“We must invest heavily in maintaining and cultivating excellent relationships with faculty and staff across campus, as our work relies on their involvement in the process on many levels.”
— Justin Ball, Bradley University

In the ever-evolving world of higher ed recruiting, many enrollment managers believe it’s time to get a seat at the table when it comes to strategic planning and other important conversations. With an intense knowledge of the services needed to expand the scope of the process—academically and financially— getting that seat will help universities better plan for the future. To survey the landscape today, Relevate sat down with Dr. Laurie Witherow, Associate Vice Provost for Admissions & Enrollment Services, Middle Tennessee State University, and Justin A. Ball, VP for Enrollment Management, Bradley University.

Q:  Give us a snapshot of today’s enrollment landscape.

Witherow: What hasn’t changed is that, especially for regional institutions like mine, our enrollments will march in direct correlation to the numbers of students graduating from high school in our service areas. What’s changing is how much information we can push about our institutions to students far and wide. With the Common App and easy access to information and applications online, students everywhere can apply. They need to be served. An institution must be tuned in to what’s being said about it. It’s critical to use social media streams to actively participate with our constituents, but that takes time and attention.

Ball: In the Midwest, we’re seeing the demographic declines and shifts in ethnicity among high school and college students play out. This was the first year we saw a noticeable difference that aligns with the demographic declines in high school students with some of our recruitment travel, campus visits and application activity. Despite the declining numbers, we’re seeing more universities from outside of Illinois establish regional recruiters in the Chicago region and aggressive marketing statewide for a variety of specific types of students. There are still a finite amount of students, and top tier institutions are still getting their students, which leaves challenges for newcomers and other institutions throughout the state.

One of the trends I’m seeing among my peers from an administrative lens is the realization that continuing to inflate the applicant pool with students who are less likely to be a good fit for your institution is not a good use of time and resources (unless it meets your strategy). While this may not seem riveting, it’s often challenging to communicate not growing our application pool dramatically year over year to our own constituencies, yet it allows us to focus staff and budgets on the best fits.

Q: What are some of the biggest opportunities out there?

Witherow: Partnerships remain one of the terrific opportunities for institutions. It’s a win-win all around for the company, its workforce (and children), the state and the institution. Institutions must be flexible in creating and delivering programs that support the needs of emerging and existing industries in the state and region.

Ball: Knowing who your institution is, why it’s different from others recruiting the same student, and then being able to be more efficient and effective each year finding a pool of the right students who can be successful at your school and sharing those messages with them and their parents. There’s the magic bullet.

Also, as demographics and institutions change, being diligent in understanding who can be successful at your institution. For a long time, that wasn’t something that was changing often. Today it is because we have more types of students and more data points to understand who is a good fit and should be successful.

Q: What have been some of the biggest changes?

Witherow: The Tennessee Promise, providing free community college, has been a big change here. Many states are developing similar programs. It’s hard to compete with free. Our community college partners provide a great product. We still have to recruit a freshman class, but lots of attention and resources also must go to the community colleges and provide a seamless transition to transfer students.

Ball: VPs of Enrollment Management (Deans of Admissions, etc.) must be more knowledgeable about financial aid, given how important price is for so many students. Working within their CRM for answering questions with data and producing queries and reports to drive actions for their staff has changed. So has cultivating a positive, productive environment in a multi-generational workplace. We must continue to invest in maintaining and cultivating relationships with faculty and staff across campus, as our work relies on their involvement in the process on many levels.

Q: What developments are helping you in the recruitment process?

Witherow: There are companies that will help with some recruitment activities, but the key is building relationships with high school staff, parents and students. You can’t outsource personal attention.

Ball: Data modeling (predictive analytics) has become vital on a completely different level than it was even five to 10 years ago. We use modeling for financial aid, marketing, recruitment and it drives decisions and helps us see the metrics that guide our strategies and tactics.