Tradition as a tool for student recruitment

Blogger’s note: There appears to be a problem with the ocmmenting form on this post. I hope the prblogs.org folks are working on it. Thanks for your patience. – AC

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And how do we keep our balance? That I can tell you in one word: Tradition!

— Tevye, “Fiddler on the Roof”

The 2008 St. Pat, Paul Voss, watches St. Pat's Follies last March along with a throng of S&T students. (How'd that guy with the Michigan cap get in there?)
The 2008 St. Pat, Paul Voss, watches St. Pat's Follies last March along with a throng of S&T students. (How'd that guy with the Michigan cap get in there?)
Every college and university has its share of traditions. Starting today, Missouri S&T kicks off one of its oldest and most celebrated traditions: St. Pat’s Week.

Last year, we celebrated the centennial of St. Pat’s, which began on our campus in 1908. (Full disclosure: We stole the idea from our sister campus in Columbia, where engineering students a few years earlier designated St. Pat the patron saint of engineers. But here in Rolla, where we had a much higher proportion of engineering students, we appropriated the celebration and rechristened it as our very own.)

This particular celebration is an important part of our history as a university. It probably means nothing to you, unless you happen to live in Missouri. (Research among Missourians in the 1990s revealed that our campus was known for two things: “excellent engineering programs” and “St. Pat’s.”) But it means a lot to alumni of many generations, who fondly recall it as a one-of-a-kind rite of spring and an important part of their college days. It means a lot to a segment of our student body, too.

But how important are such traditions to prospective students? Where does tradition fit into a recruitment strategy?

I haven’t read or heard much about this. It seems most colleges and universities neglect the power of their traditions as a marketing tool for prospective students. This seems to be a mistake, because traditions usually come with great stories. I know ours does.

We talk about our St. Pat’s tradition in our recruitment materials, but it is never front and center. We prefer to talk more about how our campus is the ideal place for a certain type of student. We talk about our range of majors, the availability of financial aid, and all the other stuff every other college or university talks about, only we try to do it in a way that sets us apart from everybody else.

But one of the things that really sets us apart is this tradition thing. Every institution has them. Maybe we should be using them more to distinguish us from the competition.

Although, to be honest, our St. Pat’s Celebration doesn’t have the greatest history. Like many things associated with St. Patrick’s Day, it has a lot of connections to drinking, and more than its fair share of debauchery. There have also been a couple of student deaths connected to a former student group that used to run the event. So maybe it isn’t the kind of thing you want to draw too much attention to.

Still, it’s part of what we are. Traditions, like family, stick with you, whether you want them to or not.

There ought to be some way to incorporate the best of our traditions into student recruitment. Don’t you agree?

Or maybe you’re already doing that. If so, please share.

P.S. – As part of last year’s 100th celebration, we started a blog to help promote the event and keep our far-flung alumni connected. We’ve resurrected that blog again, perhaps beginning a tradition of our own.

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Author: andrewcareaga

Higher ed PR and marketing guy. Communications director for Missouri University of Science and Technology (Missouri S&T) in Rolla, Missouri, USA. Slow runner, mediocre guitarist, lover of music and puns, and an avid St. Louis Cardinals fan. I blog and Tweet about #highered, #music, #gocards and #random stuff.

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