The last couple of years have brought a lot of change for SIU Carbondale, and we have seen many positive developments. For instance, last year, we welcomed our strongest class of new students in recent history, with the highest average ACT score in the last 20 years. And those students have made SIU their home-away-from-home, leading us to expect the retention rate to be up when we release our official fall enrollment on Sept. 4.
Retention is a key component of enrollment as we rebuild after years of decline. We know enrollment will go down before it goes up due to our large May graduating class, so every student we keep makes a difference. I will address our many retention initiatives in a future post.
In this post, I will address the other key component of enrollment: recruitment. The question I get asked most frequently: What exactly are we doing to attract more students to SIU?
Three overarching goals
Our recruitment strategy includes three overarching goals.
First, we have to get more potential students and high school counselors on campus. Research has shown time and again that nothing makes a greater impact on a student’s decision than the experience of walking around campus, seeing facilities and meeting personally with the professors, students and staff whom they could work and study with for the next phase in their lives. The personal touch is critical.
Next, we are applying a more strategic view on how we use our time, money and other recruitment resources. Not every high school senior is a good match for SIU. We want to focus our efforts on the students who can not only master their classes, but who will thrive socially, emotionally and professionally in Carbondale.
Finally, we are working to ensure that more students who start the application process follow through. Universities around the globe see applicants who fail to send their transcripts, complete their essays or otherwise drop out in the middle of the application process. We want to make it as simple and effortless as possible to ensure our admissions staff has all the information they need to make a decision.
Once those students are accepted, we are doing everything we can to guide them through enrollment.
We have already implemented several strategies to help meet those goals. We’ve added recruiters in St. Louis and Chicago, allowing more face-to-face interaction with counselors and potential Salukis in two vital areas for recruitment. A generous donor has also funded 100 train tickets, so those recruiters can help students from Chicago make the trip down to visit campus.
Another related plan is to hold more in-person events for counselors and prospective students in various locations, such as St. Louis, Chicago and Nashville, Tennessee.
We’re also adding new campus visit days specifically for freshmen and sophomores in high school. This is in addition to the days we already host for juniors, seniors and transfer students. With these events, we will be able to talk to more students earlier and more often.
When buying information about potential recruits, we’re using important new tools to help us target the students most likely to attend SIU. In the age of Big Data, this information can be expensive. Casting too wide a net not only exhausts the budget quickly, but it can yield poor results.
New tools allow us to identify schools, neighborhoods and individual students throughout the United States whom we have never before reached out to but who would be very likely to choose SIU.
With these expanded and highly targeted lists, we can focus our direct mailers, school visits and other recruitment activities in areas with the highest potential yield. And, as those efforts bear fruit, we can expand even further.
In addition, we have revised our communication flow to follow up with students who have inquired about the university, started an application or been admitted to help them understand next steps and encourage action, whether that is a campus visit, applying for admission or signing a housing contract.
New on-campus events for admitted students will help us better engage with our potential students and encourage them to ultimately enroll here. In addition, we are pleased that professors are assisting us in making calls to students admitted into specific programs to encourage them to enroll and answer any questions they might have.
We also offer any U.S. undergraduate the opportunity to attend SIU at in-state tuition rates – an attractive opportunity for prospective students and families.
Given that we are an international university, our effort to recruit and attract students from throughout the world will also continue. These efforts will entail visiting key international locations and engaging in agreements with world partners to bring international students to SIU.
Using new technology
We have invested in several new technologies to help potential Salukis learn more about SIU, complete their applications and ultimately enroll.
For instance, a new chatbot can answer frequently asked questions that potential students may be reluctant or unable to ask someone in-person. If the bot cannot find the answer, it will direct students to a person who can find the information efficiently. The bot uses artificial intelligence software to improve performance over time and is available 24-7.
We have also launched a custom viewbook, which allows interested students to get information that applies specifically to their interests, rather than a one-size-fits-all mass mailer. This helps guide students to programs they may not have known about or may not have known were offered at SIU.
For students who want to transfer, we are working on a new transfer student portal, designed as a one-stop-shop to help them successfully transition to SIU. We expect it to be live in March 2020. Transfer students will be able to compare their current coursework to their desired degree plan, see what credits are likely to transfer, learn about articulation agreements with their community college and more.
We’re also piloting a program that allows faculty and staff to conduct virtual workshops for students too distant to come to campus, including international students. This technology can create a class or information session for up to 300 people, or can be used to set up one-on-one meetings between a potential recruit and a mentor. Best of all, it comes at no additional cost to the university.
I’m grateful to our faculty, staff and our enrollment management team for their willingness to think about student recruitment in new ways.
As you can see, we have a plan set in motion that we will adapt and expand as we start to see results over the next several years. Turning our enrollment around will take time, and it will be a community effort, but we are moving toward an important goal — a stronger, better SIU for the next 150 years and beyond.