Colleges and universities are becoming increasingly proactive in using social media to reach prospective students, acknowledging that today’s teenagers are very active online.
A Maguire Associates survey of U.S. public and private institutions offering four-year undergraduate degrees found that senior enrollment officers are incorporating the internet into undergraduate recruitment and communication. The survey found that 77 percent of senior enrollment officers have begun to use social networking sites in the face of the economic downturn and continued digital innovation.
Brian Shulman, dean of the School of Health and Medical Sciences at Seton Hall University, said combining social media and public relations efforts has improved the school’s image exponentially in one year.
“The School of Health and Medical Sciences has been advancing the branding and reputation of our graduate education degree programs in the health sciences and post-medical school residency and fellowships programs we offer,” he said. “Our application pool for fall 2010 alone has increased over 55 percent from last year which, in part, is due to efforts focused on media relations and social networking opportunities.”
Using social networking for recruitment is gaining popularity partially because it is sometimes easier to reach people through Facebook than through eMail or by phone, said Stephanie Leidolph, master admissions representative at Bryant and Stratton College Online.
“If I need to remind a prospective student to submit something to complete their application, sometimes it’s hard to get students on the phone, but everyone’s on Facebook,” she said.
Leidolph said students initially were hesitant to engage with her through Facebook but eventually warmed to the idea.
“At first, students were taken aback, because it was their personal space … but all of the feedback I’ve gotten has been positive,” she said. “Plus, it’s another area where students can talk outside the classroom.”
Universities also are using social networking to laud students who apply or gain admission to schools. In addition to having a presence on social networking sites, Messiah College’s admissions office plans to launch a new feature through the school’s official Facebook page.
“Starting [early July], when a student applies online we’re going to include Facebook in the process. Upon completion, they will be given an option to post that they’ve just applied to Messiah College to their page. And there will also be an option to refer their friends to our school,” said John Chopka, vice president of enrollment management.
He said this is a more proactive way to get exposure to prospective students than just having a page that students must seek out.
But social media are not replacing more traditional recruitment strategies such as college fairs and phone, eMail, and mail campaigns, said Karli Grant, market manager for Campus Management’s CampusVue ecosystem. Grant also is a former dean of admissions and financial aid.
Though not the only means of recruitment, Grant said, social media usage has been embraced in higher education and has increased tremendously in admission offices in the last few years.
University of Massachusetts at Dartmouth professor and researcher Nora Ganim Barnes saw a significant increase in the number of colleges and universities that have a presence on social networking sites.
In spring 2007, 29 percent of 453 schools surveyed had a social networking presence, and 21 percent used those sites to research their applicants. By fall 2008, 61 percent of the 536 schools surveyed had a social networking presence, with 17 percent using the sites to research their students.
“Note the slight drop in research being done by admission offices—it is not statistically relevant. One article online had commentary that while research is being done, it is not being done on every candidate, and mostly for those being considered for scholarship or for admission into high-demand or limited-entry programs,” Grant said.
A 2009 survey by Kaplan Test Prep and Admissions found that only 13 percent of the 401 colleges and universities surveyed about the effects of Facebook on admissions said they had official guidelines when it came to visiting applicants’ social networking sites. Of the schools that had a policy, 63 percent were not permitted to visit applicants’ sites under any circumstances.
Additionally, data collected by BlueFuego found that admissions offices are the slowest to adopt social networking tools, said Brad J. Ward, chief executive officer of BlueFeugo.
“I believe this is due to … raising red flags. It seems that admissions offices are sometimes hesitant to utilize the social web because of what they might see,” he said.