Buffalo, New York and the scenic backdrop of Niagara Falls played host to the 2019 Nelnet Campus Commerce client user group event, CampusConnect. This was the first time the annual conference was held in fall, moving away from the customary summer time frame. The change was in response to feedback from many of our partners about summers being challenging with year-end activities, audit season, and summer vacations.
After spending over 20 years in higher ed marketing, enrollment management, and student financial services, CampusConnect 2019 was my inaugural user group conference as a member of the Nelnet Campus Commerce team. Unsure of what to expect, my goals were to get to know our partners, gain a better understanding of the company, learn about changing trends in higher ed, and – of course – get a sneak peak of the fall colors at the Falls!
The 2019 conference featured many event enhancements – two preconference workshops, two keynote speakers, the expert bar, peer presentations, breakout sessions, and last, but not least, the highly anticipated trip to Niagara Falls. The packed presentation schedule and trainings were meticulously planned out with a core focus of providing partners an opportunity to learn – about our products, about the future of higher ed, and about each other.
Being new to the experience gave me an interesting perspective on CampusConnect 2019. My top observations include the following:
1. Connecting Is the Best Form of NetworkingThe conference kicked off with a welcome reception, giving attendees an opportunity to network and get acquainted. Day two offered another client reception at the Hard Rock Café after the spectacularly scenic tour of Niagara Falls. Participants bonded over shared experiences – I mean, experiencing the awe of the Falls while getting drenched together (and loving every minute of it) created a unified and instant connection – and hundreds of selfies prove it. Networking became connecting. On the bus ride to the Falls, I overhead colleagues reviewing what they learned that day and eavesdropped conversations about process improvements, how systematic changes would better support institutional goals, efficiencies that could help the internal team and customer expectations, and initiatives that enhanced the student experience. I observed business cards being exchanged during snack breaks and calendar time scheduled for more time to talk and learn more about “how they do things.” The power of connecting and learning changes what happens back at home.
2. Great Sessions Lead to Great Learning And Great Learning Leads to ChangeIt was very evident that a lot of time and effort had gone into creating a more robust learning experience, especially with the varied session formats to support different learning styles.
- Pre-conference workshops, Why Compliance Doesn’t Mean You’re Secure and Bursar 101, set the stage for learning. With front-row seats in a smaller setting, participants learned from leading industry experts in security/compliance and a recently retired bursar with 40 years of higher ed experience.
- Featured keynote speakers, Jeff Selingo and Simon Anderson, tackled industry-specific topics focused on The Decade Ahead for Higher Education and the Trends and Technologies Transforming Education. Both presenters challenged conference participants on the future of technology and its impact on colleges and universities.
- Peer learning opportunities about automating payments or hearing about cutting-edge robotic technologies appearing on campuses achieved the valuable goal of helping participants understand how to support students and their changing expectations.
- A student panel discussion provided an interesting perspective on the student payment experience.
- Breakout sessions, such as “Birds of a Feather,” facilitated discussions between similar ERP* institutions to better understand platform opportunities.
3. Exploring Leads to Understanding And ChangeCampusConnect is known for bringing Nelnet Campus Commerce partners together to explore and learn more about products. From product enhancements, to participating in product roadmap planning, to deep dive training sessions on how to use the solution(s) better, to learning about new products – all of these opportunities equip attendees with product knowledge that helps them do their jobs better. The expert bar provided institutions with one-on-one time with the “right people” (i.e., client experience, implementation managers, product owners, developers) around the table to navigate questions and problem-solve in the moment. Exploration of how to use the solutions increases job knowledge and understanding, and is often the catalyst in change management that leads to doing the job better, easier, and more efficiently.
4. At the Heart of Good Technology Is Good PeopleThe thing that continues to surprise me about being at Nelnet Campus Commerce is the people. Companies often say a lot of things about who and what they are, but I saw firsthand Nelnet’s brand and corporate values lived out loud at CampusConnect. It not only inspired me, but also reminded me why I joined this team. I saw clients embrace Nelnet members as if they were the best of friends, when they had met previously over phone calls. I overheard attendees express how much they appreciated us and that “we are such an awesome team to work with.” One conference attendee even asked me if people at Nelnet are really this nice – I had to respond honestly that yes … yes, they really are. “Nebraska Nice” rings true and is reflected at the heart of the culture of the company.
At Nelnet, our clients are not sales numbers. They are everything to us: they are people and processes; students and families; the gateway to careers; and promising futures. The relationship with our partners is personal – from our president and executive leaders sharing their personal contact numbers with any attendee who asked, to the account manager who took extra snacks and water to a conference participant who didn’t feel good. Seeing the Nelnet team in action, I saw the “Best in Class” value come alive – caring for our people and providing great technology is truly at the heart of Nelnet Campus Commerce. What a refreshing experience to witness!
CampusConnect 2019 was more than a conference to learn. It was about connecting, exploring, and experiencing everything that makes working in technology and higher ed great! Don’t take my word for it – hear what CampusConnect attendees had to say.
- I really liked the Roundtable Cashiering Session. It made me really excited about the product and interested in the future!
- We are a TMS school migrating to Nelnet. CampusConnect made me excited about our future. In connecting with other schools that were in the same situation as us, I was really happy with the level of service we have already received. And I was really happy to hear how open to suggestions everyone at Nelnet is!
- I actually enjoyed every session I attended, but Indiana and past due plans were very applicable for me. Also, enterprise updates is also really helpful from a user standpoint and learning from others.
- Well-run event and appreciate it!
- I liked the student Q&A. It is good to hear students speak on what they are looking for in regards to their educational experience.
- Nelnet update and open discussions were very effective. The Nelnet team was very welcoming. The sessions led by Nelnet were valuable.
- October was a wonderful time to have the conference. The experience was wonderful. Thank you for having me.
- Nelnet is always so organized. Their team members are a joy to speak with and are always willing to answer any questions I may have.
- I enjoyed the two keynote speakers very much. I also really enjoyed Andrea Fillip with The Power of Psychobabble – her talk could be applied to student, co-workers, family, etc.
If you weren’t able to join us, we hope you’ll take an opportunity to view video highlights. And plan on joining us next year at CampusConnect 2020 for an even bigger and better event. Save the date: October 13-15 at the Westin Las Vegas Hotel & Spa, Las Vegas, Nev.