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2 ways to jumpstart (or improve) your rural outreach efforts

September 18, 2019

When we talked with Vice Presidents for Enrollment Management about rural student recruitment and support, we heard a similar refrain: “I don’t even know where to start. How can I find success in rural recruitment efforts—without spending a ton of money?”

Through our research, we identified two ways schools can start or improve their rural strategy without investing significant resources.

Tactic #1: Leverage a focus group of current rural students to understand gaps and challenges.

A focus group allows higher ed leaders to better understand the challenges that rural students face during their first year on campus. You can use their insights, stories, and feedback to identify potential gaps and highlight common pain points. The goal for this focus group should be to generate a list of services, programs, resources, and on-campus connections these students wanted during their transition.

Tactic #2: Use focus group feedback to guide an audit of campus programs and services.

Now that you know what rural students need from your institution, use that information to audit current programs and services. In doing this audit, it’s important to focus on recognizing which existing campus resources simply need rebranding for a new audience—rural students.

Often students will only participate in programs or use services that are explicitly labeled as “for them.” For example, a first-generation white student may not recognize that the Diversity Office has resources appropriate for her, because she associates “diversity” with race. The audit can help surface opportunities to increase awareness and drive utilization of these services among rural students.

In conducting this audit, you will need to collaborate with colleagues in student affairs, residence life, and academic affairs to create a holistic and comprehensive picture of on-campus support systems. 

The takeaway here is that the voices of those you intend to serve should play a key role in shaping your outreach efforts. By gathering input from your rural students and the counselors who often serve these areas, you and your team will have a clearer picture of the path forward.

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