College Student Recruitment: The Importance of Faculty Participation

October 1, 1983

After over three centuries of fairly steady increases in student populations, higher education is now faced with the prospect of declining enrollments. Although the general population will rise between now and the year 2000, student enrollments are expected to decline—presenting higher education with a problem it has not faced since the Korean War. As a result, during the next 20 years one measure of a college or university's success will be its ability to cope with a non-growth period.

While considering the predictions of numerous experts for this non-growth period, it is also important to weigh current economic trends. Due to the poor economy, more and more students are choosing vocationally-oriented majors, leaving disciplines such as music and the humanities particularly threatened. Since enrollment figures have a direct effect on a department's or a school's chances for survival, it is no wonder that student recruitment and the admissions process have become popular topics.

My experience with the admissions process was gained at Willamette University where I was a member of the music faculty between 1977 and 1981. With enrollment falling in our department, the faculty recognized the need for an organized student recruitment program. The impressive results we achieved were due primarily to the active involvement of the music faculty.

When determining the likely future of one's department or school, it is important to consider the type of student the college attracts, the type of institution involved, and the geographic location of the school. While enrollment figures easily demonstrate the declining number of college age students, one must remember that today a larger proportion of the student population is made up of non-traditional students. Consequently, the increased enrollment of adult, women, minority, foreign, transfer as well as part-time students will help offset some of the losses.

The geographic location of a school also has a direct impact on its future. Enrollments are affected by the economy of a state or region as well as by the number of college age students that region imports or exports. Due to tremendous population shifts in recent years, the Southern and Western regions are favored. Experts predict particularly bright futures for the states of Texas, Florida, Arizona, Utah, Nevada, and Idaho. Clark Kerr, a leading authority on the problems and prospects of higher education, has stated that not only will the South attract the bright young Ph.D.'s, but because of its additional resources, some of the South's institutions "may enter the front ranks of the colleges and universities in the United States."1 Unfortunately, however, the success of Southern institutions will be at the expense of the schools in the North. Higher education in the states of Minnesota, Iowa, Ohio, Pennsylvania, New York, and Connecticut seems to be especially threatened. In considering the current economic picture, Michigan, Washington, and Oregon should also be added to this list.

It has also been predicted that some types of institutions will be more successful than others.2 In general, the large research universities and the selective liberal arts institutions have the best chances of survival because:

  1. they have a good image;
  2. they are very selective in their admissions procedures;
  3. they will keep their tuition at a high level with their competitors;
  4. they have a strong faculty, flexible enough to adapt to new needs;
  5. they meet the needs of their communities; and
  6. large selective private schools tend to have large endowments.

In contrast, schools most vulnerable are the non-prestigious schools, less-selective liberal arts institutions and private two-year colleges. Reasons for their predicted vulnerability are:

  1. they generally only attract students from nearby communities;
  2. their applicants tend to come from middle to low income families;
  3. they accept most applicants;
  4. they rely heavily on tuition to finance their schools; and
  5. they are located far from population centers.

These factors, which will affect each institution differently, necessitate a unique prediction for each school as well as a unique program to help solve the particular problems that each school may have.

Willamette University, located in Salem, Oregon, is a small private coeducational institution. It has a strong academic reputation and is fortunate to have an endowment of close to $40 million.

In the heavy competition among colleges for the brightest students, Willamette's Admissions Office has traditionally used conservative methods. With stable and often record enrollments, it has seen no reason to change its approach. This conservative tendency is especially demonstrated by its policy of not offering any no-need scholarships. A minor exception is found in the Music Department, which offers small no-need awards to offset the applied music fee.

The Music Department at Willamette has always attracted talented students, many of whom go on to excellent graduate schools. However, as did other relatively small music departments, it began to experience a decline in enrollment in the late 1970s. Other comparable institutions in the area, which do offer substantial no-need scholarships, compounded the problems by luring away some of Willamette's prospective students. As a result, the department decided that specialized recruitment was necessary and implemented a program which I coordinated.

From a wide variety of student recruitment tactics, our department, with the assistance of the Admissions Office, developed a series of approaches which proved to be especially effective.

We began by generating a mailing list, which we saw as critical to our efforts. A mailing was sent to the music department chairmen in every high school where Willamette recruits.3 Included was a departmental brochure, a letter including upcoming concert dates, and a questionnaire for the teachers to return to us regarding their school's music program. These questionnaires provided us with information on the high school program's size and probable quality as well as the names and addresses of students who might be interested in receiving additional material about Willamette University. They proved to be invaluable. The high school teachers were pleased by our interest in their programs, and therefore the response was excellent. We then obtained additional names for the mailing list through the use of reply postcards distributed by Willamette's admissions staff to interested students at all high school visitations.

