Under the direction of a new leader, Harding Admissions seeks to improve consecutive years of declining student enrollment numbers.
Steve Lake, who assumed the position of vice president of enrollment services in December, said he is aiming to increase enrollment by 1,000 to 1,300 a year. In order to achieve this goal, Lake wants to strengthen and leverage current relationships Harding has with K-12 Christian schools such as Harding Academy of Memphis, Alabama Chrisitan Academy and Middle Tennessee Christian. Later, he said he will attempt to build new relationships with other schools and churches.
“We’re trying to convince high school seniors to come to Harding in a [COVID-19] environment where a lot of them haven’t been able to take ACTs or SATs or visit colleges,” Lake said. “This is an extremely challenging environment to try to get enrollment moving in the right direction.”
For the next 120 days, Lake said admissions will focus on increasing the fall 2021 semester’s recruitment numbers, which involves bolstering current relationships with high school institutions and maximizing the return of the number of students who have already applied and been accepted.
“The quickest way to get sales is to go back to the current customers you have,” Lake said.
Lake said Harding’s admissions team is producing direct mail and marketing campaigns targeted at schools and seniors. Harding is also preparing to take recruiters, faculty, staff and students on the University’s plane to visit those schools, letting potential students know Harding wants them. However, COVID-19 has complicated the process of setting visitation dates. Currently, Lake believes five schools have committed to allowing Harding to visit, though Lake is aiming to visit 10 to 15 institutions.
Lake’s overall goal for the University’s admissions department is for it to reflect the unique college experience Harding provides.
“I want our admissions team and the way we interact and recruit students to be transformational,” Lake said. “I want it to look like this experience. If we do that in admissions, I believe there’s no way we won’t be successful.”
Lake, who had served as a major gift officer in the Office of University Advancement since 2008, said he accepted this position when University President David Burks offered it because he felt he could help improve Harding’s situation. Burks gave the admissions team a goal of recruiting 1,000 freshmen for next fall, Lake said.
Senior Olivia Nutt, who is a student ambassador for admissions, said she was excited for Lake’s plans of operation.
“He has a really good idea about the trajectory of where he wants things to go,” Nutt said. “He himself is a very personable person, so I think he is a great person to be in this position because he really connects with teenagers.”
McKenzie Kilmer, a high school senior from Springdale, Arkansas, who is planning to attend Harding in the fall, said she is happy with the admissions office’s efforts to welcome her.
“I love how open they are to make sure I’m comfortable and getting the help I need,” Kilmer said.