We are in an era of change. That’s something I knew all too well when I was a recruitment and communications director on campus, but it has become more and more clear to me as I travel the country meeting with enrollment management and marketing leaders at colleges and universities. The status quo is the status no. The stakes are high. And you’re under pressure like never before to do more with less: grow the class, improve the profile, and increase net tuition revenue.
One thing I’m hearing from schools large and small is that this change, this increasing urgency, has caused many to reexamine how they approach student recruitment altogether. It used to be that recruitment was solely the job of the office of admission. You brought in the class, the faculty and academic departments educated them, and student life staff served them through the process and out into the real world. But that’s just not good enough anymore. Recruitment has become a campus-wide endeavor, and those schools that can create a culture of shared accountability to support student recruitment will be the ones that best weather this storm.
Of course, that doesn’t just happen on its own. Asking faculty and staff outside of the admission office to participate in student recruitment is a shock to a system that is notoriously comfortable and traditionally averse to change. It’s on today’s enrollment management leaders to make the ask, which is why John Kotter’s Leading Change should be required reading for all sitting directors of admission. Kotter outlines an eight-step process for leading change that is a perfect template for transforming your campus.
Step 1: Create urgency
We’re there, people. Demographics are changing. Expectations for enrollment growth are unrealistic. Resources—human and financial—are becoming more and more scarce. You may already feel the pinch, but the challenge is to educate the rest of campus to make them also feel that urgency. Analyze your data, simplify it, and share it in a way that reveals opportunities for campus collaboration.
Step 2: Form a powerful coalition
Create a formal group of leaders from different areas of campus, people with enough clout to make things happen in their respective college, department, or unit. The makeup of this group is critical. Members have to share a fundamental belief that student recruitment is important and that the admission office no longer can go it alone. They have to understand the changing landscape of enrollment management, the challenges and opportunities. They’ll have to have imagination, creativity, and a willingness to take risks.
Step 3: Create a vision for change
It’s easy to say student recruitment should be a campus effort, but what does that mean? It means different things to different schools. I talked to a school last week that has faculty and staff volunteers from all over campus calling admitted students. Another school has faculty and current students hosting events in core recruitment markets. Another had their men’s basketball coach, from a top 25 Division I program, welcome students to a large open house during the basketball season. You need to decide what it looks like in the end and what it means for those you’re asking to play a role, because they’re going to ask.
Step 4: Communicate the vision
Once you’ve created a vision for what it looks like when campus is collaborating to support student recruitment, talk about it, write about it, share it in meetings, add it to every agenda. Go door to door if you have to. Answer questions and squash rumors. The more people hear from you the less threatened they’ll feel and the more likely they are to buy in and support the change.
Step 5: Remove obstacles
Are there current structures in place that stand in the way of what you’re trying to accomplish? Do you have your department organized in a way that makes sense in order to be able to both serve students through the admission process and lead campus in recruiting a class? With all of the new things you and your office are doing, are there old things you no longer should do? These are all questions to ask.
Step 6: Create short-term wins
This is probably the most important step in creating and sustaining momentum on campus. When people are asked to do more, they want to know their increased effort led to positive results. This is especially true of data-minded, always-busy faculty. Set it up in advance and identify metrics to measure so you know you’ll have results to share. If you have faculty participating in a visit day or meeting one-on-one with students, survey the students and share the results. Compare yield on students who meet with faculty or other non-admission staff with those who don’t. Chances are good that it’ll be higher. Share that.
Step 7: Build on the change
Update campus regularly on key metrics throughout the recruitment cycle: applications, admitted students, deposits, visitors, etc. Let them know how you’re trending—even if it’s not good news. Information is power, and in order to cultivate change you have to empower your campus partners. Sharing this kind of information on a regular basis also is an opportunity to gather feedback and ideas from people around campus. Nothing builds buy-in like someone outside of admission seeing their idea come to fruition.
Step 8: Anchor the changes in culture
Real change takes time, building slowly like a whisper to a shout. It takes strong vision, lots of communication, and unwavering commitment—but it’s well within the realm of possibility. I see it happening all over the country. Find those on campus who are willing and give them meaningful things to do. Recognize them. Celebrate the wins. Share the results. Rinse and repeat. And repeat again.