The decision of Alan Cerveny to leave his job as director of admissions at Kansas University for a similar position at the University of Nebraska gives KU officials an opportunity to take a serious look at KU's recruiting program.
The timing is good.
KU officials, as well as leaders at other Kansas Board of Regents universities, are in the process of determining how much they will raise student tuition and fees. A college education in Kansas has been called a bargain compared with costs at peer institutions, but the time has come to increase these charges. This is prompted, in part, by the inadequate funding of regents schools by the state, and partly by the rising cost of an education at a comprehensive research university.
With costs going up, prospective students and their families are bound to give more thought to the cost of attending one university versus another and carefully measure the strengths of each school. In-state tuition may be fairly balanced, but tuition increases for out-of-state students may make an education at a Kansas university less of a bargain than it has been in past years.
However, for both in-state and out-of-state students, KU officials will need to step up their recruiting efforts. Those in the university's recruiting business must be more effective in promoting KU and explaining why it is a top-flight school.
Unfortunately, KU has not done as good a job as it should in the highly competitive field of recruiting. Those representing KU have not done an effective job of pointing out what distinguishes KU from other institutions. Not long ago, there was far too much complacency among KU recruiters. At one time, years ago, there may have been justification for not hustling as hard as possible for in-state students because other regents schools, particularly Kansas State University, did not present that much competition. However, times have changed, and Kansas State is telling a far more effective, competitive story Â and the school itself has gotten better. The proof of this is in the number of quality Kansas high school students who elect to attend KSU rather than KU.
The folks at Manhattan took great care in who they sent out across the country as recruiters, and these young men and women did a good job in telling the KSU story. Kansas State leaders stepped up their efforts to display a personal interest in having talented Kansas high school students pick KSU for their college education.
This, paired with a relatively ineffective KU effort, resulted in KSU making enrollment gains at the expense of KU.
All attention cannot be focused on in-state recruiting, because it is important to attract top-flight out-of-state students, both for the income derived from higher tuition and for the way a school's educational and social experience is enhanced by having students from a variety of backgrounds and hometowns.
As noted above, KU once enjoyed a significant advantage in recruiting students from other states because its out-of-state tuition was close to or lower than the in-state tuition in other states. Now, however, there may not be such an advantage for Kansas recruiters, and they will need to be better and more effective in their sales, marketing and recruiting endeavors.
This is where a new director of admissions can oversee a major overhaul of KU's efforts. He or she can inject enthusiasm and excitement into the recruiting business, something that has been lacking in recent years. There has been little, if any, outward evidence of the thrill of competition or that KU realized college recruiting is a highly competitive business in which other major universities do everything they can to sell their schools.
The university has been very successful in increasing the number of National Merit scholars who elect to attend KU, but the success in this area has not been reflected in the effectiveness in the school's overall recruiting campaign.
There also has been a long-standing concern among many KU alumni and friends that their school was negligent in showing interest in or making contact with top-flight students who were hearing from and being actively recruited by other schools, particularly Kansas State.
KU is a good school with many top-flight faculty members. Even its most enthusiastic boosters, however, are quick to say it can be an even better university. Better students attract better faculty, and better faculty attract better students. It's a two-way street. In the background is the dollar because more scholarship money helps attract able, talented students, and higher salaries play a significant role in attracting and holding talented faculty members.
In recent days, KU officials have noted the significant cuts in personnel and services they will have to implement if state funding is reduced. These officials now are feeling the same fiscal restraints that private business has experienced for some time, and, like business and industry, they will be forced to get along with less revenue.
This places added pressure on those in student recruitment. KU, as well as other regents schools, will have to operate in a far leaner fashion. The money students provide through tuition is likely to account for a larger percentage of revenue for the university than it has in recent years.
KU must step up its effectiveness in recruiting at a time when other schools are fine-tuning their efforts. Competition for good students is going to become even more intense, and it is fortunate KU will be searching for an able, enthusiastic, experienced individual to lead and rejuvenate its recruiting program. It will pay dividends for the university in many ways in addition to attracting more and better students.