Nova Scotia

Free residence and Apple watches: How N.S. universities hope to boost enrolment

From free residence to on-the-spot admissions, Nova Scotia's universities are doing whatever they can to attract new students, in the face of a demographic crunch.

Creative attempts to attract new students in the face of a demographic crunch

Saint Mary's University in Halifax uses Facebook to personalize their virtual campus tour in an attempt to stand out online. (Saint Mary's University)

From free residence to on-the-spot admissions, Nova Scotia's universities are doing whatever they can to attract new students in the face of a demographic crunch that's making it hard to fill seats.

The most recent statistics from the Maritime Provinces Higher Education Commission show the number of Nova Scotia residents enrolling at universities in their home province dropped by 16.8 per cent in the decade leading up to 2016/2017.

The number of students enrolling from other Maritime provinces also decreased by 10.7 per cent in that same period — and the situation is about to get worse.

Catherine Stewart, the interim CEO for the commission, said her projections show there will be about 15 per cent fewer 18-to-24-year-olds living in Nova Scotia in the next decade. 

Given that student fees make up about 45 per cent of university revenues, she said, "you're going to expect that Nova Scotia institutions are going to be doing whatever they can to get folks in seats."

That means making a big push for international students, Stewart said, and coming up with creative ways to attract locals. 

That creativity is manifesting in a number of ways.

Students who applied to Acadia University for the 2018/2019 school year were entered into a draw for a free residence room. (Nina Corfu/CBC)

This year, Acadia University in Wolfville used billboards and ads on public transit in Ontario, Alberta and Nova Scotia to advertise a draw for a free residence room for a year — a prize valued at almost $5,000 — as incentive for new students to apply.

The school also invited existing students to refer prospective students in exchange for getting their names in a draw for an Apple watch.

"It's all about standing out," said Acadia's director of communications, Scott Roberts.

It's important for institutions to connect with students "on a very personal level," he said, so they don't dismiss a university before they've even looked at what it has to offer.

As part of a strategy to provide teens with 'authentic' experiences, current students answer questions from potential students at an open house event for the University of King's College. (Sam Landry)

The assistant registrar for student recruitment at the University of King's College, Yolana Wassersug, said her Halifax school is looking to invest in "great experiences rather than big billboards."

"Teens can see through fakery," she said. Instead, what they're looking for are "really authentic experiences."

That's why the school sends faculty on a national lecture tour where high school students can get a sense of what the teaching style is like at King's, Wassersug said.

The university is one of many post-secondary institutions that now offer on-the-spot admissions to new students during open houses or out-of-province lectures.

The goal is to keep processing times as short as possible, likely so new recruits aren't tempted to stray.

According to the latest numbers from the Maritime Provinces Higher Education Commission, there will be about 15 per cent fewer 18- to 24-year-olds living in Nova Scotia in the next decade. (Katherine Holland/CBC)

For Marie Braswell, director of admissions and recruitment for Saint Mary's University in Halifax, the key to reaching new students is to find a way to cut through the noise on social media.

Generation Z "certainly demands a lot of us" online, she said. "They keep us on our toes."

Braswell gave the example of a virtual tour that uses Facebook to give teens a "personalized experience." Students who log in can see a picture of their face on the front of the student newspaper or their name on top of the assignment a professor is handing back.

The number of international students attending university in Nova Scotia increased by more than 100 per cent in the last decade. (CBC)

While Nova Scotia's universities are making a concerted effort — and a creative one — to attract locals, the focus in the coming years will likely be more global in scope, Stewart said. 

The number of international students enrolled at Nova Scotia universities increased by 109 per cent in the last decade, according to the commission's numbers. That trend is likely to continue, she said, in the hopes of keeping overall enrolment numbers steady.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Nina Corfu

Associate Producer

Nina Corfu has worked with CBC Nova Scotia since 2006, primarily as a reporter and producer for local radio programs. In 2018, she helped launch and build a national website for preteens called CBC Kids News. Get in touch by email: nina.corfu@cbc.ca

With files from the CBC's Information Morning

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