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Colleagues and friends,
This past weekend, on- and off-campus, included a variety of activities for Family Weekend and Tribe of Vikings. It was full and rich weekend of engagement. Everywhere I looked I saw the best of Augustana College on display.
Despite the heat and awful humidity, we hosted hundreds happy family members on campus. Late on Saturday afternoon, when I saw Kelly Noack, who does much of the planning together for Family weekend, I was thrilled to hear her say that she was interacting with very happy family throughout the day. Her comments are a great re-affirmation of a recruitment job well done. And, now, we have the opportunity to continue to build on that momentum.
Also on Saturday, I had the opportunity to play golf at TPC Deere Run as part of the Tribe of Viking Golf Outing (yes, I paid my own registration). I played with three guys (two are current parents) who played football at Augustana in the mid-1980s. It was a great time. I promised a “big number” and I delivered on it! Actually, it was a scramble, which made it possible for me to contribute a shot or two along the way. This was the first time I’ve played in the ToV golf outing and it won’t be the last.
The only disappointment (other than the Viking’s loss) over the weekend was hearing from an alum whose son attended Washington University and played football there. This alum was disappointed his son had never been contacted by Augustana during the recruitment process. As an admissions guy, I was disappointed, too. I hate to hear stories of students we didn’t actively recruit. I could have done something about this if I’d known! As someone now responsible for external relations, I was doubly-disappointed, though. Looking back, we not only lost out on an exceptional student-athlete, but we also distanced an alum who has much to offer Augustana College.
A weekend like this past weekend was a great reminder that everything we do is connected. When we are recruiting students we are directly involved in alumni relations. And, the interactions we have with out alums have a direct impact on recruitment.
A thought I can’t get out of my mind
Pastor Sara Olsen-Smith’s sermon yesterday got me really thinking about a few things. But, in particular, her use of Teddy Roosevelt’s quote, “Comparison is the thief of joy,” hit hard. In higher education we spend considerable time benchmarking and comparing ourselves to so-called peers and aspirants. Whether a comparison is some sort of environmental scan or US News & World Report we always seem to be more concerned with comparing how we are doing to someone else, who we believe is doing much better.
While I fully understand the need for comparisons and benchmarking, I do wonder if too much of this results in the work being joyless, rather than joy-filled? Perhaps this powerful sentiment can inspire taking stock of what is going well and celebrate it?
There is so much good happening and there is so much good that we make happen. Let’s leave comparisons as contextual and not let them steal our joy.
Two things I think are worth reading (if you haven’t already done so)
Applying behavioral science to student support services—The piece by Inside Track really caught my attention. Honestly, nearly everything they do catches my attention; I think they are doing some really amazing work within higher ed. While this piece is specifically about students services, I read with recruitment and fundraising in my mind. The behaviors described and the potential actions/solutions are applicable with prospective students and potential donors. When you read this think carefully about the constituency you work with most frequently and determine how you apply behavior science to moving people to actions you’ve like them to take.
Motivating employees is not about carrots and sticks—Last week I was involved in a conversation with someone in a leadership position that included no “carrots or sticks” because all of the tools are in someone else’s toolkit. I thought to myself, “man, it stinks to be in that position.” But, I was reminded of HBR article I read over the summer. I wish I’d have had the presence of mind to discuss it while in conversation with this person. Lisa Lai’s concluding passage is a good teaser for a great article:
“The bottom line is: Don’t rely on outdated methods and tricks to motivate employees. Talk with your team about the relevance of the work they do every day. Be proactive in identifying and solving problems for your employees. Recognize employee contributions in specific, meaningful ways on a regular basis. Connect with your own motivation, and share it freely with your team. Put away the carrots and sticks and have meaningful conversations instead. You’ll be well on your way to leading a highly motivated team.”
I think the element that appeals most to me is being proactive in identifying and solving problems. It reminds me that a leader’s job is to make sure that people don’t encounter a buzz saw!!! I think most team members will appreciate leadership that is aware of this responsibility!!!
What do you think? Does Lai offer guidance you can follow? Or, are carrots and sticks still the most important tools in one’s leadership toolbox?
Something for you (and me) to think about
I found a list last week that I’d never seen before. How about a list of majors that are the most meaningful? Seriously, Forbes posted The Most Meaningful Majors.
