Like every market, the audience of college-bound high school seniors is responding to change and uncertainty with… more change and uncertainty.
Very recent surveys show roughly a quarter of next year’s class feeling uncertain about whether they will attend their first choice college, attend a school closer to home, or delay college enrollment for a year.
College enrollment marketing teams (already stressed by acceptance/deposit season) now have to scramble to reassure and to some degree, re-recruit the Class of 2024.
Here are five content needs/priorities to consider.
Liberal Arts as catalytic.
How often and how well do you make the case for why complex times and challenges require agile thinkers? Do you routinely interview students who find the core curriculum applicable across a range of research, internship and other experiential learning opportunities? Do you trace that confidence back to encounters with specific faculty, courses, assignments and texts? Do you ask internship supervisors and employers why such learners outperform their peers? Do you get perspective from mid- and late-career alumni on how the liberal arts enabled them to mature into fully reflective professionals?
Faculty as wellspring.
How routinely do you assign experienced reporters/writers to engage faculty? Do faculty trust your ability to translate their research and life’s work to general and prospect audiences? Have you identified opportunities for faculty to contribute — in person, in writing and through podcasts, video and other owned media? Do your blogs and flagship publications leverage keywords of importance to departments and faculty?
Student life as real.
How candid have you been in your communication with prospective students and families about the emotional and social realities of the transition to college? Do you partner with student life to offer prospective students and families a realistic set of expectations, and a transparent view of support systems? Do you drill into the details of residential life, housing, wellness and diversity enough for prospects to see you as honest information brokers?
Rigor as welcome adversary.
Have you found ways to reveal and celebrate the academic challenge of college — the progressive building of resilience and mental muscle — that sets a baseline expectation for all prospects and families? Have you studied closely the true readiness of prospects, and have you worked with faculty, advising and academic support to give prospects anticipatory guidance? Do you look for creative ways to capture all dimensions of learning? Or do you disguise the harder truths of academic challenge under the guise of college as some kind of extended summer camp escapism and excitement?
Agency and maturity as outcomes.
Is your communication with prospects attune to less tangible measures of integrity and character that, as much as major choice or final transcript, foreshadow someone’s career trajectory and quality of life? Do you look for opportunities to celebrate good judgment among current students — not just athletic trophies and scholarly honors? Do you hold out for prospects the goal of being able to think independently, and do what’s right, in the face of falsehoods, economic pressures, and distortions. So much of someone’s college experience comes down to simple actions. Negotiating with roommates. Meeting a deadline. Supporting a teammate. Showing up for a friend. Do you track — from orientation to graduation — that small voice inside your students as it matures into a growing faith in one’s ability to shape one’s own thoughts and behavior and handle a wide range of people, assignments, challenges or situations?
Everyone is being tested right now — far more than any of us expected. Rather than scrambling to put a brighter shine/smile on our features and benefits, now is the time for generous action and straight talk with prospects/families.
We move into our integrity when we speak what we know to be true — and act upon that truth in the best interest of students (not our colleges).
With truth, comes trust. And trust — especially in times of uncertainty and crisis — is your most enduring strategic asset.