“Best practices” for departmental/faculty involvement in student recruitment.
Faculty play a critical role in recruiting students, particularly at small colleges. Several years ago I was asked to put together some recommendations for faculty to consider.
Below are my views of what I think have a probability of working at colleges like Augustana.
Please let me know what you think.
W. Kent Barnds a.k.a @bowtieadmission
Focused events—Events that are focused exclusively on prospective students and parents are very effective (those events that have a mixed audience—alums, current students, teachers or students who are not in our pool are not as effective and probably distract from the recruitment potential). An event like the Departmental Open House and Scholarship Competition is a good example of a focused event. The event’s invitation provides a clear idea of what the event is and the event follows through. Some departments or majors might think of additional focused events that would work. Of course, music has its auditions that fall into this category.
Personalization/customization—Prospective students want to feel special. Unfortunately, aggressive marketing techniques have made some outreach techniques less relevant and special because of overuse. An example of this is e-mail—even html e-mail. If you want something to matter to a prospective student it is critical to personalize and customize. An example of doing this is the hand-written note on each offer of admission and the customized paragraph within each letter than highlights why a student caught our attention.
Using young alums—Involving young alums in outreach is almost always effective (if you use happy alums). Good examples of using alums include: current medical students addressing prospective pre-med majors during Open House and Scholarship competition; post cards from recent alums to accepted students in March or April; recent alums making phone calls to prospects. Recent alums add credibility to the institutional/departmental message and prove our value proposition.
Using current students—Involving current students is very helpful. They bring believability to our message and often create a stronger connection with prospective students. Most often, though, they reinforce what we’d say anyway. Featuring a student speaker, highlighting student research or internships and partnering with a current student at visit days are good examples of ways to involve current students. At my previous institution the Political Science Department used current students in the recruitment process to bring life to the realities associated with running a campaign.
Hands-on activities—Any time prospective students can do something, rather than just listen to a presentation or group of panelists, it presents an opportunity. Reconsider public presentations to think about an activity in which you might involve prospects. The more memorable the experience, and “the doing,” the better. They are more likely to remember doing X while at Augustana than the statistics you provide or the syllabus presented. I think this falls into the category of “show them, don’t tell them”.
Surveying for information to be used in following up—Information is power when recruiting students. A brief survey or questionnaire is often helpful is discovering a student’s passions and is very helpful in tailoring follow up with students. The Office of Admissions uses several questionnaires at various stages of the recruitment cycle to position our programs and strengths and discover a student’s sweet spot, enabling us to follow up appropriately. Such a questionnaire could be as brief as five questions. The key is to ask questions that will enable you to learn something about the prospect, such as the survey used by the Education department after the October visit day.
Capitalizing on their timetable—Now that the recruitment cycle has expanded from 12 to 24 months and the marketplace has become increasingly crowded, it is more important than ever to be responsive to a prospect’s timetable. Some research suggests that if a college in not on a student’s “short list” by the middle of the junior year there’s little possibility of enrolling the student. This is scary stuff for those of us at a tuition-driven college and we need to think about ways to capitalize on a student’s timetable, including maximizing contact and communication during summers and effectively using holidays from school for on-campus programming.
Third-party confirmation of value of degree—Gathering third-party confirmation of the value of the degree offered and the success of graduates is a great way to convince prospects of quality. In the Office of Admissions we’ve developed an arsenal of newspaper clippings, web articles and stories about graduates in specific programs. We use these as follow up with students and parents throughout the process. Unfortunately, we don’t know as much as individual faculty members might about the success of graduates. Departments should consider developing an arsenal, too. Another way to develop an arsenal is to solicit feedback from graduates about how Augustana prepared them successfully for whatever they may be doing. Gathering this information and organizing it in a manner that is easily accessible for prospective students is an easy way to provide third-party reinforcement of the value of the degree and experience offered here.
In-classroom presentations—We’ve seen an increase in the number of faculty and staff who are willing to be guest speakers in high school classrooms. As these experiences have increased in number we’ve started to view them as potential recruitment opportunities. We’ve partnered faculty members with an admissions officer to ensure capturing names and mailing address and providing Augie information. Typically, we’ve allowed for a five-minute commercial, too. Developing more of these presentations would be helpful and represents positive outreach and recruitment.
Creating a departmental list of “difference makers”—Impressive things are happening in our departments and we need to make sure the right people are hearing about them. Creating a department list of “difference makers” and making sure they are contacted about upcoming events can assure that high school students and their families know what outstanding events go on here. For example, contacting department alumni who are teaching in the high schools or otherwise working with young people, and making sure they know about upcoming events such as the chemistry open house, featured speakers, author visits, convocations, fine arts performances, etc.
Sharp edges and hooks– If we choose to compete at the institutional/corporate level by deemphasizing our academic programmatic distinctions, we will choose to compete based exclusively on the college’s reputation. In most cases colleges like Augie will lose most battles to colleges perceived to be a “tier above.” Competing at the “corporate level” is tough. Places with greater resources and name recognition, will with much greater frequency “win” the student who is undecided or who wants to study English, history, anthropology, Spanish or political science. Unless a traditional program is markedly different (i.e. foreign language study at Middlebury, music at Oberlin), it is unlikely that a college will compete on anything other than prestige and reputation. It is my opinion that most majors need to do more to develop distinguishing features and shape those features into meaningful benefits to students in order to compete at the department level. The proposition for studying English, history, business administration, music, art, languages religion, etc. needs to be strengthened in order to successfully articulate why the program is better and different here than at a place that might win the typical reputation battle described above. This will become increasingly important as demographic shifts occur and colleges further professionalize their curriculum based on market conditions. We need to identify why studying a particular major here is different or better than studying elsewhere.
Varied presentations and messages –A best practice is to develop a variety of presentations and messages to respond to the various stages in the admissions funnel (prospect, applicant, accepted). Too frequently we’ve relied on a single message, which becomes tired when a student visited more than once. (Last year more than 60% of the students who enrolled visited campus more than once during their college search).