I really like the list, which includes careers like pastoral ministry, counseling, music therapy and laboratory science. In each of these cases, these careers are not only meaningful to practitioners, but also to those who benefit from one’s career choice. As a Lutheran college that makes a lot of noise about “vocation” it would be worth thinking about our footprint in the meaningful majors space. (I also was drawn to this article because I think the stock photo they used include the Augie A—see below).
P.S. If you know of someone who you think I should add to my distribution list, please let me know and I will gladly add them to the list. I try to get one of these out every Monday.
New blog post: Should traditional #liberalarts #colleges experiment with the learning model? #humanities #highered
For the past several weeks I’ve been gathering materials for a forthcoming retreat of Augustana College’s Board of Trustees. It’s been my job to identify and review background readings that are appropriate for our Board and other campus stakeholders to discuss as we think about our future.
My list of “interesting articles” has grown to monumental proportions!
Some articles inspired and some depressed.
Two particular articles caught my attention because they seemed to suggest very different strategies for colleges. This article from Wilson Quarterly seems to suggest colleges need to be aware of what’s happening, but should hold on to what has historically worked well (and benefited society). The other article The End of the University as we Know It, from The American Interest, paints a very scary picture for traditional colleges–going so far as to suggest the doors will close if there are not significant changes.
Honestly, I don’t yet know how to react.
What is it?
Stick to what you’ve done and just try to do it better?
Scrap what we’ve done (and know works) to adopt something entirely new (and scary)?
I wonder if there is another way? Is there something in between?
I wonder if there are ways those in the humanities at traditional liberal arts can lead the way. Can the humanities and liberal arts take greater control of their future by paying heed to both of these articles?
In my view, there may be some benefit to all programs, but especially those in the liberal art and humanities to think about some experimenting.
While I will always be an advocate for “seat time” for learning because of the many benefits of such an experience beyond the simple accumulation of knowledge, I acknowledge the world is changing and think we need to examine ways of doing what we do at traditional residential liberal arts college in new ways. I think it is prudent to experiment and try to find new modes for instruction and learning. New methods must be consistent with our values, expectation for students and rigor and they need leverage the many new ways students gather information and learn. We need to experiment with various models to find ways that new modes of learning can reflect our values, expectations for students and maintain the rigor we expect. It would be a shame for us to conclude that this is an impossible challenge. Yet, it will take some time for us to get it right.
Because I believe the “currency” of higher education is the major or minor (we would not have them if they were not important), I think experimentation should focus on solidifying or expanding the “currency” of a department and it’s major or minor.
If I were advising a smaller department about its future, during this time of disruption in higher education, I would recommend a department begin experimenting immediately with online and limited seat time learning with the intent of expanding (or perhaps maintaining) currency and its footprint.
My rationale for suggesting that smaller programs, in particular, explore online and limited seat time learning is focused on the following:
1. Flexibility has its advantages: The flexibility offered by an online or limited seat time course could expand the footprint and potentially expose students to the department/program/major/minor. For example, given the busyness of our students today, convenience matters and perhaps those departments that offer greater flexibility—particularly within a traditional learning environment—might have an advantage attracting students. At some level, this is about selling your program and everyone should be seeking some advantage. Perhaps online or limited seat time course will be your advantage (with the added plus that you get to expose students to a subject you care about and have committed your life to).
2. Use your smallness to surprise everyone: Small departments/programs/majors/minor are probably the last areas that people would think would do something like this. This may be even more so when considering interdisciplinary programs/majors/minors or those that have three or fewer faculty members. Many are likely to think, “They are too small—and overworked to do something like that.” Small, in this case, may mean nimble and provide an advantage over larger, more complex and bureaucratic programs.
3. Make completing a minor or second major more convenient: Offering online or limited seat time courses might make completing a minor or second major more convenient for some students, which in itself is a great outcome. The lure of online or limited seat time courses may be especially attractive for students who have a primary major is more credit or lab intensive program.
4. Expand your footprint–maybe even to another like-minded college: Smaller departments at traditional liberal arts colleges that consider experimenting with online or limited seat time classes may also be able to expand their footprint beyond their own campus. If the experimental offering is attractive enough, perhaps colleges with similar values will seek to partner? I think this could be especially beneficial for small departments that because of a sabbatical, administrative duties or load limitation face the challenges of ensuring regular offering of key courses.
