Last year, J.J. Hill drove about 10,000 miles from high school to high school in his ride — a silver Subaru Crosstrek emblazoned with the Blue Mountain Community College logo.
Last week, the BMCC recruiter chatted with 25 Echo High School seniors about college.
“We’re going to do a little word association,” Hill told the students. “When I say ‘community college,’ what’s the first word that comes into your head?’”
Words flowed back to Hill: small, cheap, more affordable, future, cost.
Hill flung out another phrase — four-year college — and got another stream of words: big, scary, expensive, huge, money, dorms and debt.
He segued into a discussion of why small can be good. BMCC has an average class size of 15, he said, quite different from four-year institutions where freshmen often find large lecture halls and little or no one-on-one time with instructors. Students asked about programs, financial aid and how to find scholarships.
What Hill is doing seems to be working.
BMCC reported enrollment of 11 percent more students compared with last fall term — while the nation’s community colleges are collectively experiencing a downward trend. Lane Community College in Eugene, for example, experienced a 6.5 percent decline compared with last fall according to an article in “The Torch,” the college’s media organization. Eastern Oregon University’s enrollment is also down this year. The BMCC number, which is 2,766 students, up from 2,491 in 2016, is just a snapshot, a moment in time, but administrators are ecstatic. BMCC Vice-President of Student Affairs Diane Drebin said the Pendleton college has managed to buck a trend.
“It is unusual to see a rise in enrollment when it isn’t associated with a decline in the economy,” Drebin said.
BMCC President Camille Preus credits a switch in recruitment strategy that began three years ago. It didn’t — “Shazam” — just happen, she said.
The college got intentional about face time with potential students and outreach is at full-throttle. Hill treks to each high school in BMCC’s 18,000-square-mile district at least twice a year.
The other full-time recruitment person, program assistant (and BMCC graduate) Abby Pierson, focuses on younger students. Pierson engaged several dozen Hermiston middle school students during a recent campus tour. She explained federal aid, the cost of attending college and the relationship between education and future earnings. A list of all 70 BMCC degrees and certificate programs flashed onto a screen. Pierson sped up, slowed down, changed gears and pulled them along. Afterwards, the students toured campus. By the time they climbed back on the bus, they could imagine themselves at BMCC.
Contact Kathy Aney at email@example.com or 941-966-0810.