While Homecoming welcomes alumni back to campus, the annual event also invites prospective students to try the Harding experience for themselves.
Jana Rucker, vice president for university communication and enrollment, said 300 to almost 1,000 future students and parents come to Homecoming, and badges identify prospective students registered for Bison Days or Black and Gold Days. Faculty and current students alike participate in the recruitment aspect of Homecoming, but alumni also bring in future students by sharing their stories.
“During Homecoming, there are so many alums that are excited to meet prospective students who are seeing campus for the first time,” Rucker said. “They love telling their Harding story. … The prospective students are able to see and hear how special Harding is to so many. It shows them what they’ll feel like in 10 or 20 or even 50 years after they graduate.”
Bison Days allows prospective students to spend a weekend meeting faculty and students and learning more about the university, and Rucker said Homecoming Bison Days has so much more than the typical Bison Days. For those who do not want to visit during a big event due to crowds, Rucker said there is an added Bison Days in November this year and several Black and Gold Days, which are one-day recruitment events.
Junior Noah Hernbeck started visiting Harding when he was 10 years old. He and his family came for Homecoming and Spring Sing, and he said Harding felt like a second home.
“Homecoming is a really great opportunity to just showcase the best aspects of Harding,” Hernbeck said.
Hernbeck plans to attend the Homecoming musical, “Big Fish,” and he said Harding has a good football culture, too. As a prospective student, Hernbeck said staying in the dorms allowed him to experience dorm life and meet older students.
On Oct. 4, Hernbeck spoke to prospective students and their families about the Harding culture at an event in Nashville, Tennessee.
“We are all recruiters,” Hernbeck said. “Harding is very unique, and it has a very unique draw to it, and we can definitely use that to our advantage in a time when enrollment is down across the board.”
Liz Howell, vice president of alumni and parent relations, said there are close to 100 events in three days during Homecoming, and they try to offer a layered event that appeals to a broad audience. Along with the musical, athletic events and art shows, Howell said tailgating has become a phenomenon.
“Tailgating has become a very big part of Homecoming,” Howell said. “It creates an excitement and enthusiastic spirit throughout the campus.”
Before the football game, clubs set up booths in the area in front of the Ganus Activities Center, now called Bison Park. Howell said tailgating took off about five years ago, and she said the leadership of Student Association president and the clubs play a role in both tailgating and recruitment.
“Recruitment is everybody’s job here,” Howell said. “We want to present the best possible experience when a student looks at Harding.”