5. Make an economic and student engagement case: For some departments online or limited seat time courses that are regularly offered could also assure the availability of courses that reflect an institution’s rigor and values during study abroad and summer study (this is especially true at a place like Augustana College, where I work). This is a potentially proactive way to keep students engaged in the life and rigor of a campus even when they are not there. For some college, especially those which self-sponsor international programs and send full-time faculty with students for study away, a cadre of online or limited seat time courses may reduce the added expense of study away because there is no longer a need to send as many full-time faculty with students. The CFO might really like this rationale for online or limited seat time courses.
It would not surprise me to have these ideas dismissed as crazy or blasphemous. I might receive a litany about why this is impossible and how naïve I am about rigor, expectation and pedagogy (all criticism might be accurate, too).
But, I continue to believe that some experimentation in this area is useful and desirable as we prepare for an uncertain future.
What do you think? Should traditional colleges hunker down? Should traditional colleges throw it all out and start anew?
I fear if we don’t experiment, we will be left behind. I fear the experience we value most will be marginalized. And, I fear we will not preparing our students with the broad-based education they need.
Don’t you think we should begin experimenting and create something that reflects our values, meets our expectation and maintains our rigor? Don’t you think we need to begin trying to shape this conversation, rather than being shaped by it. Don’t you think we can shape this conversation? I think we can and I think we can be creative enough to develop an experience that is reflective of our values, maintains expectations and is rigorous.
Let’s try. Let’s see if we can, rather than simply conclude we can’t.
W. Kent Barnds a.k.a. @bowtieadmission
The demographics in the upper Midwest stink! And, that makes things challenging for a college like Augustana College, which enrolls many of its students from the Upper Midwest—especially from Chicago and its “collar counties.”
Historically, as many as 60% of Augustana’s students have come from Chicago and the collar counties. Why? We are a perfect distance for many of these students at 2 ½ to 3 hours from home and we enjoy a very strong reputation in the area, which is filled with many successful and loyal alumni. However, changing/shrinking demographics, aggressive outreach from out-of-state colleges (The Chicago Regional Representatives [CARR] has 90+ members) and an increasing number of students leaving the state for higher education have threatened Augustana’s favorable position in the Chicagoland Region.
We can’t lose our core market and recently doubled down to protect, defend and expand our core market.
We’ve opened a satellite Office of Admissions 2 ½ hours from our campus. This decision has its origin in a position paper written in 2010 and gained momentum during a recent strategic planning process.
The following paragraphs are taken from an announcement shared with the Augustana community recently:
“Strategic Imperative 2 of Affirm, Assure and Assess—Innovate recruitment and retention—describes the following strategic initiative: Sustain market share in our primary market by increasing multicultural recruitment and strengthening our presence and reputation in the Chicago area.
On Sunday, December 2, Augustana College took an important step forward in fulfilling one of the objectives when we host our first official event (an opening event for prospective students and families) in our new Chicagoland Office of Admissions in Lombard, Illinois..
The office’s origin can be traced to Affirm, Assure, Assess and the success measure of “opening a regional Office of Admissions in the Chicago area,” which is directly connected to our goal of maintaining 56–58% of our total enrollment from Chicago and the Chicago “collar” counties. This is particularly important given demographic trends in the upper Midwest and the increasing number of students from Illinois opting to attend college out of state. You may have seen this article from today’s Chicago Tribune.”
The Chicagoland Office is located at 377 Butterfield, Suite 201E in Lombard. The location is ideal. The office is easily accessible from I-88 and I-355. The office has two private offices, a small reception space, and a multipurpose meeting room that can accommodate meetings of six to 30 people. In addition, we have access to a large meeting room, which can accommodate up to 70 people. The office is staffed by two excellent admissions officers, Courtney Wallace and Jenna Muench (see “New Faces on Campus” in the September issue of Acknowledge), who will provide many of the same services to prospective students that are offered on campus. We’ve already experienced an increasing number of admissions interview requests from students who visited campus and had their interest piqued sufficiently to schedule an admissions interview “in their own backyard.” (I’ve included some photos at the bottom of this post).
