3 Trends in College & University Recruitment

For many years I worked in administration overseeing college and university recruitment and retention efforts. Our household currently has Junior and Freshman boys and I am enjoying watching this process from the other side of the desk! As we embark on this journey I wanted to share three recruitment trends that I am observing as a parent of teens.

  1. Micro-Collaboration. In the past, events like large College Fairs have been a key way that colleges cut travel costs and save time. By having colleges and universities meet in one location, students can access dozens of options in just a few hours. However, a new iteration of this macro-collaborative effort is now occurring and it is something I call micro-collaboration. We were recently invited to a micro-recruitment event. Operating under the moniker 8ofthebestcolleges.org, eight different liberal arts colleges are running five collaborative events in large US cities. These colleges all offer highly selective residential liberal arts education. Not by coincidence, they are located in eight distinct regions in the US which stretches from California, to Colorado to Connecticut. This type of collaboration demonstrates both a fresh approach to college fairs for students and the emerging necessity for competitors to collaborate,
  2. Personalization. My oldest son has received several publications that are addressed directly to him. You probably assumed that this refers to the mailing label but it doesn’t! He is receiving publications and brochures printed with his first and last names in the text of the materials he is reading. In an era of mass-marketing, instant-printing is allowing universities to personalize their content in new ways. Only time will tell if this generation – one which is suspect of hyper-marketing – will respond positively to this tactic or not.
  3. Service 3.0. During the past 20 years colleges and universities have moved from being gatekeepers to providers of customer service. Over this time the mentality shifted from “apply and we’ll call you if you are accepted” to “I’m calling you to see if you would like to apply”. This marketing pendulum has continued to shift and colleges are now offering prospective students incentives prior to application. A university in our region recently offered our family an expenses paid trip to visit campus (a 4 hour drive away). In addition, the recruiter for this university lives full-time in our city and provided my son with local expertise and insights about attending her school. As the number of high school graduates in the US flattens, schools are becoming very competitive in marketing and communication!

These are only three of many shifts which are occurring within the higher education landscape. What changes are you experiencing?

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Jeff Suderman is a futurist, consultant and professor who works in the field of organizational development. He partners with clients to improve culture, leadership, teamwork, organizational alignment, strategy and organizational future-readiness. He resides in Palm Desert, California. Twitter: @jlsuderman Email: jeff@jeffsuderman.com

The Class of 2019: What You Need to Know

Each fall, Beloit College provides an insightful overview of the incoming class of college freshmen. As the years fly by, it is easy to forget the unique worldview and history that shapes our students. A review of this list is a helpful read for all of us who will be interacting with this class in the year ahead.

I have edited Beloit’s list to 25 items. The original list can be accessed here.

Students heading into their first year of college this year are mostly 18 and were born in 1997.  Among those who have never been alive in their lifetimes are Princess Diana, Notorious B.I.G., Jacques Cousteau, and Mother Teresa.

Since they have been on the planet:

  1. Hybrid automobiles have always been mass produced.
  2. Google has always been there, in its founding words, “to organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible.”
  3. They have never licked a postage stamp.
  4. Email has become the new “formal” communication, while texts and tweets remain enclaves for the casual.
  5. Hong Kong has always been under Chinese rule.
  6. They have grown up treating Wi-Fi as an entitlement.
  7. The announcement of someone being the “first woman” to hold a position has only impressed their parents.
  8. Cell phones have become so ubiquitous in class that teachers don’t know which students are using them to take notes and which ones are planning a party.
  9. Their parents have gone from encouraging them to use the Internet to begging them to get off it.
  10. If you say “around the turn of the century,” they may well ask you, “which one?”
  11. They have avidly joined Harry Potter, Ron, and Hermione as they built their reading skills through all seven volumes.
  12. Kyoto has always symbolized inactivity about global climate change.
  13. When they were born, cell phone usage was so expensive that families only used their large phones, usually in cars, for emergencies.
  14. The therapeutic use of marijuana has always been legal in a growing number of American states.
  15. Teachers have always had to insist that term papers employ sources in addition to those found online.
  16. Surgeons have always used “super glue” in the operating room.
  17. Fifteen nations have always been constructing the International Space Station.
  18. 32. The Lion King has always been on Broadway.
  19. At least Mom and Dad had their new Nintendo 64 to help them get through long nights sitting up with the baby.
  20. CNN has always been available en Español.
  21. Splenda has always been a sweet option in the U.S.
  22. Poland, Hungary, and the Czech Republic have always been members of NATO.
  23. TV has always been in such high definition that they could see the pores of actors and the grimaces of quarterbacks.
  24. The proud parents recorded their first steps on camcorders, mounted on their shoulders like bazookas.
  25. Vote-by-mail has always been the official way to vote in Oregon.

