As we approach 2017, there will be a dramatic shift in the ethnic composition of high school graduates. Enrollment is projected to increase 5 percent for Caucasian students, 39 percent for Hispanic students, 26 percent for African American students, and 26 percent for Asian/Pacific Islander students.
Have you adapted your college student recruitment efforts to this demographic shift?
Through our annual Student Perceptions Report, we ask high school students what they think about the communications they receive from colleges and universities. With this intelligence, institutions can assess and adjust their communications and recruitment plans to best serve their prospective students. Below are some key findings from the 2014 report:
- Preferred communication channels: Caucasian students were most likely to prefer direct mail; Asian and Hispanic students were most likely to prefer email; Hispanic and African American students were most likely to prefer the telephone.
- Initiating contact with a college: African American and Caucasian students were more likely to initiate contact.
- Social media behaviors: Asian and Caucasian students were the most likely to have used social media in their college search, while African American students were the least likely to have done so.
- Application completion: Asian and Caucasian students were more likely than African American and Hispanic students to have submitted all the applications they started.
- Parental involvement: Caucasian and African American students were more likely to report their parents as “very involved” in their college search. Asian and Hispanic students were more likely to report their parents as “not involved at all.”
- Online videos: Students of color were more likely to view online videos than Caucasian students, especially African American and Hispanic students.
Students of color are more likely to initiate first contact at the application stage during the college recruitment process
Beyond student perceptions, we can assess the actual behaviors of prospective college students from the point of search through matriculation. For the cohort that entered in fall 2014, we can analyze trends based upon the consolidated data of 3.5 million student records.
In terms of initial source codes, nearly 60 percent of first-source (or “stealth”) applications were from students of color. This group also has a significantly lower application completion rate, which is in line with the behaviors that students reported in the perceptions survey. Taking it a step further, Caucasian students reported being more likely than students of color to initiate contact with a college. Since students of color are less likely to make initial contact, it makes sense that an application would be their first formal engagement with an institution. For institutions seeking to increase their recruitment of diverse populations, this should be a concern. How can you engage students of color at the inquiry stage? How can you start building a relationship with them before they become an applicant?
For those who reported initiating contact with a school, we followed up with the question, “Why did you initiate contact?” Interest in applying was more important for students of color than for Caucasian students, but they did not find scheduling a visit nearly as important as Caucasian students did. How can you encourage students of color to visit campus? What can your staff do to help students initiate contact?
Four strategies for reaching out and turning stealth applicants into college student inquiries
Even though students think they can learn everything they need to know through channels other than directly engaging with the institution, their ability to assess actual fit is lacking. If we think about all of the ways stealth applicants look at schools and the various resources they have at their disposal, it’s clear that your message may not be the one they receive upon their initial search. How can you help students address fit while they are in the browsing stage?
Below are four recommendations on how to help students assess fit and complete their applications. These strategies are not specific to any particular student population, but given the likelihood of students of color to be stealth applicants, they are especially useful for campuses looking to increase diversity:
- Your web experience for prospective college students needs to more closely model the campus visit experience.
Campus visits are becoming a less important driver for information: your virtual presence needs to become more experiential. Make it easy for prospective college students to find information for key enrollment factors such as academic program offerings, cost and financial aid, and student life. Find ways to engage them and initiate contact (such as creating gated e-brochures) so you turn anonymous visitors into identified inquiries. Make sure that they can quickly connect with someone if they have questions, just like they would on a campus visit.
- Employ a robust, targeted search program to reach audiences who aren’t comfortable with initiating contact on their own.
While students can “stealthily” learn about your institution from your website and other sources (without having to officially inquire), reaching out to them through search is one way to get your message out to the right students and help them address fit—before they apply. For efforts to diversify your student body, consider targeting students of color with specific communications that will address their interests and position your campus more competitively.
- Connect students with counselors early in the inquiry stage.
Creating personal relationships with students at the inquiry level is key. Keep in mind that individual communication preferences will help to create more meaningful relationships. For example, as mentioned above, Hispanic and African American students were most likely to prefer the telephone. Incorporating a variety communication channels into your outreach at each stage will help you reach a broader audience.
- Your post-application-started and yield communications should be as robust as your inquiry ones.
Develop a multi-channel application-started and yield campaign that includes email, direct mail, telephone, text messaging, and web/social media. Build out a series of pertinent emails with information on the student’s specific academic areas of interest and costs/financial aid.
It is likely that after 2020, minority students will become the majority on college campuses for the first time. The sooner your institution adjusts its college student recruitment strategies toward the preferences and expectations of students of color, the better positioned you’ll be for future enrollment success.
I also invite you to explore this topic and others at the Symposium on the Recruitment and Retention of Populations, in Atlanta, GA, April 12-13; I will be presenting on recruitment strategies to engage diverse populations. The symposium will also feature sessions on online learners, adult learner, graduate enrollment, and other key populations. I also welcome your feedback and questions in the comments below, or email me.
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