Integrating Academics with New Student Recruitment

Contributor: Dr. Kyle Brantley

Date: July 13, 2021

It’s easy for enrollment and academics to operate in silos on a college campus. For some institutions, the unspoken understanding is that enrollment is charged with the front end work of bringing the students in to the point of registration, followed by a perceived “hand off” where academics (and perhaps student affairs) takes it from there.

But what if your enrollment operation could better assimilate academia into the recruitment process? Afterall, a student is largely basing their college decision on the program they are pursuing. If you can do more than sell your school, but also specifically sell to each student the program they are interested in, you’ve just increased your odds of enrollment.

We all know some programs are easier to promote than others. Your admission team might rattle on for hours about how great your school’s pre-med program or its business school is with programmatic specifics like placement rates, its first-class facilities, graduate outcomes, etc. But if their answer to the question, “How’s your computer science program?” or “How’s your English program?” is nothing more than “It’s great!” and/or “We have small class sizes so you get a lot of personal attention!”, your pitch needs some sharpening. It’s not that these programs are bad, it just may be they are not as easy to talk about based on limited information.

Here are some recommendations on how to better align academics with new student recruitment. Note that these tactics can apply to both recruitment for undergraduate and graduate programs.

  1. Launch a committee. Wait, wait, hear me out. The last thing anyone wants to do is serve on another committee. However, if little crossover exists between enrollment and academics, bringing key members together regularly to discuss crossover opportunities and strategies could be highly beneficial. You can start small by selecting a handful of enrollment leaders and a handful of faculty who are currently engaged in the recruitment process and who can champion this alliance for the institution. Or, you can form a larger committee with one representative from each academic department. This creates more formal buy-in and establishes a forum for you to “cross-pollinate” ideas for co-recruitment.
  2. Some tangible things for this committee to cover:

    1. Enrollment can educate faculty on the recruitment cycle, recruitment language, and the challenges faced in their market.
    2. Faculty can provide enrollment with ongoing, up-to-date selling points for their department, such as departmental distinctives, graduate outcomes and/or success stories, compelling stats, and so on.
    3. Brainstorming ways faculty can get more involved in the recruitment process.
    4. A committee like this (especially one with one rep from each department) can provide the platform to accomplish the remainder of the recommendations below.

    A good name for a committee such as this that bridges the divide between enrollment academics? The Academics & Admissions Recruitment Committee, or AARC.

  3. Incorporate face-time for faculty. Ensure faculty are incorporated into the visit experience and at admission events.
    1. Campus Visits. Any student visiting your campus that expresses an academic interest should be given the option to meet and/or have one-on-one time with someone in their area of interest.
    2. Recruitment Events. Invite faculty to be represented at open houses, receptions, scholarship interviews, and so on. This could be in the form of a marketplace where every department is represented at an open house, or inviting faculty volunteers to welcome guests and/or work the crowd during check-in times or down-times.
  4. Develop academic comm flows. Alongside your general comm flow, you can create program-specific comm flows that speak to students’ academic interests. Email is the easiest way to do this and you can create 3-5 emails per program. If that’s too daunting, start with your big 5: the programs that comprise the biggest portion of your incoming class. You can scale up when you’re ready.
    1. Use the AARC committee to furnish you with selling points per each program.
    2. If feasible, include short engaging videos to feature your faculty and facilities.
    3. You can even develop an Undecided series that highlights undecided advising or career aptitude tests on campus, if applicable.
  5. Academic storefront webpages. Consider your academic webpages as “storefronts,” windows by which the student shopper passes by and peers into to evaluates the program’s quality and desirability. Your website is a powerful resource and may make or break your enrollment for adult and online learners in particular.
    1. Make sure these pages are attractive and easy to digest. Don’t overdo it with text.
    2. Use a uniform format so that students who are looking at multiple programs can have a user-friendly experience. Templates can include sections like “Program Distinctives,” “Courses You’ll Take,” “What Can I Do with a major in Political Science?”, and “Graduate Outcomes.”
    3. Academic departments will likely want to retain control over their own webpages, but single-page storefronts can be created as a gateway into department pages and can serve as web-based marketing collateral used by enrollment. I recommend admissions or marketing maintaining authority over storefronts (with academics’ approval of content, of course). This way, storefronts can feature more marketable content while academic department sites can house the nitty gritty like course descriptions, catalog info, pre-reqs, and so on.
    4. For graduate programs, make sure the student can quickly find the length of the program, program format, and cost.
  6. Academic program sheets. Similar to academic storefront webpages, you can create a one-page (or two-page, front and back) handout to be included in campus visit packets, distributed at college fairs, and even sent as PDFs in emails. Use a uniform template for every program for easy browsing and comparison. These should be comprehensive and attractive.

  7. Prospective student lists sent to departments for co-recruitment. Once you have buy-in from departments, you can send them a list of your current applicant pool for faculty follow up. This special outreach will allow a faculty member to personally introduce themselves, provide a quick plug for their program, and invite the student to a next step: set up a visit, ask questions, etc. The interaction should feature faculty as open, welcoming, and engaging to the prospective student at an individualized level.
    1. Avoid cold calls. Cold calls from faculty likely won’t be answered, so I recommend email outreach, at least initially.
    2. Choose your cadence. You can send lists weekly, monthly, or at key points in the enrollment cycle (i.e. during the summer for melt mitigation).
  8. Take faculty on tour. If you have a feeder school within reasonable distance, consider bringing a faculty member along for a special presentation or lecture. For example, a pre-med professor may attend a local high school visit with an admissions counselor and give a lecture to their AP biology class on a special topic. Or maybe you can bring an Art professor with you to the school’s Art Club monthly meeting for a specific demonstration.
    1. If time is short, perhaps a professor can condense a lecture into a 5 or 10 minute TedTalk.
    2. Look for alumni within these schools (teachers or administrators) who can help get your foot in the door.
    3. Spend your faculty’s time wisely. Use this at your feeder schools where you may have the biggest ROI.

These are a few tangible ways you can further incorporate academics into recruitment. Both areas—enrollment and academics—must remember one cannot exist without the other. The more cross collaboration and synergy between these two areas, the higher the tide that will raise all ships.