College & University Student Recruitment Research Paper Starter

College & University Student Recruitment

(Research Starters)

This article discusses the recruitment of students at colleges and universities in the U.S. Student recruitment is one of two main components of the enrollment management process (Kroc & Hanson, 2003). Prospective students and higher education institutions both have a role in who is recruited to institutions. Technology, specifically e-recruitment, has come to be a major force in the student recruitment process through such avenues as personalized web recruitment. However, some are concerned that the use of technology may hinder equality of opportunity in higher education.

Keywords Enrollment Management; Equality of Opportunity; E-recruitment; Pipeline; Student Retention; Student Choice; Student Recruitment


It has been asserted that officials at colleges and universities must work hard to ensure that there is a match between the characteristics of their colleges and universities and the students they recruit to attend them (Paulsen, 1990). At the same time, this matching process may aggravate the issue of who has access to higher education institutions. For instance, Hearn (1991) offered, "The evidence suggests that within the matching process lies a sorting mechanism that subtly reinforces nonmeritocratic tendencies in U.S. society" (p. 168). The access issue is important because where one attends college or university may impact future livelihood. According to Hearn (1991),

Because attending a more selective, resource-rich institution has been associated with measurable positive impacts on educational attainment, income attainment, status attainment, and socially valued aspects of citizenship, the issues of who attends such institutions and how attendance patterns at such institutions change over time are of both policy and theoretical importance (p. 159).

The Student Recruitment Process

Student recruitment is one of two primary components of the enrollment management function of higher education institutions. In general, enrollment management is about managing "the flow of students to, through, and from college" (Kroc & Hanson, 2003, p. 79). Along with recruitment, the other main component of enrollment management involves the retention of students (Kroc & Hanson, 2003).

According to Kroc and Hanson (2003), the student recruitment process at an institution should be driven by questions of which students the institution wants to educate and what students are available (i.e., the recruitment "pipeline"). Institutional mission and goals help to answer the first question about who the institution is trying to educate (Kroc & Hanson, 2003). At the same time, an institution must also take into account its pipeline of potential students because "defining the boundaries of the educational pipeline for the institution is an important task for effective student recruitment" (Kroc & Hanson, 2003, p. 80). In general, an institution's pipeline of potential students is bound by the student characteristics desired and the number of students available in the overall pool of potential students (Kroc & Hanson, 2003).

Overall, yield rates are generally indicative of the effectiveness of recruiting activities (Kroc & Hanson, 2003). Institutions' yield rates are related to the number of students who actually enroll after being offered admission. Yield is closely tied to institutional selectivity, which basically translates into the number of students accepted for admission who apply (Hawkins & Clinedinst, 2006). The more selective an institution, the fewer applicants it accepts for admission. Yet, more selective institutions tend to have higher yield rates.

The Role of Student Choice

Student choice, or how students choose a college, is also an important aspect of student recruitment (Kroc & Hanson, 2003). Institutions may conduct or commission studies to determine what factors influence application and enrollment behaviors of the students in their recruitment pipeline. In general, the factors that mainly influence a student's decision of whether to apply to college and what institutions to apply to may differ from those that largely influence the final enrollment decision a student makes (Choy & Ottinger, 1998). For instance, parents, guidance counselors, and friends may help a student decide which institutions to apply to but the student may employ other factors in making his or her final decision. Blau (1994) noted, for example, that where students ultimately enroll depends in part upon differences in tuition and scholarships.

Regarding application behaviors, Blau (1994), for instance, found that certain factors help to predict what institutions outstanding prospective students will be attracted to. For instance, outstanding students will be attracted to affluent institutions with well-qualified and well-paid faculty members that offer a diversity of department programs (Blau, 1994). Such factors actually pose a dilemma for institutions because they generally necessitate that institutions be large in size yet the larger an institution the less attractive it is to outstanding students. Blau (1994) further explains that large size "inevitably makes the academic institution more impersonal and engenders bureaucratic developments in it, both of which reduce its attraction for the best students" (p. 100). Successful athletic programs have also been found to attract additional applicants by essentially acting as marketing devices. However, they may not necessarily help to improve the quality of applicants applying to an institution or the likelihood that students will enroll if accepted ("Do Bowl Wins Mean Better Students?," 2004).

