By Dr. Cedric B. Howard, Ed.D., Senior Consultant with AACRAO Consulting, Vice President of Student Affairs & Enrollment Services, University of Northern Colorado
Effective student recruitment is key to a higher education institution realizing many of its long-term strategic ambitions; enabling the institution to have global reach and impact and to create sustainable, stimulating, and diverse academic communities. This is accomplished by offering students around the world an accessible, relevant, and engaging experience that meets their ambitions and prepares them for fulfilling futures. To stand out in an increasingly crowded, multi-platform recruitment environment, an institution must effectively convey clear, compelling messages in engaging ways about the purpose and value of its offerings and the anticipated experience of being a member of your campus community.
The student recruitment plan is one of the most essential parts of educational institutions. A successful recruitment plan engages prospective students and makes them excited about your institution. New students are enrolling at a decreasing rate. But the applications are increasing occasionally as students apply to more colleges to get admission to at least one institution.
According to the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center (2022), there were 662,000 fewer students enrolled in undergraduate programs in spring 2022 than in spring 2021.
Students question whether college is a “valuable” option that leads to good-paying jobs and better career prospects. Students from low-income families and students of color are more prone to question if college is the appropriate venue for their post-secondary options.
A student recruitment plan should be tailored by geographic, demographic, student type, and market segments, specific to the level and mode of study, and engage not just with students, but their parents, advisers, sponsors, and employers. Recruitment communications should focus on what matters most to students and what they know about the key benefits and attractions of the student experience at your institution. The student recruitment plan must seek to not merely broadcast to your recruitment audiences but to engage with them in ways that embody your institution’s values, providing content that is accurate, engaging, and useful.
Four strategies to assist with developing an effective student recruitment plan:
An organizational structure with clearly defined roles and responsibilities - An effective recruitment plan has defined roles for each function of the organization. Role definition includes who is communicating, when communication occurs (timeline and frequency of communication), and how will you communicate with each student type (digital versus print channels).
Develop an online recruitment hub/toolbox for use by faculty and staff involved in any recruitment activity across your institution. A single-location admissions toolbox is beneficial for sharing guidance, resources, and expectations for all parties involved in outreach and recruitment activities on campus. A summary of academic program offerings that are responsive to potential students’ needs is beneficial to include in this toolbox; linking program outlines and expectations to industry standards is helpful information to share with prospective students.
Make effective use of any Customer Relationship Management (CRM) system to efficiently target, engage and interact with students and other stakeholders. Use your CRM as your primary communication tracking tool, providing real-time feedback on student behavior in reading and responding to campus communications. A robust, coordinated communication strategy for internal and external recruitment stakeholders will enhance prospective students’ impression of your institution. Maximize the value of the institution’s website to assist with student recruitment communications.
Develop a strategy for each recruitment territory and each student type. Use data to create recruitment scripts targeting the unique characteristics of each recruitment market (e.g., a script for first-year students from urban communities should be differentiated from a recruitment script targeting transfer students in rural communities).
While enrollment at many institutions suffered during the global COVID pandemic, an effective recruitment plan would allow your campus to re-position itself in an extraordinarily complex college admission market as students are seeking to re-calibrate their need to attend a college and university. Additionally, a well-crafted recruitment plan would position your campus to proactively respond to declining institutional budgets, increased competition in your recruitment markets, and support for stressed admissions professionals who are often asked to do more with less funding. The best of intentions cannot overcome a lack of planning. if your recruitment plan is not comprehensive and addresses the entire student experience, your campus will struggle with conversion throughout the admissions process; no matter how prepared your admissions operation and recruitment staff are for college fairs, campus visits, and application processing.
Visit AACRAO Consulting to learn more about the various services offered in enrollment management, recruitment and marketing, transfer policy, and more.