Recruiting Quality Students Into College

With tough economic times colleges are trying harder than ever to recruit quality students into their schools. The stakes are high: the typical student will spend over $100,000 to earn a bachelor’s degree at an average public university. For private or high ranked universities the cost can reach mind boggling levels. Such monetary incentive combined with the desire to have a smart student union that will reflect well on the university means that competition can be fierce to pack lecture halls full of young Einsteins. As colleges seek to add to their enrollment numbers, several dynamic ideas can both boost their attendance and improve the level of students at an institution.

Today’s high school students who are college-bound are the most wired generation ever with social media, the internet, and Youtube at their fingertips to provide them with a plethora of information. When researching colleges, this is often the first place they will look for information as opposed to traditional methods of recruitment like glossy packets and catalogs. It is absolutely critical that colleges have an area of their website that is easily locatable from their main page for prospective students that walks them thru the admission requirements, processes, and timeline. This may be the only chance that a college has to sell itself to prospective students and has to be kept up to date with regular news, information and reasons why students should go to that college. Social media must be kept current on a daily basis, and a dedicated content manager should run this for a university.

In the same vein, reputation and word of mouth is the best form of advertising there is. It should go without saying, but in order to be the educational institution of choice a college today must offer much more than book publishing professors and a broad spectrum of academic majors. Students today are looking for a college experience; a fun time to spend four years where they can make good memories, establish future professional contacts, cement friendships, and prepare for the future. To do this the culture of a college must be student-centric. Everything that a university does must be done with the best interests of the students in mind and what is good for them. In higher education, sometimes decisions get made which benefit faculty, professors, budgets, or a sports program at the cost of the overall student population. This has the effect of lowering student morale and creating an unhappy atmosphere on campus. When a university instead makes its primary goal that of serving students and making their time there worthwhile, fun, unique, and engaging, prospective students will flock there because they know their investment of time will be worthwhile.

senior projectAny institution is only as good as the quality of people attending it. One of the best ways to ensure that graduates are well educated, and incoming students are up for a challenge is to institute a core learning program. Sometimes going by different terms such as ‘foundational classes’ the goals of this is to ensure each student has a baseline education that helps to give everyone something in common and establish high standards. Religious colleges do this by requiring each student take three classes of theological studies. Liberal arts schools cover this by requiring a semester’s worth of classes in social studies, science, and arts & letters. A better approach though, is to require students to complete a detailed capstone project during their senior year. This can take a variety of forms, but could include a community service project, tutoring elementary school students, environmental clean-up, solving a major problem in the community, etc. The goal is to continually foster a sense of community in the campus by giving students a major obstacle that they must work together with to overcome. Bonds of friendship are forged in the furnace of stress and hard work.

Having established a good campus climate and reputation for having happy students, the next step to take in recruitment is the traditional high school campus recruitment visit. Usually these take place during career day when the college is competing against a plethora of other academic institutions in a gymnasium during the archetypal career day that we all experienced. My recommendation is that in addition to this, recruiters attempt to make personal contact with the teachers of high school seniors. The high school English teacher who teaches senior composition might be the best shot. Asking if they can do a short presentation to their class during school hours about their college results in a captive audience free of distraction where the university can make individual contact with potential customers. This is another one time opportunity to put a face on the college, and the team visiting high schools needs to be composed of fresh, energetic individuals who are the ideal brand representative of that institution. Don’t just round up some random work-study group to do this.

SOAR_campus_tour08_6148Each student that a university makes contact with should be invited on a campus tour. Ideally, this will be a day-long adventure during a time of year where the weather is nice and all of the selling points of the institution can be touched upon. In groups of no more than 20 per tour guide, it is going to be critical to not only show the campus to students, but actually have them experience it. Pick a few classes with dynamic, interesting professors that the students will sit in on. Have a catered lunch in the student union. Depending on the time of year, conclude the tour by going to a sporting event. In essence, make students feel that they will fit right in at the college.

A new tactic that has met with astounding success is the institution of college academic summer camps for high school students. In these programs, high school students are on college campuses during summer vacations. Flexible programs give students the chance to attend introduction level college classes and earn academic credit towards their degree while still in high school. In addition to giving prospective students a taste of college and how it works, students are more likely to attend an institution where they already have earned credit at since they will feel like they have a head start on things. Other programs in the same vein run academic camps with a particular theme geared towards high school students. Set up like intensive tutoring, they help students improve their skills and better prepare for college. Math camp at Arizona State University is an excellent example of that.

While recruitment remains a dynamic, changing game, universities must continually rise to the challenge to keep enrollment numbers high. By having a positive campus culture that students desire to be a part of, a majority of the recruitment issue can be solved. Keeping a focus on continuous improvement and serving students will ensure that happens.

Bryce Hall