Recruiting at Rural Minnesota Colleges Reaches as Far Away as Alaska

MINNEAPOLIS, Minn.

The Morris campus of the University of Minnesota sits on the prairie about 150 miles west of Minneapolis, 45 miles from the nearest Target Store, and far off the radar of many high school students shopping for colleges.

Mike Vandenberg is working to change that. He tools around the Twin Cities in a silver Toyota hybrid labeled with the words “University of Minnesota Morris,” often hitting three or four high schools in a day.

Other schools are making similar pushes.

With the population dropping in rural Minnesota and other parts of the Upper Midwest, the state’s rural four-year public universities are working to lure more students from inside and outside the state.

As they strive to fill every freshman class, schools like Morris, Minnesota-Crookston, Bemidji State and Southwest Minnesota State in Marshall have slashed their tuition for nonresidents, hired image consultants and started recruiting students as far away as Alaska.

Vandenberg’s job as an admissions counselor is to try to get the top high school students from the Twin Cities to put Minnesota-Morris on their short list.

“UMM isn’t someplace that’s on the radar too much for many students,” he said. “That’s one of the things I’m trying to change.”

The number of high school graduates in Minnesota is expected to decrease by 3 percent overall over the next decade, according to the University of Minnesota.

By comparison, the number of high school graduates is expected to drop by 23 percent in North Dakota, 8 percent in South Dakota and 6 percent each in Wisconsin, Iowa and Michigan.

In attempts to offset the downward trend, Southwest Minnesota State is targeting students in the Midwest and Winnipeg, Manitoba. Minnesota-Morris is attending college fairs in Arizona, Texas and Florida. Bemidji State is seeing an increase in the number of students from Alaska.

“Our football coach began recruiting some players from there,” said Russel Kreager, Bemidji State’s admissions director. “Right now, we’ve got conversations going with students (in Alaska) who are graduating in 2010. We’re targeting about 900 students either in Anchorage or the Kenai Peninsula.”

In recent years, several rural Minnesota colleges started charging nonresidents the same tuition as residents to attract more students.

Morris has hired a marketing firm to examine the Minnesota-Morris brand and hopes to enroll 2,100 students by 2013, roughly 400 more than currently on the books. It has started reimbursing prospective students who live more than 350 miles away up to $500 just for visiting the campus.

Information from: Star Tribune, http://www.startribune.com

The Associated Press



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