Leaders in recruitment

UND Office of Admissions sharing its best practices and successes on national stage

Jason Trainer

UND Director of Admissions Jason Trainer was among a UND team that presented at last month’s ACT Enrollment Planners Conference in Chicago. UND’s presentation brought in a full audience and received a mountain of positive feedback. Photo by Tyler Ingham.

UND’s Director of Admissions Jason Trainer and Assistant Director Phil Irwin relish this time of year, when campus is again flooded with familiar faces.

In Irwin’s role overseeing recruitment, he’s personally convinced some of the bright-eyed new freshmen on campus this week to call UND home.

“It’s not uncommon when walking on campus to recognize someone that you’ve worked with. Or you see them bringing in their headboard to the place that they’re moving into,” Irwin said, with warm reflection. “I’ll be walking to the Union and someone will flag me down and say, ‘Hey! I’m here!’ It’s extremely rewarding.”

“When you have those moments, it’s fun,” Trainer added. “It’s a good reminder that, although we’re always looking at the numbers, it’s much more than numbers. It starts with people.”

But those are important, too, and this year, they indicate there are more people to welcome to campus. UND data suggests that the number of new freshman students who have enrolled and signed up for classes this fall is up at least 1 percent, as of the first day of classes, from this time last year.

The numbers also show that the collective ACT score and high school GPA for the incoming freshman class continues to trend upward, making it, academically, the most qualified class in University history. Furthermore, early data indicate that diversity is increasing as well.

“Our growth and success is thanks, in part, to the work of Trainer and his team,” noted UND Provost Tom DiLorenzo, “and they’ve been sharing their success story with peers around the country.”

Trainer, Irwin and Assistant Director of Admissions Jennifer Aamodt were recently selected to present at last month’s ACT Enrollment Planners Conference in Chicago. The three-day event is packed with discussions of national academic trends in high schools, enrollment challenges and best practices. UND’s presentation, “Never Recruit Alone: Utilizing Data to Involve Key Campus Influencers,” brought in a full audience and received a mountain of positive feedback. Lines formed for each of the three speakers post-presentation, with attendees itching to ask questions and learn more.

“The presentation was compelling,” said Josh Norman, associate vice president for enrollment management at Eastern Illinois University. “The emphasis on personal attention and customized visit opportunities increasing yield was a takeaway that has already begun to influence our enrollment management operations.”

Jason Trainer

Jason Trainer, UND director of admissions, addresses a crowd of prospective students and their parents at the Chester Fritz Auditorium on the UND campus. Photo by Tyler Ingham.

“It was exciting to have so many people actively engaged in our session, asking questions and taking notes,” Aamodt said. “It affirms that many schools are facing similar challenges and were interested in how we’ve had success in addressing those challenges.

Find problem, solve problem

The problem UND presented is one it’s faced since 2012. And it’s not unique.

When UND Admissions noticed a multi-year trend of decreasing yield – or the number of students who are admitted and then ultimately enroll at UND – they knew it was time to dig into the data.

What they found was a national yield issue. High school students everywhere are now applying and being admitted to four or five schools at once, making it difficult for universities to assess and hit their enrollment goals. Instead of accepting this as an insurmountable problem, UND’s Leaders in Action used the data to focus their efforts on yield, leveraging three main recruitment areas.

“We worked on revamping the campus visit program, trying some unique large visit events, and then some ultra-unique events that we’ve never done before, and that other people had never done before,” Irwin said. “We were able to show that we could slow down, and even stop that decrease in yield based on some of these techniques.”

Trainer said the challenge with admissions is that institutions are all doing the same activities. “We’re all going to high school visits, we’re all sending post cards and emails and texts,” he said. “So how do you do something that’s unique and memorable for a family or student when everybody’s doing the same thing?”

One tactic UND presented to the ACT audience was Admitted Student Day. The idea was to invite admitted students to campus for an experience tied to academics that would help sell them on the decision to join the UND family. Irwin explained that it’s a population that often gets ignored in recruitment.

“What we’re finding is that a lot of students who are admitted haven’t necessarily made the decision to attend, when a lot of times the assumption was that they had,” Irwin said. “Of the people that came to our admitted student event last year, 92 percent showed up here at UND and took classes.”

This kind of forward thinking is just one of several ways the Admissions crew is using data to rethink recruiting experiences. Over the past couple of years, they’ve incorporated conference-style open houses that involve stakeholders across campus, as well as grad party crashes that have gone viral on social media. That creativity has differentiated UND from other universities, making it a captivating choice for prospective students.

“What we were able to showcase in this presentation was that we used data on the front end to identify our goal, then did something unique that is authentic to the University, and then came back and measured it very transparently,” Trainer said. “What we’re seeing is the outcome of those intentional efforts.”

Trainer’s team believes they will see enrollment continue to grow as their work progresses and UND’s new brand is fully rolled out and embraced. But the office motto is always in mind: You recruit one student at a time.

“It’s one thing to look at the numbers,” Irwin said. “But it’s more rewarding to have the parents of the student come up to you and say, ‘We just dropped our daughter off. We’re excited and happy to leave her here.’”