When Catherine Cole walks into her office around 6:30 a.m., the assistant vice president for enrollment services said she faces 19 different dashboards showing her data about the University of North Florida and its students.
"I know exactly where we stand that day and what we need to do to change our trajectory," said Cole, also director of integrated marketing and strategic communications.
Cole, who has served in her current role from 2010 to the present, is the second of four finalists the University of Montana is interviewing for a vice president post.
Recently hired UM President Seth Bodnar announced a restructure in March that combines enrollment oversight and communications under one vice president, and Cole brings to the table experience in both areas.
According to her resume and her presentation Thursday, she is on track to have grown the incoming freshman class at the University of North Florida three years in a row:
• A marketing and communication plan she developed for 52 academic programs drew 25 percent more students in 2016, 36 percent more in 2017, and a projected 44 percent more in fall 2018. Her resume notes diversity grew 16 percent in 2016 and 19 percent in 2017.
Cole attributed the growth to a personal connection built with prospective students. When high school graduates express interest in the biology program, for instance, they hear from a biology faculty member, a biology student, and an alum from biology, she said, and the prospective student gets an invitation to participate in a related activity, like watching dolphins or tagging sharks.
"We just make it really personal, and they come," said Cole, who currently works on a campus with some 16,000 students.
In her presentation, Cole also said she has direct experience with UM admissions — she signed up her dog, Morgan, as a new recruit at the Missoula flagship to see how the process would unfold.
"You know, it works. I got to see some things," said Cole, whose resume notes she has a master's degree in integrated marketing communication from West Virginia University.
She said she sees ways UM can easily pick up another 6 percent to 7 percent of its incoming class. UM is getting a lot of interest from students, she said, but it isn't turning as much of that interest into actual enrollment as it could, and it can do a few simple things to increase that "yield."
One professor wanted to know how Cole decides the data she needs and also how she gets it if it isn't in the right form, which has been an issue at UM.
Said Cole: "You create it. It wasn't there for me, either."
But she knew the information she wanted to see, such as which high schools students came from, and their grade point averages and test scores. So she worked with her university's research office to pull as much data as possible out of a student information system that's like the one UM uses, she said, and a logistics person helped build a model.
"Now, we collect data on every single applicant, and we use it. So sometimes, you make it up as you go along, and eventually, you get what you need," Cole said.
One administrator wanted to know why Cole would consider coming to UM "'cause it's not in Florida."
In response, Cole said she knows she can make a difference at UM. The campus is facing some of the same challenges she faced in Florida and handled earlier at Eastern Michigan University, she said, and she knows what it's like to have three jobs rolled into one and still be responsible to bring in a class and be cheerful and helpful to students.
She was the first person in her family to go to college, and when she was in tears struggling to fill out the notoriously complicated federal application for financial aid, a woman asked to help her. Together, they filled out the form and mailed it off. The woman told Cole to stay in touch and gave her a business card, Judy Benfield Tatum, director of financial aid.
Cole took her muffins and a thank you note, and at graduation, Tatum presented Cole her diploma. Now, whenever a good thing happens in Cole's life, she sends Tatum a thank you note, and she wants to help people the same way.
"I want to be somebody's Judy Benfield Tatum," Cole said. "I think I can do that here. Y'all are like, really nice people. Sometimes, people aren't nice at institutions — I'm just saying — and everybody I have met today has wanted to be a part of the solution, and that is incredible."
In her presentation, Cole also noted retention has been a focus at the University of North Florida, and she has helped students stay on campus and graduate.
She created and implemented a "15 to Finish" campaign that has resulted in more than 80 percent of students registering for 15 credits a semester, according to her resume. She said the campus also launched a campaign to empower employees to stop their work on a daily basis to talk with a student, maybe someone who looks lost or lonely.
"If you have 3,000 employees, you have 3,000 recruiters, and you have 3,000 retention experts," Cole said.
Cole's resume notes a marketing and communications plan she developed and implemented led to 10 percent enrollment growth for Middle Tennessee State University, where she served as associate director of admissions from 2009 to 2010. She earlier worked at the school as editor/marketing coordinator from 2006 to 2009 and helped push "double-digit enrollment increases" with a strategic marketing campaign, according to her resume. (She noted the enrollment increases she shares are specific to incoming freshman.)
Prior to her job in Tennessee, Cole worked at Eastern Michigan as the director of events, marketing and trademark licensing from 2003 to 2006, according to her resume. She notes she led the development of new family enrollment services materials that resulted in "a 10 percent increase in prospective student inquiries and new student enrollments."
Her resume notes she has a bachelor's degree in journalism from Eastern Michigan University and is the author of three nonfiction books, "Creepy Colleges and Haunted Universities," "Haunted Florida," and "True Crime: Florida."
Two other candidates are scheduled for interviews, with both public forums held from 4 p.m. to 5:15 p.m. in the UC Theater:
• Jim Hundrieser, associate managing principal of institutional strategies for the Association of Governing Boards, on Monday and Tuesday, June 4 and 5, with a public forum Monday.
• William Plate, vice president of university communication and chief marketing officer at Coastal Carolina University, on June 6 and 7, with a public forum Wednesday, June 6.