This is a bittersweet comment that community college admissions counselors all too often hear from prospective students at college fairs and high school visits. On one hand, we are thrilled to hear that the student is seriously considering beginning their collegiate studies at a community
college, but on the other hand, we cringe at the perception that perpetuates the minds of most high school students today. That perception is that community colleges simply do not offer a true college experience. Although nearly 50% of American high school graduates began their college careers at a two-year college in 2006, and according to the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center, that percentage increased by 8.3% in 2009, somehow many still hold to the belief that community colleges are just not “real” colleges.
So how do we combat this obvious fallacy?
How do we encourage our college-ready teens to broaden their perspectives on what the college experience can look like? How do we present community colleges as not just a great back up plan but also as a potential first choice? Here are just a few tips that may help to start changing the way high school students view community colleges.
1. What is the likely ROI (Return on investment)?
One thing I have found helpful is talking about the relationships that my college has with the local business community. In a time when unemployment is high, even among college graduates, in addition to wanting to know the particulars of their majors, today’s high school graduates also want to know about the job outlook for their chosen profession. How likely is it that they could get a job in that field in their local community? How well will your programs prepare them for that particular industry?
While I don’t think that any admissions counselor should promise job placement, it is important to highlight known opportunities that could be available to the student as a result of completing your institution’s academic program. This information usually is readily available since community colleges should be in tune with the economic conditions in their given area. Take the time and do some research on what companies often seek out graduates of your institution and compile a list of those companies and what majors they typically recruit those graduates from. You can work with your college’s career services office or go directly to the faculty for this information. They know the career paths that their students often take upon completion of their programs and are often happy to share this information to recruit more promising students.
2. Avoid the proverbial “Come to community college because it’s cheaper!” sales pitch.
While the low cost of tuition is certainly a great sell, that alone should not be the only reason that a prospective student should be attracted to your institution. Instead, emphasize the other great opportunities students can take advantage of at your college. Highlight the quality of your academic programs, particularly any special accreditation or recognition that your programs have received. Talk about the smaller class sizes, personalized attention from faculty, student enrichment programs, the emphasis on teaching first, or other notable scholarship programs. Most community colleges offer some form of an Honors college to engage their intellectually-advanced students. Highlight this! Bust the myth that community colleges are only experts on remedial education and preparing skilled laborers. While this is part of our focus and something that we do very well, community colleges are also institutions of advancement, engagement, and discovery. Find out what research projects your faculty and staff are doing. Keep up with the campus buzz, and if you’re a multi-campus institution, also keep up with what is happening at other campuses besides where you are based and where relevant, share this information with prospective students.
3. Highlight transfer agreements with four-year schools
Okay, so the reality is that a lot of students coming to your institutions are going to be moving on to four-year colleges and universities once they have completed their associate degree, or maybe even before that. That’s okay! One of the goals of a community college is to prepare students for a successful transfer into a baccalaureate program. Talk about those transfer partnerships you have with four-year institutions. Show prospective students and families that your college is well capable of preparing students for rigorous and advanced levels of study. Seek out and share success stories from alumni and if possible, invite them to speak at some of your recruitment events.
4. Be a great host!
Encourage prospective students to visit the campus. This is a general rule of thumb for all admissions counselors, regardless of what type of institution you work for, but this is especially important for community college admissions counselors because nine times out of ten, you are already going to have to combat stereotypes and images pre-set in the students’ minds of community college being “the 13th grade”. Bringing them to campus is a great way to dispel that myth quickly. Campus tours are always helpful, but if you can, arrange classroom visits or meetings with faculty in the disciplines that the student is interested in so that they can get an in-depth look at what a day in the life of a typical college student at your school is like.
5. Even if you’re not their first choice, make them yours.
Often times, because community colleges are open admissions, it is easy to take the attitude that you don’t have to work that hard to recruit students because they will eventually come since community colleges are usually the fall-back plan. But prospective students still want to be courted, even by a college that they know they have a 0% chance of being rejected by. So be available whenever possible. Invite them for one on one appointments. Personally follow up with any information that they have requested. Pull out all the stops and let them know that they are wanted as part of your college’s community and that your institution is just as serious about recruiting promising students as a selective school. And even if they still don’t see you as their top choice, like a good friend, let them know that you will always be there for them every step of the way through their collegiate and professional journey. Whether it be through summer course work, non-credit training opportunities that can further build their resumes or portfolios, or even cultural and personal enrichment activities, emphasize that you are there.
The above tips are just some strategies I have found to work well over my past five years as an admissions counselor. They may not all work for everyone and every counselor has to employ strategies and build relationships based on their area’s demographics as well as the mission and vision of their institutions. However, the key thought I hope you take away from this article is that as admissions counselors at a community college, we have much to be proud of. Community colleges have a special purpose in the realm of higher education and are wonderful places of higher learning. While we can not control misconceptions that may be formed initially, when prospective students and families come our way, it is our responsibility to make sure that we give them the truth and the truth is that community colleges are in fact, the REAL DEAL!