Jeff Head Shot 3.jpgDr. Jeff Suderman is a lifelong learner, consultant, professor and pracademic who works in the field of organizational development. He partners with clients to improve culture, leadership, teamwork, organizational alignment, strategy and organizational future-readiness. He resides in Palm Desert, California. Twitter: @jlsuderman


The Future of Higher Education: Three Trends

While predicting the future is desirable, it is an elusive exercise. However, careful observation of emerging trends can provide us with early indicators of future change. Doing so equips us to be future-ready. Earlier this month I was privileged to speak at a Christian higher education conference. The following three educational trends are all indicators of significant future change.

Shifting demographics

A decade ago demographic data revealed significant declines in the total number of youth who would pursue post-secondary education. This data also revealed a decline in the percentage of Anglo students which has been a primary market for Christian colleges and universities. This population bubble has burst and there simply aren’t as many students as we once had.

We are currently living amidst the tough realization of this trend. My conversations revealed that an estimated 30-40% of attendees are facing enrollment stagnation or decline. Since most Christian institutions derive between 75-90% of their budgets from student tuition, this decline is a significant harbinger of change.

This realized trend is a perfect example of what occurs if we do ‘business as usual’ in a time of significant market shifts. Here are a few examples of what institutions have done to address this shift: adult markets, cultural diversity, re-assessing the need for growth, right-sizing operations and urban campuses.

Focus on Value

Statistics demonstrate that there is a growing gap between rich and poor in North America. This is often referred to as the ‘shrinking middle class’. As a result, society is less likely to invest in things which are good but not critical. The heart-and-soul of Christian higher education has been this middle class so this is going to have a significant impact. We are going to have to determine what we need to do differently in order to move from being an ‘optional’ to an ‘essential’ educational option. Institutions have utilized some of the following strategies to address the value proposition gap: Graduation or employment guarantees, tuition freezes, increases in financial awards, alumni success stories and adding programs with tangible employment focus.

A New Business Model

“We are using far more adjunct professors than we used to”. While this statement seems innocuous, it reveals a significant problem in our educational business model – the need to cut educational delivery costs.

The American Association of University Professors reports that adjuncts compose 70% of college instructors. In 1975 that number was 43% (Belkin & Korn). An adjunct salary is approximately $25,000 per year compared to a full-time professor average of $84,000 (Kingdale). It is obvious how adjuncts benefit an institutions financial situation. I am not going to address the pros and cons of this shift which are rooted in arguments of efficiency vs. effectiveness. However, I do believe that this shift signals a change in the economic model of higher education – things are not business-as-usual. I do not have a nice list of tried-and-trued remedies for this trend and welcome your insights on how this issue could be resolved.

The pioneer futurist Pierre Wack once said, “In our times of rapid change and discontinuity, crisis of perception – the inability to see a novel reality emerging by being locked in obsolete assumptions – has become the main cause of strategic failure”. The trends of shifting demographics, new business models and the need for value are shaping our future educational context and we must respond. We cannot predict the future. But we can anticipate it.


Head ShotJeff Suderman is a futurist, professor and consultant who works in the field of organizational development. He works with clients to improve leadership, teamwork, organizational alignment, strategy and organizational Future-Readiness. He resides in Palm Desert, California. Twitter: @jlsuderman


Douglas Belkin & Melissa Korn. The Wall Street Journal.