While the primary purpose of the Chicagoland Office is to serve prospective students in a manner similar to the Office of Admissions on campus, many others have expressed interest. Already, athletics has scheduled a number of events as well as personal meetings; career services and the internships office have plans to use the office for an information session; and the Office of Admissions will be hosting various outside groups including alumni and guidance counselors. We hope many on campus will think about ways the office can serve your needs and help serve our students. Given its ideal location and what it offers, the Chicagoland Office is an excellent option for focus groups, meetings with alumni, information sessions or meetings of colleagues from other regional colleges. The space could serve as an occasional class setting for a field trip to the area, too.
In addition to doubling down in our core market, this strategic move has enabled us to reduce the number of staff managing and recruiting the Chicagloand area from 7 to 4, which provides staff with significantly more time to expand recruit of students from secondary and tertiary markets. This is one of the goals we had in mind from the beginning; we wanted to “shore up” our primary market by increasing the level of service and outreach offered by cutting back on travel time for counselors and prospects, and expand into new markets.
Obviously I am very excited about this effort and will continue to keep you posted on what works and what doesn’t.
W. Kent Barnds a.k.a. @bowtieadmission
As previously written, I believe in the value of the humanities and the liberal arts; they are at the core of preparing an individual for life-long learning. I hope my children study history, English, religion, foreign languages and maybe even the Classics, which might be one of the most valuable and sustaining liberal arts programs there is!
However, I do think it’s important for those who teach in these important programs to think in different ways about how they describe and relate their relevance and importance to an increasingly proof-driven audience.
This is not just the hope of a guy who is focused on recruiting student. On the contrary, I am simply pointing out the the reality of a public that needs more convincing than ever before about the value of higher education and the humanities/liberal arts.
With this in mind, I had an exchange with a faculty member in the humanities recently and offered the following suggestion about designing curriculum. Below is a portion of the exchange (with some minor editing so as not to disclose the major because I remain hopeful the advice might resonate and create something really cool).
I suggested the following:
More formally align each course offered within the major with the outcomes that employers/graduate schools seek. A department/major could successful specifically highlight the results from the 2012 Job Outlook survey of employers who cite the following as the top 5 skills they seek (see page 28) and demonstrate how the major is better preparation for these skills:
1. Ability to work in a team;
2. Verbal communication;
3. Ability to make decisions and solve problems;
4. Ability to obtain and process information; and
5. Ability to plan, organize and prioritize work.
What if you promoted your department and the curriculum you offered as contributing more effectively than any other area/major in preparing your graduates for these things?
Explaining how you do this better than another major and connecting the outcome to your course work might be tricky, but not impossible. Be bold enough to show and tell that a XXXXXX major and the faculty in XXXXXXX (do) does all of these things better than anyone else.
Can you imagine the power of the major in the humanities that takes information about what employers want and connects it directly to what is accomplished in each class?
Please let me know your thoughts.
Kent Barnds a.k.a. @bowtieadmission
A new yield strategy: An “investment prospectus” for high-achievers. Will it work? #admissions #highered #higheredmarketing
In February I attended a session at the Regional meeting College Board meeting in Chicago during which Jon McGee (St. Johns/St. Bens) and Brian Zucker (Human Capital) made a pretty compelling case that college need to do a better job of describing the bigger picture when asking a student to choose their college. Both discussed the need for colleges to think about the four-year experience as well as results after college in painting a complete picture for prospective students, who they contend are more savvy than ever. Both seemed to suggest that colleges need to do a more effective job of putting all of the pieces together and neatly packaging them to help guide a student’s decision-making.
I have to admit that I left the session wanting more (which doesn’t always happen when I attend sessions at conference). I also left the session with a bunch of ideas rolling around in my head. I was asking myself, “What we could do at Augustana College to respond?”
As I sorted through all the thoughts in my head the idea of a “prospectus” along the lines of what a start-up might put in front of an investor started to have some appeal and I started to wonder if we could put something similar together for prospective students.
When I returned to campus the first thing I did was Google “investment prospectus” and began to sort through templates and examples. I found a few that looked pretty good and then decided to pitch the idea to the admissions and communications & marketing team.
Here is the email I sent:
“I have been thinking about piloting (during yield season) and developing a prospectus on choosing Augustana. This would be aimed at some of our top students. Think prospectus like trying to convince an investor, etc. Within this prospectus we might include information about a 4-year plan and the high-impact practices we offer, as well project what four years will cost and then connect it to outcomes. I am thinking a couple of fancy charts and some narrative. Again, this would be aimed a tip-top recruits who have not yet decided to attend.”
