there's the execution of the process—and that is the boots on the ground, the selection, training, mentoring, supervision and accountability of the admissions staff. And then we've got a whole other sales force in the athletic department that carries a big part of the role too. They have been producing at a consistent level for a long time. So that part of the recruitment equation has been successful. It is largely the non-athlete student population that needs to increase, and we just need to do a better job in the recruitment of those students. 

IG

Let's follow up on what you were saying. Getting a better process and executing it well. What will that look like? Like what kind of things will it change in admissions? 

PP

It largely has to do with responding to the reality that it is a relationship business. So there is data that is required. There are processes involved. There is technology involved. But at the end of the day, student recruitment is about relationships, identifying potential relationships and forming those relationships. Nurturing those relationships is what takes a contact to an applicant from a campus visit to a paid deposit. 

IG

I’ve noticed that there's a common trend. Obviously, I've only been here for, you know, three and a half years of going on three and a half years. But the ambassador roles are typically filled by people like Wes DeShon Sean and Carolina Puga Mendoza, who have recently graduated from here. Is that working where we're bringing, you know, people who recently were going to school here? 

PP

Typically, it's a great head start. There's probably a balance, but the obvious advantages are some knowledge of the institution, which you have to expand with training because that knowledge is never as wide as what it ultimately needs to be…But also, you have a natural loyalty for the institution. And I think, you know, a family visiting meets an ambassador and somewhat projects their son or daughter's experience onto, you know, the student they're going around campus with. So there's some real advantage to that. It's you know, I think most schools decide a balance between alums on staff and not alums is probably healthy. I'm a big fan of hiring our own.  

IG 

Right. Okay. Um, and then the last thing on this is Andrew Hendricks. He's serving as the interim vice president for enrollment and marketing. So how is he doing in the position? 

PP

He's off to a great start. He obviously did this before. We had a class of 314 three years ago when he took over, and I took over in the middle of the recruitment cycle…With that coaching experience comes recruiting experience—significant successful recruiting experience. But he also has a business background, a data analytics background. So all of that's extremely helpful to being able to step in and run the place. I also have great respect for his ability to manage other people successfully, and I think that's where there has been a significant gap in the enrollment operation. And I'm confident he is in the process of healing that.  

IG

And then how much do you talk to him? I mean, is it hard for him to manage three roles like that? Would you be able to do that? 

PP

I’ve done it. It is hard, but it's not as hard for somebody who has been in a coaching role that is typically enormously time consuming, stressful and results-oriented. So I would have not I would not have asked him to do this, and he would not have agreed to do this if he didn't expect to be successful at it as he was the last time. 

IG

Okay, speaking of sports, is the annex [Johnson Memorial Health Athletics Annex] good to go? I'm not on an athletic team, so I'm not in the loop. 

PP

It would be good to go if we could get our weights. The building is complete, including the racks and the bars but not the plates. So we are victims of the supply chain challenges… When trustee committee that went over there with physical facilities, there were baseball players using the cages. So, I think they're using parts of the building, they just can't lift yet. Any day now—We're hoping.  

IG

All right, so two things: What is something you're excited for FC on the horizon, and what is something you're nervous about? 

PP

Oh, I'm always nervous about a lot of things. I'm nervous about balancing the budget. That probably more than anything. I'm excited about the feasibility study for the fitness center. I think one of the things that plays into the enrollment picture is making sure that we continue to resource the athletic piece of student recruitment and retention. And obviously that project will be a step in that direction…And there's some other things bubbling that I think have great potential for us that are a little premature right now to go into detail about—But things on the horizon that could give us some other shots in the arm that I think would be really helpful.  

(0) comments

Welcome to the discussion.

Keep it Clean. Please avoid obscene, vulgar, lewd, racist or sexually-oriented language.
PLEASE TURN OFF YOUR CAPS LOCK.
Don't Threaten. Threats of harming another person will not be tolerated.
Be Truthful. Don't knowingly lie about anyone or anything.
Be Nice. No racism, sexism or any sort of -ism that is degrading to another person.
Be Proactive. Use the 'Report' link on each comment to let us know of abusive posts.
Share with Us. We'd love to hear eyewitness accounts, the history behind an article.