The 2019 RNL National Conference: What we saw and learned

Ashley SpainSenior Vice President, Marketing StrategyAugust 9, 2019

For 33 years, higher education professionals have come to the RNL National Conference to discover new strategies, engage colleagues from other campuses, and return to their institutions empowered and energized to enact change and achieve their goals. Over the years, the conference has grown in size and scope to give attendees more sessions to attend, more chances to interact, and more opportunities to get inspired.

RNLNC 2019 Nashville

The 2019 RNL National Conference featured a major milestone: a record number of registrants, more than 1,660. The attendees came from four-year public, four-year private, and two-year institutions from nearly every state as well as from institutions in Canada. They included enrollment managers, deans of student and academic affairs, leaders in advancement and development, financial aid directors, campus marketing professionals, counselors, provosts, and presidents.

What did they encounter when they arrived at the Gaylord Opryland Resort in Nashville (aside from hot chicken and cool music)? Here are some of the highlights from the conference.

The physics of personalization at scale

Dr. Sumit Nijhawan, the president and CEO of RNL, presented an opening session before the first keynote speaker about how the changing expectations of students and alumni require colleges and universities to change the way they engage these constituents. The audiences campuses are trying to reach live in a world of personalized experiences, content, and interactions. Business and organizations from Amazon to Netflix to Starbucks have changed how they customize communications for their audiences. This has created the same expectation among students and alumni when they interact with institutions…but institutions struggle to create that level of personalized interaction at scale for their large pools of prospective students and donors. The answer? Artificial intelligence (AI), automation, and digital communications coming together to create hyper personalized content for those audiences.

RNLNC 2019: Sumit Nijhawan

Watch his presentation to hear more about institutions need to adapt to engage their target audiences. There’s even a surprise guest at the end as Sumit used his own experiences as a student and alumnus to frame his presentation.

Keynote sessions to inspire, inform, and entertain higher ed

Keynote sessions are great opportunities to experience big ideas and big inspiration. For years, RNL has brought keynoters whose experiences and insights provide a new angle on looking at the things campus professionals encounter every day, whether it is the students they interact with, the colleagues they work with, or the motivation that drives them work hard day in and day out.

Wes Moore served as the opening speaker. The author of The Other Wes Moore, he amused the audience by talking about how he hated that title of his best-selling memoir when his publisher suggested it…but ultimately realized how appropriate it was. His tale of how he overcame his own challenges—from external circumstances and his own decisions—showed the power of determination and the transformational ability of higher education.

Dr. Michael Sorrell, president of Paul Quinn College in Dallas, delivered a passionate and inspired keynote session on the second day of the conference.

RNLNC 2019 Michael Sorrell

Dr. Sorrell transformed his institution into one of the most innovative institutions in the nation, and he did so in part by putting the needs of students first—stressing the importance of tapping into their humanity first.

Generational researcher Kim Lear also delivered a tremendous presentation looking at the characteristics of Boomers to Generation Z:

Among her many observations, she noted how there has been a 90 percent increase in spending by those age 50 and over on their continuing education, how Gen Xers (many of whom are not parents of college students) are skeptical, independent, and entrepreneurial, and how Millennials aren’t asking, “Do I want that job?” but instead asking, “Do I want that life?”

See more posts from conference attendees by following the #RNLNC hashtag.

Sharing new strategies and research, in person and in print

There were 150 sessions at the RNL National Conference this year, covering the entire student lifecycle. Many presenters were campus professionals, sharing their experiences and insights to help others overcome similar challenges. They were joined by higher education experts from RNL and other organizations. Many sessions covered topics similar to the opening presentation: personalization, automation, the increasing need for digital engagement to truly reach audiences. Many also discussed topics that had a personal touch as well, such as advising, student success, engaging students and parents during the financial aid process, and tapping into the philanthropic passions of donors. Altogether, it allowed campus professionals a great variety of sessions so they could dive into topics that other presenters were already experiencing.

RNL was also proud to share three new research reports, which are also available for download now:

2019 E-Expectations

2019 E-Expectations Trend Report: Our annual report surveys college-bound high school students about their interactions and expectations with institutions during the college search process, particularly their digital and online experiences. Reflecting the changing nature of the college search cycle, the 2019 report also included responses from high school sophomores.

2019 Student Retention Practices Report

2019 Effective Practices for Student Success: Which student retention practices do campus officials use and find effective? This benchmark report covers a wide variety of practices used by four-year and two-year institutions, revealing insights into what those “in the trenches” say work best for student success and completion.

2019 Adult Undergraduate Report

2019 Adult Undergraduate Marketing and Recruitment Practices Report: With 1 in 4 undergraduates now age 25 and older, college enrollment is becoming more multigenerational. This benchmark survey reveals the latest trends and practices for adult undergraduate recruitment used by four-year institutions.

Join us in Chicago in 2020, and be a presenter next year

Next year’s RNL National Conference will be in Chicago, July 8-10, 2020. Registrations will open in January and more details will be announced then.

The reason why so many higher education professionals come to the RNL National Conference each year is because of campus presenters sharing their strategies and stories. You can be part of that next year as well. Calls for proposals are open now through January, and we are accepting proposals across a full spectrum of topics:

  • Student recruitment, campus marketing, and financial aid
  • Student retention and completion
  • Alumni engagement and philanthropy
  • Digital marketing and communication
  • Nontraditional enrollment management, especially graduate and online populations

Submit your call for proposal by January 6, and we hope to see you in Chicago next July.

About the Author

Ashley Spain is an enrollment management professional who helps drive RNL’s strategy, research, and solutions for college enrollment, marketing and student success. She offers more than 10 years of experience in marketing and recruitment. Before coming...

Read more about Ashley's experience and expertise

Reach Ashley by e-mail at Ashley.Spain@RuffaloNL.com.

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