Growing Success: APTA Embraces Its CASs, Prepares to Launch Another

RJ Nichol
Apr 25, 2019

As Director of Centralized Application Services and Student Recruitment at the American Physical Therapy Association (APTA), Ryan Bannister oversees that organization’s Liaison-powered Physical Therapist Centralized Application Service (PTCAS™), its Residency and Fellowship Physical Therapist Centralized Application Service (RF-PTCAS™) and its soon-to-be launched Physical Therapist Assistant Centralized Application Service (PTA-CASTM).

He recently spoke to Liaison about his association’s long history of developing CASs, how he identifies goals when using a CAS and how he works with programs to recruit new members to join the CAS community. 

Liaison: When and why did your association decide to develop its first CAS, Ryan?
Ryan Bannister, American Physical Therapy Association (RB): The association was already using CASs long before I got here in 2017. PTCAS has been in place since 2008 and is now in its eleventh cycle. RF-PTCAS, which started in 2013, is in its sixth cycle. And we plan to launch PTA-CAS in 2020.

My predecessor had worked with PharmCAS, PharmGrad and PharmDirect [services created through a partnership between Liaison and the American Association of Colleges of Pharmacy (AACP)], so she knew firsthand about the benefits a CAS would bring: A reduced administrative burden. A source of revenue for the association, which goes to support other initiatives like our student recruitment efforts geared towards introducing students of all ages to physical therapy as a potential career. An incredible amount of data. So, she really pushed for it.

When you think about all the data — and all the other benefits — each CAS delivers to the association and to the programs they serve, it becomes a no brainer!

Liaison: How do you identify goals for your CASs? Is the process of setting and measuring goals the same for each CAS?
Generally speaking, you want to offer a good product to your education programs and potential applicants and you want data to drive decision making. All three of our CASs address those needs. While our original goal of offering a great service remains in place, it has evolved over time to include making use of the tremendous amount of data that’s available to us through each CAS. For example, we now put together annual data reports and trend analyses to look closely at the physical therapy applicant pool. We can see who our potential applicants are and where they’re coming from. And we use that data to market our profession.

But in terms of specific goals, there was a different one for each CAS. With RF-PTCAS, for example, one of the goals has been to make institutions realize they should offer this type of program, given the overwhelming growth in interest among students in furthering their education via residencies. Since it began, the CAS has seen growth every year in the number of programs participating and the number of students applying. And we’ve also seen the overall number of programs in the universe grow. We think the CAS has had an effect on that.

For PTA-CAS, on the other hand, our goals are twofold.  On the quantitative side, we want the data and we really want to get programs on board. Initial success there will be measured in the number of programs participating and the number of applicants in our inaugural cycle. On the qualitative side, we want to reduce the administrative burden on PTA faculty by streamlining the application process and providing them with data that is helpful in a number of ways, including when it comes to completing their annual accreditation reports.

Liaison: Please share more about your association’s organizational structure as it relates to CAS management.
As the Director of CAS and Student Recruitment, I report to the Vice President of Education. He oversees all of the education endeavors here. And I work with a specialist who is invaluable to us. The two of us devote most of our time to CAS and student recruitment combined. But the association just created a new position to help with our launch of the new PTA-CAS and to implement some of our new student recruitment initiatives, so we’ll soon have a team of three. I’m really excited about that.

I should also point out that PTCAS, our largest CAS, has an additional workgroup that functions like an advisory board. They meet quarterly, and face to face once a year, to talk about all the latest trends, data and changes that affect everyone. They provide a great sounding board for guidance.

Liaison: How would you describe your experiences recruiting new members to a CAS? What do you find to be the greatest challenges?
The initial signup can be a struggle at times, particularly when the concept of a CAS is relatively foreign to the people you’re talking to. But I think as more associations and more professions continue to get on board with CASs, word will continue to spread. That helps. Ultimately, though, you have to hit the road. You need to get face to face with people. You’ve got to get every decision maker in the room, demo the product and answer all of their questions while demonstrating the benefits of the service for their staff and applicants. Then you follow up with an email or a call. Once they’re onboard, you rarely see an institution drop a CAS or say, “This isn’t working. I wish we didn’t do this.”

And it definitely gets easier as you build on success. For example, the PTCAS participation rate is now above 90% percent. So, we don’t have to do as much of that traditional selling anymore. In some ways, it almost sells itself. It’s self-explanatory as to why they should join when they look at the success their peer programs have had with the service.

Liaison: What are the most common objections that you hear from potential CAS members? How do you overcome them?
I think the most common objection is simply, “We don’t need this. We have a product. Why change something that’s working?” I also hear, “We have too many applicants already. This is going to create more work.” Or, “We don’t get applicants from out of our area. We don’t need the audience a CAS will expose us to.”

And then the last one is cost. Some institutions, such as community colleges, are very sensitive to the financial situation of their applicants. They say, “Our applicants can’t afford that. We’re all set.”

However, once programs spend some “one-on-one” time with the service during demos, get their questions answered and learn how it can really be a cost-effective benefit to both them and their applicants, they often begin to see new possibilities with the CAS.

We’ve developed a lot of resources to help us overcome objections, including print, video and multimedia content designed to better educate potential members about the CAS and its benefits. There’s an answer to everything. It’s just a matter of putting it out there in the right formats. If they want to read, put it out there in a written format. One-page fact sheets work great. If they want to watch something, put out a short video that addresses their concerns. Then put yourself in front of them and answer their questions face to face.

There’s something valuable about making the time and effort, and putting up the monetary resources, to visit a school. It shows people that you’re invested and that you care. The feedback shared and the interest generated are phenomenal. We have great, great experiences doing that.

RJ Nichol

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Over the last three decades, Liaison has helped over 40,000 programs on more than 1,200 campuses more effectively manage admissions through its Centralized Application Service (CAS™) technology and complementary application processing and support services. The higher education technology leader supports its partner institutions’ total enrollment goals by pairing CAS with its Enrollment Marketing (EM) platform as well as the recently acquired TargetX (CRM) and advanced analytics software Othot.