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“Once I Visited, I was Sold!” Collegiate Recruitment Tactics and their Effects on College Students- Taylor Symons

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Abstract

The vast majority of college students undergo some kind of recruitment process when selecting a college or university. Additionally, there appears to be a great degree of variance in the process and is often based on unique college or university approaches. Yet regardless of the approach, a student’s first contact with the school often begins active socialization into that academic and social community. This study examines the interactional experience of college recruitment and their recruitment offices to see, if any, this pre-entry communication may have on a student’s membership and commitment to that school. By utilizing a multi-method approach, this study discovered that while recruitment efforts are important and may have an impact on the duration of a student’s collegiate career, it is not necessarily the causation of high commitment or identity rates.

College is often referred to as “the best four years of one’s life.” Regardless of the trials and tribulations, collegiate graduates often reflect fondly of their time spent in the historic buildings, the grassy lawns, the stadiums and arenas and the social interactions of their alma mater. Over time, students often develop a strong and enduring sense of community and commitment to their school that keeps them connected to their university for the remainder of their lives. However, the experiences that occur prior to their collegiate membership are often overlooked in reflection.  Yet, it may be these very experiences that provide a useful foundation for the potentially positive outcomes of the college experience.

Even a cursory glance at today’s university life would reveal that university of today is much different than it was yesterday. Yet, one thing remains the same—starting at a new school is often a stressful experience.  University newcomers find themselves in an unfamiliar environment with uncertainties about success, in addition to the fact they are often surrounded by people they do not know. In order to be successful, new members must establish relationships, learn new behaviors, gather organizational facts and procedures, adapt to new expectations and acquire a particular set of organizational expectation. For individuals entering a new place, the period prior to entry is critical. In some cases, anticipating entry into an organization can improve performance after entering the organization. In fact, there is some evidence that students who anticipate correctly the values, norms, and behaviors they will encounter in the social and academic environment of graduate school will be more successful (Merton, 1957, p. 265; Merton and Lazarsfeld, 1972).

Prospective college students are university member newcomers and are in many ways at  the tipping point of an exciting time in their lives. Selecting and attending the right school is of the utmost importance, but often prospective students—especially high school seniors—may not attend much to the recruitment process nor understand the potential impact that can have on them. However, college recruiters do understand the impact and realize the importance of this pre-entry process.  As such, universities devote research, time and money to improving this process. Dr. Emily Lehning, an Assistant Dean of Student Life and Coordinator of New Student Services at Kansas State University, says, “Marketing is essential for colleges and universities.”  She also suggests that individuals who are looking to begin or finish their study at an institution of higher learning have a lot of choices especially as the options increase with distance education or online programs becoming more prevalent and credible. Competition is fiercer because of changes in the economic climate and demographic shifts.  Colleges and universities must position themselves to be considered by students and ultimately selected as the institution of choice. (Lehning, 2008).

Universities devote a large number of resources on recruitment efforts, ranging from postcards to travel expenses for admissions representatives.  For example, Kansas State University spent over $16,000 in a recent marketing campaign focusing on high school seniors reaching over 60,000 students (Lehning, 2008). Clearly then, student recruitment is an important business.  In addition to acquiring the student, keeping the student, or student retention, is another important concern for university officials.

The decision to remain at an organization—or at a university—can be linked to important organizational outcomes directly associated with the organizational socialization process. Previous research has found successful organizational socialization to be linked to important organizational outcomes such as job satisfaction, organizational commitment, turnover intentions, and organizational identification (e.g., Ashford & Saks, 1996; Allen & Meyer, 1990; Feldman, 1981; Jablin, 1987, 2001). Effective socialization is important because it is viewed as a site of negotiation between the newcomer and the organization (Bullis, 1993), one forged by effective communication practices. During this time of pre-entry, newcomers not only gather information, but form impressions and expectations as well as begin to make decisions regarding their job (Jablin, 2001)—or in this case, the university.

For many students the recruitment experience is the first interaction with (a potential) future institution and certainly the first stage in the process of assimilating into their new university community. Not unlike the membership process into a work or social organization, organizational assimilation applies very similarly to a university. As assimilation begins, communication during the pre-entry phase begins attitude formation and eventually the attainment of important organizational outcomes of identification and commitment—which for the university ensures retention and eventually graduation. To that end, the pre-entry phase of becoming a member of a university is extremely critical.

The purpose of this study is to understand the impact of organizational communication tactics associated with the pre-entry phase of university membership.  In general, it seeks to explore: How are students impacted by the pre-entry communication of college recruitment efforts? More specifically, it examines the short term and long term perceptions about the communication experience during recruitment and determines what, if any, organizational outcomes are related to this communication experience.

