Practical Strategies for Partnering with Faculty in Student Recruitment


W. Kent Barnds offers seven strategies for involving faculty in student recruitment in ways that are meaningful and effective. Here’s how to do it right.

Admissions teams often ask: “How do we effectively involve faculty members in student recruitment?”

This question has even more urgency now, given enrollment pressures throughout higher education. It only makes sense to look to the faculty; they remain the most credible messengers on a college campus.

In fact, in Academic Impressions’ 2013 survey on enrollment declines, 47% of the 190 institutions participating in the survey missed their enrollment targets last year–many by a significant percentage.

Years ago I heard Robin Mamlet, who at the time was the dean of admissions at Stanford University, remind a room full of admissions officers that “we work for the faculty.” I’ve been guided by this idea and recognize admissions officers are an extension of the faculty, rather than vice versa. Involving faculty in recruitment activities should be guided by this premise.

Admittedly, I don’t always get things right. But, based on more than 20 years of experimenting and listening, I’d like to suggest:

  • 7 keys to encouraging faculty to become (and stay) involved and
  • 4 strategies for leveraging faculty expertise to improve student recruitment.

7 Keys to Encouraging Meaningful Involvement

1. Provide guidance, not direction.
I once provided a faculty member with talking points before meeting with a student. That was a mistake. Faculty members are experts, and they understand how to interact with students. They don’t need instructions, but they can benefit from understanding the purpose of the activity. I’ve found faculty typically welcome guidance about a next step following a meeting or phone call with a prospective student.
2. Let faculty choose how they would like to be involved.
Not everyone is going to be open to making phone calls or allowing students to visit a class in session. It is important to provide a range of options for faculty involvement. There are many ways faculty members can help. Periodically, I’ve used a survey developed by George Dehne & Associates to ask faculty members to identify how they’d like to be involved.
3. Make their involvement meaningful.
One of the best faculty recruiters I’ve ever worked with was the director of the international business major, at Elizabethtown College. He was a tireless recruiter. I once asked him why he worked so hard at recruiting. He answered simply that working hard to recruit the best students made his teaching experience more meaningful.

I understood what he meant when I looked at the profile of entering international business students, whose average SAT score was 100 points higher than the general profile of students. This particular faculty member found his own reason why his involvement in student recruitment was meaningful; others may not share his insight.

For participation from faculty to be most effective, it is critical to provide for a sense of what it means to the college, to their department and to them personally. If you don’t, it simply feels like “helping admissions.”

4. Respect their time. A faculty member’s role on campus is to teach, but even at liberal arts colleges, this role has grown in recent years to encompass many other things, such as advising, mentoring, recording lectures, etc., resulting in palpable “busyness.” Be mindful of what you ask and how frequently you ask. Faculty members are busy re-recruiting every student in every classroom when they teach, advise and mentor current students. When you ask for assistance, be clear about all of your expectations and demonstrate you’ve thought carefully about their time commitments before asking for their involvement.

5. Close the loop.
Faculty members really want to know whether or not their participation makes a difference, and they want data to prove it. It requires an incredible amount of discipline and a good campus information system, but it’s important to track contacts and meetings between faculty members and prospective students to provide a year-end summary outlining the results. Closing this loop allows you to dialogue with faculty volunteers to improve their impact on student recruitment. It also offers you the opportunity to emphasize how their involvement and their time matter.
6. Prepare the students for these interactions.
Over the years, the biggest complaint I’ve heard from faculty members about one-on-one meetings is that the students “didn’t have anything to say.” Too many unfulfilling meetings with prospects will turn faculty members off to the activity. At Augustana College, we’ve tried to prepare students for conversations with faculty members by preparing a set of questions to ask when visiting with a faculty member. This particular set of questions was crafted carefully to support a comfortable, mutually beneficial discussion about the academic experience.
7. Be realistic about what faculty can and can’t do.
Faculty members are credible advocates who understand the academic experience better than anyone on campus. Involving an enthusiastic faculty member at the right time can be like Mariano Rivera closing out a game. However, faculty involvement cannot make up for a flawed recruitment program, a fuzzy brand or worth claim, a terrible campus visit, or a campus tragedy. Timing is everything, and understanding what can and can’t be done is important.

Involving faculty members in recruitment is a great idea, but a strategic and thoughtful approach is critical and knowing what works and what doesn’t makes or breaks an effort.

Where Faculty Can Make a Difference: 4 Strategies

For example, here is where you can and should involve faculty:

Conduct a focus group with faculty members who are going through the college search process with one of their children. The observations they share and their experience with the process elsewhere is an excellent way to learn how much faculty understand about the recruitment process. This is also a great way to understand what they’ve experienced and how willing then may or may not be to do something you ask.

Prepare faculty members to discuss recent graduates’ successes. At Augustana, we’ve created one-page descriptions of majors and profiled recent and have made sure these materials get in front of faculty, too. Relying on stories that are a decade old will do nothing for today’s students who have a limited view of their future. Preparing faculty to start any conversation with “[Name] graduated last year and is doing very well” is an important role for an admissions team and key to successfully engaging faculty.

Provide faculty members, who meet with prospective students, with enough information to make a connection between what the student wants to do and what happens in their department. For example, if a prospective student shows interest in studying abroad, community service or athletics, make sure the faculty member is aware, so that they can respond to this interest, perhaps by providing an example of a student who has done something similar … and how impactful that was.

By way of example, Augustana College has provided faculty members with these flyers showcasing success stories from alumni in philosophy, communication sciences and disorders, mathematics, and biology.

Invite faculty members to send a congratulatory letter when the student is accepted. Your admissions office can easily provide you this information. And, more importantly, a letter from a faculty member really makes a difference make a real difference.

Encourage faculty to do what they do best: Show off something really cool that they do with students. For example, at Augustana:

  • Our geologists have a volcano explosion that is always a hit.
  • A physicist here brings a number of objects to visit days to catch attention and bring physics to life.
  • Our Communication Science and Disorders faculty invite students to observe a lab.
  • At visit days, the Classics faculty have books, movies and plays on display to bring attention to the study of Classics.

Reassure faculty members that recruiting is doing what they do best.

Barnds also posts regularly to his blog, Bow Tie Admissions, and you can follow him on Twitter @bowtieadmission.