University is the place where students can start to think and dream bigger—and a diverse student body can help them accomplish that. A meta-analysis published in Review of Educational Research found that students who interacted with racially and ethnically diverse peers showed significant gains in cognitive skills like critical thinking and problem-solving.
But student diversity has come to mean more than just race; it includes differences in sexual orientation and identity, income level, first-generation status, cultural background, and gender. As definitions of diversity in college continue to expand, universities must review and refine their college student recruitment strategies and efforts to include more of these underrepresented populations. Here we outline four strategies to effectively increase diversity in your student recruitment efforts.
- Craft and Refine your Marketing Materials
Creating an authentic message of diversity is critical for universities. One of the biggest mistakes is overrepresenting racial and ethnic diversity in posters, brochures, and other visual recruitment materials; no student wants to feel tricked when they arrive on campus and find a reality that is very different from what they were led to expect. Instead, make sure that your university’s marketing department understands how to appeal to different audiences. Showing that you have in-depth knowledge about diverse populations—their priorities, their needs, and any cultural differences—is a great start.
You can also leverage other resources at your university, like racially, ethnically, and even gender-diverse faculty members, for recruiting events on and off campus. Involving these individuals goes a long way in demonstrating commitment to diversity in both the student population and the faculty who will be instructing them. Then, don’t forget to involve the students themselves! Returning students and alumni can help to represent the diverse voice of your student body and are great resources to involve in your university’s admission committee.
- Go Where the Candidates Are
High schools have many clubs and organizations that can provide inroads for communicating with your target prospective populations. In an engineering or math club, for instance, you might make an extra effort to engage with the girls in the club to recruit them for your university’s male-dominated programs.
Also, consider connecting with high school LGBTQ organizations to more fully understand the needs of that underrepresented population. What are they looking for in a university? What types of support does your university already provide, and what may still be needed? This kind of grassroots marketing will help circulate your university’s reputation through community connections and word of mouth.
In addition, don’t be afraid to leverage the candidates that you’ve already successfully recruited! Reach out to historically Black or Hispanic fraternities and sororities and other student interest groups serving underrepresented student populations. Asking them for their opinions and about their experience at your university will further inform your student diversity recruitment efforts.
- Participate in Virtual College Fairs
Virtual college fairs are a great way to meet a wide variety of students. But a word of warning: inviting students to special diversity recruiting events so they feel a sense of belonging (especially if the campus itself is not very diverse) can result in students feeling misled. Don’t assume that students’ top priority is always the diversity of the campus. Instead, take the time to connect with these prospective students and ask them about their priorities. What are the main deciding factors that are important to them? What resources or support do foresee needing on their college campus?
To help you maximize your return at virtual college fairs, GoToCollegeFairs provides a custom-built virtual college fair platform that mimics the in-person experience, while adding resources and capabilities that are missing from a traditional college fair. These extra features are particularly helpful for students who are looking for a specific fit. When students enter the virtual lobby, they can use customized filters to identify participating colleges, presentations, and education sessions that interest them most.
Once they hit the exhibition floor, they can bookmark and engage with select colleges in one-on-one or group formats, watch videos, and even apply on the spot. And just like the in-person fairs that use the GoToCollegeFairs system, every student’s activity and preferences expressed before, during, and after the virtual fair are tracked and analyzed to support your follow-up recruiting efforts.
- Use Data
Whatever methods of college recruitment strategies you are employing, you need to know if they’re working with cultivating a diverse student body. Are the demographics of the student body diversifying? What about the demographics of the audiences you are reaching? If the latter isn’t informing the former, or if it’s not at the rate you desire, there’s a translation problem. Therefore, to evaluate effectiveness, you need data.
The data you collect can be as simple as who is applying from underrepresented populations, who is accepted, and who is enrolling. They can also be qualitative—for instance, asking current underrepresented students what led them to choose your university. Refreshing these data every couple of years will form a benchmark to help you continue to assess and improve your college student recruitment strategies.
Students will attend the university where they feel their priorities and needs are being met. Consistent engagement with diverse prospective student populations and authentic messaging around your university’s diversity initiatives will promote a vibrant, diverse student body on your campus.