How CLS Modified Its Recruitment Approach

On the front lines

CLS RecruitersQuantico. Las Vegas. San Diego. What do these seemingly random cities have in common with the OU College of Liberal Studies? These are just some of the locations that the CLS Prospective Student Services team travels in search of individuals seeking a higher education.

Packing up and hitting the road hasn’t always been our approach. It’s just within the last few years that we’ve gone to our prospective students rather than asking them to come to us.

The formative years

When I joined the College of Liberal Studies staff in 2007, our recruitment team was a one-man show. Aaron Jones (now the technical project manager for CLS) was the coordinator of recruitment, and I was hired to give him a hand with external recruitment along with an inbound recruiter who was to handle walk-ins.

Our three-man “engine that could” set out to openly evaluate our recruiting operation, and soon we developed a strategic plan the likes of which CLS had never before seen.

In 2007, it was not uncommon for one of us to drive two hours to western Oklahoma and sit in the library all afternoon, hoping that the ad we put in the local paper would attract a potential student. It became obvious that because all of our degree programs were available in an online delivery format, the “public library approach” just didn’t work anymore. Geographic barriers that once stood in the way of adult students were completely dissolved.

We realized that adult and nontraditional students react to our message better when we brought the message to them instead of asking them to come to us.

Our first step, however, was a renewed focus on our own backyard. We took the academic advisers from Oklahoma City Community College, Rose State College in Midwest City, Redlands Community College in El Reno and any other local community college who would listen to breakfast or lunch, hoping to bend their ears for a little exclusive time to discuss our degree programs.

We scheduled regular hours at every community college that would have us, and we began to see a gradual and continuing interest in our evening and online degree completion programs. We realized that adult and nontraditional students react to our message better when we brought the message to them instead of asking them to come to us.

As an adult student myself, of course it made sense. Adult students with busy lives, hectic work schedules, daycare drop-offs and everything in between simply don’t have the time or energy to seek us out – we have to seek them out.

A game plan

After two years of flatlined enrollments, CLS saw a modest increase in students at the end of 2007, and the wheels were set into motion. We had found our niche – we would bring the message to prospective students, wherever they were.

Also around this time, CLS launched a Bachelor of Science in Criminal Justice. The college also formalized the leadership concentration into its own degree – the Bachelor of Arts in Administrative Leadership. This opened up even more avenues for us to share our message.

In addition to the new bachelor’s options, over the next 18 months or so, the Master of Human and Health Services Administration degree was created, and the Museum Studies program became a free-standing degree as well.

It was obvious to us that some of these specialized fields would require immersion into the professional organizations that represented their membership.

It was obvious to us that some of these specialized fields would require immersion into the professional organizations that represented their membership.

We were already actively involved with several organizations for museum professionals like the American Association of Museums, the American Association for State and Local History, and the Oklahoma Museums Association, but in early 2008, we also had to start thinking about partnering with law enforcement organizations for our criminal justice degree.

We attended our first International Association of Chiefs of Police conference and spent a great deal of time visiting local law enforcement bureaus and police departments. It was about this time that then-Associate Dean Trent Gabert flew to Quantico, Va., to meet with the FBI National Academy to pitch our criminal justice degree as a part of their Academic Alliance. The FBI National Academy Associates board voted to accept OU as an official academic partner, and we have been a member of the FBI NAA Academic Alliance since 2009.

Team expansion

CLS recruiters at Enforcement expoDuring this period of rapid growth, it became apparent that we were going to need more bodies to help bring the message to our students. We partnered with OU-Tulsa to hire a full-time recruitment specialist for the Tulsa area, and we also partnered with OU Advanced Programs to hire a military recruitment specialist for the San Diego naval bases.

Our programs were booming, and by the end of 2009, we were seeing exponential growth in both our undergraduate and graduate online degree programs.

At the end of 2009, Dr. Gabert announced his retirement, and because of the rapid growth CLS was experiencing, Aaron Jones was promoted to special projects coordinator, and I was appointed coordinator of recruitment services for the college.

In early 2010, the first line of business was to form the rest of our recruitment staff in order to maintain our relationships with the professional organizations and continue our positive growth trend. We hired Missy Heinze to direct our external recruitment efforts and Jeff Roby to head up admissions as well as internal recruitment.

Melissa Caperton, the college’s Director of Communications, is also housed in our office.

Partnering up

Around that same time, due in large part to our association with the FBI National Academy, we were invited by the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department to begin recruitment efforts on the ground in Las Vegas.

The department, one of the largest in the country, was seeking out educational opportunities for its police and corrections staff – a large and complex task due to the nature of police shift work. Wasting no time immersing ourselves in the task, we brought our message to them, visiting each of the Las Vegas area commands. In the process, many of their employees enrolled, which today includes two deputy chiefs, four captains, five lieutenants, as well as multiple police and corrections officers.

Missy Heinze has invested a substantial amount of time developing and stewarding relationships over the last several years with the FBI NAA, the IACP and all of their partnering agencies. In fact, we’ve grown the relationships so much that over the past year, she was frequently out of the office. It became apparent that we would need someone on our staff who could connect specifically with law enforcement and corrections officers – someone who could speak their language. In October of last year, former police officer and SWAT operator Brian Petree joined our team as a military and law enforcement recruitment specialist.

With the recent introduction of the Master of Prevention Science degree, we immediately set out to partner with the appropriate professional organizations. Jeff Roby has led the charge in this arena, partnering with Community Anti-Drug Coalitions of America, the National Prevention Network and the American Indian Institute, just to name a few.

Aiming for excellence

Fast forward to today – the College of Liberal Studies has experienced a 48 percent growth in student numbers since that fall of 2007, and we’re currently the fourth-largest college at the University of Oklahoma.

Our goal as a team is to continue the mission of the College of Liberal Studies – to provide the highest quality interdisciplinary education to nontraditional students. As we continue to grow, I’m certain that our recruitment efforts will also continue to evolve, particularly with new degrees on the horizon. It looks like we’ve got our work cut out for us, but the great news is that we love what we do – bringing the message to our students.

Update: The College of Liberal Studies was renamed the College of Professional and Continuing Studies in 2017. 

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The College of Professional and Continuing Studies is a fully accredited academic unit of the University of Oklahoma, offering 100% online, hybrid and onsite degrees for working adults and non-traditional students.