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To Attract Students, Experts Say, Persistence Pays

Indianapolis — Some parents and prospective students might be annoyed by the seemingly endless stream of postcards and e-mails they get from colleges hoping to persuade them to apply.

But those efforts aren’t likely to stop anytime soon, a panel of admissions professionals told an audience here on Monday during a session at the annual meeting of the National Association of College and University Business Officers.

“As much as everyone says they want to be left alone, they don’t,” said Ned Jones, vice president for enrollment management at Siena College, in New York. “Repetition still works,” he said.

Attracting enough of the right kind of student has always been important for most of the nation’s colleges and universities, where tuition is the lifeblood and there are few ways to draw significant revenue from donations, research, or auxiliary businesses.

What has changed, however, is how and how much colleges need to communicate with students, said Richard Whiteside, an expert on strategic enrollment with the consulting firm of Royall & Company. “Students listen when they’re ready. We need to speak all the time,” he said.

If anything, colleges should be intensifying their efforts to attract students, especially through what the admissions experts called a “search,” meaning direct marketing to prospective students. And the evidence shows that the most effective way to increase applications is to reach out to prospective students multiple times through multiple media.

The market is in students’ hands, said Greg Eichhorn, vice president for enrollment management and dean of admissions at Albright College, in Pennsylvania. “You have to pull those kids through the funnel,” he said.

And the kind of marketing materials sent to students, especially, has to be more about them than about the college, said Madeline Rhyneer, vice president for enrollment management at Albion College, in Michigan.

And don’t forget parents, Ms. Rhyneer said. Albion is making a “ginormous effort to collect the e-mails of parents,” she said. “It’s a cost-efficient way to increase the number of applicants.”

Even the college application should be used as a marketing tool, said Siena’s Mr. Jones. “The idea that higher education can put a mind-numbing form in front of a family and expect them to respond is insane,” he said.

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