“Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery that mediocrity can pay to greatness.”- Oscar Wilde
Today’s post is not about college buildings or campuses, but rather a part of campus life. Recruitment is a big deal in higher education. With the decline in the traditional college-aged population, undergraduate recruiting is very important. The department I lead has an undergraduate minor but is really a graduate-level shop. Graduate student recruitment is increasingly competitive as well. When I arrived at the UofM in 2016, there was little going on in terms of formal recruitment. One of my faculty would do outreach for our Clinical Mental Health Counseling program in undergraduate psychology classes on campus, and we attended the once-per-year UofM grad school fair. We had a few brochures for some of our programs, some logo pencils for another one, and that was about it. It was a recruitment method from the 1970’s. I call it the “Field of Dreams” method after the movie and the famous quote “If you build it, they will come”. Basically, it was a method that rested on people randomly finding us and applying. I set about changing all of that. We now have dedicated marketing, a large social media presence, banners, swag, and a multi-tiered recruitment method that resulted in better than a 25% increase in enrollment in less than four years (and we continue to grow). We are now the largest department of our kind in the state with regard to student enrollment.
One method I use was taken – carte blanche – from my previous institution. I was working on the Medical Campus of Virginia Commonwealth University, and one day in February 2014 when leaving the Egyptian Building there was a desk (see photo below) chained to a bike rack by the Kontos Building. It was painted in VCU Yellow and had #vcudesk stenciled on it. Although I was at VCU for years, I was on the health sciences campus, and was completely disconnected from the undergraduate side of things. I didn’t know what it was about, but I snapped this photo with my phone. Turns out, the university had painted several of these and was using them as a promotion for the VCU basketball team. The idea was that if you took a selfie with the desk with the hashtag #vcudesk you could win game tickets or a t-shirt. The undergraduates loved it!
Fast forward to early 2017 and we were expanding our recruitment efforts. One of the first things I did was get materials ready for half a dozen grad school fairs in the region. I figured that the desk idea, as popular as it was at VCU, could be something we could do as well. I picked up a desk from the UofM surplus building, painted it, added some decals and a tiger tail (we’re the Memphis Tigers) and #ceprdesk was born. It's the same idea as the VCU desk, but for recruitment to our various programs. CEPR is the acronym for my department (Counseling, Educational Psychology and Research). If someone takes a selfie with it and posts it to their social media with the hashtag #ceprdesk, they can win a department-branded t-shirt (like the ones in the last three photos). It has been a hit. Students love to see and take photos with it. I have hauled it to other campuses, and even students who are not close to graduating, and thus not going to the grad school fair on campus, love it too. On many occasions as I hefted it from my car to the site of the local grad fair, people have stopped to ask what it was and invariably take a photo with it. The first two places I took it was to the University of Mississippi and Mississippi State University (both institutions are close to our campus and we have many graduate students who did their undergrad work there). Both of these institutions have very loyal students, alumni, and fans, but even there the desk drew a crowd. Staff members at Ole Miss wanted to take their picture with it and try to win a t-shirt! It's been a lot of fun, and fun is something college life should be!
We haven’t been able to move it around or attend grad school fairs in person for the last year thanks to COVID, but its ready to go when things get back to normal.
Left to right below are the VCU desk (from 2014), the CEPR desk (from a recruitment fair in 2018), yours truly in one the of CEPR t-shirts we have given away in the past (this was in Busan, Korea in 2018), and examples of our department's new program-specific shirts people can win.
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University Grounds is a blog about college and university campuses, their buildings and grounds, and the people who live and work on them.
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