Another technique was to increase the number of personal off-campus contacts. Because I had been given release time from my teaching load, my schedule was arranged so that I taught no classes on Wednesdays. Instead, on Wednesdays I traveled with an admissions representative to various high schools in the area. The high school was usually notified in advance that a representative from the Music Department was coming; consequently, many counselors had music students waiting to talk with me when we arrived. These visitations were very well received by both music and general students. Since their initial college contacts are usually only with admissions counselors, the students appreciated being able to visit with a faculty member as well.

Music conferences also provided good recruitment opportunities. By arriving at the conference site one day early, I was able to visit local high schools and to telephone interested students.4 Often the students were interested in subjects other than music, and so I could not directly answer many of their questions. Upon returning to Willamette, however, I had the appropriate person contact them.

Additional off-campus contacts were made by attending various "follow-up" parties held by the Admissions Office. These gatherings, usually held in the homes of alumni or friends of the university, were for prospective students and their parents. Students at these parties had usually spoken to an admissions counselor during regularly scheduled high school visits and were expressing a continued interest by attending the evening party. Parents seemed particularly to value these contacts as an opportunity to speak with a member of the faculty.

Standard off-campus contacts were also continued throughout our recruitment program. The Music Department's choral and instrumental ensembles went on tour regularly and the faculty piano trio gave performances in area high schools. In addition, faculty members gave off-campus workshops and clinics when possible.

We planned the annual audition process as early as possible so that all correspondence with students could include information on the spring audition dates. Our mailing list allowed us to send detailed audition information to select music students, and we immediately forwarded each student's audition rating to our Admissions and Financial Aid staffs so that excellent students would be given extra consideration.

Our series of Master Classes was aimed at attracting performance majors. Taught by Willamette faculty members, these classes were held in the areas of strings, voice, piano, brass, and woodwinds. While only students in the nearby vicinity of Willamette University were expected to attend, the classes were widely advertised, and the public relations benefits proved well worth the extra postage. Letters from high school teachers outside Oregon indicated that they appreciated being informed of the department's activities.

A departmental newsletter also proved to be an excellent aid to our recruitment efforts. Many schools are now learning that they need improved communications with alumni. As the Willamette Music Department was no exception, the music alumni mailing list was updated and a semiannual newsletter started. This newsletter was sent to alumni as well as to all prospective students and music organizations in the area. The mailing of the newsletter became such a large operation that it has since been incorporated into the general university alumni publications.

A final tactic was to develop a more systematic method of correspondence. This was done primarily through the campus word-processing center. In addition to responding more quickly to inquiries, we were able to greatly increase our mailing volume. We especially increased our correspondence to recently-admitted students. Immediately following the admission of a music student to the university, the Admissions Office sent the student's name to our department. That student was then telephoned by the teacher in his or her performance area and welcomed to the department.

While a wide variety of techniques may be used in any recruitment effort, we found these methods manageable and worthwhile. Our results verify this conclusion and demonstrate the value of a concentrated recruitment effort within a department with specialized student needs.

As a result of our student recruitment program, the size of our entering class in the Music Department almost tripled within 1½ years. In addition, the quality of our students rose. The recruitment technique that probably contributed most to these results was the visitation of high schools by the music faculty. These visitations, coupled with the informal parties for students and their parents, reinforce the value of personal contacts. In her NASM address on student recruitment, Maureen Carr refers to this when she states that the "personal contact is the most effective means of bringing the names of faculty to the attention of potential students."5 It should be mentioned, however, that while personal contacts can be made by attending high school concerts and productions, they many times are not as valuable. The students are usually very much involved with their performances and the activities of the evening and are not concerned about their prospective college choice. Consequently, events such as the high school visitation and follow-up party, where the focus is on choosing a college, tend to be much more profitable.

Several issues need to be considered and discussed by the faculty members of a school or department who are considering a recruitment program such as the one employed at Willamette. The philosophy toward admissions work may differ from professor to professor and therefore it would be helpful to clarify the following:

1. What is the role of the faculty in a recruitment effort? The use of faculty contributed most importantly to the results we achieved. William Waggoner's article on the recruitment of college musicians also states that the faculty is extremely important and emphasizes this in his admonition that someone within the department of music must assume the responsibility for coordinating the music recruitment efforts.6 Faculty members can also provide important information to prospective students. Today there is a need to better inform high school seniors as they make their college and career choices,7 and faculty members are invaluable in answering these students' questions. One should remember that many inquiries regarding a music program may be of a vocational nature, and that the music faculty can often address these questions far better than a high school counselor or an admissions staff member. While some faculty may believe that recruitment is the responsibility of their Admissions Office, more and more schools are finding that faculty participation is not only invaluable but absolutely necessary. Lawrence DeWitt suggests that "the piano teacher or the voice teacher can no longer afford to be isolated in a studio."8

With the retrenchment of many of our nation's colleges and universities, it may also behoove a faculty member to develop skills outside his area of specialty. The importance of this for the nontenured faculty member is emphasized by William Ihlanfeldt, Vice President for Institutional Relations and Dean of Admissions at Northwestern University.

