How the enrollment underdogs are using summer to stay competitive

"We try to put on a really good showing of our great facilities that parents might not expect because we're not an R1 and we're not this huge school on a sprawling, dozens-acre campus," says Meghan Buckley, director of Adelphi University's pre-college summer program.

Small- to mid-sized colleges that lack brand power are finding themselves at a deeper recruiting disadvantage than large state schools and high-profile private universities. Adelphi University in New York and others, however, are strengthening their pre-college summer programs to get prospective students on campus and enrolled in the fall semester.

These summer programs provide high schoolers with a low-stakes environment to test drive a major in a campus setting. Meghan Buckley, director of Adelphi’s pre-college summer session, is working to incorporate the program better into its admissions process, helping wide-eyed recruits understand the value of a low-key campus.

“These pre-college programs are especially important recruitment pipelines for small- to mid-sized schools where it’s sometimes harder to draw high school students that are thinking about college in this big, abstract sense,” Buckley says. “They come to Adelphi and they like that they don’t feel like just a number.”

Buckley’s team works hands-on with the admissions office to turn Adelphi’s pre-college summer program into an enrollment pipeline. Her staff members connect with students one-on-one at admissions recruiting events and monitor first-year applications and intended majors through the Adelphi admissions portal.  Pre-college programming is then adjusted accordingly to meet the demands of what students are most interested in studying. 

As high school students participate in these curated programs to gain college credit, Buckley hopes their interaction with professors and acclimation with Adelphi’s climate sway them to enroll. “One of the most important aspects for prospective students is navigating between a bunch of different schools. This is one kind of version that’s more subtle.”

Moreover, the program worked with university recruitment to develop its own batch of marketing strategies. Adelphi’s team has ditched the postcard and other physical marketing ploys and now runs a digital campaign that can pinpoint geographically where student interest is coming from. Last year, Adelphi was generating as much interest in California as they were next door in New Jersey.

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Another university taking a similar approach to its pre-college summer programs is Marist College, which hosts three sessions across July (two on campus and one virtually).

Parents, who play a varying degree of influence in a student’s college exploration, can be an equally important client to woo. Buckley regularly encourages parents to attend campus tours so that they can visualize where their money could potentially end up. “We try to put on a really good showing of our great facilities that parents might not expect because we’re not an R1 and we’re not this huge school on a sprawling, dozens-acre campus.”

Buckley has heard K12 principals and district leaders urge their students to boost their college readiness by taking advantage of more extracurricular activities despite the price tag that is sometimes associated with them. “While it’s an elective, oftentimes expensive, opportunity, it’s becoming a necessary one for a lot of students,” she says.

As a result, Adelphi’s pre-college summer program encourages families to explore local grants available that can fund these programs. A lot of the university’s enrollment comes from charter schools based in Manhattan, Queens and Brooklyn that provide grants to students for pre-college programs across the region.

Adelphi has about 100 to 125 students participating in its pre-college summer programs. While the private Long Island University is a bit larger, colleges and universities boasting anywhere between 800 to 2,000 students that can recruit that many students can substantially boost their pipeline, Buckley says.

Buckley recently wrote about how colleges of all sizes are working to better incorporate pre-college programs into their admissions process in the Journal of College Access.

Alcino Donadel
Alcino Donadel
Alcino Donadel is a UB staff writer and first-generation journalism graduate from the University of Florida. He has triple citizenship from the U.S., Ecuador and Brazil.

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