In January, AU welcomed alumna Kynan Simison as the new director of admissions. Simison attended AU from 1997-1999 and earned her Bachelor of Arts in communications with a focus in public relations. Previously, Simison has held various positions in higher education, including being a corporate admissions director and campus president.
She had previously served as president of Harrison College in Fort Wayne, of which she said “stretched my skill set to give me a better perspective for understanding academics, financial aid and other departments within a college.” However, she was “excited about the possibility of working to increase enrollment for my alma mater. That’s really what brought me back.”
Simison was hired at AU after the departure of longtime director Joe Davis and in a time where a high percentage of students are electing to attend public universities or community colleges for part or all of their undergraduate education.
President Pistole acknowledged in his initiative announcement earlier in the academic year that enrollment has been down in recent history; however, the incoming freshman class is larger than it has been in previous years.
As part of an ongoing attempt to boost enrollment, Simison is working alongside the new Department of Marketing and Communications to alter the message that AU sends to prospective students. She discussed the necessity for showcasing academic rigor and the results of attending AU.
“I think we need to highlight the learning outcomes, specifically in the schools, because we have so many great stories and great work that our students have done,” she said. “We’re working with marketing to change some of our communication pieces that have, in the past, been pretty general to highlight, for example, the NCLEX pass rate of our nursing students. Our pass rate is way above the state average, so we need to be able to tell that story.”
According to Simison, students usually perceive private schools as being pricier than public institutions, but she said that “many times we can be as competitive as a state school. We just have to do a better job of messaging and showing them the value they’re going to receive in a liberal arts education. Through marketing our brand, we have to reach students and their families as early as their freshman and sophomore year in high school if they’re going to consider us as juniors and seniors.”
In response to the rising costs of higher education as a whole, Simison noted the U.S. Department of Education has made some changes in the timing of financial aid award packages. Incoming freshmen will be able to file a FAFSA in October of their senior year, when in the past the FAFSA has not been available until January. She sees this as a “game changer” which may result in more students being able to go to college.
“The intent from the Department of Education in making that change was that now colleges will be able to give award letters three months earlier than they’ve been able to give them in the past, so families will be able to see, in actuality, what type of investment it’s going to take to make college attainable for their students,” Simison said. “That is a major change that is occurring as early as this fall. We’re already making preparations for it here, because it’s going to move our processes up by three months.”
Simison said that nowadays, students typically apply for three to five schools, so there is a need to be competitive as an institution in showing the benefits of attending a private, liberal arts institution like AU. She believes one of these components is the faculty.
“There’s no doubt in my mind that we have top-notch, high-caliber faculty teaching our students, and that is truly the heart of the institution,” Simison said. “We need to be able to ensure that we’re messaging that.”