On Campus

Atlantic universities compete for students

Facing dropping enrolment, schools are starting to cast a wider recruitment net

With Atlantic provinces looking at a plunge in the number of high school graduates in the next decade, universities in the region are casting a wider recruitment net and becoming more competitive as they fight to attract students from a dwindling pool of applications.

After ten years of growth across the country, fewer students are enrolling in undergraduate programs, according to information released by Statistics Canada in July.

The Atlantic region is being hit the hardest. The number of full-time students declined in all four Atlantic provinces in 2007-2008 – from less than one per cent in New Brunswick to more than four per cent in Prince Edward Island.

An aging population means this trend may continue as fewer young people are going through the school system in Atlantic Canada.

The Nova Scotia Department of Education estimates there will be a 30 per cent drop in high school graduates in the next 10 years. In New Brunswick, the Department of Education places this figure closer to 20 per cent.

“It’s certainly something we’re concerned about … it means we will have to recruit perhaps a little more vigorously outside of the region,” said Gloria Jollymore, vice-president of advancement at Mount Allison University in Sackville, N.B.

Universities are preparing for the drop in Atlantic region applicants by evolving their communication strategies.

Schools are increasing their out-of-province recruitment efforts and expanding their presence on social networking sites like Twitter and Facebook.

In June, Acadia’s Twitter account, Acadia4U, announced they sent out “Good luck on exams” cards and a bag of tea to potential students. The Acadia class of 2013 Facebook page, run by a recruiter, already has more than 500 members.

John MacFarlane, Acadia’s vice-president of advancement, said the pinch for students is a new issue that universities didn’t find themselves grappling with in the past.

“Nobody had to be concerned with fancy marketing and recruitment plans. Everyone is adjusting knowing that the market is shrinking,” said MacFarlane.

He said his undergraduate school in Wolfville, N.S., has hired full-time recruiters in Ontario and Alberta so interested students in those regions can speak directly to people about the school.

And there are signs the more personal approach is working. Last year, Acadia’s enrolment went up by nine per cent after several years of decline.

Acadia’s competitors are using similar strategies and hoping for similar results.

“We’re very attentive and we’re putting more energy into recruiting now than we ever have by a fair margin,” said Sean Riley, president of St. Francis Xavier University in Antigonish, N.S., where 40 per cent of the student body comes from outside the province.

Riley said schools need to focus on building their profile across the country, not just in Atlantic Canada.

“We have some real room to grow … in terms of the national brand and recruiting,” he said.

He said increases in the number of high school graduates in Toronto could more than make up for the declining number of graduates in rural Nova Scotia.

Darin King, the minister of education in Newfoundland and Labrador, said his province already has a recruiting advantage over its regional competitors.

Since 2001, tuition fees in the province have been frozen. And earlier this month, the Newfoundland and Labrador government eliminated interest on provincial student loans – the first province in the country to do so – in a move that could make it a more attractive place to study.

“We’re trying to do our best to offer a student aid package … and enticing them to come to Newfoundland,” King said.

A June survey by the Maritime Provinces Higher Education Commission said the number of students from the Maritimes at Memorial University, Newfoundland and Labrador’s only university, increased by 884 per cent between 1999 and 2007. Almost three-quarters of those students came from Nova Scotia.

– The Canadian Press

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