Nuances as Seen Through the Lens of TMC Associate Vice President of Enrollment Management Chris Powers
The landscape of college recruiting has changed immensely since my early days in admissions. Fifteen years ago there was an abundance of young people yearning for higher education, the economy was comfortable which made college costs more palatable for family budgets, and college financial resources were much more ample.
Fast forward to our present day situation in college admissions and the landscape is less than ideal. College budgets are tighter, marketing is more expensive, the overall population of high school students has diminished, and competition has increased which has placed college affordability at the top of most families’ lists of must haves.
Most colleges and universities across the country have experienced these challenges, but none have felt more pressure than the small liberal arts colleges like Thomas More College. It is at these institutions that enrollment numbers are crucial, keen marketing is necessary, and funding is paramount if they want to succeed in recruiting students to their college. So what does a small liberal arts college do to overcome such obstacles?
First, institutional research and the enrollment management office must work together to identify enrollment trends, demographic shifts, and the prime growth areas for recruitment. This is a crucial step in planning a healthy enrollment management plan. By identifying the necessary trends, demographics, and growth area through analytics, the enrollment management team will have clear vision on where to recruit and which students to recruit. This is important because it allows the enrollment team to build a competitive pool of students that will likely matriculate into the college. The more precise the pool of students, the more efficiently they can be recruited.
Second, marketing is one of the most important aspects of recruitment and should be a top priority. As an institution, you must be able to convey to the public what sets you apart from your competition quickly and clearly. This message must be delivered through multiple marketing mediums. In today’s market, you need to utilize social media and any digital medium that you can. The digital approach has become so important in recruiting that many believe that you’re only as good as your website. The days of print ads and mailing as the cornerstone of your marketing plan are over. It is still important to include print ads and mailings as a part of your marketing strategy because you are recruiting the parents just as much as the prospective student. Many parents still want to see mailings, post cards, and view books, but the key to success is to mix that approach with a high tech digital marketing plan.
Third, a healthy college budget is a major driving force in recruitment and typically guides enrollment efforts. A healthy budget doesn’t always mean large, but one that is earmarked and dedicated for student recruitment efforts. It is very important to understand that a college’s endowment and other institutional funding can boost recruitment efforts through college-based scholarships and grants. The ability to utilize financial aid creatively through institution scholarships and grants is key if you desire to be competitive in student recruitment. One of the advantages of being a small private liberal arts college is that you have the ability (based upon endowment/institutional funds) to designate institutional scholarships and grants to meet target enrollment goals and population.
Finally, to overcome recruitment challenges, a college must evolve and offer a diverse curriculum with multiple mediums of delivery. The college experience that many of us had – on-campus, living in a residence hall, inside a classroom – is no longer the norm. Many students commute to save on cost, yearn for online or accelerated classes because they desire convenience, and want a curriculum or major that will make them a valued commodity in the job market. In order to stay competitive and relevant, colleges must operate outside of the traditional realm of the higher education model. Colleges must infuse the traditional curriculum with pertinent technology skills, experiential learning, co-curriculars, and provide online learning opportunities to attract a diverse population of students. In the end, colleges must learn to be more dynamic and less static to encourage growth and remain competitive.
As a new member to the Thomas More College community, I can confidently tell you that we are heading in the right direction. Are there areas that we can improve? Certainly. Are there people in place that can implement change and improvement? Yes. I’ve witnessed faculty, staff, and students working together to make TMC an outstanding college experience. Many people in our community are dedicated to the College, but realize that we must improve as a whole to stay competitive in the constantly shifting landscape of higher education. Recruiting prospective students may sound tremendously stressful and difficult. Yes, it can be a pressure cooker at times because, like the majority of private liberal arts colleges, we rely heavily on student enrollment. However, in the end, it is the challenges, or what I like to call opportunities that make admissions and recruitment interesting and rewarding.