Increasing the recruitment and retention rates of socioeconomically disadvantaged students should be a priority of any college or university's strategic plan and marketing approach. These prospective students are often called the "Folks who Need Help and Guidance" by college recruiters - this name reflects their need for extra support and advising throughout the college application and acceptance process. These students, even those who are higher achievers in the academic sense, often are intimidated by the college process, as they lack key supports from their families and schools.
Many high school guidance counselors are overburdened with extremely high caseloads, sometimes numbering over five hundred students. Further complicating the issue, many parents, especially those who did not attend college or university themselves, lack the firsthand experience and insider knowledge to serve as college and career coach for their children.
However, most colleges and universities know that one key to retention is to promote diversity and inclusion of all students on campus, including those who come from low-income families or identify as from a minority racial or ethnic group. For this reason, colleges and universities need to employ a targeted, multi-pronged approach to successfully recruit and support talented high school students that come from socioeconomically disadvantaged backgrounds.
Throughout the higher education field, post-secondary institutions seek to diversify and internationalize their campuses in order to level the playing field for capable and motivated students who come from a variety of educational backgrounds. As universities look for ways to increase recruitment and retention, they have to combat many misconceptions that high school students, especially those who are from low-income and minority backgrounds, have about university life.
Many prospective students have little, if any, idea of how much college will cost. Even fewer students have a solid, realistic plan of how to make paying for a college degree financially feasible. In fact, out of seventeen college and university ads in Florida Trend magazine, not one mentioned cost. Without question, students from certain sectors of society are missing key information about the personal attention, assistance, and financial support that may be available to them as they pursue post-secondary education.
This lack of preparation and gross misinformation throughout their high school years leads to many students being less focused on academic success. Unfortunately, most colleges’ marketing messages focus on how fun and adventurous college can be and ignore the challenges of coursework and navigating a new higher level educational experience.
As a result, students end up more focused on the social aspects of college such as attending sporting events, greek life, living with new friends or roommates, and getting involved in campus life and extracurricular activities. After all, this is what society and culture calls "the college experience." Without question, this can lead to various problems for higher education institutions, including:
Universities and colleges have to take a proactive approach to recruiting and supporting students from all economic strata and walks of life. Many students have had little support from families, teachers, and peers and though talented, may have been lost in the shuffle throughout their high school years. Sometimes, this a result of little to no personal attention from a qualified guidance counselor. Often, these young students are faced with a lot of pressure to focus more on work than on school so they can help support their families financially. The need to work often sets their grades back, yet demonstrates their strength of character.
With the support of a advertising, marketing or public relations managers, it is easy to develop online brochures, recruitment websites, and social media posts that students will relate to and share with their networks. A bonus of using social media to promote a school is that in most cases it is completely free! Share stories from recent alumni and current students that your targeted group of prospective students will identify with, someone who had to work their way through life-long challenges to find an affordable route to earning a college degree.
Furthermore, an important focus for these social media blasts should be the financial feasibility of attending your institution. Your team should stress that students will have low costs for their tuition and fees, will graduate with minimal student debt, and can apply for both merit-based and need-based aid throughout their studies.
If you are not already hosting a scholarship or fellowship program for students from minority backgrounds, your team should look into offering grants and stipends for students from low socioeconomic backgrounds. Finally, consider offering reduced-cost housing options for students so they will feel included in campus life without putting too much burden on their budget.
Students should also be able to recognize from your institution's marketing and recruitment messages that they will learn more than just what the classroom offers at college:That college will put them on the right path to succeed in their career and personal life too. Your recruitment materials should include free interest-based and personality-based tests that can guide students in choosing an appropriate field of study. This way, you can avoid "selling" your school to students.Instead, you can demonstrate how your school would be a good match for each student's unique financial and personal needs, and that they will fit in well with the culture of your school.