Finders Keepers

student and faculty recruitment

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The Merriam Webster Dictionary defines faculty as “the group of teachers in a school or college.” While this definition is fitting, it is hardly the most accurate way to characterize the professors and instructors that stand at the front of your classrooms on a daily basis. A better way may be to characterize them as “the lifeblood” of your institution. After all, it is your faculty that builds the academic reputation of a school, which can lead to higher enrollments, large research grants and the promise of a bright future.

Students, on the other hand, are the unquestionable engines of a campus. These pupils are the reason that faculty must be recruited and buildings must be constructed. Just as in the case of recruiting faculty, there is a list of strategies and tips that can help your school to recruit and retain students. Many schools are finding new ways to develop these strategies and turn them into growing enrollments.

Students and faculty may seem like two completely separate groups, but in reality, there are many ways of bringing the best of each to your school, and those ways aren’t as different as you might think. As Bill Vanderbilt, vice president of Admissions at Hope College in Holland, MI, puts it, “The fact that we have faculty with long tenure significantly benefits the student recruitment process. Longtime, engaged faculty who are fully invested in the academic community are key to successful student recruitment!”

GETTING THEIR ATTENTION

The first question to ask when recruiting students and faculty may seem like a no-brainer, but is often overlooked: Why would anyone want to work or learn at this institution?

Begin by outlining what makes your campus a unique place for students to come and learn and for faculty members to teach. Look at the community around your institution, as well as the school itself, and build a list of all the features that a prospective student or faculty hire may care about.

Although some students consider colleges without a strong idea of what they will be studying, it is never a bad idea to advertise robust academic programs. If your school is strong in certain research areas, be sure to tout that fact. Always place special emphasis on co-op programs, or other initiatives that give students real-world experience. Students and faculty alike are looking for institutions that have a strong relationship with the world outside their walls.

It is also critical in a recruitment effort to look at the departments you are hiring for and build a map of what sets them apart. Make it easy for research-focused candidates to see exactly what resources will be at their disposal. Show that there is a strong emphasis placed on learning and discovery within your departments, and students and faculty alike will want to be a part of them.

One vital way to create a unique departmental or institutional identity, according to Richard Ray, provost of Hope College, is to kick start the student and faculty connection early. “By fostering a connection between students and faculty members, potential or otherwise, you can feed into a vision of the future for either party. It helps if they can have conversations that allow them to envision themselves having a future at your school, thinking ‘Oh, this is what it will be like.’” This can be done through calls, emails or face-to face meetings.

Of course, it is not always feasible to count on faculty being able to connect with every student or potential fellow faculty member. Schools such as the University of Cincinnati, Cincinnati State Technical and Community College and Columbus State Community College in Ohio have turned to billboards and ad campaigns highlighting the professional and academic experience their students can expect to receive. The billboards contain web links that direct visitors to pages with more specific information. Making the local community aware of your programs and services is sometimes even more valuable than a national advertising campaign when it comes to grabbing the eyes of students.

Just as ad campaigns can draw the eyes of students locally and from around the world, a carefully constructed “job ad” is a powerful tool in piquing potential faculty interest. At the University of Washington, the department of Faculty Advancement came up with the Faculty Recruitment Toolkit. This online resource includes a special section devoted to creating an ad that will foster candidate diversity and inclusion.

Some tips include:

  • Use proactive language to describe the position in a way that encourages candidate feedback and sharing.
  • Include language that emphasizes your institution’s commitment to diversity and inclusion.
  • Carefully research and be mindful of the needs and requirements of international job candidates (residency, state and federal requirements, etc.).

RECRUITING DIVERSITY

Another key area to focus on when recruiting students and faculty is diversity. Any college or university is only as strong as the collected backgrounds and experiences of its student and faculty population. Some schools have devoted extensive resources to create diverse populations. The benefits of such an effort can be priceless.

At the University of North Carolina at Charlotte (UNCC), campus leaders have launched a full diversity initiative, geared toward bringing in the most varied student and professor populations possible. Under the plan, the university provides multiple objectives and strategies for recruiting diversity across all levels of the campus community.

These include:

  • Diversifying faculty across all disciplines.
  • Helping all students succeed and ensuring that all faculty members are able to progress through the academic ranks.
  • Providing outreach to underrepresented groups on the student and faculty level.
  • Creating specific faculty enrichment training and mini-grants for students that encourage campus diversity.

The aim of a plan like UNCC’s is to address issues that arise when recruiting candidates and students from a global society. Reaching out to a wide network, whether hiring faculty or recruiting students, gives institutions the chance to build relationships. These relationships sometimes lead to ties that attract students and faculty from nearby and faraway.

GETTING GEOGRAPHICAL

Academics should always be the most important draw when it comes to students or professors choosing a place to live or work. Yet, there is a secondary factor that can be almost equally powerful in recruitment efforts: location. Whether an institution is in a big city or smaller locale, the positives of the surrounding communities should be emphasized in a big way.

