Faculty playing larger role in student recruiting

Earth and Environmental Sciences Professor Suresh Muthukrishnan speaks to students during freshman orientation.

Earth and Environmental Sciences Professor Suresh Muthukrishnan speaks to students during freshman orientation.

“Our visit at Furman started out no differently than any other college visit,” says a parent in a note of thanks to biology professor Laura Thompson. Recalling the self-guided tour he and his daughter took over the summer, the parent goes on to describe the impact Thompson had on the would-be Furman student.

“You took time to stop what you were doing to ask if we needed any assistance. We’ve done this on over a dozen college campuses, and the normal reaction is to walk on past and let the tourists fend for themselves. You not only pointed us in the right direction, you engaged [daughter] in an academic conversation.”

Associate vice president of admission Brad Pochard says this exchange is an example of faculty going above and beyond the call of duty. “More than anything else, the level of excellence among our faculty, and their willingness to reach out is what sets us apart.”

Calling faculty his ‘number one recruiting agent,’ Pochard says faculty interaction is key to attracting the best and brightest students to Furman, and vital to boosting yield – the percentage of admitted students who eventually enroll.

Karma, fate, luck – however you characterize it – it happened that the visiting high school senior had a keen interest in biology. So Thompson wasted no time in giving the family a personal tour of the science center, explaining the opportunities available.  Says the parent, “Our daughter hung on every word … your enthusiasm and expertise were contagious. Your passion for biology and concern for your students allowed Furman to leap ahead of all the other options … you truly made a difference.”

Pochard says, “We understand students and parents face difficult decisions as they decide where to attend college – the students we admit here often have many good schools to choose from.”

So Pochard and company pull out all the stops, or as he likes to say, “It takes a campus to recruit a student to Furman.”  The admission office enlists current students, parents, alumni and Trustees in recruiting strategies, but Pochard says the biggest players in the process are often faculty members.  And he has ample anecdotal and hard evidence to prove it.

With a retooled campus visit spearheaded by Pochard after his arrival in 2008, already Furman has seen a sharp incline in the conversion of senior visitors to applicants from roughly 50 percent, to now, 70 to 75 percent. Pochard credits faculty for the improvement in the application numbers since face-to-face time with a professor is a component of the visit.

Pochard says Furman’s yield hovers around 20 percent. That number nearly doubles when a student meets with a faculty member or attends a class.

Looking beyond the numbers, Pochard and faculty recruiters see other benefits.

Philosophy professor Aaron Simmons, who held a mock class for accepted students, views faculty recruiting as essential for acquiring exceptional students. “I see recruiting as key to what it is we do as faculty in liberal arts colleges which is to get our students as excited about engaged learning and to encourage them to think broadly across the humanities and sciences…having the best students to work with, the most excited students to be here – that’s what makes the rest of my job a whole lot easier.”

But faculty involvement can be much simpler than holding a mock class. Pochard says one of the easy things faculty can do is become tour crashers – to notice tours in progress, take a few seconds to make an introduction and welcome the group to campus.

Pochard encourages faculty to go as far as stopping class to welcome visitors. “If you see visitors peeking in, stop for a few seconds, tell them who you are, about the class, and let them know you’re glad they’re here,” says Pochard.

Pochard says that little bit of time goes such a long way when families are already a bit uncomfortable on campus visits. “That contact underscores the personal, friendly community we are,” he says.

Reaching out to students can also take place over the phone or at admission receptions. Pochard says 15 faculty made roughly 150 telephone calls to talented prospective students last spring. He says, “Just like the star athlete likes to hear from the head coach, the academically talented students enjoy talking with our faculty.”

Also last spring, professors and alumni participated in admission receptions in Connecticut, Boston, Charlotte, Washington, D.C., Columbia, Dallas, Nashville and Birmingham. “The idea is to put prospective students and parents in front of successful alumni and faculty,” says Pochard.

Pochard says student yield from those attending was 63 percent, while about 30 percent of the students who received a faculty phone call eventually enrolled. “Those are very powerful numbers,” he says. “Students like that personal contact. Overall, I think we are doing a better job of promoting the value of a liberal arts education.”