I asked my admission, financial assistance and communication & marketing team if they thought we could develop a customized prospectus for prospective students? I asked them if they thought we could customize academic information and combine it with personalized financial information that would paint a clearer picture for prospective students who are in the process of making their final college choice?
Because I have a very creative team, which is always ready to rise to the challenge, they responded affirmatively and we started work on developing a customized “investment prospectus” for accepted students in selected programs.
Last week we mailed a “customized prospectus” to about 100 high-achievers in select academic programs who remain in our accept pool.
Within each prospectus we have the following sections:
- Distinctive Augustana Academic Programs and Resources (we describe college-wide programs that we believe stand out and help our students stand-out)
- Four-years of Signature Experiences in (insert the major the student in interested in) (we identified aspects of each academic program that we believe define the major and offer some distinguishing experience to our students)
- The Qualities and Skill Employers Seek (we cite a Job Outlook survey and identify the skills employers seek in new employees and provide examples from a recent alumni survey we did to reinforce how we prepare graduates in these areas)
- Great Results and Earning Potential (we cite Payscale information about what our graduates earn two and fifteen years out and compare it to eight peer colleges)
- Conclusion (we describe retention and graduation rates for this targeted group of students and provide additional information from our recent alumni survey related to how Augustana contributed to our graduates’ success and happiness)
We also provide each student we a customized letter outlining “a balanced financial commitment.” In the letter, which I’ve copied below we describe the following:
- Estimated total cost for four years (we estimate increases for the next three years)
- Estimated four-year college investment in the student (
- Estimated four-year net cost (subtracting merit and need-based assistance)
- Estimated debt responsibility
This is a new effort and I am not sure how it will work out. I guess only time will tell if it proves to be successful.
We developed a prospectus for the following programs: Accounting, Communication Sciences and Disorders, Education Geology and History. If you would like to see an example, please feel free to email me at email@example.com and I will gladly provide you with an example.
I am proud of the effort because I think we’ve done a better job than ever before thinking about questions of value and what makes an experience valuable. I also believe we’ve made stronger investment arguments than past efforts because of the way we chose to organize the information. I am also very proud of the admissions, financial assistance and communication and marketing teams for their creativity in putting together attractie materials and for thinking critically about this project.
I am also cautious about this approach and am not sure how this will also work out. We will do some research on this effort after May 1.
I am interested in your thoughts and reactions to this approach. Let me know what you think.
W. Kent Barnds @bowtieadmission
Have you ever wondered how in the world do colleges come up with their price each year?
Is the process anymore complex than waiting to see how “the competition” prices itself?
What are the considerations?
What are the questions?
What’s the process?
I bet there are many people out there, from public policy makers, to parents and students, to faculty and staff members, who might be curious about this annual ritual.
I thought it might be helpful to describe the process I am involved in annually at Augustana College to provide an example. It’s my hope to be general enough that everyone can follow the process, but also to provide some important details where possible.
This is in no way a complete description of the many considerations that go into the decision-making process, but it’s a start. My goal is to keep is simple and provide the perspective of an enrollment leader.
Another goal is to reinforce the idea that establishing price (and by virtue of establishing price, determining net cost) is neither as haphazard as tossing darts at a dartboard or a scientific certainty. It’s complex and somewhat idiosyncratic.
The following post includes a time-line along with some description of what happens along the way. At the end I’ve also included some observations about topics discussed in recent years, which were not discussed ten or fifteen years ago.
I hope you will find this helpful.