Literature Review

Jablin’s Model of Organizational Socialization

The organizational landscape had changed drastically over the past 20 years. Aside from the proliferation of the Internet in business and increased globalization priorities, there is an individual trend of changing jobs several times during the course of a lifetime of work. In fact, it has been projected that the average working person be employed by10 people/organizations between the ages of 18 and 38 (McKay, 2006). As a result, it becomes increasingly important to understand the processes through which individuals and organizations adapt to each other (Miller, 2003).

The process of an organization and a person adapting to each other is referred to by Jablin (1987) as assimilation, or those ongoing behavioral and cognitive processes by which individuals join, become integrated into, and exit organizations (Jablin & Krone, 1987). Assimilation is double-edged because the organization is trying to influence the individual. This is referred to as socialization. Likewise, the individual may try to change some aspect of the organization in order to better suit their needs. This is known as individualization (Miller, 2003).  These processes occur simultaneously by a progress through what Jablin refers to as the assimilation stage model.

Jablin’s model (1987, 2001) is organized into three distinct stages of organizational assimilation. Jablin recognizes these three stages may not necessarily apply to every person entering a new organization, nor does it apply to every organization garnering new employees. Regardless of some its shortcomings, Jablin’s stage model (1987, 2001) continues to be one of the most influential lines of socialization research in the communication field.  The three stages are anticipatory socialization, the encounter phase, and the metamorphosis phase. Jablin (1990) argues that the stage model is particularly appropriate for communication scholarship because it “…[r]ecognizes the developmental nature of interpersonal/organizational relationships/processes…[and] incorporates the notion that interpersonal and organizational communication processes are dynamic versus static in nature” (p. 172).

Anticipatory socialization is the experience that occurs before entry into the actual organization (Miller, 2003). To understand the importance of anticipatory socialization, Gibson and Papa (2000) argue that a person’s anticipatory socialization experiences (e.g., interactions in adolescence and early childhood with significant family members, friends, and teachers regarding work and organizational membership) predicted their identification with an organization—an important organization outcome related to commitment, intention to remain, satisfaction, and extra role behavior (e.g., Abrams & Randsley De Moura, 2001; Fontenot & Scott, 2000;  Tyler & Bladder, 2000, 2001). Most people enter into anticipatory socialization by engaging in their own research and proactively learning about potential memberships (Jablin, 1990).

Considering the important role that anticipatory socialization has on an individual’s evaluation and eventual decision to join an organization and the contribution of particular communication tactics at this time in the socialization process, the first question I am interested in understanding is:

RQ1: In what ways does the recruitment communication impact a prospective student’s decision to attend a particular university?

The second stage, the encounter phase, begins at the actual “point of entry” (Miller, 2003) into the organization. Louis (1980) describes the encounter experience as one of change, contrast, and surprise, and argues that the newcomer must work to make sense of the new organizational culture. Louis argues the newcomer relies on predispositions and past experiences often recalled from what they were told or learned in the anticipatory socialization stage. Louis suggests that this is how newcomers make sense of, and interpret life in the new organization. In other words, it eases their transition and assists with their ability cope with newness. In fact, this type of sense making is suggested to link assimilation process to Berger and Clabrese’s Uncertainty Reduction Theory of Berger and Calabrese. Some scholars suggest organizational assimilation essentially is the process newcomers engage in to reduce uncertainties about how to do their jobs, how to relate to other people in their  organization, and what other expect of them with regard to their performance (Waldeck, Seibold, & Flanagin, 2004). Communication is also essential during the encounter phase because newcomers experience anxiety when they cannot communicate effectively (i.e., by learning desirable behaviors and assimilating appropriately) (e.g., Black & Ashford, 1995). The third stage, referred to as the metamorphosis stage; occurs when the newcomer becomes a full member. Until this time, the newcomer is still adjusting and assimilating. Jablin and Krone (1987) suggest that during this stage, the recruit beings to become a full member.  During this time the member is unofficially “accepted”, and is a participating member of the organization as he/she learns new behaviors and attitudes and/or modifying existing ones. Although they have reached a level of comfort, the relationship between the individual and the organizations remains dynamic because there is always a certain level of the “unknown” left in the organization. So in some ways, “assimilation” never ceases, however, it may occasionally change pace.

Prospectives who become members shift from the anticipatory socialization phase to the encounter phase. According to Louis (1980), current members reflect back on, and often rely on the organizational learning experiences acquired during pre-entry.  This suggests that current students may very well tap into the experiences garnered during the recruitment process in order to help them make sense of their current situation and ease the adjustment process. Given this, the second research question of interest asks:

RQ2: In what ways do current students reference or reflect on the recruitment experience and communication and what do they recall as its impact their collegiate experience or college outcomes?

Organizational Identification

Identification is the degree to which membership within an organization or team comprises an “emotionally significant aspect of one’s identity.” (Van Der Vegt & Bunderson, 2005). In organizations or groups with high lives of identification, individuals remain committed to the organization (or the group) and its goals rather than their own goals (Cheney & Tompkins, 1987). Identification in this study is very important to judge the relationship the current, or prospective, student has with the university. Basically, the higher one’s identification is with the organization, the more likely they are to have assimilated to the organization and to be committed to that organizations goals and well being.

