Recruiting Students Isn't Brain Surgery

Robert F. Davis
Robert F. Davis previously served as vice president for Advancement at Bryan College in Tennessee and consulting vice president for Advancement and Alumni Affairs at Liberty University in Virginia. |

As I look around and see Christian schools with enrollment declines of 10 and 20 percent, or recruiting students overseas and gouging their tuition, or the ultimate failure closing their doors, I am saddened! At a time when a Christian education is most important, administrations and boards are dropping the ball. What's the problem?

Recruiting students isn't brain surgery, but it does take careful thought and planning. When it was my responsibility to place advertising or create some kind of solicitation material, I first sought to determine if the initiative would meet the market we served. In order to determine that market I needed to do a "market segmentation analysis." This analysis answered the question, What does a candidate for our school look like, from what churches, communities, economic level, or families do our students come? This will take a bit of time, but it is not impossible to complete with the help of a couple of well-informed assistants and it will certainly be worth the effort.

After learning about your niche, knowing who is responsible to execute the effort is a good place to move. What should be obvious, but too often isn't is that the "Head of School," if there is one, is the chief advocate for the school, that is to say the "face of the school" in public. A school without a "Head" begins with a handicap and not impossible with thought and care to overcome, but it is too long to deal with here.

Most days the "Head of School" is out of the building, in the community, meeting individuals, and speaking at churches or other civic events promoting the school. The "Head" can do this because the "principal" is back in the building running "day-to-day" operations. This will create interest in the institution and drive families to take a look.

Another officer also out of the school building is the "Director of Admissions" or ""Recruiter." This individual will be in closer contact with actual prospects to be considered for admission. This is a "time intensive" position and demands visiting "feeder schools," churches, and youth meetings of all sorts, wherever people gather. This recruiter will also meet a visiting family and tour the facilities with them while answering questions and highlighting programs and the advantages of attending your school.

It is important to know that anything you promote must be available, accurate, and not inflated in any way. It is not unusual for schools and the promotional material produced to state that the education offered is "excellent." This must not only be definable and illustrated, but true! Remember there are current student families, alumni, and schools to which your students have later gone which can testify, or not, to this boast of excellence.

The work of the "Head" and "Recruiter" is intensely important. It is not unusual for these individuals to be on campus only Monday morning and Friday afternoon, but it demands they be well-organized and time-efficient people. Their dreaded responsibility is producing copious notes of meetings with individuals and groups to be made available to anyone who will in some way follow up. This may not be "brain surgery," but it is very serious business!

At these same schools with dwindling enrollment, I also see school heads and recruiters stuck in their offices. Either they aren't aware of what they need to do or they are so confident in their schools reputation that they think people will simply seek them out. Believe me, that won't happen!

Not unlike the confusion between "advancement" and "development" is the confusion between "enrollment management" and "admissions." One is a "component" of the other. You also need to understand that there will also be some overlap of "advancement" and "enrollment management" in marketing, public relations, and meeting with the public. It should be obvious that coordination between departments would be wise.

Here, as plainly as I can state, "enrollment management is an organizational concept and a systematic set of activities designed to enable educational institutions to exert more influence over their student enrollments. Such practices often include: recruitment of students, marketing, admission policies, retention programs, and financial aid awarding."

All of the aforementioned are operational mechanics. While having the right person or personality in place is a necessity, they must be held responsible that the appropriate activities are executed!

Deeper than knowing simply "what to do" are philosophical matters of Christian schooling. Many schools losing students have made a decision to follow many of the social trends and mores of our times. One only needs to look at the problems of attendance at "mainline" churches to understand the seriousness of that decision.

Mark Tooley, President of the Washington-D.C. based Institute on Religion and Democracy, commenting on the Nashville Statement says that, "churches (and I say our schools) should be flourishing by their embrace of the spirit of our age. But in almost every culture and time, spiritual seekers are more drawn to religion (and Christian schools) that challenges, not that accommodates."

So, what then?

Listen to this, "The Law of the Lord is a lamp, and its teaching shine brightly." (Proverbs 6:23a CEV)

Don't forget this, "Be on your guard; stand firm in the faith; be courageous; be strong." (1 Corinthians 16:13 NIV)

And of course, The integrity of the upright guides them, but the unfaithful are destroyed by their duplicity. (Proverbs 11:3 NIV)

Newt Gingrich offers this excellent advice, "Perseverance is the hard work you do after you get tired of doing the hard work you already did."

Robert F. Davis has 40 years of experience providing counsel for educational and not-for-profit institutions. He previously served as vice president for Advancement at Bryan College in Tennessee and consulting vice president for Advancement and Alumni Affairs at Liberty University in Virginia.

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