|College price setting timeline|
|Step 1||May||Evaluation of efforts for previous recruitment cycle. Typically includes taking stock of the class. Did we make the class? Was it the right “shape” in regard to profile, gender, diversity, etc.? How much did we spend in financial assistance in an effort to attract the class? And, how much total revenue did the class generate? (Reflection)
|Step 2||June/July||In-depth statistical analysis of the previous recruitment year at macro and micro levels. The search for tends. Working with our financial aid leveraging partner we examine every single aspect of our financial program. We use a matrix that has one axis that assesses “how desirable a student is to us” and another axis that assesses a student’s available resources for paying for college. We examine yield (conversion from accepted with a financial aid offer to enrolled with a financial aid offer) in each cell of our aid matrix and look for patterns. Following examination and analysis, we start talking about goals for the following year. Lots of examination of the “discount rate,” etc. (Assessment)
|Step 3||July||Goal setting. Our process begins with discussion about enrollment goals. What size class do we desire? How many students from out of state? What is the academic profile we seek? What are demographic trends suggesting? What is the desirable socio-economic mix for the new class? How much aid can we afford to offer? How little financial aid can we afford to offer and make the class? Are there other strategic goals guiding our recruitment program? We also begin to think about merit and talent-based scholarship amounts for the following year, which are a critical aspect of our financial aid program. (Goal setting)
|Step 4||Late-July||We share our goals with our financial aid partner and begin to plug them into our financial aid leveraging model guided by performance from the previous year. We usually need to do some serious work here (i.e. increase the number of students to get the model to generate sufficient revenue, cut back the amount of merit or talent, etc). This is where the “rubber meets the road” in regard to balancing our aspirations with our resources. We typically discover that we can’t afford to do what we want to do. In this discussion we involve members of the admissions and financial aid staff and the chief financial officer (CFO), who provides guidance about “how much more revenue we need” to accomplish our financial goals for the coming year (think pay raises, new hires, programming, physical plant improvements, etc.). Hopefully, we get close enough to the targets during this process that we make the CFO and President happy and we think we can accomplish our goals. It is also during this stage that we being to model a couple of different % tuition increases based on CFO recommendations.
|Step 5||Late-July||Based on the general goals adopted, we establish merit- and talent-based awards for the following year. This is critical for us and represents a major driver of our price/cost calculation. Doing this over the summer enables us to update recruitment materials that discuss merit and talent and we can promote these awards to the thousands of summer visitors. Establishing these amounts early also allows us to update the amounts in the Net Price Calculator, which is important for transparency and accuracy with prospective students and families.
|Step 6||August||CFO and business operations staff members begin modeling 1, 3 and 5 year budgets with our new projection for net revenue based, which takes into consideration our projected increase in comp fee and the corresponding increase in financial assistance.
|Step 7||September||More work on the budget and budget model to determine if we will have sufficient revenue to meet our organizational and programmatic needs. 10th Day of Fall term, which is our census day, gives a chance finalize our financial aid projection to better inform the budget.
|Step 8||October||Fall meeting of the Board of Trustees. Review of previous years recruitment and retention efforts and assessment of net revenue position. Preliminary discussion of future budget.
|Step 9||November||Based on feedback from Board of Trustees regarding future budget, and identification of strategic needs and review of previous recruitment efforts, the president, the CFO, VP of enrollment, and the President’s Cabinet offer a recommendation for an increase in tuition, room and board for the following year. This recommendation balances the institution’s financial needs/wants, with family willingness to pay for an Augustana education. There is a healthy combination of “science” and “art” in establishing this recommendation.
|Step 10||December||Executive Committee of Board meet to discuss recommended comp fee increase and hopefully approves
|Step 11||January||Announce comp fee for following year. This year, in addition to a general press release, we sent an announcement to every employee on campus, all students expected to return and we sent a letter to parents of those students we expect to return. In a new twist we also created a brief video to accompany our release. The video does a nice job of explaining the increase in the briefest of possible terms.
|Step 12||ASAP after approval||Produce Financial Aid materials with updated costs to begin working with accepted students
|Step 13||February 1||Finalize guidelines for financial aid packaging. Establish packaging guidelines regarding the percentage of demonstrated financial need met with gift assistance, etc.
|Step 14||Mid-February||Begin offering financial assistance packages to families. (It always makes me happy to have at least one financial aid offer on the streets by February 15)
|Step 15||Beginning mid-February||Weekly leveraging phone call with our Financial Aid consultant. During these calls we monitor tends and anomalies we see within our packaging grids. We also consider year-to-year performance in a number of categories ranging from # of FASFA filers to # of financial aid awards offered to # of students committed for the fall. These calls allow for adjustments to plan.
|Step 16||March 15||Deadline for applying for financial assistance (pretty soft deadline since we know how important financial assistance is to a final college choice)
|Step 17||May 1||National Candidate’s Reply Date. This (or as near to the date as possible) date is when we start the whole cycle over once again.|
There you have it; that’s the process. Complicated? Not really. Important? Yes.
