If you ask most faculty members to describe what they do, they will talk about teaching, research and service. They might not mention their role in recruiting and retaining students. But professors can be a vital part of these efforts.

Members of Dean & Provost’s advisory board participated in a conference call to share their best practices for involving faculty members in ensuring that students enroll and graduate.

“It takes a campus to recruit, and once you get students here, to retain them through graduation,” said Cynthia Worthen, vice president for academic affairs at Argosy University.

Enroll best-fit students with faculty help

Cynthia WorthenSome faculty members are resistant to helping recruit students for their programs or for the institution. “I’m a faculty member. I teach. I do research. I’m not a salesperson,” they say, according to Worthen. Worthen makes it clear to faculty members that they aren’t expected to act as salespeople. Their role is to accompany admissions officials to events to talk about their passion, their research, and what students can expect once they complete the degree. Put in that context, professors are able to see how they can impact enrollment without feeling like they are selling something.

But faculty members’ contributions don’t need to look like admissions representatives’ roles, Worthen said.

To emphasize the importance of recruiting and encourage faculty members to participate, at Argosy, professors are rated in their annual review for their outreach activities such as attending open houses and receptions.

Faculty members are tools for recruiting students, said Benjamin Akande, dean of the George Herbert Walker School of Business and Technology at Webster University. Recruitment staff members can talk about the institution but not about the specifics of studying in a certain area. “Faculty can tell the story about their experience in the classroom, students they have had, how they transformed the students and prepared them for life after school,” Akande said.

At the Walker School, 85 percent of the students are working adults, Akande said. When they’re deciding where to enroll, they want the types of specifics that the faculty can share.

Akande is also very active in recruiting students. When there’s a major recruitment event, either at the St. Louis campus or on one of the global campuses, he attends either in person or virtually. He also calls applicants who are making decisions about where to enroll. On a Friday evening or Saturday morning, he might make as many as 150 phone calls.

Darby DickersonAt the Texas Tech University School of Law, faculty play an important role in recruitment, said Dean Darby Dickerson. They call every admitted student. And they attend events at universities where prospective students are enrolled and participate in an admitted student weekend. Their roles during that weekend might include speaking to the group of prospects who attend, speaking one on one with students at receptions, or organizing booths where admitted students can get information about projects the professors are working on.

Faculty members in the College of Technology at the University of Houston participate in outreach activities for high school students, said Dean William Fitzgibbon. For example, UH hosts the area science fair. Mathematics competitions are held on campus. And UH offers camps on subjects including biotechnology, robotics and cybersecurity. Faculty members work with high school students who attend the camps.

Faculty members also play an extremely important role in recruiting students from community colleges, Fitzgibbon said. Some courses and programs are co-located on community college campuses. So faculty members are there on campus where they can speak with students about the programs. And sometimes UH professors teach community college courses. “They’re a natural advertisement,” Fitzgibbon said.

Engage professors in retention

Benjamin AkandeOnce students enroll, faculty members can play a continuing role in helping them persist through graduation. At one time, officials took for granted that once students came, they would stay, Akande said. But now, students continually consider their options, he said.

He continually engages students in conversation. “They’ll tell you if they’re not happy,” he said.

Students are asked for their views through surveys at the end of the semester. And Akande takes the opportunity to connect with students at events such as speaker series or receptions. He asks them to share their observations and challenges. You can learn a lot from those conversations, he said.

At Texas Tech’s School of Law, Dickerson focuses on building a customer relationship with students outside the classroom. For example, administrators and faculty members have an open-door policy. Plus professors are active with extracurricular activities and form connections with students through those. If they hear of a student who is thinking about transferring or who asks them for a recommendation letter, professors are asked to share that information. An administrator or a faculty member who is close to the student then speaks with her about why she might leave and why she should complete her degree at Texas Tech.

Dickerson’s primary retention strategy is to build an atmosphere that makes students want to stay at the school.

William FitzgibbonAt UH, one problem officials face is that the economy is so vibrant that students can find high-paying jobs without completing their degrees. Many students work in local restaurants, and that pays very well, Fitzgibbon said. Because they are making so much money, they take longer to graduate. “The longer it takes, the bigger the chance life will get in the way,” Fitzgibbon said.

Institutionwide efforts to boost graduation rates include tracking students’ progress and intervening if it looks like they’re in trouble, he said. Plus, statewide efforts to boost graduation rates include a cap on the number of hours students can take at the in-state tuition rate. If they don’t graduate by the time they reach the limit, they have to pay out-of-state tuition for their remaining credits.

“We have taken the village approach,” Worthen said about Argosy’s retention efforts. “It’s not just the faculty’s responsibility — it’s everybody’s,” she added.

At Argosy, students are assigned academic program advisors who help them through the administrative tasks of being students, such as registering for courses and understanding the catalog.

Plus, faculty members identify students who are at risk and complete a form that explains the problem (e.g., missing class, not turning in assignments, problems that may need remediation). Academic program advisors can also submit the forms, because not all problems arise in the classroom, Worthen said.

A team meets bimonthly to discuss at-risk students and consider the support they may need. For example, many undergraduate students are not aware of the services available to them or might have time management problems. A graduate student works one on one with students who need help.

“It might sound time-consuming, and believe you me, it is,” Worthen said about Argosy’s team efforts to increase persistence. But students share different things with different people, so working as a group can provide a more complete picture of who the student is, she said.

The bottom line…

Remember these best practices for engaging faculty members in recruitment and retention:

  • Help faculty members understand why their help is valuable.
  • Encourage faculty members to participate in recruitment events.
  • Plan outreach efforts such as summer camps that include professors.
  • Create systems for tracking student success and reach out to students who are having trouble.
  • Be available and encourage conversations with students so that you know what they like and don’t like.