Organizational Identification is a sense of connection between the organization and its members (Scott & Stephens, 2005). Yet there is substantial evidence that strong levels of identification and other forms of attachment (e.g., commitment, loyalty) contribute to increased job satisfaction, reduced absenteeism and turnover, and greater productivity in organizations (Scott & Stephens, 2005). Additionally, because “an organization must reside in the heads and hearts of its members,” internalizing a group or organizational identity as a definition of self provides members with a sense of meaningfulness and connection” (Albert, Ashforth, & Dutton, 2000, p. 13). Communication is inherently important to the increase of identification. Those in leadership or seniority positions within the organization pass down traditions and ideologies to new members. These are then socialized into the newcomers and hopefully, like Albert, Ashforth, and Dutton (2000) suggest, are taken as their own traditions and ideologies. The more a newcomer learns about and communicates with the organization, the higher the identification will be. In support of this reasoning, the following hypothesis are proposed:

H1: Recruitment impact will be positively associated with organizational identification.

Communication and impact of the recruitment experience

Communication with those in anticipatory socialization is imperative to their time as a newcomer. The more they know ahead of time, from current members and recruiters, the more they feel prepared for their new environment. As Gibson and Papa (2000) found in their study, interaction with others is a key factor in how people identified with a particular organization. So, the more positive interaction one has with others in regard to an organization, it can be assumed that their feelings toward the establishment would be more positive than if they had no interaction. When it comes to recruitment for universities, personal interaction is a key tactic. On Kansas State University’s recruitment website five of the six activities outlined in a typical campus visit include interaction with persons representing the university such as current students, faculty, and admissions representatives (Kansas State University 2008). In addition to face to face communication, recruitment tactics go beyond just mailings, postcards, and mass e-mails. Relationships between members of a university and prospective students become quite common through telephone calls, personal e-mails, and hand-written cards and notes. I have experienced this first hand when I was being recruited. The head of the Communication Studies, Theater and Dance (CSTD) Department at Kansas State University send me a letter encouraging me to consider K-State, to be a communications studies major, and to visit campus to meet with him about the program. After that note, I made a campus visit to speak with him about the major and the university in general; after the meeting I was sold on K-State and the CSTD Department. Our relationship continued as he made sure to send follow up notes between my visit and when school started in August, meeting with me at orientation and enrollment in June, and was my adviser my freshman year. That interaction and communication I had with him had a huge impact on my decision on where to attend school, what to study, and how I began my collegiate career.  With that in mind, the second hypothesis is proposed:

H2: Recruitment effectiveness will be positively associated with organizational identification.


Organizational Commitment

Organizational commitment is referred to as an employee’s (or member’s) commitment to the organization, work group, manager, occupation, profession, career, and union (Meyer & Allen, 1997). Organizational commitment is comprised of two distinct types of commitment: attitudinal commitment and behavioral commitment. Attitudinal commitment focuses on the process by which people come to think about their relationship with the organization. In many ways it can be thought of as a mind set in which individuals consider the extent to which their own values and goals are congruent with those of the organization. Conversely, behavioral commitment, relates to the process by which individuals become locked into a certain organization and how they deal with this problem (Mowday, Porter, & Steers, 1982). Meyer and Allen  (1997) suggest that a committed member is one who stays with the organization through good and bad times, participated and attends [events] regularly, puts in a full day, protects company assets, and shares company goals. (p. 3).

Meyer and Allen (1997) also content that people desire to be committed to their organization psychologically because it is serves personal needs. Employees will develop affective commitment to an organization to the extent that it satisfies their needs, meets their expectations, and allows them to achieve their goals. In other words, affective commitment develops on the basis of “psychologically rewarding experiences” (p. 50). As result, it is likely that an organizational member who experiences high levels of commitment to an organization, will therefore be related to their notions of belonging and the utility of that membership and thus, the following hypothesis is proposed:

H3: Organizational identification will be positively associated with organizational commitment.

Method

Data Collection and design

Data collection was organized into two separate steps; both steps occurred simultaneously.  The first step involved the use of a web-based questionnaire. The second step involved conducting semi-structured interviews with both prospective and current students. A Web-based survey was used for this study. Online surveys have several advantages including ease of sending and receiving replies, low cost and fast response, and wide reach (Tuten, Urban, & Bosnjak, 2002). Interviews are particularly helpful in understanding the experience of the target (Lindlof & Taylor, 2002). In particular, they provide a useful method for gaining insight on how potential and current members of a university make sense of, and personally understand and react to their experiences with university recruiters. Interviews also help the participants explain their experiences and feelings more precisely, adding to the effectiveness of the data.

