Admissions and Scholarships
2006 Recruiting Summit
Focus Groups Report
A series of focus groups were conducted at the 2006 Recruitment Summit in order to gather feedback regarding Mississippi State University's recruitment efforts. Current MSU students, alumni, and faculty, high school counselors, and community college counselors served as respondents in the focus groups. As a whole, the groups offered generally positive comments about services of The Office of Admissions and Scholarships. They thought that campus visits have enormous power and potential to recruit students. They also stated that all personal contacts from The Office of Admissions and Scholarships (including Admissions Counselors and Roadrunners) were greatly influential in bringing students to MSU. Each group also detailed areas that can be improved. Respondents requested more personal contacts such as hand-written notes (as opposed to less personal mailings) be sent to prospective students. Both MSU faculty and alumni requested that they be utilized more. Several respondents saw opportunities to improve The Office of Admissions and Scholarships website.
The following report presents a brief description of the procedures used to collect the focus group responses, as well as a detailed analysis of each group's responses by question.
The respondents were divided into five separate, homogenous groups: a current MSU student group, an alumni group, a faculty group, a high school counselor group, and a community college counselor group. Each group contained 15 or fewer respondents. Also present for each group discussion were a facilitator and a note-taker equipped with a notebook computer. The focus group discussions lasted approximately one hour each.
Each group facilitator was given a list of questions to serve as a basic guideline for the discussion. The questions were as follows:
- Please tell me what you think about the on-campus recruiting events and visitation programs at Mississippi State University.
- Please evaluate both the frequency and the quality of the communication you've had with MSU's Admissions Counselors, Roadrunners, and Orientation Leaders.
- Have you explored the information on the 'Admissions and Scholarships' website? If 'yes', tell me what you think about it. Was it helpful?
- What do you think about the recruiting materials MSU sends in the mail?
- Have you been to the Welcome Center in the new Cullis-Wade Depot? If 'yes', please give your impressions of it.
- Please give an example of the most helpful service you've received from MSU's Office of Admissions and Scholarships.
- Please tell me your suggestions about how to improve our recruiting and communication efforts.
Analysis of Responses
The analysis presented here compares and contrasts by question the responses made by each group. A bullet-point summary follows each detailed description.
1. Please tell me what you think about the on-campus recruiting events and visitation programs at Mississippi State University.
All respondent groups offered several positive evaluations of the visitation programs at Mississippi State University. Most groups felt that campus visitation was the most important and effective tool for recruiting. MSU students indicated that recruiting events on-campus were "great", the people they interacted with were friendly and helpful, and the "feel of the campus brings people here." One student particularly emphasized the recruiting success of the honors orientation program and mentioned the "connectedness" she felt with the small group. Some alumni commented on the excellent work of Admissions Counselors and Roadrunners during recruiting events, as well as the effectiveness of providing athletic tickets and meal tickets for prospective students. Faculty agreed that meeting with prospective students on-campus is a great experience and is effective. One high school counselor highlighted the "wonderful job" that MSU does with minority recruiting. Community college counselors especially applauded the helpfulness and "attractiveness" of the staff at recruiting events.
All groups suggested a number of areas that need improving with regard to recruiting events and visitations. Several students indicated that they did not receive as much personal attention from recruiters at their school or during MSU visitation as they would like. Some alumni suggested that not all students are having good visits to campus and that one reason for this may be a lack of structure to the visits. Alumni agreed that every minute of visitation needs to be "scheduled" and "used to the fullest" rather than leaving prospective students on their own for extended periods of time. Faculty felt that parents should be encouraged more to visit campus with their children. They also suggested recruitment training be given to select faculty within each department, and students should meet with faculty that teach in their interest areas instead of administrators. In addition, faculty stated that these recruiting events can be overly burdensome on departments, and faculty who participate need some further compensation. Both faculty and high school counselors thought that the timing of Discovery Day was bad because departments are stretched thin during Homecoming and high school students are stressed from midterms. High school counselors suggested moving recruiting events to September. Several individuals recommended setting up transportation to bring prospective students from neglected areas of the state, such as the Gulf Coast.
- Campus visits are extremely important and effective.
- Admissions Counselors and Roadrunners, as well as other staff, do a good job at recruiting events.
- Prospective students want more personal attention.
- Campus visits would improve if more structure was provided.
- Parents and guardians should be encouraged to visit campus.
- The Office of Admissions and Scholarships could consider ways to make it easier for departments and alumni to participate in recruiting events.
- The Office of Admissions and Scholarships could also consider more convenient dates for Discovery Day.
- More students might visit if transportation was provided for prospective students throughout the state.
2. Please evaluate both the frequency and the quality of the communication you've had with MSU's Admissions Counselors, Roadrunners, and Orientation Leaders.
