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Recruiting Military Students

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BusinessWeek reported recently on the extent to which for-profit colleges are succeeding in recruiting active duty and veteran military students. However, even though this market is largely dominated by the for-profits, the past year has seen many non-profit universities make initial investments in services for military students, especially since the passing of the post-9/11 GI Bill.

We asked Jim Paskill, principal and creative director for Paskill Stapleton & Lord; Eric Craver, director of marketing and recruitment for the office of adult degree programs at the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay; and David Hoftiezer, director of admissions at Thomas Edison State College, for advice on first steps in reaching out to military students, whether veteran or active duty.

Be Realistic

Paskill recommends proceeding with "both eyes open." Most active duty military -- and many veterans -- are going to be looking for online offerings. "The for-profits are the 2000 pound gorilla in that arena, and institutions like the University of Phoenix and DeVry are investing significant funds to generate leads. You will probably not be able to compete on a dollar-for-dollar basis." Also, whether you are thinking of an active duty, deployed population or veteran students, remember that you are competing for a relatively small market.  If you are looking at the military market as a revenue source, you are not likely to see a great return on your investment.

Be realistic about why you're doing this, and your expectations. It is not as easy as "build a program, and they will come." Can you afford this effort? Are you investing in recruiting and serving military students to increase revenue, or because it's the right thing to do?

Jim Paskill, Paskill Stapleton & Lord

What Military Students Expect

Paskill notes that military students approach selecting a university very practically. The school's reputation and quality will not be the determining factors. Before applying, they will already have considered quality in developing their shortlist of possible institutions. When making the decision, "they want to know about the convenience factor."

They are pragmatic shoppers. They want to know which institution can get them what they need most quickly and most affordably.

Jim Paskill, Paskill Stapleton & Lord

They will want to know what services your institution offers -- prior learning assessment, financial services, health and counseling services specially trained to address their needs, and academic support services. And they will want to know how easily these services can be accessed online or at a distance.

Eric Craver offers a list of additional services that veteran students attending courses on campus are most likely to look for:

  • Quiet places to study
  • Conveniences such as childcare and parking
  • Opportunities for involvement in a politically active community (campus newspaper, student government, etc.)

David Hoftiezer warns against the dangers of tunnel vision.

Do not assume that they will be like your traditional students. Active duty students have families, they may be living abroad, and they may not have phone access.

David Hoftiezer, Thomas Edison State College

As many active duty students will be deployed overseas, it is critical that you have many online avenues for communicating with them -- besides an in-person or phone appointment. An office that is open 8:30-4:00 will not be enough. They need to be able to access services 24 hours a day.

If your institution is serious about recruiting and serving active duty or veteran students, you will need to both provide these services and market the fact that you provide them.

Avoid striving to have a big presence in this market if you don't have programs or services that cater to their needs. If you are going to talk the talk, make sure you are walking the walk. You do not want to send the message that military students are an afterthought.

Jim Paskill, Paskill Stapleton & Lord

Offer a Military-Centric Website

One of the best (and least expensive) moves you can make is to offer a portal to your website designed for military students. This portion of your site needs to be military-centric. "Allow them to navigate to everything they need within that portion of your site," Paskill advises. "If they are looking for tuition, don't send them back out to your main site to hunt through the pages designed for traditional students. Have a dedicated page on pricing specifically for military students."

Eric Craver adds:

  • Keep your website practical and convenient. Avoid Flash and media that catches the eye, in favor of giving students a single-click portal to all the services of interest to them. "It is not uncommon for this population to uninterested in a lot of fluff."
  • Make sure your site includes and features photos of military students
  • Show that you pay attention to the military students on your campus -- feature news stories on veteran activities, special interest stories, and case studies and interviews with current and past students

Whether on your website or in other promotional materials, tell the stories of your military students.

Eric Craver, University of Wisconsin-Green Bay

Veterans on Your Staff

Paskill, Craver, and Hoftiezer all emphasize how critical it is that you have a military veteran on your admissions/recruiting staff and available to meet with applicants. "You need someone who understands their needs, someone who has been in the military and understands the military mindset," Hoftiezer advises.

And a veteran affairs or military services office with trained staff is crucial, and this office needs to be connected closely with student services, financial aid, and the registrar. Craver advises even considering its geographical location on campus with some care. "If you've put the office in a tiny nook somewhere in a back building, that communicates even before you have had a conversation with a prospective student that serving military students is an afterthought."

The best thing that a campus can do internally is to make sure that the necessary functions -- housing academic advising, admissions, registrar, financial aid, student activities -- are working together and are working to educate themselves about the needs of military students. Just the efforts to learn what you don't know will in and of itself get you on the road to better recruiting and serving military students.

David Hoftiezer, Thomas Edison State College

In The News

For-Profit Colleges Target the Military
Veterans Bill Backlog Climbs As New Semester Looms

 

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About the Authors

Daniel Fusch, Director of Publications & Research

Daniel provides strategic direction and content for AI’s electronic publication Higher Ed Impact, including market research and interviews with leading subject matter experts on critical issues. Since the publication’s launch in 2009, Daniel has written more than 350 articles on strategic issues ranging from student recruitment and retention to development and capital planning. If you have a question or a comment about this article, feel free to contact Daniel at daniel@academicimpressions.com.