Monday, August 10, 2009

Think Outside of the Box

August 10, 2009- It was a warm summer evening, a great night to stop over my buddy’s place to escape the humid city air. Besides a cool ocean breeze blowing into the kitchen, I was met with a pile of boxes piling across the breakfast nook. I knew the housing market was reportedly rebounding, but I had no idea my friend and his family were planning to move without so much as a mention. I was quickly corrected when his son came in and dropped a stack of brochures into a box labeled “out of state”. It then all made sense; he was organizing his college recruitment material. Although I shouldn’t have been, I was shocked to see so many pieces ‘inside the box”.

A recent blog in the New York Times caught my attention, on the subject of college recruiting. Although the article, based on a recent Sports Illustrated expose focused on the extreme of athletic practices, the trend is indicative of college recruitment across the country. Consider this: for one gifted athlete, the total amount of paper wasted to get this student’s attention resulted in 135 pounds of paper. Regarding waste, SI reported calculations that if each of the 347 Division I basketball programs sends 2.4 pounds of mail annually to 200 kids, the environmental impact each year of the production of that paper would be:

  • the consumption of 220 tons of wood, the equivalent of about 1,526 trees;

  • greenhouse gas emissions equal to what 39 cars produce in a year, and the use of enough energy to power 32 homes for a year;

  • and 167,034 pounds of solid waste, which would fill six garbage trucks, and 1,423,939 gallons of wastewater, the equivalent of two swimming pools' full.

It might be comforting to believe that this is a special case only for elite athletes, or an exception to the rule, but unfortunately, it’s not. In fact, if anything college athletic recruitment would appear to be “environmental” by comparison to the recruitment of the typical undergraduate. Students who’ve never stepped foot onto an athletic field or competed on a gym floor are being sent endless streams of printed materials telling prospects about their dedicated faculty, academic excellence, and beautiful campuses. Some come addressed to the student. Some indicate they know a data point about the student like an SAT score. Some are simply sent blind. It’s a growing industry getting more intense as competition for fewer students increases. And, in the midst of concern about shrinking budgets and a contracting student population, many in the industry are going to what they know best – paper!

ConnectEDU is focused on reversing this trend. Colleges might support a continued communication plan that involves three brochure mailers, four postcards, a few emails and several phone calls. But at ConnectEDU, we believe enrollment marketing should begin with real data to identify the right students. With a better sense of who the student is, recruiters in admissions can better target their message… actually connect with students, perhaps even BUILD A RELATIONSHIP. If the message is compelling enough for that one student, there may not be a need for 2.4 pounds of paper clogging the mailbox. Remember that student athlete being recruited? Interesting to note he chose a college that never sent a direct mail piece and strictly relied on personal contact with the right message… um, perhaps relationship development is the key!

Imagine a student telling a college they only wanted to stay in the Northeast. University of Colorado wouldn’t need to waste the postage. Think about a student telling a college they only wanted to play Division III baseball. Georgia Tech could stop the presses. Picture a student telling a college they wanted to attend a community college. University of New Hampshire could cancel the mail house. Eliminate waste.

Wouldn’t it be nice if a junior - with a 3.0 GPA, 1120 SATs, who played volleyball but didn’t start on the varsity team, spent two summers on missions in Central America, and won the statewide science fair for his talking robot – actually connected electronically with a college admission officer at a school in suburban Boston with an engineering degree program, a Latin America ministry program, and men’s intramural and Division III volleyball teams? You’re thinking how can that be? Wouldn’t you have to mail at least four different brochures?

It may sound like an impossible task, (and, please, excuse my sarcasm) but it is in fact unbelievably achievable. Just look at an industry such as employment recruiting which made the transition in the 90’s. The ConnectEDU National Network makes it possible as well.

Students within Connect! are showcasing their academic accomplishments, their extracurricular activities, their areas of interest, their college preferences and other data to paint a more complete picture of who they are. In turn, colleges are able to identify and communicate with students using more points of validated data (not only self-reported data) than has ever been available. Soon the days of excessive recruitment materials will be a thing of the past and our college campuses can remain tree-lined.

[Stay tuned til next week when I’ll discuss how these inefficiencies in the paper recruitment process also perpetuate the college access problem for many students.]

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