Again, respondents gave both positive evaluations and needs for improvement regarding communications from The Office of Admissions and Scholarships. Those students who reported having multiple contacts with Admissions Counselors, Roadrunners, and Orientation Leaders found them all to be personable and successful in getting students excited about attending MSU. Several students indicated that recruiters maintained contact with them and that Roadrunners did a great job sending out personal letters. However, other students did not have the same experience. A number of students from areas such as Memphis and Starkville said they received little or no recruitment contacts from MSU. One student thought that most of the recruitment efforts were devoted to honors students and that other students were not recruited as heavily. Most students and alumni stated that all communications should emphasize a "personal touch." Alumni especially found that numerous phone contacts from different individuals as not helpful; they agreed that there should be more one-on-one contact so personal relationships can develop.
Faculty evaluated their contacts with The Office of Admissions and Scholarships and stated that most communication has been "great", although they would like to be informed more about The Office of Admissions and Scholarships' recruiting efforts. They indicated that departmental communication with prospective students could be improved by giving departments access to The Office of Admissions and Scholarships' list of prospective student contacts. Additionally, faculty felt that they should be informed about the majors and departments prospective students show interest in, so that they can better target these students. Faculty also suggested that students should be encouraged more to "show up" for departmental visit appointments and that students should be better informed about the enrollment process. In particular, faculty stated that confusion about who student students should talk to regarding enrollment procedures has led to students being transferred all over campus.
Both community college and high school counselors were satisfied with the communications from Admissions Counselors and others from MSU. Community college counselors noted excellent coordination with them regarding recruitment visits and the wonderful job recruiters do when speaking with students. Like MSU faculty, community college counselors felt more could be done with addressing the particular goals/career interests of students - e.g., have faculty advisors speak to students about particular majors of interest.
- Admissions Counselors, Roadrunners, and Orientation Leaders are personable, likable, and effective at recruiting when maintaining communications with students.
- Many students were not satisfied with the frequency of communications from The Office of Admissions and Scholarships.
- Most groups reiterated the need for a "personal touch" when making contacting prospective students.
- Faculty would like more internal communication, including more information about prospective students.
- High school and community college counselors were pleased with Admissions and Scholarships communication efforts, particular in coordinating recruitment visits.
- Some respondents suggested having MSU speakers address the career interests of students more directly.
3. Have you explored the information on the 'Admissions and Scholarships' website? If 'yes', tell me what you think about it. Was it helpful?
Most groups were familiar with the website as well as the changes that have been made to the website over the last few years. There was a lot of disagreement about the quality and usefulness of the website. Many thought that the website was much improved over previous incarnations, but the student group uniformly disliked the website. While they found the The Office of Admissions and Scholarships' web pages attractive, they indicated that the site is "not up-to-par" and "not user-friendly." They noted that both the course catalog and scholarships portions are poorly done. Students state that scholarships get lost and that they get poor feedback about whether a scholarship application is complete. They are often uncertain about what they need to do to finish an application. One student said that information from the website about her admittance was very late, and she had to call to find out rather than rely on the web feedback. To fix these problems, alumni suggested that the site needs to offer feedback about the status of students' applications, similar to that on Dell's website (e.g., "Dell has received your order...."). They also proposed having a "deadline checklist" on the site that displays what the "prospective student has committed to and what the university has committed to."
In contrast, community college counselors and MSU faculty were impressed with the website. Counselors liked the simplified text on the main page as well as the "rotating pictures." Faculty found the site to be "a step up" from two years ago and singled out the tuition calculator as a nice feature. As for potential improvements, community college counselors thought that a link to information specific to community college/junior college transfers would be helpful. Faculty suggested adding a data base that links general scholarships to the individual departmental scholarships. They also believed that the website should be promoted more. High school counselors noted that the website could incorporate a "virtual campus" tour for those students that are unable to visit the campus.
- Most respondents found the website visually appealing.
- Some found the website much improved over the old website -especially the tuition calculator.
- Students found the site difficult to use and do not get enough information about the status of their applications.
- A "deadline checklist" was proposed as an additional feature to the site.
- A link to community college-specific information was proposed.
- Faculty recommended adding a database that links general scholarships to departmental scholarships.
- High school counselors thought a "virtual campus" tour could be incorporated into the website.
4. What do you think about the recruiting materials MSU sends in the mail?
Responses about the quality and amount of mailed recruiting materials were mixed. Faculty said that many students think the materials are great, while others are more negative. Community college counselors thought highly of the design of brochures, noting the quality of the information provided and the diversity represented in photographs. They liked receiving the print catalogs rather than catalogs on CDs. They believed that seniors in high school received an appropriate amount of mailings, although there seems to be a "let down" in frequency of mailings for freshmen enrolled in community colleges.
