Academic scholarships and marketing spark biggest freshmen class since ’09

Posted March 23, 2018

Teamwork lies at the heart of the Admissions office and the university’s department of Communication and Marketing. Through collaborative processes, these two offices on the University of Wisconsin-River Falls’ campus have been successful in reworking and revitalizing the communication and outreach of the UWRF brand to the prospective students.

And the proof is in the numbers, at the start of last semester, the University of Wisconsin-River Falls became home to 1,325 new freshman students, the largest since 2009.

Sarah Egerstrom, executive director of admissions and new student and family programs, says that enrollment at UWRF has been declining for several years, and since assuming the executive director position three years ago she and her team have been focused on stabilizing enrollment rates by primarily reworking and rewriting the communication flow to prospective and current students.

“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 says. “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 that is designed to help the University be more competitive. The University is in the third year of this program.

“There’s two layers of awards,” Egerstrom says. “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 thousand in their first year and an additional two thousand in their second year.”

Working closely with the university’s Admissions Office the university’s Communications and Marketing Department is responsible for spreading the word about the UWRF campus. The small but mighty team in the Communications and Marketing Department, which includes student interns, has the important job of getting the UWRF brand out to the public.

Jeff Papas executive director of the university’s Communications and Marketing Department, also acknowledges the importance of having increased enrollment of first-year students, “we don’t want to be a best kept secret anymore,” he says.  The more students the bigger the budget and the more resources that the university has. To attract more students, Papas’ focus is 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 says. “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 to 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 college’s 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 says. “We feel that by doing it on Snapchat as well that 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 freshmen marketing survey,” Papas says. “We need to find out what is working better and what can we 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 says. “You’ve got a more vibrant campus community,”