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Getting to Know SUNY Empire State College: Interview with Clayton Steen

By Suzanne Lazar, student, SUNY Empire State College; editor, The Student Connection

March 10, 2016

Clayton SteenThe interview series “Getting to Know SUNY Empire State College” continues with Clayton Steen, vice president of enrollment management. Steen’s role at the college is crucial for growing enrollment, but also, and as importantly, retaining students. His enthusiasm to see students succeed makes him an ideal leader of teams of enrollment experts to deliver a positive experience for all students at SUNY Empire.

I had the honor and pleasure of talking with Steen about ESC 2.0 and changes at SUNY Empire. Here’s what he had to say:

Q: Can you tell me about your role at SUNY Empire and when you joined this educational institution? 

A: I joined SUNY Empire in September 2015 and felt honored to have the opportunity to serve as vice president of enrollment management. My role has a main goal, which is to grow enrollment and strategically focus on enrollment. Not just recruitment, but putting together a comprehensive retention strategy and making sure services are provided to students to allow them to be successful. We want to encourage them to become students and remain students at SUNY Empire until they reach their educational goals.

Q: What is your role in the restructuring of the college, if any? 

A: I will align (my teams with) the reorganization vision that the president has set forth. Part of the ESC 2.0 strategy is to establish a collegewide emphasis. We want to make sure there is support for students statewide, versus the former regional footprint. We will provide the same college environment and resources in all SUNY Empire locations. And, we want to make sure that all modes of study are seamless for students, whether they choose to enroll in all online courses or combine with face-to-face courses. 

Q:  Can you talk about the new “1 Stop Student Services”? 

A: Students can have the expectation that they will receive the same services in all locations, whether an inquiry is made online or over the phone. No matter what information you’re inquiring about -- financial aid, registration, a question about your mentor, etc. -- students can go online, place the inquiry and be assigned a subject matter expert to help resolve and, if the question needs additional attention, reroute the question to a more specific department. There will be online self-service, a click-to-chat feature, access to webinars, Skype for conversations and options to set up appointments. There will be an online ticketing system and follow-up to student requests will take place. The goal is to get ahead of what students need by tracking the inquiries and 1 stop student services is designed to do that, so students don’t have to deal with the administrative hassle.

Q: What are your long-term goals for student enrollment and retention, as well as student engagement?   

A: To get to the long term, we have a short-term objective. Step one is to come together as a cohesive team in the Office of Enrollment Management. We have been attending retreats and training to gain a clear understanding of the strategy, then transfer that skill and knowledge to helping students. Step two is to begin the alignment under the new organizational structure of “one college,” which is a vision to streamline all SUNY Empire processes, resources and events across the college. We are looking at marketing dollars and allocating them in the right ways. Then, we want to grow enrollment and retain students. We will provide a quality experience for students by working differently in terms of how we address prospects. One way is through 1 stop student services. 

The current recruitment strategy is changing to address the needs of students. At SUNY Empire, there has always been a strength in getting leads for potential students. Addressing those leads and how to follow up is something we’re putting more focus on. We strive to improve the enrollment process for students by being proactive and providing opportunities to be successful. We’ve developed a comprehensive communication plan and marketing strategy with a statewide brand emphasis; for example, the launch of the first statewide open house was a huge success. We prioritize communication with students, for example, in how we handle a student that attends a statewide open house. They will receive a different process than a student who inquires and attends an info session. They’ll get a different type of follow up and will be offered a one-to-one appointment to further discuss their interest in the college. 

In terms of retention, the student services specialists will now be assigned to incoming students during their first term to navigate them through the process of transitioning into a student and will also assist students with educational planning. 

The new “one college” concept is also playing a part in ramping up student engagement. The various SUNY Empire locations and local feel won’t go away. Students will see more collegewide events at all locations, but they’ll also see brown bag lunch-and-learn sessions and smaller events at all of the locations, which we didn’t have as much in the past. We want to see clubs and organizations spread out to all geographic locations, so more students can have an opportunity to engage in things they’re interested in with other students and faculty. Doing this will create more opportunities for students who are not engaged to become engaged, even by stopping by one of the SUNY Empire centers they live near and engaging in an event there.

Q: What do you want to tell students and is there anything else you would like to share or talk about?   

A: Our students are the first priority. When changes are made, we always want to know how that benefits students and impacts students. The overall intent is we are reorganizing to make sure we meet student needs.  

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