Colleges Turn to Net for Recruits
Blogs, video emerge as tools for schools to attract students
By Melanie Brandert
Tasha Lindemann, 19, uses her blog as a way to process the daily happenings of college life ranging from roommate drama to what's going on in her classes.
But administrators at Southeast Technical Institute, where Lindemann is a freshman, also see it as a valuable recruitment tool. Southeast Tech is one of many schools in the area that are using student blogs and other technology to recruit students through a medium they can relate to -- the Internet.
Students and professors at Southeast Technical Institute, Mount Marty College, Dakota Wesleyan, Dakota State and Black Hills State universities are sharing their college experiences on blogs. Dakota Wesleyan even has its own YouTube channel, where some students have created promotional videos and others have posted personal video clips.
"We wanted to try something a little different and utilize new technology that students" use every day, said Greg McCurry, DWU marketing director. "I think it's important to communicate with potential students in their domain."
Most of the South Dakota schools involved started such efforts last fall, but a national shift started about two years ago as universities started to recognize the power of YouTube and related sites, said Steven Roy Goodman, an independent college admissions consultant based in Washington, D.C. In a market of 3,000 colleges with the vast majority unknown to high school students, recruiters must use any tool possible to gain a student's attention, he said.
"Universities succeed in recruiting students when they believe the schools are hip," Goodman said. "It's not just parents who are making the choice. Students are voting with their feet and computer mouse."
It's still unclear for many of these institutions to know whether these new tactics are actually bringing students to their doorsteps. Administrators do know that technology ranks as a top priority for incoming students.
But Lindemann knows of two high school girls she works with who have told her they've read her blog and plan to attend Southeast.
"I was kind of like, 'Wow, someone is actually reading it,' " she said. "You put all these words in cyberspace, and you never know people's reaction and what they're going to say. ... When I first started, I didn't know if I would like it. Now (that) I've been doing it, I feel I like I am making a difference."
"There is no reason for them not to because it's not that expensive," Goodman said. "It's a lot less expensive than mailing a 100-page brochure ... all over the country."
Southeast Technical Institute pays $1,000 a year for its Internet service provider to host the college's blog, said Jim Rokusek, student services director. Blogs at area schools are written by professors and students and range from a log of a student's daily life to internship experiences and descriptions of recent trips.
"For us, it's been an experiment. We wanted to see if students would read it," Rokusek said. "Students who visit campus said, 'Yeah, I've seen it. I've taken a look at it.' In that aspect, (our) goal has been met."
Rokusek not only sees a student blog as recruiting tool, but he said it gives parents insight into college life.
At Black Hills State, live chats also give students a chance to ask questions during the admissions process, said Beth Azevedo, admissions director.
Dakota State in Madison took its online presence a step further with podcasts of faculty, staff and some students discussing their backgrounds and job duties. "We hope we give prospective students a true picture of what life is really like for individuals," said Bruce Smith, university relations and marketing director.
Dakota Wesleyan's YouTube channel was coordinated through the multimedia program, in part, to highlight students' video work, McCurry said. Students were invited to create a promotional video for the university, and three were produced.
"We wanted to showcase that to prospective students as well as have current students share that with friends," he said.
Amy Novak, DWU vice president of enrollment services, said 96 percent of college applications are being submitted online.
"Whether or not that's a result of looking at YouTube, that's difficult to establish," she said.
Brandi Tschumper, vice president for enrollment management at Mount Marty College in Yankton, which hosts several student blogs, said incoming students at Mount Marty ranked technology as being important to the college planning process in a new student survey. But personal attention from an enrollment counselor edged higher - 3.81 on a 4.0 scale.
"You'd think they like that technology, but they still like personal contact," she said.
New technology, however, will not cause admissions offices to discard traditional methods of attracting students' attention - direct mail, high school visits or campus tours.
"Parents still prefer high school fairs because they get to compare and contrast colleges to each other," Goodman said.
Novak agreed. "I'm convinced the most powerful tool is the on-campus visit and students' opportunity to meet one-on-one with a professor," she said.