With an ever increasing number of institutions chasing a shrinking pool of prospective applicants, most schools are actively on the lookout for both new enrolment markets throughout the world and new recruitment strategies for reaching and converting potential students. Mobilizing the talents of some of your most credible messengers – your faculty – can strongly influence prospective students’ perception of your college or university and their decision to apply.
“It takes a campus to recruit, and once you get students here, to retain them through graduation,” said Cynthia Worthen, vice president for academic affairs at Argosy University, in a conference call with Dean & Provost. Successfully enlisting the support of your greatest brand ambassadors requires a comprehensive strategic plan for working towards common goals and the development of resources for targeted recruitment initiatives.
To overcome potential reluctance among faculty for assuming additional responsibilities, admissions teams should effectively communicate why their help is valuable and offer a range of options for how they can get involved (here’s a helpful checklist used by W. Kent Barnds of Augustana College).
Establishing one-on-one connections with prospective students is a challenging but impactful activity – fortunately there are numerous implementation strategies and digital resources available to maximize your student recruitment opportunities.
Defining Recruitment Goals and Strategies for Faculty Participation
Student enrolment is a complex and collaborative process requiring clear direction from institutional leadership and input from faculty and other stakeholders. Proactive, long-term planning is a prerequisite for implementing enrolment strategies and sustainable internationalization – a key priority for many schools seeking to expand admissions numbers and campus diversity.
Effective strategic planning for enrolment builds on existing strengths and evidence-based aspirations to determine optimal growth and diversity targets. Analyze market research, current enrolment demographics and input from the broader campus community to better understand student preferences and particular geographic regions to target. A committee involving representatives from all segments of your community can help provide meaningful insights and encourage shared participation in progressing toward defined goals.
Strive for transparency in communicating enrolment objectives and assessing implementation measures, integrating feedback into documents, emails and meetings. Sharing enrolment data and tuition revenue for each department with all faculty members can motivate those with lower numbers to increase recruitment efforts. Some colleges are considering allocating departmental funds by student enrolment, which could provide a direct incentive for department-wide recruitment participation (or risk faculty revolt).
Evaluate your options for potential brand ambassadors by reaching out to relevant faculty to express your intentions for getting new student referrals, domestically and abroad, soliciting their assistance in leveraging their personal and professional networks. Those who respond with enthusiasm make natural candidates to follow up with.
Example: In response to steadily declining recruitment numbers, the University of Northern British Columbia’s (UNBC) president Daniel J. Weeks repositioned the enrolment services team last June, announcing that student recruitment and retention would be placed “squarely in the centre of a senior portfolio, coupled with a new spirit of cross-departmental collaboration.”
The message commended UNBC’s “outstanding” faculty while implicitly asking for their support, mobilizing all recruitment resources to meet enrolment targets and noting the effectiveness of making personal calls to accepted students when encouraging them to register. This type of message not only sets the stage for further recruitment collaboration, but also conveys the university’s enrolment pressures while sharing responsibility for admissions successes and failures.
Mobilizing Faculty Support for Student Recruitment
“Professors hold a key role in recruiting students, especially at private colleges and small public institutions,” asserts Professor Stephen M. Winzenburg of Grand View College where the admissions director reports that 85% of visiting students request a meeting with a faculty member. The resulting personal connection often “seals the deal.”
“It is part of our jobs to set aside a small amount of time to meet potential students and showcase the academic programs that we have worked so hard to build,” says Winzenburg. “We need to make sure we treat potential students the same way we would want colleagues at other institutions to treat our own children.”
Partnering with faculty for student recruitment is a recognition that admissions is an extension of faculty. For faculty to play a vital role in any institution’s vision for growth, they must firstly agree with this vision and feel their contributions are valued. Some departments may feel they already have more students than they can effectively serve so would have little motivation in participating in the very activity that would add to their work load. Beyond satisfactorily addressing these concerns, there are many factors which may motivate or hinder their participation.
“By becoming a recruiter and a person who encouraged yield, I have some control over who I have in the classroom,” says W. Todd Roberson, a senior lecturer of finance at Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis’s Kelley School of Business who has assumed responsibility for coordinating recruitment and “yield” strategies for his academic unit.
Faculty at other schools have also noted that recruiting the best students provides a more meaningful teaching experience. Roberson recommends prioritizing professors with more practical real-world experience rather than those “academically qualified”, soliciting support by appealing to their empathy, excitement about their discipline, and their egos. He ends one-on-one conversations with prospective students by offering his business card and the call-to-action “Visit me on campus.”
Planning How Your Faculty Can Become Involved in Student Recruitment
Throughout regular communications with your best faculty recruiters, plan around their teaching schedules and campus events that they can attend. Consider your more international and traveling faculty for opportunities where they might coordinate their schedules with recruitment fairs and meetings with prospective students abroad. Clarify that they aren’t necessarily expected to “sell” the school but rather accompany admissions officials to discuss their research, academic passion and recent student outcomes.
“Faculty can tell the story about their experience in the classroom, students they have had, how they transformed the students and prepared them for life after school,” suggests Dr. Benjamin Akande, who was dean of the George Herbert Walker School of Business and Technology at Webster University at the time, and is now President of Westminster College. The working adults that formed the vast majority of his student base valued the specific information that only faculty could provide.
