Recruitment initiative alters goals in light of legal restriction

For eight of the past 10 years, Guilford College’s traditional student headcount has increased — reaching 1,416 this fall. But Guilford Senior and Community Senate President Dana Hamdan believes there might be a better, albeit old-fashioned, way to attract even more students: word-of-mouth recommendations from current students.

The initiative was conceived earlier this semester when Hamdan was brainstorming alternative ways students could contribute to “Green and Beyond,” Guilford’s year-long sustainability theme. The initial incarnation of the project would have provided a $400 incentive to any current Guilford student who recruited another student, providing the student successfully enrolled and remained at Guilford past the Oct. 1 headcount their first year.

“What better way to sustain Guilford than for students already here reaching out to bring other students into our community,” said Hamdan. “Each of us has an idea, a concept of what the Guilford community is and what kind of person would fit in here. This is our chance to find those students and encourage them to consider Guilford.”

The initiative was received positively when pitched to senior administrators earlier in the semester, including garnering support from Vice President of Admissions Randy Doss.

Vice President for Student Affairs and Dean of Students Aaron Fetrow was a part of the initial meeting and expressed support for the idea, despite concerns about the monetary aspect of the proposal.

“The compensation part caught me off guard at first,” said Fetrow. “My initial thought was paying students to get other students sounds kind of dirty, but as I thought about it I thought ‘well better to pay our students than a big company.’ Our students know what Guilford students are like and may go get us better applicants.”

Over the last month, Hamdan marketed the initiative to other members of the community. Last week, the proposal was presented to Community Senate, and received support there.

A major hurdle was encountered earlier this week, however, when Doss was contacted by the National Association for College Admission Counseling (NACAC) questioning the legality of the monetary incentives. Doss contacted Hamdan, and it was decided that the monetary incentives would have to be removed from the proposal.

“After further research it became apparent that such a referral program would violate the NACAC guidelines,” said Doss in an e-mail interview with The Guilfordian. “At that time I communicated with Dana that we would not be able to implement such a program given these guidelines.”

The Guilfordian also discovered evidence that, in addition to violating association guidelines, the incentives violated federal statutes regarding institutional compensation of persons based on enrollment numbers. The Higher Education Act prohibits schools that receive federal student loans from using compensation as an incentive to enroll students.

“We became aware of federal regulations that forbid providing students money to recruit prospective students,” said Hamdan. “The monetary incentive for recruitment has been removed, but the initiative for current Guilford students taking the responsibility for recruiting future students to support and sustain our community will move forward.”

Hamdan is holding out hope that students can still be compensated in some form. “Maybe through Quaker cash or a brick on the campus with their name on it,” she said.

Even if no form of compensation can be offered, Hamdan said there are no plans of tabling the idea of Guilford students reaching out to prospective students.

“It still serves the same purpose in asking students who they would like to see with them in the Guilford community,” said Hamdan. “That’s the real point of this, not the money.”

First-year James Copp likes the idea of students acting as recruiters. “Who would better know what kind of student can fit in here than someone who already goes here,” he said.

Guilford will continue to pay agents to recruit international students. Foreign students are exempt from The Higher Education Act because they can’t receive federal loans. 

Guilford has an agreement with Australian-based IDP to recruit international students. The college pays IDP Education in the form of per-student commissions.

Hamdan said the primary purpose behind the program was never to put money in students’ pockets, but for students to have a say in future students that will comprise the Guilford community.

“That’s still our message,” she said. “Everyone has a different definition of what the Guilford community is. This is their chance to strengthen that definition by bringing in students who fit that idea.”

Claire D. Friedlander, an independent college consultant who lives in Connecticut, said Guilford’s student-led initiative gives the school an edge over other small, liberal arts colleges regardless of whether students are no longer being compensated.

 “College admissions is a difficult and expensive proposition these days,” said Friedlander, who has 15 years experience in collegiate admissions and recruiting. “You would not believe the numbers of strategies that are in use out there to attract students.  I think that working with the student base currently at the college is a great idea — certainly beats the glossy out-reach efforts by the marketing types.”

Fetrow sees the student-to-student interaction already at work in growing campus enrollment.

“I still like the idea of students recruiting students,” said Fetrow. “That happens unofficially a lot anyway. If you’ve got a friend from home who you think would be a good fit at Guilford, you’re going to say that to that friend.”