“How do you know where you’re going, if you don’t know where you’ve been?”
Sister Mulcahy, then a professor in the Faculty of Education, asked this question in one of my fourth-year undergraduate courses in 1988. This notion particularly resonates with me now as I see Memorial move into a new era of enrolment management.
I’m in an interesting place where I can see where we are now, reflecting on where we have been, and planning where we need to go in terms of our student enrolment.
I was one of Memorial’s first two student recruiters.
In 1996, the Office of Student Recruitment and Promotion was created and Memorial’s first student recruitment team was hired. Memorial had not previously had a formal recruitment team or strategy.
With a predicted decline in Newfoundland and Labrador high school graduation numbers, and a heavy reliance on the local market, Memorial’s enrolment was declining and tremendously homogenous.
At the time, more than 95 per cent of incoming students were Newfoundlanders and Labradorians. Today, I have been working in student recruitment for over 21 years, and I have witnessed significant changes within the office, the university and the business of recruiting students.
Technology and travel are among the greatest areas of change within recruitment.
Traditional recruitment outreach is now supplemented with new technologies that allow for greater connectivity and competition. In 1996, however, cellphones, high-speed internet, social media, mobile applications, etc. were still relatively foreign.
It was considered “high tech” to offer a recruitment presentation using PowerPoint. Recruitment materials consisted of program descriptions printed on cream-coloured vellum photocopied sheets. Instead of lightweight, collapsible popup signage, we used tri-paneled, felt-covered tabletop display boards.
To a large extent, communicating with prospects relied heavily on land line telephones and the postal system. Cellphones had not yet emerged for regular business (or personal) practice.
It wasn’t until 1998 that we had our first cellphones — flip phones that were the size of a block of margarine. Our GPS system was a paper map.
While we had laptops, they were heavy, not to mention the 15-pound LCD projector that could only be transported in a steel, 30-40 pound, rolling carrying case.
“This work was taxing but, the prospective students were anxious to meet us on their turf.”
While internet usage was common in the workplace, the ability to connect on a recruitment trip using email was limited to whether or not your hotel room had dial-up. A good calling card with “minutes” was your connection to the office and to home.
Recruitment meant being on the road and meeting people in their schools and communities. No doubt, this work was taxing but, the prospective students were anxious to meet us on their turf.
Today, we still have to go where the students are, but where they are has changed dramatically. Along with traditional school visits, we now employ Facebook Live presentations, campus tours (real and virtual), Skype sessions, emails, texts and social media sites.
Our ability to cut through the noise to be seen and heard is particularly vital when competing with every other university and college across Canada and around the world.
To operate within the context of a virtual reality that involves Snapchat, Instagram, YouTube and gaming requires an ability to remain relevant to the prospective student’s highly stimulated and well-informed world.
“Recruitment is no longer reliant on a visit to a school by one representative.”
Of course, we also have to keep a host of privacy and legal considerations at the forefront while working with the increased pressure of limited resources.
Recruitment is no longer reliant on a visit to a school by one representative; it is much more and involves many “recruiters”: parents, teachers, deans, faculty members, current students, agents, staff members and more. Ultimately, our ability to harness the best features of an ever-changing, high-tech world will help us in this endeavour.
There is one thing, however, that never seems to change about recruiting students – it is all about relationship building and the ability to be authentic, meaningful and relevant within this relationship.
If we are able to keep this in mind, Memorial will continue to attract some of the best and brightest students within the province and beyond.
If you’re interested in learning more, please send me a fax at 709 . . . just kidding.
Focused on Students is a summer series featuring members of the Office of the Deputy Provost (Students) leadership team sharing their insights on hot button, student success-related topics.