Procedures and participants

Questionnaire. Current student participants were obtained initially from the researcher’s social network. On October 20, the questionnaire was e-mailed to four different listservs and members of that listserv were asked to forward the request to participate to their listservs. Before participants could continue to the online survey, they were required to agree to an informed consent page (Appendix B). In less than two days, one-hundred (N=100) current students participated in the questionnaire; all 100 were valid and used in the analysis.  Students who completed the questionnaire were also asked to participate in a short interview about the recruitment experience they received at their university.

One-hundred (N=100) current Wabash State students participated in the survey. 64 were female and 36 were male. Six (6%) were freshmen, eight (8%) sophomores, thirty-two (32%) juniors and fifty-four (54%) were seniors. The average age was 20.70 years. All but five indicated that they Wabash State was the only university they attended.  The five indicating they attended a previous college noted they had transferred from community colleges in the state of Wabash. Ninety-six (96%) of the participants responded that they would “absolutely” be finishing their degree at Wabash State; one indicated it is likely (1%), and three indicated they probably wouldn’t finish at Wabash State (3%).

Interviews. After the completion of the questionnaire, fifteen (N=15) current students volunteered and were interviewed. As with the questionnaires, students were also presented with a research consent form. From there, students were asked to recall their recruitment experience and were asked questions like, “please describe your recruitment experience” and “in what ways did your recruiter or your recruitment experience prepare you for your Wabash State.”  (See Appendix D for the full protocol). Interview notes were taken by hand.

For the 15 current students interviewed there were 10 females and 5 males. Two of the interviewees were college juniors, the rest were seniors. Age ranged from 20 to 22, and most were 21 years old. None of the interviewees had attended another university (only Wabash State), and all indicated they would be completing their degree at Wabash State.

Prospective students were high school students interested in Wabash State and were currently visiting or had recently visited Wabash State’s campus. Five prospective (N=5) students were interviewed.  The researcher had direct access to this group since he is a member of the student life office. Either during their visit or after their visit, these students were invited to participate in a short set of questions geared at understanding their recent recruitment experience. If agreeable, prospective students were presented with a consent form prior to the interview. This group of was asked questions like, “please describe your recruitment experience” and “in what way will your recruitment experience contribute to your decision to attend (or not attend) Wabash State University.”  (See Appendix D for the full protocol). Interview notes were taken by hand.

Of the five prospective students interviewed, all were female. Four were current high school seniors, and one a high school sophomore. All the seniors interviewed indicated they would be attending Wabash State in the fall of 2009. The sophomore, an out of state student, was still unsure.

Data Analysis

Both sets of interviews (current and prospective) ranged between 10 to 20 minutes in length. After all twenty (N=20) interviews were conducted. Following the interviews, hand notes were typed and the process of open coding began (see Browning, 1978; Emerson, Fretz, & Shaw, 1995).  Scripts were studied to find recurrent themes that exist among participant’s responses to the questions. As discussed by Owen (1984), coding themes should be based on repetition, forcefulness and reoccurrence of information in the data. These themes are discussed in the findings section.

Instrumentation

The survey was created to measure participants’ identification with Wabash State, commitment to Wabash State, the effectiveness of Wabash State’s recruiting efforts, and the impact on their collegiate careers those efforts had (See Appendix A).

Identification and Commitment Scales. Identification was measured using a 7-item scale and assessed the degree to which the current student incorporates the characteristics of the University into their self-concept and the degree to which they are attached and have “oneness” with the University. Examples include saying “we” when referring to Wabash State as a whole.

Commitment considered the extent of the current student’s pride in attending Wabash State, and perceived value congruence with the University and was measured using a 4-item scale. Examples include “I enjoy discussing Wabash State with people who are not familiar with in,” and “I do not feel ‘emotionally’ attached to Wabash State.”

For both measures, respondents were asked to rate their level of agreement or disagreement on a seven-point response format (1=very strongly disagree; 7=very strongly agree). Both the organization identification and organizational commitment scale was created by slightly modifying Cheney, Meyer and Allen’s (1983, 1990) organizational membership scale (often a combined measure of both identification and commitment). Both measures achieved strong reliability levels. The means, standard deviations and Cronbach’s alpha are provided in table 1.

Recruitment Effectiveness and Impact.  Recruitment Effectiveness (RE) and Impact (IM) were also the other two areas students’ answers were evaluated. RE used a 2-item scale and asked “My admissions representative was a great resource to me during my college search,” and “Wabash State could have made a greater effort to recruit me.” IM was judged one a one-item scale and asked students to rate the impact of their recruitment experience on their collegiate experience.

