College Board Announces Ronné Turner as New Board of Trustees Chair

College Board has announced that Ronné Turner, vice provost of admissions and financial aid at Washington University, will serve as Board of Trustees chair. Turner begins her two-year term this week. All Access talked with Ronné  about her new role, how admissions and enrollment has evolved over the past few years, and how working with College Board governance has impacted her career.

All Access: Can you tell us a little bit about your role as vice provost of admissions and financial aid at Washington University? 

Ronné Turner: As vice provost for admissions and financial aid, I’m responsible for planning and directing undergraduate student recruitment to Washington University, including first-year and transfer, as well as domestic and international students. I implement strategies to increase diversity among the student body. I also oversee Student Financial Services, which is dedicated to making it financially possible for admitted students to enroll and graduate. I am proud to work with a team of more than 80 admissions and financial aid professionals, all of whom work hard to serve prospective and current students and their parents and family members. In the last five years, our team has focused on increasing the percentage of Pell-eligible undergraduate students who enroll at WashU. The university's goal was to have 13% of entering undergraduates Pell-eligible by 2020. I’m proud to share that we’ve surpassed this goal. This fall, 16% of our entering first-year class is Pell-eligible.

AA: You've been in the admissions and enrollment space for much of your career—what's been the most significant change over the years to the way students apply to and enroll in college?

RT: My first job out of college was in admissions, and I fell in love with the work. I am energized  by helping students discover educational opportunities that let them fulfill their dreams. Higher education has the power to transform lives, especially for students of color and students from underrepresented backgrounds. Like so many people who do this work, I didn't plan to have a career in enrollment, but I can't think of anything else I would rather do. So, to answer your question, the basics of what we do haven’t changed much since I started in admissions in 1986. We still do a large amount of outreach and engage with students, parents, and school counselors to educate them about our institution’s opportunities. We recruit students, evaluate applications, and make admissions decisions, award financial aid and scholarships, and enroll admitted students.

What has changed are the tools we use to do this work. Advances in technology have made it easier to communicate with students and for students to apply to college. As an enrollment leader, I rely more on data and sophisticated enrollment models to guide the work. But even with these advances and tools, we still struggle to dramatically increase the number of first-generation students from low-income and underrepresented backgrounds who can access higher education

AA: You’ve participated in College Board governance and events almost as long as you've been in admissions. How has this experience impacted your work/career/professional network?

RT: I am so proud to be part of this great membership organization. College Board plays a vital role as one of the few organizations that bring K–12 teachers and counselors, higher education faculty, and enrollment and financial aid professionals together to improve service to students and their chance for academic success.

I love my work with College Board because I can engage with colleagues in K–12 and higher education who have opinions and experiences that differ from mine. I always bring something back to my institution that I learned at a College Board meeting. For example, during the move to allow families to use tax information from two years prior when completing the FAFSA, it occurred to me that this change might allow us to better serve current students. At WashU, we traditionally released financial aid awards to our current students in May. We were able to move up the awarding timeline for current students, which we believe gives families, especially our middle- and lower-income families, time to plan. Today, more than 60% of current students at WashU receiving financial aid complete the financial aid application process and receive their financial aid awards for the following academic year in January. This idea would never have occurred to me if I hadn't been so involved in discussing this change with the chair of the CSS/Financial Assistance Assembly at the time, Jon McGee.

AA: In your role as a College Board Trustee, what was a surprising thing you've learned about College Board?

RT: Wow. That’s a great question. I’ve learned so much about the College Board's governance structure, strategic planning, and budgeting.

Although I’ve long admired the College Board Leadership Team, I was amazed to learn about the depth of talent in the organization beyond the leadership. I've had the opportunity to interact with many staff members, and I’m in awe of the passionate, smart, inventive, and hardworking employees who make it possible for millions of students to succeed.

AA: This is a unique year to transition into the role as Board of Trustees chair. How has covid-19 impacted and how will it impact your work with College Board?

RT: It certainly is a unique year to transition to the chair of the BOT. I knew this role would be challenging, but the pandemic has added a complexity that no one could have imagined. It has had a significant impact on just about everything in our lives, including College Board programs and services. Covid-19 is forcing us to reconsider our current ways of serving students and find innovative ways to continue our work.

On my campus, our admissions and financial aid teams have created new programs and ways to interact with students and their families. We’re questioning long-held beliefs and policies and adapting based on students' needs. I suspect new virtual programs we implemented will continue beyond the pandemic.

The same is true of College Board. The Board of Trustees will have to reevaluate some of our long-held beliefs and support the leadership team as they work with staff to find ways to better serve students and our members. College Board staff members are way ahead of me in their work to innovate. Being able to pivot and deliver the online version of AP Exams to millions of students in a few short months is an example of the creativity and innovation needed for us to carry out our mission.

I’m really excited to become chair during this time. Working in a changing environment has always been attractive to me. Change energizes me. I love to be in an environment where everyone is focused on how we can excel and how we can do more for students. There are amazing possibilities, and I can't wait to engage with everyone to make sure students can take advantage of the opportunities they’ve earned.