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Customizing Data Requests to Optimize Recruitment

Leadership and Management Students

Customizing Data Requests to Optimize Recruitment

Data can be a powerful tool to guide your recruitment efforts. This article invites you to adopt a creative, entrepreneurial spirit as you expand your reach. In what follows, you will see examples of how you can use custom data requests to identify potential majors among current students, boost recruitment to your institution, and find and foster relationships with potential allies on campus.

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Note: This article is the second in a three-part series. Read the first installment here.

Data can be a powerful tool to guide your recruitment efforts. This article invites you to adopt a creative, entrepreneurial spirit as you expand your reach. In what follows, you will see examples of how you can use custom data requests to identify potential majors among current students, boost recruitment to your institution, and find and foster relationships with potential allies on campus.

These examples are based on data requests I made while serving for just over a decade as head of the Department of Modern Languages at Western Kentucky University. In that time, during which enrollments in the college of humanities as a whole dropped, the department was able to sustain and even grow substantially the number of students majoring in our programs. We added and grew programs in critical languages; however, we also experienced the downsizing of programs in traditional languages, the loss of a university-wide language requirement, and the subsequent addition of general education courses on culture taught in English. All that is to say we navigated massive change. Timely and strategic data-based actions contributed to our ability to optimize as we became leaner.

This article is by no means a comprehensive representation of data inquiries from that time. Instead, I have selected these examples to stimulate your thinking about how you can ask key questions to get actionable data for your program, department, or college (or all three). They are intended to model inquiry for a specific purpose and demonstrate the actions you can take. You are invited to adapt and refine for your own purposes.

In an earlier article, I provided foundational approaches to accessing and using data. There I described a hierarchy of data sources that may be available to you. It is important to understand these and to use them in sequence. To fail to do so may waste your time and others’ while missing opportunities to get assistance at key points. In addition, that article presented ideas for engaging faculty in using data. These ideas can help you prepare the key players in your unit to get the most out of the data you or they generate. You will need an understanding of the hierarchy of data sources and of ways to engage faculty with data before you try to implement requests like those described below.

What follows are three data requests that help focus and expand recruitment. Let me offer piece of advice about managing these. As head, I kept all data requests in a single Word document. I drafted them there, noted the date, cut-and-pasted the data request into the institutional research (IR) request form and recorded in my Word document the IR request number generated by my submission. Tracking the request number made it easier to return to the data request a year later. The requests I provide here are worded much as they were or will be for actual data requests. Many of them could be expanded to ask for more detail.

How will the data come to you? I recommend that you select an Excel spreadsheet output. This lets you sort the results by category. You can establish cutoffs for your recruitment efforts, focusing only on students who meet certain criteria if you wish. If you review the data generated for you and realize you have forgotten an important item, it is usually easy for the IR specialist to add that information.

Test scores in the discipline for current students

Which students at our institution brought in high test scores in our discipline? Have they taken a course in our department? If so, what was their first course? What else have they taken with the same prefix, if anything? Provide classification (FR, SO, JR, SR) and specific indicators of general academic preparedness and potential (ACT in relevant area—in our case, reading and English; university GPA).

This request helps you identify students who may have an aptitude or interest in your discipline and who have not taken a course with you. They may be able to start above the basic level in your program. By sorting the list, you can refine recruitment efforts to market the major to first-years while pitching a smaller credential to students further along in their studies. By showing you the starting course for current students with high test scores, the data will provide information about whether students are being placed (or placing themselves) properly. It may show you that you need to adjust placement or advising procedures or both. If you want to examine success rates for students who were placed into certain courses on the basis of certain scores, you can.

Test scores in the discipline for students who did not attend

Provide the test scores in our discipline (AP, CLEP, IB, other relevant tests) for the most recent year’s worth of applicants who were admitted to our institution but did not attend. Provide their high school GPA and high school name, county, and state.

This request tells you who was interested enough to apply but for whatever reason enrolled elsewhere You can sort the result by high test scores and look for clusters. Is there a high school that produces lots of high scores in your discipline? For example, if a particular school produces lots of AP scores of 3 and higher, you will want to know who that teacher is.

There is a lot you can do once you identify top-notch high school programs. If your university’s recruitment office is already making visits to that school, can you help make sure they reach out to that teacher or those teachers to provide recruitment materials? Are there high-profile or unique programs your university offers that could attract more of these high-scoring students than is already the case? Can you make the teachers and guidance counselors at the school aware of tuition incentives or scholarship programs that might make your institution a more compelling choice for these high-scoring students? You will want to work together with your recruitment office on these initiatives. It is always a good thing when they become aware of your engagement and the singular, attractive characteristics of your programs. You can create a win-win scenario in this regard. Your interest in their work can go a long way toward building good relationships. There may even be funding available for targeted, collaborative recruitment efforts.

What’s more, if you have identified an especially effective high school teacher, you may want to invite them to teach dual credit for your department, give a teaching workshop as part of a professional development series you offer on campus for teachers at feeder schools, or join a professional learning network that you or a designated colleague coordinate. All these activities can become meaningful relationship builders.

Second majors and minors for current students

What is the second major or minor of the current majors in our discipline? Provide a list of the programs, showing numbers and percentages of current majors who have chosen those second majors or minors. Show for the department overall and for the individual majors we offer.

This data request can help you in many ways. For instance, it can help you see where to focus your collaborative efforts on campus. Once you know what other disciplines are important to a large percentage of your majors and minors, you know who you need as allies across campus. You can reach out to department heads and advisors and share the data, asking how you can help them help their students succeed. You may be able to make a short recruitment presentation in large-enrollment introductory courses in those departments. You can reinforce the relevance of your discipline when combined with others—often a useful strategy in the humanities.

By working with your allies in these other units, you can help break down barriers to completing your major. Perhaps it is a matter of tweaking the degree paths so they are more compatible or avoiding schedule conflicts for certain required courses. You can also identify study abroad, internship, and prestigious scholarship opportunities that serve both majors and thus make your major even more attractive. And you can encourage project-based or personalized learning projects that integrate disciplinary knowledge of both majors. Your data may show that you have a population base large enough to warrant the development of special topics courses that address both disciplines. When we submitted this request, we found that students across all the programs in our department had a wide spread of other majors. When we sorted the data by specific major, however, we could see that a large proportion of our Spanish majors were interested in the health sciences, whereas Arabic majors tended to prefer international affairs, and so on. We used this information in many of the ways mentioned above.

The third article in this series presents data requests related to persistence and graduation rates. Department chairs and program coordinators have the opportunity to gather information about the extent to which introductory courses contribute to the recruitment of future majors. Similarly, a well-designed data inquiry can help to understand how successful programs are in retaining students who decide to continue beyond the introductory course. Finally, a closer look at declared majors in comparison to graduate rates can identify loss points that might have gone undetected. All these create the best climate for a continuous improvement in program efficiency. The article examines opportunities and identifies potential pitfalls.


Laura G. McGee, PhD, served most recently as head of the Department of Modern Languages at Western Kentucky University. Under her leadership, the department nearly doubled the number of its languages, programs, and majors. She now conducts program reviews and consults for LifeStories Matter LLC Intercultural Training and Coaching.