Before Megan Woods assumed the role of Director of Centralized Admissions at the Council of Academic Programs in Communications Sciences and Disorders (CAPCSD) in 2018, the organization relied on an internal advisory board to oversee its Liaison-powered online admissions portal, CSDCAS™, the Centralized Application Service (CAS™) for Communications Sciences and Disorders programs.
Her role was created, Woods explains, so CAPCSD would have “a focused staff member to think strategically, make contacts and put new programming into place” in order to recruit more academic programs into its CAS and better serve them after enrollment. Since then, the number of programs participating in CSDCAS has increased to over 65%, and CAPCSD has been able to significantly enhance its efforts to help audiology and speech pathology programs achieve key enrollment goals, including those focusing on diversity initiatives and holistic admissions practices.
Woods recently spoke with Liaison about her organization’s top priorities and offered insights into the role CSDCAS plays in helping to achieve them.
Liaison: Could you elaborate on CAPCSD’s goals in general and for CSDCAS in particular?
Megan Woods, CAPCSD (MW): Providing leadership and collaboration for all of our programs is central to CAPCSD’s mission. We want to offer innovation and quality for audiology and speech pathology programs across the country. Offering CSDCAS is a great way for us to enable them to work together on their common goals, to share data on important trends and to make it easier for students to be able to reach out to them. With that in mind, one of CAPCSD’s biggest goals has been to increase member participation in CSDCAS from universities offering such programs. The more programs we have in CSDCAS, the richer our data is and the richer the community is. That allows us to make the best strategic decisions for the profession overall. Related goals include providing quality resources about admissions best practices, student resources and application processes.
In particular, CAPCSD sees CSDCAS as a tool that will enable us to become a leader in supporting diversity and holistic admissions initiatives, which we’ve been working on for years. It definitely fits with our mission. You can’t increase the number of underrepresented students enrolled in your program without increasing the size of your applicant pool. So, for us, that starts with CSDCAS.
By looking at the data CSDCAS provides, for example, I was able to determine that underrepresented minorities typically start their application process later and are less likely to complete it. That insight inspired us to take a closer look at how we can improve communications and offer more services and resources to encourage them to apply.
Liaison: How many programs are currently members of CSDCAS? What strategies have you found to be most effective in recruiting new programs, and how do you overcome objections?
MW: Right now, about 65% of our eligible programs participate. At last count, that amounted to 177 speech therapy programs and 51 audiology programs.
Historically, we’ve had a lot of success with peer-to-peer recruiting conducted by our advisory committee members, some of whom are giants in the field.
For example, I identified every non-participating program that is eligible to participate in CSDCAS and asked committee members if they knew people working at those universities. The committee members, in turn, contacted those peers and asked them to stop by our booth at conferences we were attending. Almost all of them responded positively, because it was a connection they already had. They were happy to sit down and hear what we had to say. Even hearing the reasons why they can’t participate can be very valuable. Sometimes there’s pushback from administration. Maybe they like the system they have. Or they don’t want to invest the resources. Or the IT department is overwhelmed with other projects. That knowledge allows us to create more resources to address pushback and potentially overcome objections.
Our recruitment efforts have also benefited from the fact that almost every new program that has just started immediately comes to us, as do a lot of small programs with limited visibility. They want to be a part of CSDCAS because of the exposure it offers. I have feedback from students who say they only applied to programs that were in CSDCAS because it was so much easier for them. They didn’t even look at other options. When programs start to hear things like that they don’t want to be left out.
With bigger programs, the most successful recruiting strategy I’ve seen involves getting somebody on the faculty to advocate for CSDCAS. Having somebody on campus who believes in the CAS — even if it’s not the ultimate decision maker — and providing them with resources and tools for making the case has been very effective.
Liaison: What other resources have you identified as helpful in boosting member participation and student enrollment?
MW: We recently conducted a student feedback survey. They want more resources on how to prepare good applications and how to prepare themselves well for graduate school. So, we’re putting together a series of videos on those topics as part of our resource center for students. We’re also going to put together resources for advisors on how to help students through the CAS process. A lot of schools aren’t familiar with these best practices and they want to understand them.
For programs, the data CSDCAS provides is a great recruiting tool because it highlights the benefits you can receive by being part of this community. Data allows you to look deeper into important trends and make well informed presentations to your administration about implementing new goals and strategies. We recently published our first applicant data report and we received very positive feedback from both current and potential participating programs. Having this data available really allowed us to change the conversation around the benefits of CSDCAS.
Liaison: What else would you like to say about your experience with CSDCAS?
MW: Once people understand the benefits of participating, they really want to get involved. During our most recent effort to recruit members to serve on our advisory board we received 18 applications for just three open spots. It’s the most competitive volunteer opportunity that CAPCSD has. I think that says a lot.