Austin Peay State University (APSU) receives nearly 12,000 first-year applications, admits around 7,000 students, and enrolls about 2,000 first-year students each year. An Mainstay partner since 2017, APSU first used Mainstay’s platform to send incoming students important orientation information. APSU used to gauge student sentiments using paper surveys and low-performing software — something that was expensive and labor-intensive. Today, APSU is able to get more thorough data and a higher survey response rate using Mainstay’s platform — all while saving money that they can reallocate to other important university resources.
Surveys Made Easy
Jandro Herrera is the associate director of admissions at Austin Peay. When Herrera started as an admissions counselor at APSU, text messaging was never an option.
“The ideas then were ‘we’ve always done it this way, why do we need to change,” said Herrera. “Before Mainstay, APSU employed a text-messaging system to nudge students, but the service only allowed for 140-character texts and was strictly one-way, meaning students couldn’t respond to anything that they were being sent.”
After implementing the SMS chatbot, “The Gov,” in 2017 and realizing the product’s interactive survey capabilities after two years of successfully nudging students to action, APSU sent their students a two-way text campaign to measure intent to enroll 2019.
“It’s always a problem that we have every summer. There’s this group of students that doesn’t want to break up with us,” Herrera shared.
Like many colleges and universities, APSU had difficulty gleaning which students were and were not still interested in attending.
After sending their first intent to enroll campaign in 2019, APSU received a 40% response rate and was able to gauge which students were planning to attend, all within one day — a task that would have required over a month to achieve via a paper survey.
“We were able to see a real picture of what our freshman class would be,” Herrera said.
After getting past the intent to enroll hurdle, APSU staff meaningfully targeted students interested in attending the university with helpful information used to complete required enrollment steps.
APSU uses their chatbot to send surveys and nudges about all sorts of topics — from housing and academic advising to last-minute updates about student events. The platform allows staff to target smaller groups of students in a more specialized way.
Moving forward, Herrera plans to use the bot to disseminate open house surveys as well which, right now, are also done on paper. On any given open house, Herrera sees 900 to 1,100 visitors and has to print around 1,200 pieces of paper per event.
Something Herrera particularly loves about Mainstay’s chatbot is the student voice and feel. Through specialized GIFs and pictures, Mainstay’s platform lets staff show their personality. Surveys no longer have to be formal. Coming from The Gov, they can be friendly, personalized, and fun.
“We’re meeting students where they are, and we can also speak their language,” Herrera shared on a call.
Example of Austin Peay SMS survey sent to students to capture intent to enroll information.
Working Smarter, Not Harder
Using the resources APSU’s administration saved through leveraging Mainstay’s platform, they were able to purchase Ellucian, the university’s first CRM, and continue to use technology to save their staff from hours of tedious file managing and manual labor.
“Everyone here loves working hard, and that’s a great thing,” Herrera said. “Let’s continue to work hard, but let’s use that energy in other places where we need it. Let’s work smarter, not harder.”
Herrera praises how easy Mainstay’s platform is to use. “I was never unsure about the purchase, but the part that I was like ‘yes, I think I hit a home run’ was when my student ambassadors were helping me test it,” Herrera said. “They would each come in and go ‘Jandro, this is amazing, why didn’t we have this?’ When I got their stamp of approval, I was just like ‘ok, we’re going in the right direction for sure here.”
Herrera says he’s able to train Admissions counselors in 10 minutes.
Challenges on the Horizon
Sending surveys through Mainstay’s platform has also revolutionized the recruitment process. Since the COVID-19 pandemic is turning most college fairs remote and digital, APSU is able to reach out to prospective high school students in a way that feels personalized.
With challenges ahead, APSU can rely on Mainstay’s platform to get all of the data they need to drive enrollment. Mainstay will continue to help Austin Peay curb summer melt, retain current students, and provide students with the critical information they need in times of uncertainty.
“The GOV is one of the most popular members of our admissions team for sure. It’s reassuring when you’re spending large amounts of money on something. You like to know that you’re making the right choice,” Herrera finished. “Our administration is not afraid to say ‘hey, that’s not working, we’re not paying for it anymore, we’re done’ [and] they have seen what Mainstay has done for us. It’s become a necessity at this point.”