Digital marketing key to attracting incoming freshman
At the start of last semester, the University of Wisconsin-River Falls became home to 1,325 new freshman students, the largest since 2009.
The increase in freshmen at the university might be thanks to two vital departments on campus: Admissions and the university’s Communication and Marketing Department.
Sarah Egerstrom, executive director of Admissions and New Student and Family Programs, said that enrollment at UWRF has been declining for several years. Since assuming the executive director position three years ago, she and her office have been focused on stabilizing enrollment rates.
“We have paid more attention to our campus visit experience and our tour guide training and been very aggressive in our recruitment and outreach in terms of our number of high school visits and college fairs we’re attending,” Egerstrom said. “There’s been a lot of support in the campus community. It’s been a high priority among faculty and staff on campus to invest in recruitment efforts.”
One way that the admissions office is working to recruit new students and to keep them at UWRF is through a new scholarship guarantee program for incoming students. It is designed to help the university be more competitive and is in its the third year as a program.
“There’s two layers of awards,” Egerstrom said. “The first is our academic achievement award one thousand dollar scholarship for students who have a 22 or higher on the ACT and rank in the top 40 percent of their class. The next tier is for students who have a 25 or higher on the ACT and rank in the top 25 percent of their class, and those students receive $2,000 in their first year and an additional $2,000 in their second year.”
Working closely with the university’s Admissions Office is the university’s Communications and Marketing Department. They are specifically responsible for spreading the word about the UWRF campus.
Jeff Papas, executive director of the university’s Communications and Marketing Department, also acknowledged the importance of having increased enrollment of first-year students. “We don’t want to be a best kept secret anymore,” he said. To attract more students, Papas said he is focused on spreading the UWRF brand on digital platforms.
“We are spending more of our marketing budget on digital advertising, which allows our brand to wind up in email, on Facebook, on social media – places where people are likely to see it,” Papas said. “One of the main recruiting tools we have is our website. If you look at the website, on the front page you’ll see ‘not too late to apply’. We’re in the process now to try and get people who have been accepted to more than one institution to choose us. We want people to know that they can schedule campus visits, register, sign up for new student registration and come here and enjoy a wonderful experience.”
The university’s Communications and Marketing office also runs the campus’ official social media account on Instagram, Snapchat, Facebook and Twitter. Over the summer, the office used a type of influencer marketing on Twitter, encouraging people to digitally follow current students to get an insider’s view of the UWRF campus culture. This was the first round of influencer-style marketing that the department tried out. It plans to makes some changes for the future, namely by switching social media apps.
“It was not on Snapchat,”Papas said. “We feel that by doing it on Snapchat as well … it will appeal to the Gen Z-type audience. Social media is where our audience is – it’s where people are going.”
With increased focus and money going into digital marketing, Papas is still waiting on the data to tell him how successful these new marketing techniques are in attracting new students.
“One of the things we are looking to do over the summer is to institute a freshman marketing survey,” Papas said. “We need to find out what is working better and what we can tweak. Until that happens, the main way we judge our success is by freshman enrollment numbers.”
The university does not just benefit financially from an influx of students; the culture of the campus benefits from the variety of new students who arrive on campus ready to start their undergraduate education.
“When you’ve got healthy enrollments and you’ve got more students choosing UWRF,” Egerstrom said, “you’ve got a more vibrant campus community.”