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‘What, Me, Recruit? I’m a Professor!’

New Orleans—W. Todd Roberson has a reminder for admissions officers. “Faculty members think differently than you do,” he says. So if you want them to help you recruit, he insists, you’ve got to recruit them, engage them, and communicate with them regularly.

On Thursday afternoon, I heard Mr. Roberson speak here during a session called “The Third Side of the Desk: Effective Use of Faculty in Recruitment and Yield.” Surveys have shown that interaction (or lack thereof) with faculty members strongly influences prospective students’ perceptions of colleges, and, in turn, their decision to apply or enroll.

Still, persuading faculty members to donate their time to the oft-draining task of wooing teenagers isn’t always easy. Mr. Roberson imagined a common response: “What, me, recruit? I’m a professor!” Many admissions officers say they aren’t sure how to best engage faculty members, and—it’s fair to state—many faculty members are reluctant to help recruit, because they think it’s a crass or unnecessary exercise. Or maybe it’s just that nobody’s ever asked them.

Mr. Roberson, a senior lecturer of finance at Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis’s Kelley School of Business, described how and why he became involved with recruitment. In short, he was inspired by the simple fact that while many of his students were great, others really gave him a headache. “By becoming a recruiter and a person who encouraged yield, I have some control over who I have in the classroom,” Mr. Roberson said. “The bottom line is that faculty complain about students we have. One way to change that is to get involved in recruitment.”

Mr. Roberson has since thought a lot about how colleges can turn the right instructor into an effective “brand builder.” At his institution, he serves as a “faculty recruitment fellow,” which means he’s responsible for coordinating recruitment and “yield” strategies for his academic unit. Colleges that want serious help from instructors, he says, should consider granting release time in exchange for such service. “Time is currency faculty trade in,” he said, “and they like having freedom.”

Among Mr. Roberson’s other suggestions for admissions officers:

  • Consider “fit” when evaluating faculty members. He suggests that “professionally qualified” instructors are better recruiters than “academically qualified” colleagues: “The closer those faculty are to the real world, the better—people that have practical experience, perhaps in private-sector or job experience.”
  • Look for somebody who’s an award-winning teacher instead of choosing someone based on his or her academic credentials alone: “It takes a lot of guts to walk in front of a room of people you don’t know and keep them entertained for an hour or an hour and a half.”
  • Consider appealing to faculty members’ empathy, excitement about their discipline, and their … egos: “Faculty members love to be the center of attention; that’s why they’re faculty members.”
  • Know faculty members’ teaching schedules at all times, so that you can coordinate meetings between them and prospective students more effectively.

Mr. Roberson also suggested that faculty members should give their business cards to the prospective students they meet (“This is so basic, but nobody does it”). And he suggested that one must end conversations with a prompt for action: While the mantra of admissions officers might be “Apply now,” the refrain of faculty members should be “Visit me on campus.”

“I’ve had my best success when I can have a one-on-one with a student and, in some cases, parents.”

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