Other groups were harsher in their assessment of the mailings. Many students indicate that mailings were very late coming, if they received them at all. Some stated that other students chose to attend other universities simply because acceptance notification letters were late in arriving. Students suggested that they need more mailings and that they need to start earlier in the Junior year of high school. Alumni had similar comments regarding mail-outs starting too late and thought that MSU should be targeting Juniors and Sophomores more. They also discounted the "shotgun" approach to mailing recruitment materials and feel that most mailings are too impersonal - too many form letters. More handwritten, personal communications were proposed. Alumni also suggested that materials should be hand-delivered when possible, to allow for questions and more personal contact.
Although more positive in their evaluation of the materials, both high school counselors and faculty felt that they need to know more about what is being sent to prospective students. High school counselors thought they could be more well-informed about deadlines and new things at MSU if they regularly received materials such as fact sheets. Faculty stated that, by knowing more about recruitment materials and efforts, individual departments could develop their own recruitment plans. They also suggested that created a "best recruitment practices" webpage, departments could be more involved and effective.
- The visual appeal of the mail-out materials and the quality of the information appeared to be good.
- Some students were happy with the materials, while others noted the absence or lateness of mailings.
- Alumni thought the mailings started too late and that they should be more personal, such as handwritten notes.
- Faculty and school counselors would like to know more about what materials the students receive.
- Counselors would like to receive more up-to-date information, perhaps in the form of a fact sheet.
5. Have you been to the Welcome Center in the new Cullis-Wade Depot? If 'yes', please give your impressions of it.
Most respondents had little or no experience with the new Welcome Center. Perhaps two individuals in total had visited. Those that had visited found the building "beautiful" with an excellent location. They also were impressed with the staff. Other respondents either had not had a chance to visit or were not aware the center had opened yet. Some indicated that they look forward to touring the facility soon.
6. Please give an example of the most helpful service you've received from MSU's Office of Admissions and Scholarships.
All groups were able to indicate a number of services they found helpful. Students pointed out the usefulness of campus visit programs and contacts with Admissions Counselors. They said that students who had frequent contact with Admissions Counselors were greatly helped, while those that did not were "clueless." Alumni singled out the work of the MSU Roadrunners, calling them "professional and friendly." Faculty listed a number of services, particular the "Bettersworth" speakers series and coordinating the campus visitations with departments. High school counselors also highlighted the helpfulness of Admissions Counselors; they stated that recruiters do a nice job promoting MSU at college fairs. Once again, Admissions Counselors were highly thought of by community college counselors, who also thought that the amount of printed material they receive was appropriate.
- Campus visits were emphasized once again as helpful and important.
- The effectiveness and necessity of Admissions Counselor communication with prospective students was highlighted.
- The Roadrunners were well thought of.
- The Bettersworth speakers program was praised.
- Community counselors liked the amount of print material they received.
7. Please tell me your suggestions about how to improve our recruiting and communication efforts.
Each group offered several constructive ideas. Their suggestions, broken down by group category, are listed below:
- Get more prospective students here to view the campus.
- Have more faculty meet with students more often during campus visits.
- Promote student organizations such as Greek Life more.
- Academic events, not just athletic events, should be used to recruit students.
- MSU students and Roadrunners should be brought back to their respective home towns and high schools to recruit.
- There should be more personal meetings between prospective students and MSU students/Roadrunners on campus.
- Scholarships need to be awarded earlier.
- Scholarships and admissions information should be mailed together in a single portfolio.
- Alumni should be contacted earlier and more often about putting their children and grandchildren on prospective student lists.
- Utilize freshmen to get names of prospective students they know from high school.
- Use alumni more to promote MSU. Have them speak about what an MSU degree has done for them.
- Come to alumni with specific requests, because they are willing to help.
- Have alumni reconvene to form a working group to generate specific action plans.
- Do a better job of disseminating information about the various majors available at MSU. Some ways of doing that:
- Improve departmental and college websites.
- Institute more summer programs, such as particular "College Weeks" or "Department Weeks".
- Have high school and community college counselors work more closely with the MSU Career Center to inform students about the careers they can achieve by attending MSU.
- Get undergraduates involved more with recruiting, because they carry a lot of credibility.
- "Sell" more to the group that scores 20 - 24 on the ACT.
- Focus more on the academic quality of the university to attract top students.
- Get alumni more involved. Perhaps institute alumni advisory boards for individual departments.
- Provide a toll-free phone number for guidance counselors.
High School Counselors:
- Promote the Honors College more.
- Faculty and Deans need to visit more schools in more areas of the state. For example, have faculty give talks on what careers can be made from the degrees that are offered in their departments.
- Have Scholarship Interview Days, where scholarship packages are awarded that day.
- High school counselors need a "1-800" number with which to contact Admissions and Scholarships; many do not have long-distance in the schools.
Community College Counselors:
- Have President Fogelsong contact high schools and community/junior colleges to encourage them to release lists of students for recruiting purposes.