Homeless Recruiters

How Tulane and Dillard plan -- without access to their campuses this fall -- to fill their freshmen classes next year.
September 9, 2005

For many high school seniors, it’s that view of the college quad or the library or the dorm that makes them want to call a campus "home" for the next four years.

But in the wake of Hurricane Katrina, with New Orleans evacuated, some institutions made the decision to forgo a fall semester. Without a campus for prospective students, Tulane and Dillard Universities -- and other New Orleans institutions -- need to recruit without a campus.

On Tuesday morning, Tulane opened an enrollment office in Richmond, Va., inside the offices of Royall and Company, a company that does marketing for the university. “We’re already back in the recruiting business,” said Richard Whiteside, Tulane’s vice president for enrollment management and dean of admissions. Part of the trouble is, though, that it’s not exactly clear how the recruiting business is going to work. “There’s no book on this,” Whiteside said. “We’re chapter one.”

Whiteside said all recruitment events will still take place as scheduled. Fortunately, Tulane had already compiled a list of about 100,000 high school students who have expressed interest in the university. Royall and Company had the list in Richmond, and Tulane has been able to keep in touch with all of them over e-mail to assure them campus will reopen in January. Because none of those students will be able to visit campus in the fall, the admissions staff is planning to put together a video, VHS or DVD, that shows the campus and send a copy to every student on the list. Structurally, Whiteside said, damage to Tulane buildings is minimal, so once some first-floor flooding is taken care of, the campus should look just like it did before Katrina visited.

Marvalene Hughes, president of Dillard University, has been busy enlisting some new friends of the university who she hopes will help with fundraising and recruitment. Several celebrities saw Hughes in television interviews, and introduced themselves to her at a fundraiser in Miami over the weekend. She hopes her newfound acquaintances, including Jamie Foxx and Shaquille O’Neal, can help what she said will be “a Herculean effort to attract new students,” and to raise funds. She said that she has spoken with parents of freshmen “who want me to assure them that their sons and daughters will become Dillard alumna and alumni,” she said.

For now, Hughes’ intent is to remain as public a figure as possible in an attempt to remind people that “Dillard is an ideal that has triumphed through the years, and has managed to find its place or excellence,” she said. Freddye Hill, vice president of campus life at Dillard is currently working from Centenary College to get contact with parents and admissions personnel back in order.

Hughes said she still is not sure how long Dillard will remain closed, but said she feels that the weight “of re-attracting people to that wonderful city without fear,” is resting “on my shoulders.” She hoped that neither concerns about hurricanes nor images of looting on television would keep people away.

Whiteside said he isn’t too worried that parents and prospective students will be deterred by another hurricane, but he is dismayed by “the negative tone of much of the press coverage, the looting and lawlessness,” he said. “I think parents are more concerned about crime than if the city will fix itself physically. The looting, it’s not the New Orleans we know and live in. That’s a small group of persons. Tulane is a safe place and always has been. We have to reeducate people that New Orleans is a fine city.”

He said part of the video will include footage of hurricane heroes. “We can’t defend [looting and lawlessness], we just have to overwhelm them with other stories -- for example, the Tulane doctors who crossed over to the Superdome and kept people alive.”

Because Katrina scattered Tulane students across the nation like dandelion spores, Whiteside hopes that interest might grow near colleges from New York to California that have taken in Tulane students. “We might ask some of our students in other places to visit high schools with us,” he said.

He also hopes that from the wreckage, Tulane can present an unprecedented educational opportunity to students. “If you want to study hydrology, restorative work, social work, engineering, reestablishing public health and educational systems, there will by no place like New Orleans over the next decade,” Whiteside said. “We’re going to rebuild a city in very short order. There are few places in the world where someone can watch that as a laboratory unfolding before them.”

Whiteside that, “to a person” Tulane students he has spoken with can’t wait for the university to open back up. In the meantime, the sports teams, which are being housed at other colleges in Louisiana and Texas, might keep Green Wave spirit on the radar. “These kids have great courage here,” Whiteside said. “They’re ripped up from their normal routine, but willing to play hard under the Tulane banner.”

Right now, Whiteside is faced with reproducing masses of recruitment pamphlets and publications that were submerged by Katrina. From now on, he said, publications should be stored “high and dry, or in multiple locations.” As for the most important part of his own learning experience, Whiteside said he has a bit of advice, not only for colleges, but for any organization: “Don’t have all your employees with the same cell phone area code. When 504 went out, we were in the dark.”


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