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Meta Lessons from the Pandemic for Student Recruitment

Well, it's been interesting, hasn't it?

While the last three months or so have been extraordinary disruptive to our normal way of life, we as educators have to sort of relish the opportunity to learn something new.  Actually, many things new.

Some of the things well-noted:

  • Work means something different than we thought it did.  The idea that one must get up, shower, and head off to the office every day has been at least partially destroyed; many of us are working more and longer hours now than when we actually came into the office (witness no blog posts here in the last two months).
  • Zoom is not so bad, and yet, a day on Zoom can be exhausting, especially for those of us who do not have extraordinarily long attention spans. At the same time, it seems that people are more willing to end a Zoom meeting early when the purpose of the meeting has been accomplished; the tendency to fill the hour or the 90-minutes in traditional meetings out of some sense of obligation is a pet peeve of mine.
  • Higher education does not always have to be deliberate and slow in proceeding with change.  Necessity is the mother of invention, of course, but I wonder whether the pandemic might be a spring board to thinking differently.  As a proponent of "ready, fire, aim," I get great energy from impossible challenges hoisted upon us, with a "get it done, somehow" mandate.
Others will be able to spend more time dissecting those trends, of course.  There is one more thing, however, that I have been wondering a lot about, and thinking about whether those of us in Enrollment Management might take to heart.

In just the last 24 hours of email, I have no fewer than ten messages from vendors who want my business.  Here are some excerpts from those, with company names removed:

  • Hi Jon, I wanted to follow up and see if you or a member of your team will take 5 minutes to claim your free college profile on <company website>. It’s an easy and free approach to ensure you are doing all you can to represent your institution to a wide audience making decisions about enrollment.
  • Hi Jon, My team let me know that there's been a lot of engagement from Oregon State University clicking in our emails. They asked me to personally reach out to you as VP to see if you might want to have a brief exec level convo about data to focus admissions officers and student workers in a new era of digital recruitment.
  • Hi Jon, As a professional educator since 1988, my mission always has been to provide valuable educational opportunities for all. In these unsettled times, my commitment to this goal has grown even more unwavering. To that end, I know that you’ve already seen and heard about our <technology>. Without pause, I am most certain they will quickly drive your admissions efforts upward. Many of your colleagues have already met with me to discuss the power <technology> can offer their organizations. Would it be worth your while to invest just 15 minutes to find out how <technology> will assist Oregon State University in reaching and exceeding its 2020 recruitment goals?
  • Hi John, I know these are challenging and difficult times. So if you are busy, I completely understand. If you do have some time, I wanted to let you know that many of our college partners are now focused on Fall 2021 Recruitment, which will take much more than just more webinars. Our typical college partner has 725 inquiries already on <platform> that aren’t even following their institution when they get started. Of those, 59 on average will commit to the college after engaging with other prospective students on <platform>. The increased enrollment <platform> drives our partner colleges  averages over $900k in NTR per year. I would love to show you how it all works! Do you have any of the following time slots available this week or next? {note: there were no time slots listed}
  • Think you can’t afford high-performing, managed Student Search service? Think again: We work with schools (and budgets) of all sizes. Tell us your budget, and we’ll tell you what we can do. We think you’ll be pleasantly surprised! 

This is, of course, nothing new, and there is nothing wrong with this (although spelling my name right, and avoiding words like "convo" when talking to someone in their 60's might make them less bothersome).  Vendors have been trying to sell stuff to me and others in EM since someone first printed a viewbook.  What's changed is the environment, and the sense of urgency, and the attempts to capitalize on crisis, notwithstanding missions statements about "helping students and colleges etc. etc. etc."

And in that, there is a lesson for all of us in EM.  If reading stuff like this is troubling for you, a seasoned professional who knows that the "don't just sit there, do something" approach to tactics is a poor substitute for strategy, imagine you're 17, and you get hundreds of these a day, all telling you how you have to act now, how you can't let this opportunity slip away, how the best college for you is right here in front of you right now.  If the vendor messages cause you to avoid them, what might it do to teenagers? 

Just imagine that the 17-year-old you're recruiting doesn't think they get a mulligan; how they might believe only have one chance to do this correctly; how they fear a missed opportunity could ruin the rest of their lives.  Can you imagine the stress that might cause?

If you can't, you should. 

That's what I'm thinking about Out Here in Oregon.