College casts out its Net in search for recruits

Social media being used to attract students to Mesa State

Mesa State College’s recruiters carry iPhones with them so they can show potential students videos of student testimonials on the spot, and the college increasingly relies on Twitter and Facebook pages to attract a potential student’s eye.

The days of high school seniors opening the mailbox to a stack of college brochures are gradually coming to an end, according to admissions experts at Mesa State College.

Social networking is playing a bigger role than ever in student recruitment, Mesa State Admissions Director Jared Meier said. The college’s recruiters carry iPhones with them so they can show potential students videos of student testimonials on the spot, and the college increasingly relies on Twitter and Facebook pages to attract a new student’s eye.

“Recruitment is very much buzz-oriented right now,” Meier said. “Students can get so much more information than in the past.”

Brochures still exist, but it’s less costly and more modern to put information on the Web, Meier said. That’s why the college is adding a Web portal for prospective students this year that offers everything from a way to find faculty members in departments they’re interested in to what the weather looks like on campus. A name has not been selected yet for the portal.

The Web portal will help the college attract a growing number of nontraditional students, Meier said, because it will divide what information is sent to a potential student based on their age. For example, a 45-year-old won’t get an e-mail or pamphlet about dormitories when applying to the college.

Even as the college relies less on printed material, Meier said the brick-and-mortar visit to a college is key. Fifty to 60 percent of those who visit campus end up applying to Mesa State, he said.

Recruitment is big in times when Colorado’s state budget has less room for higher-education funding and colleges are increasingly looking for other funding sources, such as tuition. John Marshall, Mesa State’s vice president for student services, said the college maintained a focus on recruitment while absorbing some cuts and adding some investments.

“Higher education is an extremely competitive marketplace,” he said. “We have to maintain our investment in recruiting.”

Mesa State’s primary goal is to educate students on the Western Slope, and many students come to the college from Mesa, Garfield, Delta and Montrose counties, Marshall said. The college also has a recruiter in central California and one on the Front Range, and it has found success in getting students from these areas as well as Wyoming, New Mexico, Arizona, Utah and Hawaii.

Meier said recruiters don’t blindly search for candidates in these states or others. Instead, the college compares the types of towns where they’ve found successful students before and try to recruit in areas with a similar population, climate and feel.

Often the best matches come from areas that are similar to Grand Junction in size and demographics.

“We’re not going to recruit in Hollywood. We’re not going to recruit in Beverly Hills. We’re going to recruit in towns where kids will feel comfortable here,” Marshall said.

While television ads, radio spots, and ads in high school newspapers on the Front Range and in eastern Colorado have helped increase Mesa State applications for this fall from students in that area by 71.7 percent, the college relies on word of mouth in other areas. The college doesn’t run ads in Hawaii, for example, but has had a strong student contingency from that area in the past, and those students have passed along the message to family and friends.

Recruiting students from next door or states away isn’t that different, Marshall said, in that both types of potential students need to learn what the college is really like. With a bevy of construction in recent years, Marshall said plenty of locals need to be reintroduced to the college and its new programs and amenities.

Mixing out-of-state and in-state students may help boost enrollment and, consequently, tuition. But Marshall said recruiting from several areas is also about providing a better experience.

“Our primary obligation is western Colorado kids, but it’s important to provide a diverse experience, and those out-of-state students tend to be an attraction for local students,” he said.


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