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Top 5 Takeaways From the 2023 AISAP Annual Institute

July 6, 2023
Drew Cocco
Director of Client Success

Almost exactly one year ago, we set up our very first conference booth at the AISAP Annual Institute in Chicago. We had a tablecloth, a stand-up banner, business cards and some unbranded purple pens. We felt like a startup, which made sense given the fact that we had only just launched our product on July 1, a mere 10 days prior to the start of the conference. Fast forward to this year’s AISAP Annual Institute in La Jolla, and we had silicone bracelets, lens cleaners, bamboo utensil kits, sweet aviators, and yes, branded pens. We even had a palm tree with purple lights on it! We felt much less like a startup. With 10 of us at AISAP, we were able to attend a lot of sessions and engage in conversations with lots of attendees. Here are the top 5 Annual Institute takeaways from the Clarity team:

Clarity Team at AISAP

1.  Community

It should not be a huge surprise that this is the first takeaway from AISAP. The entire Institute (intentionally not called a conference) is centered around building community. AISAP uses a cohort model in which enrollment professionals are placed in random peer-led groups and those groups gather regularly throughout the course of the Institute. They will also meet several times over the course of the school year until the next Annual Institute comes around. This unique approach builds community by fostering real and lasting connections between enrollment professionals. Not only do you have the opportunity to meet new people, but your cohort can become a group that you lean on for years to come. I still have an active group chat with colleagues that I met at my first AISAP Annual Institute four years ago. Anytime one of us has a problem or question, we message the group chat for perspectives and advice. This year’s Annual Institute doubled down on community building by reinforcing those interpersonal connections through group activities and the cornerstone speakers.

2. Data, Data, and More Data

If I had a nickel for every time I’ve heard or seen (or said) the phrase “data-driven” over the past 8 years, I am certain I could retire early. I am equally certain that we need to keep focusing on the importance of data as an integral part of what enrollment professionals do. With very few formal college or graduate education programs that are specifically designed for enrollment professionals, opportunities for focused learning are found in webinars, blogs, and events like the Annual Institute. For many enrollment professionals, the relationship-building aspects of the work come naturally, but the data analytics may require more focused professional development. This, coupled with a rapidly shifting socioeconomic and political landscape, means that it is insufficient to simply gather data and report on it. Enrollment professionals need to be able to interpret data, use it to tell a story, and then allow it to inform strategic decision-making. All of that is very much a learned skill, and one that needs to be continually developed over time. Data visualization, spreadsheeting skills, storytelling, and Google Analytics among others were all core set pieces of this year’s Institute. If you missed any of those sessions, I would encourage you to reach out to the presenters and keep an eye out for future data-oriented webinars because there is always something more to learn!

3. ChatGPT & AI Tools

I recently saw an Instagram reel (I’m a millennial so I spend way more time on IG than TikTok) where someone wrote a song to the tune of Don MacLean’s American Pie about how AI is going to lead to the apocalypse when the robots take over, Skynet style. Unsurprisingly, ChatGPT and its very real power to help enrollment professionals work more efficiently and effectively was a very hot topic at this year’s Annual Institute. Everything from using ChatGPT for spreadsheet skills to using it for targeted marketing, if there’s a task to do in enrollment, odds are ChatGPT can help as long as you know how to use it. If you’d like to dig more into this topic, check out my colleague, Linda Haitani’s blog for more on ChatGPT and how it can help enrollment professionals.

4. Challenges and Opportunities in a Post-COVID Landscape

As we emerge from the pandemic into a post-COVID world, we find ourselves in a landscape that looks fundamentally different than it did in 2019. As a whole, independent schools saw a boost in enrollment during the pandemic, but those gains were not universally sustained and in many markets, the top of the funnel is narrowing once again as tuition rates continue to increase and the specter of another recession looms ominously in the backs of many families’ minds. The way that families interact with schools has also fundamentally changed the shape and the timing of the admissions funnel, the role of financial aid, the format of open houses, the competition with other independent and even public schools. AISAP’s Annual Institute featured an extensive menu of sessions centered around these post-COVID challenges and the opportunities that exist for schools that are willing to think outside the box.

5. Join the Party

At last year’s Annual Institute, we had about 100 schools signed up for Clarity nationwide. This year, we had more than quadrupled that number, so the opportunity to connect with so many of our users in person (many for the first time) was one of the biggest highlights. We met directly with many of them to hear their feedback on the product and learn more about what’s important to them for future development. Honestly, seeing everyone felt like a party and we did throw a huge patio party one night. People may or may not have been cheering the company name for a few minutes, I’m not sure. I am sure, though, that if there are two things we do really well at Clarity, it’s build amazing financial aid solutions and throw awesome parties. If you’re not ready to switch to our platform, then just come to one of our parties at the next conference and see why we’re not just a regular company, we’re a cool company.

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