Focusing on Faculty to Improve Student Recruitment
Date posted: November 26, 2015
As higher education has become increasingly influenced by market forces, there has been a greater focus on meeting perceived student expectations for employability and delivering a tangible return on investment. While it may be well understood that these gauges of education quality are simply an extension of learning outcomes, the importance of excellent teaching in establishing an institution’s success can never be underestimated.
A college or university’s vision and values should always align with bottom-up pedagogical practices – its faculty’s talent, leadership, collaboration and innovation – to ensure its projected identity is consistent with the student experience. The perceived quality of an institution’s faculty is a significant factor for many prospective students and their parents choosing a school, and although basing this opinion on reliable information isn’t always easy, secrets don’t tend to last too long in this connected age. Various magazine rankings and websites like ratemyprofessors.com use student satisfaction surveys to help students make more informed course decisions. Although these systems are far from perfect, schools should recognize that reviews, forums and testimonials have a cumulative effect on a faculty’s reputation.
Featuring Faculty on your Website
For example, the University of Virginia’s Darden School of Business attracts a large proportion of its MBA students due to its quality of teaching. Its renown for superstar professors is backed by consistent student satisfaction data and glowing press coverage. While its relatively small-town setting could be considered a drawback for some, Darden’s faculty’s accountability, accessibility and engaging case-study teaching method is evidently a core branding differentiator and made prominent on its homepage.
Clicking on a prof’s photo takes viewers to a comprehensive webpage featuring a biography, publications, courses, case studies, other links and a personalized video introduction.
Academic Quality – A Challenge for the Higher Education System?
The academic culture at this and similar business schools raises the bar for great classroom instruction, whereas inconsistent teaching quality at some universities is sometimes attributed to an overemphasis on academic research. A traditional expectation is for professors to spend about 40% of their time teaching, 40% on research and the remainder doing committee or community work.
With increasing pressure to improve teaching quality, more than a dozen higher ed institutions in Canada have shifted to a permanent teaching stream in the past few years. The objectives are more attentive professors, greater workload flexibility and reduced costs, since teaching-stream faculty typically earn comparable pay but can teach more students. Although teaching-stream positions are limited at most schools, studies suggest that those in the role tend to prefer it to the so-called “publish-or-perish” research culture.
Over in Britain, Universities Minister Jo Johnson recently stated that teaching had become the “poor cousin” to research. Amidst student protests against the rising cost of tuition, his government proposes to allow universities in England to raise tuition fees with inflation if they can demonstrate a high quality of teaching. It is one of many recommendations said to prioritize students, though the debate is only in its early stages.
Another systemic factor potentially influencing teaching quality is the hidden majority of “adjunct” or “contingent” lecturers – the one million untenured professoriate who compose 75% of all college professors in the US. These profs are often not calculated into rankings data or job statistics, and with significantly less pay, benefits and respect than tenure-track peers, career dissatisfaction levels are unsurprisingly higher.
Nurturing and Promoting Quality Teaching
Of course, a school’s teaching quality matters for more than student recruitment – a first-year student’s experience with a professor in an introductory course can make or break interest in a whole program. According to a study in the book “How College Works” by Daniel Chambliss and Christopher Takacs, students’ “taste formation” in choice of majors is largely influenced by the “gatekeeper” professors teaching introductory courses.
“Some compelling teachers can get students engaged in fields that they previously disliked, while other, more uncharismatic faculty can alienate students from entire bodies of knowledge, sometimes permanently,” assert the authors. “It’s important for department chairs and deans to recognize who their more skilled teachers are, and the teachers they can use to draw students into certain majors.”
They argue that it is the people more than the programs that make all the difference in student retention and engagement. The role of higher education instructors is evolving to meet these emerging expectations, integrating innovative learning platforms, improving communication and collaborative approaches, and pursuing pedagogies, technologies and assessment models aligned with student-centred learning. Leveraging industry experience to provide meaningful opportunities for developing professional competencies is becoming increasingly important to prepare students for the uncertain post-graduate world.
Rewarding Teaching Excellence
To nurture an environment of great teachers, establish a culture and corresponding policies that prioritize quality, support and collaboration. Rather than regulations and coercive standards, incentives and inclusion promote a more positive and participative faculty. Encourage continued involvement by demonstrating how their contribution impacted recruitment efforts and providing meaningful gratitude.
Many schools offer some variation of Université of Laval’s University Awards for Excellence in Teaching, which honour faculty for exceptional teaching practices or the production of educational material. Besides recognizing individual professors, these awards showcase the institution’s teaching quality while instilling pride and motivation in the collective culture.
Other colleges and universities strive to get their faculty more directly involved in student recruitment activities like symposiums and fairs. Future students might be invited to visit college classes or open houses, participate in webinars or enroll in bridge programs to build interest prior to enrollment. Getting professors engaged in these introductory initiatives helps form a bond with new students that may endure throughout their experience with your school. As faculty personify your educational offerings, integrating their authentic testimonials and other validation into your web presence and marketing materials generates trust in your programs. Sometimes the messenger matters more than the message.
Interactions with faculty during the recruitment process provide students with more thorough answers to their questions, often resulting in boosted enthusiasm for their program choice. It may also allay student apprehension about pursuing higher education while allowing them to better understand the academic rigors of university life. Meanwhile, by allying with the admissions office, faculty learn more about the prospective student mindset and evaluation criteria, which can then be communicated among colleagues to foster a greater connection between teaching methods and learning outcomes.
Showcasing your School’s Excellent Teaching
There are many ways to show off your great professors that support student recruitment initiatives. Algonquin College, for example, features a weekly “Professor Showcase” among other showcases in their blogs, interviewing selected faculty about their industry experiences and personal achievements. Alternately, try featuring your professors in university social media marketing, including a visually appealing quotation about the school or program to add an element of personalization, like this example from John Cabot University in Rome.
Full Sail University adds a twist to the typical faculty page by branding their educators, “a team of industry insiders.” Nicely cropped images of faculty members open up into bios that include subsections like “what I do when I’m not teaching” or “the best part of my job.”
Edinburgh College of Art features videos of its professors on the homepage, introducing their various schools and institutional vision.
Wesleyan University demonstrates the importance it places on its professors by displaying “About the Faculty” first in its Academics section. They feature their cultural diversity in rotating professor bios that employ consistent content presentation and photographic filters.
Do you know other great examples of schools focusing on faculty to support student recruitment?