Tyler Kingdale. The Huffington Post.

Relevance: A Lifelong Investment

“The worlds wine cork producers want you to know that they’re sorry” (Pierson).

A front page article in this weekends LA Times pronounced what happens when success meets comfort. The once dominant cork industry has lost 25% of it’s market share in the past 10 years to screw caps and plastic corks. The communications director for the world’s largest cork company noted, “We got the proverbial kick in the pants”. The root cause is a failure to proactively address issues of cork taint, a fungus which negatively affects between 1% and 5% of corked wines. This small oversight combined with over 250 years without significant competition has led to significant loss of market-share in the $290 billion global wine industry.

Similarly, Kodak, the progenitor of photography and ‘Kodak moments’ failed to address changes amidst the emergence of digital camera and film. In fact, Kodak was so entrenched in their methods, they created a means to transfer digital images back to film. As a result of assumed relevance, they were forced to declare bankruptcy in 2012. Like the cork industry, Kodak’s history reminds us that relevance is earned and cannot be assumed.

There is a similar trend affecting higher education in North America. In 2013 the New York Times noted that “One-third of all colleges and universities in the United States face financial statements significantly weaker than before the recession and… are on an unsustainable fiscal path. Another quarter find themselves at serious risk of joining them” (Selingo). As the educational climate changes (think University of Phoenix or MOOC’s – massive open on-line courses), a growing number of colleges are facing trouble ahead.

Anaïs Nin once said, “We do not see things as they are, we see things as we are”. Whether you are in the cork industry, photography or the bastions of higher education, we all are susceptible to seeing things ‘as we are’ or ‘as we want them to be’. Relevance is earned. Over, and over, and over again!

Head ShotJeff Suderman is a consultant and professor who works in the field of organizational development. He partners with clients to improve leadership, teamwork, organizational alignment, strategy and their FutureReadiness. He resides in Palm Desert, California. Twitter: @jlsuderman



Pierson, David (Dec. 7, 2014). Wine corks look for the old pop. The Los Angeles Times.

Selingo, Jeff (April 12, 2013). Colleges struggle to stay afloat. The New York Times.

Six Priorities for University Recruitment Efforts

The expressions of anxious mothers, too-cool freshmen and a steady train of boxes into residence halls this week heralds the arrival of thousands of new students to our universities. Having recently returned from work with a university in Europe, I can report that university orientation norms like these are very similar wherever you go.

As recruitment offices, we are quickly shifting to efforts to recruit our class of 2015. As you do so, I thought that a quick summary of the 2014 Noel Levitz E-Expectations survey would be a helpful way to refocus your efforts. While a full read of the report is highly advisable (E-Expectations Report) , here is a quick list of the insights which should influence your efforts:

  1. Parents are important. VERY important! About 3 out of 4 high school seniors list their parents as having the greatest influence on their college choice.
  2. Web sites are critical! As the most important recruitment resource, the importance of your recruitment web site is paramount! Programs, costs and financial awards are the top three things they look for. Furthermore, mobile-friendly browsing is important as 40% of student state that they use their mobile phone browser for nearly all of their web browsing. Less than 10% of students rarely use their mobile device for browsing.E-Expectations
  3. Texting is becoming acceptable. About half of your recruits are fine with texting as a means of college communication. Similarly, 55% of parents are willing to receive college texts.
  4. Use many social media channels. Prospective students are active on Facebook (74%), YouTube (73%), Instagram (49%), Twitter (39%) and Snapchat (39%).
  5. Invest in your campus visit program! Three out of four students and parents agree with the statement that “schools should put more effort into getting prospective students to campus for visits and admissions events”.
  6. Tie education to careers. Students and parents want to see that their program has career value. Ensure you provide stats on job/graduate school placement, testimonials (current students, alumni, and faculty) and have robust program information.

I wish you success in your recruitment efforts this year!

Noel-Levitz (2014).  2014 E-Expectations Report: The Online Preferences of College-Bound Seniors and Their Parents. Available at https://www.noellevitz.com/papers-research-higher-education/2014/2014-e-expectations-report