How Parents of Current Students Can Help in Recruitment

San Francisco — As Texas Tech University pursues an ambitious enrollment goal, it is taking some creative measures to expand its reach. University officials described one such effort, in which parents of current students call those of admitted students, in a session of the American Association of Collegiate Registrars and Admissions Officers’ annual meeting here on Tuesday.

Texas Tech is trying to increase its enrollment to 40,000 students by 2020, up from about 32,500 as of the fall of 2012.

The idea of a parent-outreach program began, fittingly, with a parent, who thought it could be a good way to raise the enrollment of students from the Houston area. Texas is a big state, and the drive from Houston to Lubbock, where the university is located, can take nine hours. That means the typical rules of in-state recruitment may not always apply.

The university had an active independent group for parents of students, the Texas Tech Parents Association. University leaders floated the idea of an outreach program with the association, which was on board. The university also worked with the consulting firm Stamats to design the program.

Texas Tech asked involved parents to suggest others they thought would make good volunteers. The university sent out postcards inviting them to an informational meeting, and followed up with personal calls, said Ken Gassiot, associate director of the office of parent and family relations.

Texas Tech also tried to make the parent volunteers feel appreciated, Mr. Gassiot said. To do that in a low-cost way, it included their pictures and hometowns on its Web site, highlighted their efforts in university marketing, and recognized them at recruiting events.

The university held training for the parents. It shared research on the important role parents play in their children’s college choices, had volunteers sign confidentiality agreements, and held role-playing sessions to prepare them for the calls they would make.

Each month, from January to June, parent volunteers were given a list of names of parents of prospective students. To make the list, families had to have an admitted student who seemed likely to attend, or at least was on the fence.

Parents of current students were encouraged to share their experiences and to “be a resource for future questions,” said Brandon Taylor, manager of the West Texas region and of the visitors center for the admissions office.

The parent ambassadors were asked to cover certain topics, whether prospective parents brought them up or not, including safety and homesickness. In addition to general questions about the selection process and financial aid, parents of current students could share their experiences with transportation between Houston and the campus.

Parent ambassadors were also asked to record some key information gleaned from the calls, including their sense of how interested the parents they contacted and their students were in Texas Tech. All of that information was put into the university’s data system.

“It was important to have that great conversation,” said Jamie Hansard, director of recruitment and marketing in the admissions office, “but it was also important to collect that data.”

If, for instance, a student seemed very interested but the parent was less sure, the admissions office or the parent ambassador might follow up with the parent.

The program has worked well for Texas Tech so far, and the university had a higher yield rate for students in the Houston area whose parents had been reached by phone than for those whose parents had not. While the university is taking a year off from the program in Houston, it plans to resume it for the fall of 2014, and less-formal parent-outreach programs have started in California and Colorado.

Even the formal program can be done on the cheap, Ms. Hansard pointed out. Other than the cost of university staff time and the fee to the consultants, the whole program can be run for less than $1,000.

But the parent program also brings challenges. Keeping a volunteer-dependent program running can be tough, especially since parents have children attending the university for only so long. Texas Tech is also experiencing turnover in some of the key roles connected to the program.

Another challenge is holding volunteers accountable. What should the university do when parents don’t make the calls they commit to? If parents are overcommitted, Texas Tech tries to find less-intensive ways for them to help.

If colleges want to start a similar program, they should reach out to possible parent volunteers when their own children are being recruited, Ms. Hansard said. They might want to start in the fall to increase the yield of some of the most talented students. And they should be sure to use terminology families can understand, not admissions jargon.

Parents like sharing their stories, the university officials said. So why not put them to good use?

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