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Partnerships and Building Relationships / Program Design, Development, and Quality

Student Recruitment Tactics: Part One

recruitment tactics

This is a two-part blog series focused on practical student recruitment strategies. This first installment features five tips and five more tips will be shared on Friday. 

Here are some common strategies when dealing with recruiting students for your program.

Remember, you HAVE to be comfortable with the idea of the numbers game if you are going to succeed in achieving your attendance goals. Great programs worry about quality AND quantity.

The New Yorker wrote an article shortly after the 2008 presidential campaign entitled “Battle Plans.” It more or less dissected how then Senator Barack Obama won the Presidency. In the quote below, we see that behind the great campaign message of “HOPE,” there were entire teams dedicated to looking at hard data, the “numbers,” that would ultimately make the difference.

You can have the most inspirational candidate, you can have the best organizing philosophy in the world, but if you can’t organize your data to take advantage of it and get lists in front of the canvassers and take these volunteers and use it in a smart way and figure out who it is we’re going to talk to—I mean, the rest of it is all pointless.
-John Carson, Field Director / The Obama Campaign of ’08

#1: It’s all about your staff

So choose wisely. There is no shortcut to this. You must do everything in your power to find the right people. This means that you are meeting and talking to people throughout the year. Talk to your best program leaders and ask if they have friends that want to make a difference. Think ahead and get a handle as to when your local universities finish the school year. Most semester schools finish in May, so you should be visiting career centers during Spring Break to make your pitch and post flyers in college career centers.

I know it is difficult to talk to someone in March-April about a part-time job in August-September. You can always visit some of the local summer camps to talk to camp directors about hiring their staff once the summer camp season is over. I always say that the “math is in the relationships.” Great staff connect with students, which then keeps them coming, which in turn keeps your dosage healthy and attendance steady climbing!

Added bonus: Great staff also create great, positive energy. They are a centrifugal force that draws people in. Also remember that great energy does not necessarily mean someone is hype all the time. It just means that their mind and body are engaged and self-aware of the influence they have.

#2: Design after the consumer needs/requests

Your program design must match the true interests of your student body. As a matter of fact, that should be driving the type of people you hire. There have been a number of times that I observe staff struggling with numbers and would then ask them, “Are you offering what your kids are looking for?” The first comeback is, “I would, but I don’t know where or how to hire someone like that.” Your classes must reflect student interests. This might sound blasphemous, but kids don’t come to program because of our national initiatives (I’m looking around as I say that!). But, the reality is that our national priorities are the benefits of our program, not the features. I’ve seen students run up to staff asking for a certain type of class to be offered. The answer has often times been, “If you want that class, give me 10 more students and I promise I will find someone or someway to teach it!”

#3: Build it up and then break it down to its smallest element

When it comes to numbers, you CANNOT get around the issue of establishing a goal for whatever number you agree on. If it’s 120 students per day, don’t quit on that number. Don’t back down and say that it’s demoralizing because your team will never hit it. Set that target and then ask each individual program leader on your campus to contribute to that number. Here is an example:

  • You have five program leaders.
  • Each commits to having 10 students sign up for their class during sign up or “rush week.”
  • That’s 50 students to start the session. You can build great culture with 10!
  • I always say that 10 students is about where you want to be. There’s something about double digits. If you have a program leader that is content with 6-7 students coming every week, you have hired and have chosen to retain the wrong person!

The goal here is ownership. The site coordinator or program manager cannot be the only ones that feel the pressure of numbers. Your group of program leaders should talk every week about how they plan to add 1-2 students per week over an 8 to 10-week session. Sounds reasonable to me. Remember, do not quit on the big number. Keep building towards it. Have a campaign. Make t-shirts that show the number in a creative way.

#4: Be shameless and fearless

ABC! Always be closing with everyone. If you’re a site coordinator, you’re trying to ask teachers for referrals to your program. You are looking for additional activities that take place on campus that you could provide support with or piggy back on. Let people know you are on the campus and are willing and able to be the solution. The shy or reluctant leader does not do well in these situations. If you are insecure about the value of your program, get some help and get some perspective. I worked in the public relations industry for many years. As a junior account executive, I always felt that I was begging journalists to write about my clients, products, or services. My boss always used to say, “Journalists have 24 hours of news and stories they need to fill. They need you more than you need them.” Think about that in regards to your program.

red school door

#5: Hire or train someone to design your marketing materials

I cannot overstate how critical this is! This was literally our bread and butter. You need eye catching design to draw in your students. If Nike needs to do that to stay ahead of the game, imagine you and me? There are so many resources online now that you can create eye-popping promotional materials in no time.

Look especially at the style of your class selection forms. This is the document that usually has all the classes that your kids can choose. That is the doorway into the program. If that doesn’t excite you as a student. If the design does not entice kids to take a peek at your program, you are not going to have success with the rest!

Editor’s Note: Be sure to visit the blog on Friday for five more tips on student recruitment for out-of-school time and expanded learning programs. 

Author Profile: @carlossantini

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