Table 1: Means. Standard Deviations and Reliability for Instruments

Mean                           SD                               Cronbach’s alpha

Identification                          6.11                             .938                             .934

Commitment                           6.08                             1.01                             .847

Recruitment Effectiveness      4.09                             1.45                             .718

Recruitment Impact                4.00                             2.35                               –

Results

The questionnaire sought to understand the relationship of university membership variables and well as the relationship of recruitment communication to these particular organizational outcomes.  In sum, H1 was supported, while the other three were not.

Hypotheses

The first hypothesis predicted that Recruitment impact would be positively associated with organizational identification. For H1, the significance rating was above 5%, but just barley (p=.089). This finding suggests that students who felt as though their recruitment experience made a difference seemed to have a higher identification with the university because of that impact.

The second hypothesis predicted recruitment effectiveness will be positively associated with organizational identification. H2 was not supported at all with a rating of 4.82. This rating suggests that students do not begin to identify significantly with the university at the recruitment stage.

The third hypothesis predicted that organizational identification would be positively associated with organizational commitment. The significance rating for my H1 was .000, which is highly significant and showed that students who strongly identified with Wabash State were very committed to their university as well.

RQ1 posed: In what ways does the recruitment communication impact a prospective student’s decision to attend a particular university? For prospective students, there were two main themes that emerged to explain their reasoning or the reasons a student might attend Wabash State.  Generally speaking, these two themes captured were the physical appearance of the campus drew prospective students to Wabash State and that they wish they could have seen more buildings when they were on their campus tour.

“The Limestone Appeal”

Ashley, high school senior: I’m really glad I visited the campus. I think it’s really nice and pretty. It has a cool community feeling because it’s so close together.  Likewise, Terrie, another high school senior, added that “The campus was cool and I could see myself liking it here a lot from what I saw of the campus and the students walking around.” Coming to campus, meeting with a faculty member in their chosen line of study, and interacting with current students were all crucial components of a campus visit to these prospective students. An important part of campus tours given at Wabash State is that they are led by energetic students who have been trained to answer the most frequently asked questions from students and their families.

“Is That All?”

Natalie, high school sophomore: I wish I could have seen more of the campus. At other schools I’ve visited, they showed me their basketball and football facilities, their [recreational complexes], and their [residence halls]. I didn’t get to see any of those on my campus tour. Natalie’s comment is fairly common from visiting students. The proximity of the sports and recreational facilities to the main campus makes those stops unavailable on a traditional campus tour. Also, the residence halls at Wabash State are over capacity this school year, meaning that the tour room in one of the halls is no longer available to us to show to students.

Overall, when prospective students visited campus that experience increased their desire to come to Wabash State, if not sealing the deal after leaving campus. However, a weakness almost all of them pointed was that they wanted to see more of the campus on their campus tour like the recreational complex, the football or basketball stadiums, and sorority houses. Also, all of the students mentioned how they would like more steady contact throughout their senior year, but that they were satisfied and impressed with the personal notes and calls they had received.

RQ2: In what ways do current students reference or reflect on the recruitment experience and communication and what do they recall as its impact their collegiate experience or college outcomes? As with the prospective students, there were also two themes that emerged with the current students as they reflected back on their recruitment experiences and discussed the impact it may have had on their decision or experience at Wabash State.  These themes can be characterized as family ties or as comfortable feelings.

“A Family Affair”

Leslie, Wabash State senior suggests,  “My family has a long tradition of attending Wabash State… my parents suggested that I visit [the campus] just because it was their alma mater.”  Similarly, Sue, Wabash State senior shared, “Everyone in my family came to Wabash State and I wanted to be a part of that tradition… since I was a little baby, I attended football and women’s basketball games. It was in my blood. I knew I wanted to carry on the family tradition and enroll at Wabash State.”

Rick, Wabash State senior: First of all, my family has a huge Wabash State tradition. My great-grandparents graduated from Wabash State. My dad and all of his brothers, my aunt, my sister and my brother all went here. I’ve been a Wabash State fan my whole life.

“The Personal Touch”

Jackie, Wabash State Junior: The strengths of [the recruitment process] were obviously the people I interacted with during my visits. My admissions representative was also super helpful. She was extremely sincere and did everything in her power to help me with everything I needed.

Dylan, Wabash State Senior: I remember that I felt people really cared about me.

Beth, Wabash State Senior: The strength for me was [the Vice-President of Students and Dean of Student Life]. He figured out quickly what I wanted from a school and made sure to send me to the right [people] to convince me Wabash State could offer it.

There were many trends in both the current and prospective student groups. For current students interviewed, 10 indicated that they initially looked at Wabash State because they had a family connection to the school; i.e. parents or grandparents had attended, sibling was currently attended, or a family member was a member of the faculty. 12 of the 15 students indicated that they had interacted with someone from Wabash State during their recruitment experience; assistant deans of specific colleges, Dr. Bosco, Vice-President of Students and Dean of Student Life, or an admissions representative. The same amount of students indicated that personal interaction and handwritten notes were the biggest strengths of their recruitment experience. Weaknesses included students from area schools felt overlooked by Wabash State because they are so close to the university. Also, special event days were too large. Interestingly, 10 student often reflect on their recruitment experience, and of those 10, seven have been directly involved in recruiting students to Wabash State in some way.

