The incentives were very student-oriented: food and books.
Over the Thanksgiving break, Calvin students were sent home with a simple message: “Recommend Calvin.” They were encouraged to talk with high school students about Calvin’s excellent education. Their reward for doing so, and for documenting the conversation online, was a free burrito and the chance to have second-semester books paid for by the college.
“This was our first attempt at organizing a way for all students to promote Calvin,” said Jeanne Nienhuis, associate director of admissions and financial aid. “We weren’t sure what to expect, but students got into the spirit of the initiative and made hundreds of contacts.”
The admissions office partnered with the communications and marketing office to design a special logo and a wealth of printed and online materials that captured the essence of having a Calvin conversation with a young person.
“We want to encourage students, alumni and parents to be that individual who can as a trusted advisor recommend Calvin to a young person,” said communications and marketing director Phil de Haan. “The capital ‘C’ in the middle of ‘Recommend’ highlights the Calvin ‘C’ and also suggests that we’re ‘commending’ Calvin to a young person. “
As the student phase of the “Recommend Calvin” campaign wrapped up, admissions staff members extended the invitation to current parents over the Christmas holidays, generating more referrals.
The final phase of the campaign now extends to Calvin alumni, some 54,000 strong and living worldwide, as well as Calvin faculty and staff, an “incredible resource of good will and authentically persuasive promotion for the college,” said vice president of enrollment management Russ Bloem.
Alumni who want to encourage a high school student to enroll at or visit Calvin can go to www.calvin.edu/go/recommend and fill out a brief Web form that summarizes the conversation with that student. Those who do so will get a coffee card that gives the alum a free latte the next time they are on campus. They also will be registered for a drawing for Calvin books, tickets and clothing.
“In the spring, we really need alumni to help us with high school seniors—the yield phase of the admissions cycle. If they’ve applied, encourage them to choose Calvin. If an alum finds the student needs more information, or there’s something Calvin should know about at this stage, they can use the ‘Recommend’ Web form and tell us,” said Bloem.
Of course, Calvin alumni have long been recommending their alma mater to young people from their families and their local schools, churches and neighborhoods. The “Recommend Calvin” campaign is simply a stronger and more organized call to action.
Action on Calvin’s behalf can be easier and closer than many grads imagine, according to alumna Rebecca Jones Hunt ’00 of Washington, D.C., who didn’t have to look far to make Calvin better known.
“For years, Ryan and I thought it was a waste of time to talk about Calvin to high school students in our lives, since we live on the East Coast and the chance of them attending Calvin seemed like an impossibility,” said Hunt. “But after students in both our neighborhood and church chose other Michigan colleges—seemingly out of the blue—we were convicted that it was time to reexamine our assumptions.”
Hunt decided on a more direct approach, starting in her own church, Washington Community Fellowship.
“This year, I was intentional about bringing Calvin into my interactions with high school students,” Hunt said. “I volunteer with the youth at my church, so I started with a simple commitment to wear my Calvin T-shirt or sweatshirt to our lock-ins, activities and weekly meetings, and carry my Calvin water bottle whenever I am in their presence.”
“When I heard students talk about colleges, I suggested that they give Calvin a look and brought admissions packets to several seniors this past fall,” she continued. “Upon learning that one was considering Calvin, I made it my mission to bring her and others to campus to see Calvin and experience ‘Fridays [at Calvin]’ first-hand.”
As a result of these simple efforts, and being willing to take responsibility for planning a trip, Hunt arranged to bring four young women from her church to Calvin in February for the college’s official visit program, “Fridays at Calvin.”
The “Recommend Calvin” alumni initiative was to begin in February and last until late April, the prime time for high school seniors to make their college choices. Obviously, the intent is to give a strategic boost to the admissions process, but alumni who get involved in this endeavor might get more than a cup of coffee in return.
“By introducing my youth group girls to Calvin, I've also been blessed with the chance to share in their college search experience—reliving my own excitement, wonder and fears from 15 years ago,” said Hunt. “It's been a joy to hear them run into youth group screaming ‘I got accepted at Calvin’ with big smiles on their faces.”
For some alumni, the process of becoming a “Calvin recommender” may start with a small act of kindness.
“When I pulled a Calvin pen out of my purse last week and heard a student express her frustration to have lost hers, I happily handed mine over,” said Hunt. “I can't wait to witness their weekend at Calvin!”
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