In the United States student recruitment at higher education institutions is in its final month but for most of the 4,000 plus institutions in the US the last few weeks will be a long dogfight to meet their enrollment goals and for many the effort will last long into the summer.
Most of the popular media in the US focuses on a small group of elite private or public flagship institutions that have little or know trouble filling their enrollment needs many times over. The more interesting story however, comes from the vast majority (over 70%) of the institutions that will work painfully hard to secure enough students to meet their enrollment targets, which often means meeting their financial needs for the next year.
When the dust settles in mid September, the reality will be that more than 60% of the institutions hustling for every last student will not meet their enrollment goals, as was the case in 2014, highlighted by a survey done by Inside Higher Education, a higher education trade publication in the US. http://www.examiner.com/article/well-over-half-the-nation-s-4-year-colleges-struggle-to-fill-classes Many of these organizations that do not meet their enrollment targets will need to significantly adjust their financial and institutional plans for the year ahead and work to find a solution to the enrollment challenges before them.
In enters the Hunter VS Gatherer concept, a term coined by Mark S. Kopenski, who was presenting a white paper at the Education USA meetings in Washington D.C. after working with Mary Washington University in Fredericksburg, VA to convert their enrollment operation from gatherers to hunters. The hunter, is the institution that understands their place in the higher education market space, is watching closely the changing demographics of prospective students and has amassed a university wide effort to pursue each and every plausible student to their logical conclusion of enrollment; remarked Kopenski, at a recent international recruitment meeting in Miami. These institutions have a collection of faculty, staff, parents, alumni and students who understand the competitive nature of the business and “hunt” for every student necessary to meet their goals. The hunter university has strategically managed to blend best business practice with the traditional ideals of the academy and often has one or more champions within the academy who relentlessly challenge the community to be successful. While often challenged with a less then desirable location, not all the most popular programs or financial limitations, the hunter institution capitalizes on knowing their strengths and weaknesses and properly presenting their strengths to their target audiences while working to eliminate weaknesses.
For many institutions however, the concept of hunting students is not a familiar one, which leaves them to a gathering strategy which only the most elite private and top public institutions are able to continue to practice in today’s competitive marketplace. Kopenski describes the gatherer intuition as a place that plants very specific seeds, (messaging) to a tightly targeted audience, (students) in the fall to harvest their targeted student enrollment needs in the spring. The gathering process is effective if an institution has great demand for its product with many times the number of admitted applicants, based on the available seats in the class; a luxury only a small minority of institutions can boast these days. The vast majority of the institutions that continue to behave like “gatherers” find themselves short on enrollment and in many cases are running short on time before they close their doors for good.
While moving from the gathering mode of operation to one of the hunter is not easy, it needs only to begin with a single champion at the institution to progress the movement through the academy. Often with the aid of external advisers who are focused on assisting the entire institution change rather then a single part, the metamorphosis from gatherer to hunter is not only doable but must be done if many institutions of higher learning are to survive in the next few years. Kopenski points out that you only need to open the higher education news of the day to see how many schools are failing to relies that institutions need to get moving to a new mode of normal. Recruiting outside assistance that is singular in its approach to helping an institution, i.e. focused only on technology, or academic program development or marketing is not going to get the job done. What institutions need are people that have successfully navigated holistic change at the academy and are prepared over the long term to asset institutions to be competitive today and in the future. Teaching an institution to be a hunter takes time, as it is not in the natural nature of the academy. Institutions need to be clear on their purpose as to what they provide as a value proposition to their public. The clearer the message and delivery the more likely the institution will find success. Hunting institutions take nothing for granted, are nimble in their ability to adjust to changing circumstances and are always looking for the next potential opportunity.