To conclude, I should note that the conversation in the past several years has been far was more focused on…
…a family’s willingness and ability to pay
…the changes in demographics in the Midwest that brings more first-generation and multicultural applicants to our pool
…our position within the broader marketplace (publics, community colleges and high-quality, more selective privates that we know many of our accepts will pay more to attend)
…far more conscientious about what the market will tolerate, rather than what we “need” to run our operation
Please let me know what questions you have about the process of establishing price and cost on a college campus.
W. Kent Barnds @bowtieadmission
New blog post from @bowtieadmission: What does it take to recruit students to majors within the humanities? #admissions #highered #college #humanities
As a graduate of Gettysburg College with a major in political science and minors in Spanish and history, I am a passionate advocate for the liberal arts. Following my time at Gettysburg I’ve devoted my career to promoting and advancing colleges with a historical emphasis in the liberal arts (Elizabethtown College and Augustana College).
However, there have been several occasions when my commitment to the liberal arts has been questioned. These questions often focus on recruitment and promotional materials and typically involve accusations of deemphasizing or not fully appreciating the humanities. Throughout the last nineteen years I have often heard that we “just need to market the humanities better.”
I agree. But, I am still struggling with what exactly that “better marketing” looks like. (I suspect most who are calling for better marketing may also be struggling with the vision, too.)
A little more than a year ago, Daniel Fusch, of Academic Impressions, contacted me to ask for my reaction to some media attention about the decline in students majoring in the humanities. He asked me for my views on what could be done. You can read Daniel’s piece and my comments in the article, “Recruiting for the humanities.”
Daniel based much of his piece on an essay I’d been working on for years and I thought I might share it with you today.
I am interested in your thoughts on this subject and welcome your comments.
W. Kent Barnds @bowtieadmission
What does it take to recruit students to majors in the humanities?
This tome has been in the making for years and I thought it might be a good chance to clarify my commitment to the liberal arts and offer my views on how to make traditional liberal arts programs more attractive within a very competitive and often “drive-by” marketplace.
The fuzziness of the liberal arts does not help
Whether we (advocates for the liberal arts) like it or not, we cannot ignore conventional wisdom, which suggests that “liberal arts” is often viewed as nothing more than a proxy for “small, expensive and private.” Within the general college-bound public, the understanding of the liberal arts is fuzzy (small, expensive, etc.) at best and distorted (focused exclusively on fine arts) at worst. Despite our best intentions, noblest desires, and most sincere efforts, the higher education community at large has been unable to adequately educate the public about what the liberal arts is and what liberal arts colleges do.
The problem of limited understanding of the liberal arts is compounded by virtually every college across the nation possessing their own heartfelt definition of liberal arts. Furthermore, at any liberal arts college across the nation it would be a struggle to gather ten people in a room and come up with a consensus definition of the liberal arts—let alone a definition that would resonate with and attract students. As depressing and discouraging as this may be, it is largely a condition that is out of our power to successfully and positively influence. So, holding out hope that we alone can define the liberal arts is probably not a wise strategy.
However, giving up is not a wise strategy either.
Liberal arts+ helps, but only at the “corporate level”
It is my opinion that liberal arts colleges that have professional programs enjoy some advantage, not to mention distinction, in the marketplace. The combination of liberal arts programs with professional programs seems to be a fairly powerful combination and strengthens both programs at the same time. But, with some intentionality any program can distinguish itself.
Several years ago, I attended a conference during which admissions people were offered two minutes to describe their institution in front of an international audience of 150 conference attendees. At the time, I was working for a small college in Pennsylvania of about 1,500 students. I began my presentation describing my employer as “a small, liberal arts college in Pennsylvania.” I then thought to myself, I just described 60 of our competitors! It was critical for me to find some way to distinguish the college for which I worked from the other 60 smallish, liberal artsish colleges in Pennsylvania.
Because ours is an academic enterprise, first and foremost, I looked for features of the academic program that distinguished the college from others. First, liberal arts colleges offering professional-oriented programs, regardless of the combination of programs, enjoy some immediate distinction from other liberal arts colleges, at least in the crowded world of marketing to college-bound students. One can think of this as “the liberal arts+” advantage.