Discussion

Identification and commitment for Wabash State students was high, but not particularly related to their recruitment experience. 82% of participants surveyed either agreed or strongly agreed that they felt a part of the Wabash State family; and 77% said they strongly or very strongly identified their self as a Wabash State Lion. 74% of participants strongly or very strongly agreed that could not imagine leaving Wabash State and finishing their degree elsewhere. And 78% strongly or very strongly agreed that they enjoyed speaking to others about Wabash State who might not be that familiar with the university. However, the relationship between recruitment experiences and a high identity does not suggest that they are necessarily connected as the relationship between organizational identity and recruitment efforts was insignificant (p=.482).

With this, few assumptions were made as to what made these particular students so committed to Wabash State and why they identify so highly with the university. First, based off interviewing current students, many of them had some kind of connection to Wabash State well before they even got to the age to consider higher education. These connections were through family members or proximity to the university, Again, since we know that a person’s anticipatory socialization experiences (e.g., interactions in adolescence and early childhood with significant family members, friends, and teachers regarding work and organizational membership) predicted their identification with an organization (Gibson and Papa, 2000)  —an important organization outcome related to commitment, intention to remain, satisfaction, and extra role behavior (e.g., Abrams & Randsley De Moura, 2001; Fontenot & Scott, 2000;  Tyler & Bladder, 2000, 2001), you can see how influential these preexisting relationships are to the high levels of identity and commitment. Second, the students who participated in the survey were mainly reached by campus organization listservs, meaning that most likely everyone that took the survey is involved in at least one organization at Wabash State, if not more. People who are involved in a college campus have more opportunities to identify and increase their chances of graduating. For example, students that join fraternities or sororities have a graduation rate that is 20% higher than those not involved in a Greek organization (Kansas State University, 2008).

On the other hand, commitment levels among current and prospective students and its relationship to impact of the recruiting experience, with a relationship that was very close to being significant (p=.089). I believe that this is because students choose to attend a university, and recruitment efforts obviously try to persuade and convince students to attend a certain institution such as Wabash State. Prospective students commit to attending a university, and juniors and seniors, with one to three semesters left of school commit to finishing their degree and graduating from the institution that they’ve spent two to three years attending. Additionally, students indicated that the recruitment helped them prepare to go to a large university. Allie, a Wabash State junior said, “I think the recruitment process gave me a very good idea of what it would be like to go to school here.  Wabash State ‘gives it to you straight’ and doesn’t sugar coat anything about the university to convince you to come here.” Sam, a Wabash State senior adds, “The recruitment process got me ready to go to a big time institution and take advantage of the opportunities here.”Finally, Leslie, a Wabash State senior said, “It prepared me to be excited in maintaining those personal connections I had already made and creating new ones. It also encouraged me to become involved immediately and particularly to get others excited about coming here.” Based on that feedback, the recruitment process let these students know what they were getting into ahead of time, which allowed them to become more committed to the university beforehand and especially after they arrived.

This study has enabled me to learn a great deal about organization assimilation, commitment, identity, recruitment communication. The main conclusion I am able to make from this experience is that it is clearly necessary for one to be a part of the organization before they can start to truly identify with the organization. However, that identification can be fostered (an begin to develop) prior to their initiation; and commitment levels have shown that they are somewhat related to recruitment effectiveness and the impact that recruitment has on the collegiate experience. Therefore, recruitment efforts can lay the foundation for students to be able to identify with their institution. The more committed a new student is, based on previous ties to the university or from recruitment, the easier it is for them to grow in their identity with their school. Positive and personal communication with a recruiter can open those doors to a high identification. Communication is key when recruiting students and providing them that personal connection that clearly means a lot to those being recruited. 38 students responded that, to some degree (very strongly agree to agree), their admissions representative was a great resource to them during their college search, and as discussed in the second main theme, personal notes were a definite strength.

Limitations and Concluding Thoughts

Although a helpful step in understanding the impact of recruitment communication for important organizational outcomes, this study suffered from a few limitations. To begin the methodology provided a couple of concerns. First, the sample of current students may have been too homogenous.  By relying on a listserv of students who were currently active members of a highly social and integrative university, organization, these members likely had high identification and commitment measures because of this (or multiple other) affiliations.   As a result, it may be difficult to conclude that the associative relationships were or could have been related to the independent variable of recruitment experiences.  Secondly, both the questionnaire and the interviews suffered from small sample sizes. The questionnaire only garnered 100 current student responses—which makes it difficult to reach significant power. Additionally, only five prospective students participated in the interview portion and shared details about their experiences.

