St. John's University in New York City has figured out a way to reach out to Catholic high schoolers such that they end up enrolling at St. John's.
I had the pleasure of visiting with the ministry team from St. John's at their Queens campus this past week. In addition to finding out about their approach to campus ministry through a Vincentian lens, I discovered what they call the Catholic Scholars Program.
The Catholic Scholars Program was designed to build "Catholic student density" on campus among its other objectives. This is always a balancing act as universities welcome students from all walks of life. With that said, Catholic colleges also desire to recruit enough practicing Catholic students such that the Catholic identity of the institution is maintained.
Director Jimmy Walters, Ed.D., described the program as a four-year experience for a select group of undergrads who demonstrate a strong faith, a desire to serve and an intention to become leaders. Each is selected by the college, receives a partial scholarship, and lives and learns among a cohort of like-minded students. There is a theology component, a service element and even a pastoral assignment in their junior year. The Program is one example of how to transition students from high school to your campus.
You may want to emulate parts or even all of the Scholars Program as it has been designed at St. John's. Or, you may want to create one of your own, connecting Catholic high school students to life on your campus.
What are some qualities of effective transition steps from high school to college? They may include:
- Building relationships with 10-15 key Catholic schools in your area, encouraging them to consider your school
- Getting high school students on campus for retreats
- Inviting Catholic high school students for faith-related speakers
- Inviting Catholic high school students for a "meet and greet" with a Catholic coach and her/his captains
- Bringing college students into Catholic high schools for unique programs, mentoring opportunities or retreats
- Hosting an annual gathering of local Catholic youth ministries for a rally or special Mass
- Working with your local Diocesan Catholic youth ministry coordinator for opportunities to get local Catholic students onto campus
- Identifying one person on your staff who is focused on Catholic students and their journey from high school to college
- Creating a full-fledged program as St. John's has done
Increasing enrollment will never go out of style for colleges. As campus ministers, we can help our institutions be more thoughtful about how to attract more Catholic students.