Recruiting Men: Four Strategies

This week's Condition of Education report based on NCES data forecasts continuing decline in the college enrollment of men, projecting that in 2019 women will account for 59% of total undergraduate enrollment and 61% of total postbaccalaureate enrollment at US colleges and universities.

While these findings will not surprise many enrollment managers, they do highlight a continued need for rethinking approaches in recruiting men. W. Kent Barnds, vice president for enrollment, communication, and planning at Augustana College, offers four key strategies:

  • Audit your academic offerings to ensure that you have adequate offerings of interest to men
  • Provide an earlier, hands-on experience
  • Provide opportunities to inspire young men
  • Focus your marketing message on outcomes rather than process

Audit Your Academic Offerings

Traditionally, colleges hoping to boost the number of men on campus make significant investments in men's athletics. For example, Hendrix College and Stevenson University have both recently added football. Barnds notes, though, that colleges need to be attentive not only to athletic/co-curricular offerings but also to their academic offerings.

"Are you offering programs that are of interest to 17-year-old boys? Some assessment of that is essential to maintaining a critical mass of men on campus."
W. Kent Barnds, Augustana College

Barnds cites the example of a college with an excellent occupational therapy program that enrolls 40 women each year -- but it is a rarity to attract men to the program. Education and social work may be programs that see a similar mix. In this case, the college needs to identify programs that can be offered to help balance the mix. The college may need programs that traditionally appeal to both men and women equally. Or the college may need to add a few programs that appeal mostly to men.

To audit your academic offerings:

  • Look at national data on career choice to see the distribution of men vs women in various professions -- identify gender-balanced careers and also careers that are more sought after by men
  • Take an internal look at your own programs and take a 10-year trend line -- where are you losing men? Where are you gaining women? Where do you have a gender balance?
  • Rely on your enrollment objectives; some institutions may be striving for a 50/50 split, while some are comfortable with a 60/40. What is your desired mix?

If you want a 50/50 mix, and you see that your institution is trending toward 60/40, what programs can you offer that -- based on the national data -- might prove more attractive to men? (For example, Augustana College added 2 such programs this year: engineering physics and graphics design.)

On a local level, Barnds recommends finding faculty to represent your academic programs at local high schools, and to talk through career options. "Try to capture the imagination of boys during early outreach." Augustana College sends faculty out to represent accounting, Spanish, and mathematics -- two of these programs traditionally appeal more to men.

Provide an Earlier Hands-on Experience

"During their learning experience on campus, men are often attracted by an earlier, hands-on experience."
W. Kent Barnds, Augustana College

Barnds advises that promising internship/externship opportunities in the junior or senior year is not enough. Two years of general education requirements without hands-on experience will not appeal to many young men. Earlier engagement and involvement in a hands-on learning experience -- and being able to promise that early in the recruitment process -- is crucial. "Men often learn by doing, and are inspired by doing. Men want to see that what they're doing matters."

Find Opportunities to Inspire Them

Barnds notes, "Often we talk about the fact that many men don't hit their stride until junior year, that they can be a bit listless in the first couple of years. Maybe it takes them longer to find inspiration."

Barnds suggests that men seek inspirational models or mentors, and that a college hoping to recruit more men can see gains by providing inspirational models earlier in the process. Nor is an athletics coach the only viable mentor. Barnds cites the sample of an Augustana College geography major who partnered with another graduate, a business administration major, to found Noodles & Company. Together, they created a nationwide restaurant chain.

"Put those inspirational mentors in front of applicants early," Barnds suggests. During the recruitment process, show profiles of successful graduates in fields of interest to men -- and make sure the stories illustrate that a student doesn't need to know what he is going to do from day one in order to be successful." The point is to fire up the applicant's imagination.

Barnds suggests 2 ways of inviting your successful graduates into the recruitment process:

  • Have them participate in on-campus programming; for example, ask one of your alumni to speak about his career path at a departmental open house
  • When possible, find opportunities for one-on-one attention

Barnds cites the example of a board member who works for State Farm Insurance, whom Augustana College asks to reach out to students. This board member is comfortable making a call to the student or writing a note. The board member pursued multiple interests while an undergraduate (including baseball) and can speak with a prospective student who wants to participate in athletics and has wide academic interests, and talk about his own story and his success. Young men seek inspirational models, and the more that you can do to offer them those models, the better.

Focus Messaging on Product, not Process

Finally, Barnds warns that -- particularly at small liberal arts colleges -- the "selling points" that recruiters rely on are often points that do not attract 17-year-old boys. For example, your recruiting messages may emphasize great interaction with faculty, small classes, personal attention, and intimate engagement. But these are not traditionally core to what 17-year-old boys are looking for in a college education. Focus instead on results and outcomes. How does your institution help connect young men with their chosen careers? What inspirational examples can you provide?

"Talk about what you do, instead of talking about how you do it. Provide that inspirational message."
W. Kent Barnds, Augustana College