Rainbow Bridge

Attracting Prospective Students in New Ways

College guides, viewbooks, open houses—these are some of the many vehicles that drive prospective students to Buffalo State. But with a declining pool of local high school graduates, increased competition for students from far beyond the Buffalo Niagara region, and an increasingly tech-savvy adolescent population, the college is undertaking new efforts to boost awareness and appeal.

Counselors from the Admissions Office embarked on a first-time coordinated tour of Southern Ontario high schools and college fairs this fall, in addition to the more than 400 U.S.-based programs they attend annually. The move broadens personal interactions to a burgeoning international market that is very close to Buffalo.

Mary Finger, an admissions counselor, said the Canadian Incentive Grant, which offers free room, is only one lure for Canadian students.

“The Canadian students we’ve talked to appreciate the range of programs that Buffalo State offers,” she said. “And our close proximity to Canada is very appealing for many prospective Canadian students.”

Finger said the Admissions Office recently refined its existing counselor visitation system. Besides traveling to well-defined territories, counselors are now also targeting specific high schools within those areas. One counselor lives and works in the metro New York City region, which continues to be an increasing draw for incoming students. One in four Buffalo State students now comes from the area. Efforts to visit Central New York have also increased, because more applications have come from that area in recent years.

The Admissions Office always hopes to achieve an early first-year student admissions close, as it did in 2007, so they can focus on transfer admissions. But despite no early close in 2008, this year’s incoming group of first-year students appears to be the largest in 17 years.

“We’ve been emphasizing college visits and open houses,” Finger said. “Our statistics show that 70 percent of those who visit the campus will apply—and then, of those students who are accepted, 50 percent will make a deposit.”

While admissions counselors use online tools such as instant messaging and forums to reach students, they’re not the only ones at Buffalo State to harness the power of the Web. College Relations launched search engine marketing earlier this year.

Piloted successfully in the spring, the program relaunched last month and will run for the rest of the year. When students search for key terms through Google, Yahoo, or MSN, a targeted Buffalo State advertisement appears along the right margin. Students who click on the ad are taken to a custom landing page on the Buffalo State Web site that explains the program of interest and includes an option to “apply now.”

College Relations is marketing a variety of undergraduate and graduate programs using hundreds of keywords. The search engine hits and landing page visits are tracked. Altogether, the three-month pilot program yielded 133 “conversions”—people who decided to apply.

“Not a lot of colleges are doing search engine marketing,” said Melissa Meehan, director of Web administration in the College Relations Office. “The pilot program showed us, among other things, that students from outside the area are quite serious about coming to Buffalo State. It also showed us that prospects are ready to apply more quickly than we may have thought.”

College Relations has created custom pages on social networking sites as another way to connect with prospective students. The Web redesign, slated for test launch later this month, will include clickable icons at the bottom of the home page to these new Buffalo State–branded pages on Facebook, Flickr, MySpace, Twitter, Virb, and YouTube.

Finger said the “never-ending cycle” of recruitment is most rewarding each year at First-Year Convocation, when she’s reminded of what all the hard work is for. She thinks that now is a particularly exciting time to market the college.

“Buffalo State is like a hidden gem that’s really coming into its own,” she said. “Between all the new majors, the opening of the Burchfield Penney Art Center, and the renovated Campbell Student Union, there are plenty of new things that appeal to students. The college has great tuition, great faculty, and a great location. It’s a great investment.”