Dalhousie is counting on its new marketing strategy to draw students from outside Atlantic Canada. (Photo credit: Alex Faubert)

Dalhousie is counting on its new marketing strategy to draw students from outside Atlantic Canada. (Photo credit: Alex Faubert)

Dalhousie looking beyond Atlantic Canada for students

Dal introduces new marketing campaign, initiates a shift in recruiting strategy

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Dalhousie University is expanding its recruiting efforts to attract more students from the prairie and western provinces and on an international level, assistant vice-president of enrolment and registrar Asa Kachan says.

The expansion, which coincides with Dalhousie's new marketing campaign introduced this week, partly aims to counter the declining demographic of 18 to 21-year-olds in the Atlantic region.

"We've known for almost 10 years that there was going to be a decline coming in this region," Kachan says. "So part of keeping Dalhousie healthy and being able to offer the breadth of classes and academic programs that we offer requires that we have enough students to maintain that breadth of offering.

"We need to... get a real pipeline of students coming to us from a wide range of other markets to ensure that we're in a strong and sustainable position."

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Dalhousie's revamped annual student handbook, released at the beginning of this academic year. (Photo: Alex Faubert)

Where do they come from?

Over the past several years, Dal has begun to see a notable shift in the diversity of its student body. International students made up 6.3 per cent of the student population in 2000, 8 per cent in 2005, and rose to 12 per cent this year. Meanwhile, students from metro Halifax account for 27 per cent of students this year, compared to nearly 37 per cent in 2000.

Overall enrolment has still steadily increased over the last decade. In 2000, Dal had 12,764 students, increasing to 15,550 in 2005 and 17,333 in 2011.

"We've done very well in terms of diversifying our markets and increasing our enrolment," Kachan says. "We knew we needed to get to that level to be strong enough in some of the new markets that we would find through the graduation decline that is coming."

Despite recent enrolment growth, Kachan says the university remains mindful of the Maritimes' changing demographic.

"I think [international growth] is a great thing for Dalhousie in realizing that we can draw really bright capable students from a wide range of markets... that, and the growth in the rest of Canada will help us in the coming years," she says. "Because even if we remain strong in our ability to draw Atlantic students to Dalhousie, it'll still end up being a smaller number [of students] just because there will be a significantly smaller pool."

A new marketing approach

This year's new marketing campaign, introduced by Kachan and director of marketing June Davidson, goes hand-in-hand with Dal's expanding recruitment efforts.

Dalhousie's previous campaign, launched in 2005, set out to address one major concern: the negative perceptions of Dal held by a number of high school students in Nova Scotia. Research conducted by the university at that time showed that many students thought the university was unfriendly, cold, and for "smart, geeky kids," Davidson says.

The new campaign, presented during a Senate meeting on Monday, takes a new approach. Rather than focusing on individual student stories and dispelling the negative notions associated with Dalhousie, this campaign provides detailed, program-specific information for prospective students. It's a "very robust picture of both the academic experience and the lifestyle experience," Davidson says.

Kachan added the new campaign focuses on "drawing capable students from diverse markets," including Atlantic Canadians. They still account for half of Dal's student body, despite decreasing representation in overall enrolment figures.

Enhanced online presence

The creation of a new website and a complete redesign of each program page are the most innovative additions to Dal's marketing strategy, Davidson said on Monday, as they go far beyond the academic information provided by most other Canadian institutions.

"There's... a very comprehensive program listing and each of those undergraduate program sites - that's the place particularly where, from other universities, we are hearing, 'Wow, you guys got this right.'"

Those program sites, Kachan said, are "nothing like the sort of one-page fact sheets that have become the standard."

The new website was released in mid-October to align with Dal's annual open house and the Ontario Universities Fair, Davidson said. The site should especially help international students to better understand what Dalhousie has to offer, being that they're less likely to be able to visit the university as easily as many Canadians.

Davidson added that her department plans to develop some marketing strategies to compliment Kachan's international recruitment efforts in the near future.

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