While I recognize that this may have been libelous for liberal arts purists for whom the liberal arts and its breadth means everything, it has been interesting for me over the years to watch “pure” liberal arts colleges develop cooperative programs (engineering, medicine, business, allied health) and professional tracks (pre-law, pre-med, articulation agreements for CPA and MBA, etc.) to compete with colleges that are more professionally-oriented. These “pure” liberal arts colleges have done so in order to compete for the very best students, who often seek a “strong major” above anything else in choosing a college. This liberal arts+ advantage is often cited by admissions officers who are charged with the task of distinguishing a college from many other places with very similar characteristics. It would not be uncommon to hear someone at say, that “We offer majors in all of the traditional liberal arts, science and humanities with some distinctive program offerings for a liberal arts college in areas like business, occupational therapy, communications, education and social work.” These + majors offer a distinguishing characteristic for the college that is meaningful to a new audience, which may often begin with the following “I know you are a liberal arts college, but what makes your college stand apart from the rest?”
If we chose to compete at the institutional/corporate level by deemphasizing our academic programmatic distinctions, we will choose to compete based exclusively on the college’s reputation. In most cases colleges outside the top 50 national liberal arts college or top universities will lose most battles to colleges perceived to be a “tier above.”
Competing at the “corporate level” is tough. Places with greater resources and name recognition, will with much greater frequency “win” the student who is undecided or who wants to study English, history, anthropology, Spanish, Classics, philosophy or political science. Unless a traditional program is markedly different (i.e. foreign language study at Middlebury, music at Oberlin), it is unlikely that a college will compete on anything other than prestige and reputation.
Colleges are more likely to successfully compete for and win those students who want an environment similar to that which is offered by the institution with a greater reputation, but wish to study communications, accounting, music therapy, education, business, social work, communication sciences and disorders or occupational therapy. In these cases, it is possible to compete for students at the departmental level rather than at the corporate level and the distinctions of the program can and will transcend the prestige factor.
Majors in the humanities need a hook
It is my opinion that traditional programs in humanities need to do more to develop distinguishing features and shape those features into meaningful benefits to students in order to compete at the department level. They need to develop a “hook.” Some will say, “you mean a gimmick.” Nope, I mean a hook; just like the hook needed to capture the attention of a peer review committee for a journal or a publisher considering a book proposal.
Majors in the humanities need a hook!!!
I contend that most majors in the humanities have a built-in hook, but it is not always emphasized in a way that resonates and equips the major to stand out sufficiently to attract students.
The proposition for studying English, history, music, art, languages, religion, etc. needs to be strengthened by the hook or several hooks in order to successfully articulate why the program is better and different here than at a place that might win the typical reputation battle described above. This will become increasingly important as demographic shifts occur and colleges further professionalize their curriculum based on market conditions.
We need to identify why studying in the humanities here (at Augustana College, which is where I work currently) is different or better than studying elsewhere.
Some suggestions for majors in the humanities
I offer the following suggestions for the consideration of those in the humanities:
- Develop a common and distinctive element within all of the humanities programs (i.e. require a semester abroad as a major requirement in order to fulfill a degree in the humanities)
- Develop a team-taught core course(s) for all humanities majors that provides a basic cross-disciplinary overview and introduction to the humanities and humanistic approaches
- Promote and emphasize cross-disciplinary collaboration within the humanities
- Offer significantly greater curriculum flexibility (have fewer required courses within specific majors). Many students who are interested in the humanities resist too much structure of required majors and may want to explore several areas of the humanities.
- Create a general humanities major that enables a student to design their own program within the humanities in consultation with faculty mentors. Some students attracted to the humanities may be motivated by greater flexibility in shaping an interdisciplinary major within prescribed parameters.
- Create partnerships with professional programs to make it easy, attractive and meaningful for students to earn a major or minor in a humanistic discipline. (Make your case to your colleagues for why a major or minor in your discipline will inform the professional program a student is studying)
None of these things may be particularly innovative. But, the suggestions are grounded in the idea that we need to be able to offer some meaningful symbol that we can point to that represents to the market that the way we deliver instruction in the program better or in a more distinctive than any another place. Another way to approach this is to ask the question, what does a student get from studying history at my college verses what the same student may get at college?
The bottom-line is that we need to find a way to compete at the departmental-level in areas that are common from campus to campus. If we don’t compete at the departmental-level and offer something distinctive to our students we are subject to the marketplace’s perception of reputation.