Almost every campus has young faculty members who know that their teaching days are numbered because they will not receive tenure. Such personnel provide the office of admission with the opportunity to add complementary skills and at the same time acquire greater credibility among the faculty members it represents. To employ one or two former members of the faculty . . . and to permit them to teach one course a year is an attractive option that assists in bridging the gap between the admission office and the faculty.9

2. Who should coordinate the recruitment efforts? When choosing the coordinator for an admissions program, it is extremely helpful if the coordinator is a faculty member in the department. Obviously it should be someone who has the desire and interest in this kind of work, but more importantly, it should be someone who can work well and maintain close contacts with the campus Admissions Office. Frequent communication as well as the coordination of efforts between a music department and the admissions office is crucial to the success of any recruitment endeavor.

It is also important that the coordinator be available during the summer to handle late applications and auditions. By May 15, 1981, only 50% of that fall's new students had committed themselves to attending Willamette. With higher education now being a buyer's market, students are waiting until July or even August before choosing an institution to attend in the fall.

A final issue regarding the coordinator involves possible political problems that might arise. Faculty members have been known to be reluctant in accepting colleagues with non-traditional job descriptions. This not only applies to recruitment positions, but also to those involving fund raising or other types of administrative duties.

3. What type of recruitment techniques should be used? This issue will frequently prompt lively discussions at departmental meetings. It is important for the department to set realistic goals and to enlist the aid of the admissions staff in making these decisions. One general guideline is to match the recruitment technique with the desired student group. For example, if performing groups are being taken into the area high schools, there may be some schools where a performance of a Schoenberg string quartet may frighten more students than it attracts.

4. How can a recruitment program best be justified to the administration? Naturally, the expected rise in enrollment will be a large factor in justifying the initiation of a recruitment program. An increase in the number of music majors as well as in the number of non-music majors can be expected. The cost for such a program at Willamette was relatively small, with the largest expenditure being the salary of a part-time instructor who relieved me of some of my teaching duties. Travel costs were low as I usually traveled with a staff member who had already scheduled a visit to that particular high school or function. At any rate, the increased tuition brought in by our new students more than offset these expenses.

The length of commitment from the administration will undoubtedly be an important issue. Programs such as these do not work well on a short-time basis. Therefore, an ideal arrangement would be a commitment of several years. Again, the Admissions Office should be consulted.

The near future is not bright for many institutions of higher education. However, experts predict that enrollments will begin to rise again in the late 1990s as the grandchildren of World War II veterans reach college age. In the meantime, admissions efforts can be greatly enhanced through off-campus contacts, master classes, newsletters, telephone calls and personal letters. While admissions work is not suited to everyone, a program such as the one employed at Willamette University can be extremely successful, and faculty members providing part-time support can make an extremely valuable contribution.

1Clark Kerr, "Making It to the Year 2000," Swarthmore College Bulletin (May 1979), 3.

2More complete discussions on the future of higher education are available in The Carnegie Council on Policy Studies in Higher Education, Three Thousand Futures (San Francisco: Jossey-Bass Publishers, 1981); James H. Wharton, Jerry J. Baudin and Ordell Griffith, "The Importance of Accurate Enrollment Predictions for Planning," Phi Delta Kappan 62 (May 1981), 652-655; Michael McPherson, "Quality and Competition in Public and Private Higher Education," Change 13 (April 1981), 18-23; and Howard Bowen, "Some Reflections on the Present Condition and Future Outlook for American Higher Education," Academe 66 (February 1980), 8-15.

3Willamette University visits approximately 600 high schools annually in its recruitment efforts.

4It is now standard procedure at Willamette for all traveling faculty to phone prospective students. The faculty's travel schedule is submitted to the Admissions Office so that lists of prospective students in a particular city can be made and given in advance to the traveling faculty member.

5Maureen Carr, "The Linkage Between Faculty and Student Recruitment: The Issue of Name Identification Among Potential Student Population," NASM Proceedings of the 55th Annual Meeting (Reston, Virginia: The National Association of Schools of Music, 1980), p. 92.

6William L. Waggoner, "The Recruitment of College Musicians," College Music Symposium 18 (Fall 1978), 154.

7See Maureen Carr, "Linkage Between Faculty and Student Recruitment," 92; Carol P. Halstead, "Better Information for Prospective Students," College Board Review No. 112 (Summer 1979), 8, 30; and Arthur Motycka, "Music Admissions Policies and Practices: The Music Student Enters the NASM Accredited Institution of Higher Education," Council for Research in Music Education Bulletin No. 26 (Fall 1971), 26.

8Lawrence DeWitt, "The Music Department of the Future," NASM Proceedings of the 47th Annual Meeting (Reston, Virginia: The National Association of Schools of Music, 1972), p. 67.

9William Ihlanfeldt, Achieving Optimal Enrollments and Tuition Revenues (San Francisco: Jossey-Bass Publishers, 1980), p. 70.

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