A prospective student listens to a higher education recruiter

6 Innovative Student Recruitment Strategies for Higher Education

Recruiting students is one of the most important tasks for an institution. Even if a school has optimized all aspects of its courses and programs, these are useless if students are not enrolling. In this article you will learn tactics to improve your student recruitment.

Unfortunately, the current landscape is less than perfect. Nationwide, undergraduate enrollment dropped 7.8 percent from fall of 2019 to fall of 2021, according to the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center.

Community colleges saw even higher enrollment drops with nearly 15 percent during that same period. But despite the pandemic’s toll, many college admissions officials and academic leaders are optimistic that things will improve moving forward.

To learn how to put your best foot forward, here are five new strategies that colleges are using to improve student recruitment and stand out of the crowd.

Expanding virtual engagement from the start

Student recruitment is an essential task in a digital age, but it’s also challenging. Forty-four percent of students report that a friend or family member has urged them to skip college because of high tuition costs or poor job prospects.

To combat this issue and increase the pool of potential students, some schools are moving beyond traditional recruitment methods, engaging potential students earlier in the process—even during high school.

According to a recent study by Top 10 College Search, one in five high school students have been encouraged to consider enrolling in college by attending a free event held by their school.   For schools aiming to reach and retain a more diverse set of students, this tactic is especially important.

Decreasing reliance on entrance exam test scores

The risk of relying on just one metric to predict student success is clear. The College Scorecard found that the average SAT score at private community colleges was 653 in 2018, down 3 points since 2016. And while the average ACT composite score remained steady at 30, the median ACT score dropped from 38 in 2017 to 37 in 2019—suggesting that some schools are doing worse with this metric than others.

As a result, admissions officers and higher education leaders are looking beyond test scores to ensure their institutions best serve the needs of their graduates. For example, a growing number of public universities are developing programs to help low-income students earn college degrees.

Building increasingly diverse classes leveraging online and virtual

Increasingly, students are picking their own majors at a very early age. In fact, nearly one in three high school students begin researching their majors before they turn 13. The majority of these students report doing research online—which can leave them out of in-person meetings with professors and guidance counselors.

To fill this gap and increase the number of students who explore a wider range of majors, some colleges are leveraging technology to make the classroom more accessible.

For example, Arizona State University started a program that allows high school teachers to take credit-bearing online classes with their students. It’s been so successful that the program is expanding to more than 500 schools.

Strengthening personal connections outside the classroom

One of the biggest challenges for institutions looking to attract and retain diverse students is addressing the need for more interpersonal skills.  As noted in the Trends Snapshot, nearly half of all students report having no connection with their professor outside the classroom.

And while this is less of an issue for bachelor’s-level students, the need for interpersonal skills is even more dire for master’s students. To address this, some colleges are building stronger personal connections outside the classroom, including through mentorship and leadership development programs.

For example, the University of California pairs community college students with university students who have similar career goals, helping students navigate the transition from community college to four-year institution.

Share stories from your institution

Future students want to feel they are part of something special. Higher Education is a big step for them, and many are uncertain about what to expect. By sharing stories from your current students, and what life on your campus is like, you can inspire them to be part of that story.

Today’s student is drawn towards authenticity. Yes, they want a good education, but they also want to enjoy their experience. Consider highlighting parts of your campus, programs, and culture that students would like to see. This is especially useful if you have unique programs or campus features.

A fun idea would be to ask your current students to create content that can be shared. Trend.io shared that 70% of people trust online reviews from real people more than professionally written advertisements. This is an excellent strategy that not only highlights student engagement, but shows that the school is proud to show off its students. You can even get your faculty on board. By involving a wide range of people at the school, you will be able to create a holistic view, and show prospective students why they should enroll.

Making retention a high priority across all departments and campuses

It is much easier to retain the students you do have as opposed to recruiting new ones. When you lose a student, not only do you lose them for that academic year, but your institution will lose out on the tuition expected throughout the remainder of that student’s academic career. Just as importantly, by focussing on student success, you can create a higher quality of graduate- which can lead to a greater demand to attend your school.

Institutions should also focus on establishing a culture of retention across all of their campuses. The Trends Snapshot found that only 53 percent of community college students return to that same campus the following fall, while the national retention rate for baccalaureate students is only 38 percent.

To address these issues, some schools and colleges are exploring new strategies to increase student retention. For example, the University of North Carolina Wilmington started a program that offers students a $500 stipend if they commit to staying in the college community for two years.

Final thoughts

Although undergraduate enrollment is dropping, higher education institutions can take steps to increase engagement and student retention. If a potential student is contacted while they are still in high school, their chances of attending your institution are greatly increased. By reducing the importance of SAT scores, schools open their doors to new students who have the potential to be successful.

Of course, the pandemic changed everything. It brought on new challenges, but many new opportunities as well. The ability to go virtual has allowed schools to increase their reach. By implementing these new (and efficient) online systems, schools can better support their students. Schools can now teach classes or interact with students and prospects virtually. To learn about how you can improve online student retention, read this article we have written to help guide you.

In the end, much of this comes down to an institution’s priorities and policies. Today, adapting to new challenges. There are many ways for schools to keep improving. By implementing what you have read in this article you are better prepared to recruit and retain students in this new era of higher education.

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