Universities are always on the lookout for the best and brightest students. However, the most talented candidates don’t always have access to the funds they need. In fact, many qualified students may not apply to college simply because they lack access to funding as well as awareness about funding options. But it doesn’t have to be that way -- especially when universities take steps to reverse the trend. Read on for a closer look at how your recruitment strategy can help link prospective students with vital college funding.
Finding Your Target Audience
The first step in implementing a recruitment strategy aimed at low-income students? Understanding them. Millions of low-income students -- approximately a third of the US’s undergrad population -- currently receive support from the federal government in the form of Pell Grants. Of these, three-quarters are from families with incomes of below $40,000, according to a report from NPR. Students are eligible for Pell funds for 12 semesters with an average award of $3,700 and an annual cap of $6,095 for the upcoming academic year.
But what can colleges do to recruit students who don’t qualify for Pell funding, or whose grant awards are insufficient? If this is your target audience, your communication efforts can make or break how they proceed.
The Outreach Imperative
Certainly, low-income students face substantial challenges when it comes to higher education. However, universities can help turn these obstacles into opportunities by reaching out to them. Not only are these students less likely to have the money to pay for college, they are also less likely to have personal and professional support systems in place to guide them through the process. The takeaway? The more proactively universities take on roles in doing so, the more bolstered low-income students become in viewing higher education – and specifically, your institution - as a realistic goal.
Giving the right information at the right time is a big part of this, including the following:
- Providing information about financial aid services in the initial stages of recruitment, such as marketing materials and college fairs. If your institution has partnerships with foundations, banks, and other financial information, include it in your early outreach efforts. Additionally, make sure that information and links to local/regional/national financial aid services are clearly visible.
- Presenting converting credits as a money-saving option for community college and online students and show them how the process works.
- Addressing international student funding in its own section in outreach materials -- with geographical targeting based on country and/or region -- so the information is easily accessible.
Show Them the Way
The most successful recruitment strategies don’t just facilitate applications and enrollments, they also help students -- particularly those who for whom the path may not be so clearly visible -- see the way forward. Factor in research from the Johns Hopkins Institute for Education Policy indicating that not only are students from low-income backgrounds less likely to finish college, but they’re also more likely to attend colleges with lower graduation rates, and the need for ongoing intervention becomes even more evident.
It begins with knowledge. Asserts the Brookings Institution in its report, How to Improve Education for Low-Income Students, “Parents and students also need useful and reliable quality data to drive change by being informed customers. That’s also often lacking, but it is slowly improving. For instance, in the US most states now have federal grants to develop data systems to help track students over time. The federal government has also been beefing up its college scorecard, and federal data on student borrowers is being analyzed to reveal more information on student outcomes. These developments will eventually make it much easier for students to shop for a school and major that will pay off.”
But why wait for government intervention when you can share how your university stacks up, as well as how you plan to improve moving forward? In other words, in addition to directing students to funding sources, are you also showing these students how a degree from your institution will help them reach their goals -- beyond getting in the door? Proposes Tamara Hiler of the think tank Third Way, “[Low-income] students need to have information that’s relevant to them. How well is a student like me going to do at this school, rather than just looking at institutional averages.”
Beyond knowledge, of course, comes action. Everything from training staff to understand the different needs of low-income students to offering academic advising, career services, tutoring, and help with study habits and goal settings can help level the playing field while demonstrating your commitment to their success.
The takeaway? Taking a comprehensive and holistic approach to recruitment strategies, starting with promoting heightened awareness about funding opportunities, is a win-win which not only leads to increased enrollments for universities, but also better outcomes for students.