Local colleges change recruitment to attract diminishing high school grads

Area universities are competing for students with new recruitment efforts as the number of high school graduates is expected to plummet in the next 13 years.

The number of traditional students heading to college is dropping. High school graduates will decline by 140,000 nationally and 13,000 in Ohio by 2032, surpassing the number of students that make up the undergraduate student bodies at Wittenberg University, the University of Dayton and Wright State University, according to the Western Interstate Commission for Higher Education.

“Most institutions across the U.S. are dependent on the revenue brought in by tuition, so oftentimes what you’re seeing now more than ever is alignment between what happens in the admission office, enrollment management and the rest of the university community,” said Susan Schaurer, associate vice president for strategic enrollment management at Miami University.

Enrollment goals are a big part of what becomes the overall university’s budget goals each year, said Scott Van Loo, vice president of enrollment management at Cedarville University, so most university decisions at all levels tie back to a focus on recruitment and retention.

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Geographic expansion

Mount St. Joseph University, a small, private Catholic school in Cincinnati that enrolls about 1,500 to 1,600 undergraduates each year, is among several Ohio schools that have targeted the Dayton area with recruitment marketing efforts.

“Over the last couple of years we’ve realized that we’ve been able to recruit a few students from Dayton and the number has been increasing,” said the university’s president H. James Williams. “Clearly we have to expand our target market, even beyond the Midwest. There’s no doubt about that.”

The university has spent money on billboards, radio ads and inviting students and alumni to Dayton Dragons baseball games at the Fifth Third Field.

Mount St. Joseph has increased its recruitment efforts across the country and it’s paying off, Williams said. Nearly 60 percent of incoming classes want to play Division III sports at the university, and last fall, 35 of the 120 football players came from Georgia, one of the university’s key markets.

Columbus-area Otterbein University is also planning to become more involved in the Dayton market, said spokesman Roberto Ponce. The school had 29 students from Dayton last semester and 153 alumni who have graduated since 2008.

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Meanwhile UD, Miami and Cedarville have increased recruitment resources outside of the local community. Cedarville has created partnerships with churches, Van Loo said. And UD has grown closer with Marianist high schools.

UD and Miami employ full-time recruiters in other markets, enrollment leaders at the schools said. While it’s something both UD and Miami have been doing for almost a decade, the universities are refining and adding locations now to keep up with the shifting demographics.

Miami University is looking in the Southeast and West portions of the U.S., where there there is still population growth among high school students, but schools have to be careful to keep their resources in local communities as well, Schaurer said.

“Just as we were looking to increase enrollment from places outside of where we had traditionally enrolled students, we knew that other institutions that hadn’t had a traditional stronghold in Ohio were increasing their presence,” Schaurer said.

Other key markets

In addition to geographic expansion, UD has launched programs to attract students that aren’t traditional high school graduates wanting to go straight to a four-year university, said Robert Durkle, dean of admission and financial aid.

“Recognizing that there was going to be a downturn in the traditional college market, there are some students in the Dayton area who are looking for a way to get started, maybe wasn’t sure that a four year degree was something they wanted to do,” Durkle said.

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The first University of Dayton Sinclair Academy student graduated this spring. Students in the academy attend Sinclair for two years taking coursework that will transition into their last two years at UD, Durkle said.

UD locks in the tuition rate during the third and fourth years of education at the price students started their first year at Sinclair, he said. The students, while at Sinclair, are considered UD students and can participate in any campus programs and organizations.

Miami University and Wright State leaders also said they’re putting resources into the transfer side of recruitment, partnering with community colleges to present their universities as an option while students are enrolled at two-year colleges.

Wright State is adding two new full-time employees to its transfer staff, including one transfer partnership assistant director who will solely work on creating stronger partnerships with its community college partners, said

Other students may not want the traditional experiencing of going to a physical campus for class, and would prefer to take a smaller workload or a full-time load from home online, said Paul Carney, vice president of student success.

“We want to expand the number of online opportunities for our nontraditional population,” Carney said. “We’re taking some degree programs where some might have been on site and some might have been online and we’re making them fully online.”

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Recruiting with technology

Rather than expanding geographically, Wright State is trying to recruit more local traditional and non-traditional students through more personal communication including text message conversations between a prospective students and admissions counselors. The university is also working on more personalized retention programs understanding that “life happens,” Carney said.

“We’re trying to communicate with our students the way they want to be communicated with,” he said.

Wright State also started using Naviance last fall, an online high school advising tool. About 85 percent of the high schools in the state have used the advising tool, which can show profiles or colleges that fit the description of what a student wants, Carney said. Then the students and colleges can communicate throughout high school and as they move toward graduation.

“We’re attacking this at all levels, recruitment and retention, student success,” Carney said.


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