Another methodological concern involved the issue of time lapsed. For many of the junior and seniors much time had passed and it may have been difficult or challenging for them to recall specific experiences or feelings they had when being recruited as a high school student. To have more data or the data be more reliable, the time frame would need to be closer to the time they experienced this.

A third concern involved the reliability or using a one-item measure.  Recruitment impact, which involved a major hypothesis, may not have been very accurately measured because relied on one item scale to do so. In order to judge impact better, a multiple item measure would be more beneficial.

Despite these methodological limitations, this study did reveal that identified students are committed students.  It also suggested that effective communication during the anticipatory socialization stage – or the recruitment phase commitment—may be a contributing factor to increasing commitment.  And as commitment increases, students become more identified, thereby retention increases and ultimately graduation occurs. This benefits students and universities alike. Knowing this, university recruitment efforts (and their marketing strategy) should be tactics that privilege involvement, high academic performance and knowledge of university services when students need any kind of assistance.

Like Jablin and other scholars suggest, everyone is trying to make sense of the situations they are in and this occurs as members assimilate. While the data shows that communication in collegiate recruitment can do nothing but help raise identification and commitment in ideal circumstances, it is not the definitive reason for so many students identifying as a Lion and being a committed Wabash Stater.

References

Albert, S., Ashforth, B. E., & Dutton, J. E. (2000). Organizational identity and identification: Charting new waters and building new bridges. Academy of Management Review, 25, 13-17.

Berger, C. R., & Calabrese, R. J. (1975). Some explorations in initial interaction and beyond: Toward a developmental theory of interpersonal communication. Human Communication Research, 1, 99-112.

Black, J. S., & Ashford, S. J. (1995). Fitting in or making jobs fit: Factors affecting mode of adjustment for new hires. Human Relations, 48, 421-437.

Cheney, G. (1983). On the various and changing meaning s of organizational membership: A field study of organizational identification. Communication Monographs, 50, 342–362.

Cheney, G., & Tompkins, P. K. (1987). Coming to terms with organizational identification and commitment. Central States Speech Journal, 38, 1-15.

Fraternities and Sororities at K-State. Kansas State University. December 1, 2008. http://consider.k-state.edu/housing/fraternityandsorority.htm

Gibson, M. K., & Papa, M. J. (2000). The mud, the blood, and the beer guys: Organizational osmosis in blue-collar work groups. Journal of Applied Communication Research, 28, 68-88.

Jablin, F. M., & Krone, K. J. (1987). Organizational assimilation. In C.R. Berger & S. H. Chaffee (Eds.), Handbook of communication science (pp. 711-746). Newbury Park, CA: Sage.

Jablin, F. M. (2001). Organizational entry, assimilation, and disengagement/exit. In F. M. Jablin and L. Putman’s (Eds.), The new handbook of organizational communication (p. 732-818). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.

Lehning, E. (2008), A conversation with Emily Lehning, interview by Taylor Symons Manhattan, KS, December 1 2008.

Louis, M.R. (1980). Surprise and sense-making: What newcomers experience when entering unfamiliar organizational settings. Administrative Science Quarterly, 23, 225-251.

McKay, D.R. (July 28, 2006). About.com: Career Planning. In How Often Do People Change Careers? Retrieved December 1, 2008, from http://careerplanning.about.com/b/2006/07/28/how-often-do-people-change-careers.htm.

Merton, R. K. (1957)  Social theory and social structure. Glenco, Illinois: The Free Press.

Merton, R. K., & Lazarsfeld, P. F.  (1972). A professional school for training in social research, in P. F. Lazarsfeld (Ed.), Qualitative analysis. Boston: Allyn and Bacon.

Meyer, J. P., & Allen, N. J. (1990). The measurement and antecedents of affective, continuance and normative commitment. Journal of Occupational Psychology, 63, 1-18

Meyer, J. P., & Allen, N. J. (1997). Commitment in the Workplace: Theory, Research, and Application. SAGE Publications, Thousand Oakes, CA.

Miller, K. (2003). Organizational Communication: Approaches and Processes, 3rd edition. Thomson & Wadsworth Publishing. Belmont, CA. 137-155.

Mowday, R.T., Porter, L. W., & Steers, R. (1982). Organizational linkages: The psychology of commitment, absenteeism, and turnover. San Diego, CA: Academic Press.

Scott, C. R., & Stephens, K .K. (2005). It Depends on Who You’re Talking To…: Predictors and Outcomes of Situated Measures on Organizational Identification. The University of Texas at Austin, Austin, Texas. 1-41.

Van Der Vegt, G. S., & Bunderson, S. (2005). Learning and performance in multidisciplinary teams: The importance of collective team identification. Academy of Management Journal, 48, 532-547.

Van Maanen, J. (1975). Breaking in: Socialization to work. In R. Dubin (Ed.), Handbook of work, organization, and society (pp. 61-120). Chicago: Rand McNally.

