What Works in My Community?
This month kicked off an array of college fairs, high school visits, Open Houses and many other events to attract new students to our colleges and universities. But what are the influences leading these prospective students and families to our campuses? Did we say something specifically to draw them in? Has the relationship been shaped for years and now they are ready for the next step? In my nearly fifteen years of recruitment and marketing college campuses to my community I would say that it took a combination of these things plus more…a lot more.
The community in discussion is the first-generation student and their family and other underrepresented groups. Underrepresented groups include students and families that have not traditionally had a college going culture, overlooked students, students in the middle – neither at risk nor at the top of their class, and immigrant families. In the surrounding neighborhood of where Esperanza College is located, according to data found in Policy Map 55% or fewer of the residents 25 years of age or older have some high school education but no diploma.
In recruiting the first generation student, community colleges have always been our greatest competitor. This is mainly due to finances and because families are more comfortable with something that is the norm. Community Colleges tend to be significantly less expensive than even State institutions and even more so than private Christian colleges. However, another challenge is that of the unknown. When a student has seen a cousin, sibling or family friend attend a local community or state college, the idea of them attending one of those institutions doesn’t seem so scary. At Esperanza College it is exciting to see our list of groups of families who have attended and graduated grow to more than a dozen. But it started with one family member connecting with a friend or a staff person to share with them about what attending our institution could do for them. It took them to enroll and us to deliver on our promises for them to trust and share it with their family.
When working with Latino families, the admissions counselor can easily become a part of la familia. Just before moving to Philadelphia in October of 2009, I received a call from a father of a student I had been working with. He told me that he and the family were leaving. I thought he was calling to let me know that Eddie, his son, was going to have to withdraw. Then he said in Spanish, “No, Eddie isn’t leaving, we have to leave. We still want him to get his education here. I just want to let you know so you can look out for him while we’re away.” What he was saying was that he trusted me so much that he wanted me to be like a mother to Eddie and check up on him as they returned to Mexico because they were being deported. That was hard to hear, and it was harder for me to tell him that in a few weeks I would be leaving too and moving across the country. Once you gain the trust of la familia and they see your transparency and genuine care for them and their children, you become a part of their familia.
We must go to where the people are. What does that look like for us? At Esperanza College we are still growing and have to step outside of our own comfort zone in spreading the word in the community that a college actually exists on 5th and Hunting Park. For us it may mean setting up shop at Cousin’s – the local supermarket, Wal-Mart, Tierra Colombiana – a popular Spanish food restaurant in North Philadelphia, and even participating in the Puerto Rican Day Parade. For example, this year Esperanza College participated in the Puerto Rican Day parade and our college Dean rode in a car in her Ph.D. regalia. That simple act can send a powerful message to a young person or family member who sees her. It has also been important for our staff to connect with local church leaders, non-profit agencies, and attend Stakeholder meetings in the neighborhoods we serve. We also understand that as we are recruiting for each year and initiating various marketing efforts, we have to plant the seeds of education at an early age. Early Outreach initiatives such as our I’m Going to College program is important in the work we are doing to cultivate a college going culture. With this program we invite a third or fourth grade class from an elementary school in our community to explore college for a day. Prior to the visit the students receive an acceptance letter to college for the day and upon their arrival they receive a mock financial aid letter and attend workshops on science, financial aid and study skills. It is from this age that we are working towards letting elementary school students know they can access college and begin feeling comfortable in that environment. As admission professionals and marketers in education it helps us better understand the real needs of our community when we step into their daily life. Inviting our immigrant communities and first-generation students to experience our institution is one way in which we can extend our blessing to them.
“Just because I talk with an accent doesn’t mean I think with an accent.” This is quote from the character Alberto from the movie A Walk in the Clouds. Ultimately, when working with students and families we must engage them with dignity and respect. Creating an environment in which we are patient and willing to seek out the resources we need to better serve the first generation or immigrant student is a way in which we can extend this respect. The simple things of posting signs of offices in multiple languages, being proactive in hiring staff with the ability to serve as translators when needed, and offering key marketing pieces in multiple languages are also effective ways of saying to our community, Yes, Eastern University Welcomes You.
Director of Enrollment and Marketing