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VOL. 37 | NO. 52 | Friday, December 27, 2013

MTSU recruiting emphasis: Get students focused on degrees

By Joe Morris

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MTSU’s new $147 million science building is set to open until early 2015.

Even as it posts record enrollment, Middle Tennessee State University knows it must still compete with other schools here and elsewhere for top-notch students.

So in addition to high-school visits and other traditional recruitment efforts, the Murfreesboro school is stepping up its social media activities and reaching out through new campaigns.

For instance, the 2014 True Blue Preview Day will focus on the sciences. Set for March 22, the on-campus event will showcase MTSU’s new, $147 million science building which is not set to open until early 2015 – it can’t even be entered yet.

Rather, tours and talks will be given by Bud Fischer, dean of the College of Basic and Applied Sciences, along with many faculty members, to pump up interest in MTSU’s science offerings. Those will tie into online promotions and more, because the day’s goal is to find students with a bent toward science, and get them interested in MTSU early, says Andrew Oppmann, vice president and spokesman of marketing and communications.

“The governor has given state institutions of higher education a very clear charge, which is to be focused on retention and graduation,” Oppmann says. “The goal is to get a student on the path to a degree as efficiently as possible, so they are expending fewer dollars in pursuit of that ultimate goal.”

That means having conversations early and often, so prospective students can be steered toward their areas of interest, and those who might be problematic are evaluated and perhaps rejected before they arrive on campus.

Fisher

“We want to talk about their ambitions and goals earlier than ever before,” Oppmann says. “The old model was to put out a buffet and let them peruse and then select courses. We still have a great menu, but now we’re trying to get them to think through their choices earlier so they can make wise decisions.”

That ties into on-going programs, such as advising and evaluations, throughout the student’s academic life so that he or she can be kept on track.

“We have a great many strengths, and we want to sell those,” Oppmann says. “Before, universities didn’t have this concerted effort to work with students to help them succeed, and now we do. But we have 140 undergraduate programs, and we have to make sure that everyone finds the right fit.”

Events like Preview Day are core to these efforts, but they require upgrades and overhauls to remain relevant to the target audience, says Melinda Thomas, director of undergraduate recruitment.

“In its original state, Preview Day wasn’t doing us a service in terms of showcasing the campus,” Thomas says. “It needed to allow students to interact with the whole campus and community, and let them try MTSU on for size.

“What we’ve done is create a schedule that allows them to interact with specific academic colleges, depending on what their major choices are, and also listen to presentations on financial aid, scholarships, student involvement and other things.

“We’re also really targeting students in specific areas, and are honing in on those who have indicated specific areas of interest. In the spring that will be focused on the sciences, but we’ll be talking to others as well.”

Those databases of students are pulled together from cards recruiters obtain when visiting high schools, and also by those students who get in touch via social media and the university’s website.

Oppmann

That info, in turn, is funneled into electronic and print communications regarding Preview Day and other events, in hopes that those individuals and their parents will register and attend.

And in the end, find the right major at the point of entrance rather than switching courses of study early and often, or even leaving the university entirely after a semester or two.

“We want to focus them,” Thomas says. “Many students have an idea of what they want to study, but then they get here and see other options. We want them to see everything we have early on, so we can help them create their own path.”

So far, MTSU is seeing a 60 percent to 70 percent return on the investment in terms of students who attend and then enroll. That kind of success drives further efforts, Thomas says, both within Tennessee and out of state.

It also helps the various academic disciplines by giving them a steady stream of students likely to stay the course, says Dean Fischer, who points out other advantages.

“The marketing programs get us known in more households, and that’s important,” he says. “But this also gets us in front of the business community, which allows us to partner with them to offer our students more internships and other opportunities.

“It also ties us in better with the community colleges, so we can draw from that pool of good students who are looking to move on and get a bachelor’s degree.”

Once students are on campus, marketing is passed to individual programs.

“In the sciences, that means presentations ranging from print pieces to lectures are ready to roll, Fischer adds.

“We are talking to students from across the state and nation, and we do a lot online to show them what you can do within our programs, and also what they can do after you finish,” he says.

“It all is geared to use all the platforms available to us so that the students know what they’re getting into, and also to make sure that once they’re here, they graduate.”

The goal now, and going forward, is to focus on more on targeting vs. branding, notes Oppmann.

“In the old days of marketing, you just put your logo and color on something and send it out in a scattershot way,” he says.

“We still brand a lot of our pieces, but now we’re targeting.

“We learn where we can find our students, then learn their interests and track their performance in high school or wherever they are studying, and make sure we are the right match for them.”

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