Visit K-State. Kansas State University. December 1, 2008. www.consider.k-state.edu/visits.

Waldeck, J. H., Seibold, D. R., & Flanagin, A. F. (2004). Organizational assimilation and communication technology use. Communication Monographs, 71, 161-183.

Appendix A

Informed Consent for Minors

Collegiate Recruitment Tactics and Effects on College Students

This is a research study about university recruiting efforts and the effects thereof on perspective college students. You will be asked to answer a few questions about your connection to K-State based on your experiences with the university recruitment process. The purpose of this study is to understand how the communication a student experiences during their decision-making process influences their university choice.

Your participation is entirely voluntary and you may decide to discontinue participation at any time. Your decision to participate and consent to have your answers used in the data processing of this research study is determined by your willingness to continue from this point.

Thank you for the opportunity to know more about communication and university recruitment efforts.

I,­­­­___________________________________, as guardian of the minor________________, give my consent for them to participate in this study.

If you have any problems or questions you may contact:

Taylor Symons

Communication Studies senior

Kansas State University

785-456-3618

tbsymons@k-state.edu

Dr. Nicole Laster

Communication Studies Assistant Professor

Kansas State University

785-532-6858

laster@k-state.edu

Appendix B

Informed Consent for Adults

Collegiate Recruitment Tactics and the Long Term Effects on College Students

This is a research study about university recruiting efforts and its long-term effects on university upperclassmen. You will be asked to answer a few questions about your levels of connection to K-State based on recruitment experiences with the university several years ago. The purpose of this study is to understand what kind of impact the initial recruitment efforts created on student attachment to K-State long after that communication process.

Your participation is entirely voluntary and you may decide to discontinue participation at any time. Your decision to participate and consent to have your answers used in the data processing of this research study is determined by your willingness to continue from this point.

Thank you for the opportunity to know more about communication and university recruitment efforts. If you have any problems or questions you may contact:

Taylor Symons

Communication Studies senior

Kansas State University

785-456-3618

tbsymons@k-state.edu

Dr. Nicole Laster

Communication Studies Assistant Professor

Kansas State University

785-532-6858

laster@k-state.edu

Appendix C

Online Instrument for Current Students

1-7 scale (Cheney, G. (1983).)

1.         I agree very strongly with that statement.

2          I agree strongly with that statement.

3          I agree with that statement.

4          I nether agree or disagree with that statement.

5          I disagree with that statement.

6          I disagree strongly with that statement

7          I disagree very strongly with that statement.

For each item please select the answer that best represents your beliefs about or attitudes toward Kansas State University.

  1. I feel like I am apart of the K-State family. (Identity)
  2. I understand what K-State is all about. (Identity)
  3. K-State is a home away from home to me. (Identity)
  4. I identify myself as a Wildcat. (Identity)
  5. I feel little to no loyalty to K-State. (Identity)
  6. K-State is unique compared to other similar universities. (Identity)
  7. When others say negative things about K-State, I take personal offense. (Identity)
  1. I am very happy to finish my college career at K-State. (Commitment)
  2. Right now, staying at K-State is a matter of necessity as much as desire. (Commit)
  3. I enjoy discussing K-State with people who are not familiar with it. (Commit)
  4. I do not feel “emotionally attached” to K-State. (Commit)
  5. I cannot imagine leaving K-State and finishing my degree at a different university (Commit)
  1. My admissions representative had was a great resource to me during my college search.. (Recru. Effectiveness and Satisfaction)
  2. My campus visit made me want to come to K-State more. (RES)
  3. I feel that K-State could have made greater effort to recruit me. (RES)

On a scale from 1-7, rank the impact that your recruitment experience has had on your K-State experience with 1 being none, 4 being somewhat and 7 being a great amount.

Appendix D

Interview Questions

Current Students

1 Tell me a little bit about how you approached your “general” college search?

2 Why were you initially interested in K-State?

3 Describe your specific recruitment experience like at K-State?

4 What do you remember as the strengths of this process?  The weaknesses?

5 Other than this interview, how often and in what ways have you reflected or thought again about your recruitment process?  Why or why not?

6 In what ways did your recruitment process prepare you for K-State – or fail to prepare you for K-State?

Prospective Students

1 How would you describe your general college search?  In other words, what kinds of things are you doing to acquire information about prospective universities? What kinds of information are your receiving from potential schools?  Who contacted who? When?

2 What made you initially consider K-State?

3 Describe your recruitment experience at K-State?

4 How often are you contacted, via phone, e-mail, or mailing, by K-State?

5 Did you visit the campus?  If so, tell me a little bit about this experience for you? Was it helpful?  Did it contribute to your decision-making in any way? How?

6 How likely are you to attend K-State?  Why or why not?

7 What, if anything, would you change about your recruitment experience?