While interaction with faculty can make or break a prospect’s enrolment decision, a strategic approach is necessary to integrate this valuable resource with other recruitment efforts and to ensure each meeting is as fulfilling as possible for both sides. Before asking for specific involvement, be clear about your expectations and be respectful about their time. It’s only logical that faculty will be more eager to recruit if they’re appropriately incentivized to do so.
“Time is (the) currency faculty trade in and they like having freedom,” says Roberson, recommending that colleges consider granting release time in exchange for service. Some schools include outreach activities in the professor’s annual review while others reward notable participants with a monetary award or small gifts.
Aligning Faculty with Student Engagement Opportunities
Once a preliminary coalition of the willing has been assembled, admissions directors could begin to align their faculty resources with on-campus, off-campus and digital recruitment opportunities. W. Kent Barnds recommends providing guidance, not direction, when presenting options for involvement, respecting that not every professor will feel comfortable making phone calls or permitting visits to a class in session.
While segmented drip marketing campaigns are an effective automated initiative for new prospects, those who request further information could be invited to complete a student interest form to facilitate customized follow-up. Faculty could then support admissions staff in contacting accepted applicants and prospects who have demonstrated active interest through phone calls, emails and in-person meetings.
Providing templates and content guidelines to professors can help focus their conversations and letters in sharing their unique perspectives about their field, mentioning notable achievements and potential advantages of choosing their program. Letters could reference impressive student information, emphasize important aspects of the program, illustrate career possibilities and recent student success stories, and end with a handwritten note such as “hope to see you on campus.”
To accommodate prospective students seeking to discuss a particular program of interest in person, schools like Western Carolina University have designated one faculty member to serve as admissions liaison for each department. Some colleges encourage prospective students to visit faculty during office hours, join classes with current students or even attend mock lectures that appeal to popular interests and are led by particularly charismatic profs. Arranging faculty to meet with small groups of 10 to 15 prospects is an effective and efficient initiative, especially if students are provided with lists of relevant questions to get the ball rolling.
Involving Faculty with Digital Marketing Recruitment Initiatives
Besides personalized prospect following up via email, telephone or letter, involving faculty in other online student recruitment can showcase your top brand ambassadors, resolve potential concerns and better explain various programs of study. For instance, try giving departments autonomy over their own social media accounts to share their passion, compelling images, videos and program-specific points of interest while organizing all accounts with a management platform like Hootsuite and providing clear policies for ensuring a coherent presence and protecting the college’s reputation.
Invite your faculty to contribute blog posts about their field of expertise, experience and interests in a relatable way that would appeal to future students. Integrating these posts with other general or student blogs on your website will better connect them with your brand and make them easily findable. It’s ideal to edit these submissions to incorporate blogging best practices, including SEO techniques and breaking up text for easier scanning with subheadings, images and videos. Of course, these should subsequently be shared on social media.
Example: Berkeley University cleverly frames its faculty blogs as “Campus scholars’ perspectives on topical issues – in conversation with you.” This makes for more engaging reading and distinguishes the faculty (and by extension, the school) as opinionated and progressive.
Example: Another strategy is to have your dedicated blog writers interview faculty experts as Rhodes Wellness College does. This ensures fully optimized content and an objective perspective into subject matter of interest to readers.
Leveraging Faculty in International Student Recruitment
Webcasts, video conferencing and other digital communications like Skype are valuable ways for faculty to follow up with prospects, and may be the only viable method for communicating with those living farther away. Consider how your more international professors might host online chat sessions for students and parents in the native language of top source countries.
Making a virtual campus tour on a higher ed mobile app is another exciting idea for enabling international students to explore your offerings at their convenience, and involving students or faculty in the narration adds an authentic touch. Encourage your professors from diverse cultural backgrounds to contribute to improving your international digital content, sharing their experience about cultural communities on campus and assisting with web content in other languages.
Some schools involve professors in hosting social nights in their native language, giving some students a chance to communicate in the language of their home country and others a chance to practice learning a new language. Be sure to make these special events more visible for international student recruitment by highlighting them in your social media.
Attempt to leverage your international faculty to meet with groups of students or prospects on or off-campus about immigration or working visa information, or how they can stay in your country following graduation. In recruitment fairs abroad, clarify university and location information, existing student clubs and communities relevant to the particular culture, career and internship advice, and procedures for immigration.
Expanding the Circle and Closing the Loop
The more that you can involve faculty in recruiting and retaining students, the better. Establishing functional channels to encourage an effective communication flow between faculty and admissions teams can be challenging but mutually empowering. A good place to start may be to conduct a focus group with faculty members who are going through the college search process with their own children, to better understand their experiences and assess their willingness for becoming more involved with recruitment.
Analyze the success of faculty recruitment efforts with your campus information system to properly recognize and reward each member’s support, tracking individual contacts and meetings on the path to enrolment. Professors want to know that their participation is worthwhile and closing the loop with an annual summary to illustrate the results emphasizes that their time matters while providing an opportunity to discuss future improvements.
Which methods have you found most successful for involving faculty in student recruitment? How has your experience been?