In terms of enrollment behaviors, one study found that first-time freshmen who enrolled in a public or private, not-for-profit four-year institution in 1995-96 more often cited reputation than location, price, or the influence of others as the most important reason for their enrollment decision (Choy & Ottinger, 1998). At the same time, freshmen at public institutions were more likely than freshmen at private, not-for-profit four-year institutions to cite location or price as the most important reason driving their enrollment decision (Choy & Ottinger, 1998).


It is apparent that institutions tend to invest a great deal of resources in the student recruitment process. In fact, a survey of non-profit institutions conducted by Noel-Levitz (2006a) in the fall of 2005 found that four-year private institutions spend more than four-year public institutions to recruit students. The median cost reported for 2004-05 to recruit a single student was $455 at four-year public institutions as compared to $2,073 at four-year private institutions (Noel-Levitz, 2006a).

Market-oriented Approaches to Recruiting

In the 1970s, projected declines in the pool of traditional-aged prospective college students along with other factors helped to spark higher education institutions' interest in market-oriented approaches to student recruitment (Paulsen, 1990). The basis of these approaches is to be able to better project enrollments as well as better influence college-going decisions of prospective students (Paulsen, 1990). Over thirty years later, Moore (2004) documented that colleges and universities were increasingly taking a market-oriented approach to recruiting. For example, some higher education institutions appear to be doing more to enhance their particular image or "brand" in order to attract the types of students they desire, among other goals (Moore, 2004). Moore (2004) noted that "through effective marketing, many institutions have succeeded in aligning or enhancing their images to better fulfill the promise they convey to the constituencies that they already "own" or desire to attract" (p 11). Weisbuch (2007) noted that branding typically involves identifying the areas in which an institution excels or has the greatest competitive advantage. Sevier (2005) argued that a strong brand can aid in the recruitment process by helping institutions to attract better students, students who are more willing to pay full price, and students who are more likely to persist. One of the most important thing colleges and universities need to have when embarking on a branding initiative is support from top leadership (Sevier, 2007). Institutions have also tended to use both traditional (e.g., news media, website, advertising, and print publications) and non-traditional marketing channels to communicate their brand message (Sevier, 2007). Regarding non-traditional marketing channels, an alumnus and trustee offered to help the University of Maryland, for instance, plaster brand messages on 18-wheelers that travel between Washington, D.C., and New York every day (Sevier, 2007).

Increasingly, institutions are adding student blogs to their array of recruitment tools. In her study, Sandlin found that “authentic student-written blogs served as dress rehearsals for prospective college students—giving them the opportunity to role play as college students and experience college scenarios (e.g., taking classes, living with roommates, choosing a major, participating in college athletics). By doing so, student-written blogs helped participants shape their identities, reduce their anxieties about college and consider college compatibility” (Sandlin, 2013, p. 45).

Colleges and universities are also drawing on their capital facilities as marketing resources. According to Padjen (2002), "the size of the applicant pool and the eventual admissions yield frequently depend on one factor: the campus tour" (p. 19). As such, campus architecture is being tapped as a way to market to prospective students, who expect to get the most they can for their tuition dollars (Padjen, 2002). Recent campus construction projects, such as recreation facilities that resemble health clubs or dining halls that look like restaurants, are focused on buildings that can provide students with cushy or posh amenities (Padjen, 2002).

Technology's Role

Today, technology pervades market-oriented approaches to student recruitment. For example, Blair (2000) indicated that the "new style calls for shifting marketing efforts to the Internet, using 'virtual' tours, personalized e-mail newsletters, and online admissions" (p.1). Institutions are moving to make their websites interactive as well as highlight certain buildings and/or events on their campuses through virtual tours, for instance. One bonus of using technology to recruit students is that it can mean a cost savings for institutions (Blair, 2000). In general, e-mail and the Internet are the backbone of e-recruitment efforts today but a recent survey also showed that recruitment efforts that tap into instant messaging and cell phones (e.g., text messaging) may be other technologies that...

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