By Ariela Rosa
Last year, a record 2,747 students applied to Lawrence University. Because Lawrence does little advertising outside of a local non-profit radio station, the university relies on its reputation as a small and rigorous institution to attract its applicants.
Recently, Lawrence has taken steps to improve the communication of its core message and reputation as a rigorous liberal arts institution in order to attract more students.
According to Associate Vice President of Communications Craig Gagnon, the Office of Communications conducted research during the Fall 2013 and Winter 2014 terms in order to learn what parents and students considered the most important criteria in the college selection process.
Gagnon believed that gathering this information, as well as discovering what students and parents believed set Lawrence University apart from its competitors, would make it easier to implement more effective communications strategies.
The study revealed that parents and students wanted a school that provided a challenging academic experience, a welcoming and supportive community, and preparation for success in a rapidly changing world.
Based on this information, the Office of Communications created a three-pronged messaging strategy based on the theme of “Engaged Learning,” which they believed conveyed Lawrence’s core values better than the previous slogan “Individualized Learning.”
“We moved from [individualized learning] because it was confusing: a lot of people couldn’t define what [it] was,” Gagnon said. He explained that the slogan “Engaged Learning” better captured Lawrence’s commitment to collaborative learning and its involvement in the Appleton community.
The study also identified what Gagnon called a “stumbling block”: potential applicants and their parents were concerned about Lawrence’s location. “For some, it’s too close, and for others it’s too far,” Gagnon explained.
“We realized it’s a communication problem,” said Gagnon. He stressed the importance of providing more information about what Appleton has to offer and emphasizing current students’ volunteer efforts on Lawrence’s website. “More than 50% of students actually volunteer in the community,” Gagnon stated.
When asked his thoughts about the best way to communicate to potential students and their parents, Gagnon asserted that “what works best is integration.” As part of an integrated approach, the Office of Communications staff regularly participates in activities on campus and holds meetings once a month with department heads to keep each other up-to-date.
Getting Lawrence’s message across to students and parents involves more than creating catchy slogans and providing more informative material. The Office of Admissions also plays a crucial role in recruiting applicants through its direct contact with students and parents.
The Director of the Office of Admissions, Mary Beth Petrie, explained the importance of cultivating relationships with high school counselors and noted that “the admissions office continues to reach out to develop additional relationships by visiting high schools, attending and presenting and conferences, and hosting groups on campus.”
Petrie also mentioned that starting this year the admissions offices was initiating “new [efforts] to connect alumni to applicants for an alumni interview. So far, we have over 100 trained alumni volunteers. They are helping us to connect with more students than those that we already interview regionally, in office, by phone and by Skype.”
By launching the new slogan “Engaged Learning” and working harder to connect prospective students with alumni, along with encouraging collaboration between departments, Lawrence hopes to attract more students in the coming years.