Virginia Tech is one school that has taken this idea to heart with their jobs.vt.edu website. This web portal gives potential faculty and staff the ability to learn about the surrounding community, including local businesses and natural resources. Any site geared toward recruiting students should also contain detailed information about what makes the local area stand out.

To put it another way, students could be moving from across the country to learn and faculty to undertake jobs and research positions. Imagine that you have only visited your own institution once. Come up with little known hints and tips in regard to local living. Work with administrators and other campus life departments to create a map of places students and faculty are known to frequent. Remember, some of these prospective campus members might even be coming from other countries.

Thinking about where your students and faculty are coming from is a critical step in the recruitment process. If your university is in a big city, but you are looking to hire talent or attract students from a smaller town, it is probably best not to emphasize bigcity living, but rather to design a campaign around a small town, campus community feel. Making things familiar for candidates and students is something that makes them feel at home, even if they have only been on campus one time.

GUIDING THEM THROUGH

For many, the first year of college is a time of rapid changes, and levels of preparation vary from student to student. Once students have been recruited to an institution, helping them thrive in the classroom and socially is an important part of recruiting that is sometimes overlooked. Bill Vanderbilt of Hope College has seen the power of these relationships firsthand. “You have to show students that your school is a place where they can learn, grow and be mentored. You do that through connections with faculty and other students,” he says.

Many college and universities have created mentoring initiatives to help freshman students in many areas of the college experience by creating connections. At Brigham Young University (BYU) in Provo, UT, for example, certain first-year undergraduate courses have been established in which a freshman student is connected with a peer mentor. These mentors provide guidance when it comes to study strategies, time management, and perhaps most importantly, help locating a wide swath of campus resources.

Student mentoring is unique in the fact that it helps colleges and universities to tackle issues that some administrators might not even be aware of. For new students, there are issues tied to acclimating to college life that it is much easier for an upperclassman to relate to.

Just as new students need guidance at times, so too do junior faculty members who are learning the ropes of their new academic surroundings. Having a dean or senior faculty member guide new hires through the acclimation process makes things a bit easier, leaving the junior faculty member more time to teach, research and plan courses.

“You need to consider whether this candidate will be someone who has the flexibility, adaptability and commitment to continue to adjust to a changing educational and workplace environment for the rest of their working career,” says Robert Stacy, dean of Arts and Sciences at the University of Washington. Sometimes, that type of flexibility and adaptability must be learned from those who have previously risen through the ranks.

Many colleges and universities, including Michigan State University (MSU), have successfully kick-started faculty mentoring programs. Aside from hosting a series of professional development and mentoring seminars, MSU also has a faculty mentoring website which lists several resources for mentoring junior faculty members. The resources range from general mentoring articles to those dealing specifically with mentoring women and minority candidates, and even delves into subject matter related mentoring.

Dean Stacey notes the importance of instilling versatility into new faculty hires this way: “The best researchers tend to have both specialized and general knowledge. Adaptability is relevant. A one-trick pony isn’t going to be a good hire.” Mentoring is only one way to help foster that adaptability, but it is also one of the strongest ways to impact faculty performance over time.

student and faculty recruitment

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REAPING THE REWARDS

In any student and faculty recruitment initiative, there is a bottom line to keep in sight. This bottom line is usually composed of cold, hard statistics, but is far from the only way to gauge the success of any recruitment or retention effort. There are online plans and resources that administrators can use as idea-generators for recruitment and retention of faculty and students across a longer period of time.

Northern Illinois University (NIU) is one institution taking the long view with their Vision 2020 Plan. This plan breaks down campus priorities into multiple categories, including Academic Enrichment, Student Recruitment and Research and Economic Development. The plan then breaks down both recent and NIU’s goal performance numbers for each.

Letting time pass and analyzing the numbers, as NIU is doing, is a great way to gain perspective into what is working and not working in terms of student recruitment, retention and faculty recruitment and performance. Instituting such an effort also allows for greater control in the process of creating a plan for the future.

CREATING COMMUNITY

Choice, as noted by Provost Ray of Hope College, is what makes America a unique place for students and faculty members. “You have everything from a local cosmetology school, to Harvard… and everything in between,” he notes. “You have to make your institution stand out in a way that appeals to the vision students and faculty have for their professional or academic futures, no matter your size or location.”

Understanding your institutional identity is one way to not only attract, but also retain top students and faculty, but isn’t always a guarantee of success, according to Ray. So is there a surefire way to achieve lasting satisfaction for both parties? “You have to build and provide a community for students and faculty members,” stresses Ray, “if the student and faculty relationship is in gear, there is a high level of satisfaction on both sides. It can retain students and faculty for a long time.”

This article originally appeared in the October 2014 issue of College Planning & Management.

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