A New Direction at Ferrum College

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John W. Dysart
The Dysart Group, Inc.

The latest recruitment, financial aid and enrollment numbers have been finalized for the year and Ferrum College is shining! This small, liberal arts college located in Ferrum, Virginia has been a constant in the Commonwealth for almost a century, but the last two years have brought the institution to the forefront and people are taking notice.

While many competitors in the state and the region are struggling with recruitment, discount rates and retention, Ferrum College stands out from the crowd. Presidential leadership and strong support from the Board of Trustees have served to literally transform the physical plant of the campus. A new recruitment plan implemented in the last eighteen months has resulted in increased new student enrollments and overall gains in the number of full-time undergraduate students. The plan, focused on direct marketing, has generated exciting outcomes. Positive changes in the financial aid process and in institutional financial aid programs have provided sufficient amounts of merit financial aid to attract good students while ensuring that significant aid resources are available to qualified students based upon financial need.

Nothing makes recruitment and retention success easier than product improvements. We sometimes hate to admit it, but student satisfaction is at the heart of success. Much has been accomplished in recent years under the leadership of Ferrum’s President, Dr. Jennfer Braaten.

  • New resident halls have been build with an emphasis on apartment style living.
  • The student center has been improved to accommodate the needs and desires of millennial students.
  • Smart classrooms have been established with an emphasis on utilization of the latest technology.
  • Meeting spaces for students, faculty and administrators have been expanded.
  • Ferrum has invested in a new alumni conference center.

In short, Dr. Braaten, with the support of the Board of Trustees, has initiated and is on the verge of completing the most significant improvements in the physical plant of the College in at least 50 years!

While total enrollment at Ferrum College has been stable for many years, administrators sought to increase the number of enrolled students significantly. The idea was to ensure that enrollment growth coinsided with strategic investments in physical plant in order to take full advantage of increased College capacity.

A new recruitment model was introduced over the last eighteen months. The first priority was to focus on direct marketing rather than general marketing strategies. The College did not consider future investments in mass media advertising such as radio, television, newspapers and magazines. While these mechanisms might be appropriate for some schools, it was determined that there were better and more cost-effective ways to appeal to college bound high school students.

Direct mail letters authored by successful graduates were utilized to communicate with prospective students and their parents.

Systematic communication via telephone, email and personal visits between admission counselors and prospective students was initiated. Contact rates were tracked on a weekly basis and the quality of contacts with perspective students was evaluated upon a comparative folder completion rates, acceptance rates, visit rates, financial aid application rates and deposit rates.

Perhaps the most important element for a successful recruitment plan pertains to the training, supervision, support, motivation and leadership of admission counselors. Ferrum College benefited from the extraordinary seasoned and intelligent leadership of the Director of Admission, Gilda Woods.

The results of the new initiatives have been impressive. Admission applications have increased nearly 40% in the last two years. New student enrollments are up by more than 36%.

The Financial Aid Office has been very influential in the transformation at Ferrum College. Under the leadership of Heather Hollandsworth, the Financial Aid Office has undergone a dramatic change in a very short period of time.

Heather has insisted upon taking primary responsibility to ensure that all prospective new students and all returning students apply for financial aid as soon as possible and that they complete their financial aid folders as early as possible. The results of her leadership have been impressive. More aggressive support to encourage new and returning students to apply for financial aid and complete their folders have increased financial aid cash flow by more than 130% in less than two years!

Let’s discuss outcomes:

  • Ferrum College registered the largest number of new students in the last 20 years.
  • The number of honor students increased by 73% over the last two years.
  • New student enrollments have increased 37% in just the last two years.
  • Financial aid processing has improved dramatically. Cash flow has been enhanced as efficiencies have been applied to the financial aid process.
  • Ferrum College now educates more than 1,000 qualified students!
  • The campus physical plant has been transformed.

Ferrum College has completely repositioned itself in a short period of time. Increased revenue from increased enrollments will be invested back into the educational product. Obviously, currently enrolled students will benefit from continued improvements but the enhanced educational product will make the institution even more attractive to prospective students.

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