The idea of Collegiate Outreach is truly a new area of exploration for the Cardinal District. Sure, we have been hosting Harmony Explosion Camps, Youth in Harmony Camps, and even a High School Quartet Contest, but the specific focus of reaching out to college students can use some rebooting. Perhaps your chapter has tried to reach out and have been discouraged at the “lack of commitment” that college students seem to deal with, or you feel like you don’t even know where to start in terms of initiating communication.
Yes, it can be a bit of a challenge when it comes to reaching out to college students.
Does that mean you shouldn’t try at all? Of course not.
Should you remember that what works now may not work later? Yes.
Are your efforts worth it in the long haul? Absolutely.
There are some things that need to happen at the administrative level in terms of planning events and communicating with higher education officials, but there is a lot that your chapter can do to encourage college students to participate on a local basis, not just at district events or international when we have our International Collegiate Quartet Contest. There will be more to come on what kind of events you can host (ex. A branch off a chapter guest night might be a “College Night”), but first let’s keep in mind a few things about our college students that we are trying to reach out to.
College Students rely on electronic devices and internet media to communicate.
Whether it’s a smart-phone, a tablet, Facebook, or YouTube, college students rely on interconnectivity in real-time to stay connected. Flyers on bulletin boards, while occasionally still somewhat effective, are obsolete in comparison to an email. If you haven’t already, have an internet-savvy member create a Facebook page for your chorus, chapter, or quartet and next time you see your college recruit, tell them to “Like Our Page!” That phrase is music to any college student’s ears. Use that Facebook page to tell people when and where you meet, when upcoming performances are, who the members are in your group, post announcements on your page. If you don’t have this medium of communication, it will be very difficult to catch the eye of the modern college student.
College Students live on an Academic Calendar.
This can be a whole different rhythm and routine. Some students are “nocturnal,” most have class throughout the day, their “free-time” is used for either study or much-needed socializing, and during the summer they usually move back home, which could be anywhere! Many work part-time when not in class, and plenty are over-committed to a variety of activities and responsibilities. This is an important point to keep in the back of your mind when reaching out.
College Students have a natural inclination to volunteer.
Use this to your advantage! You don’t want to overload them with responsibility, but if they want to lend a hand with the skill sets they bring to the table, by all means let them! If you have some music majors that have been attending rehearsals for a while, let them lead a sectional or two! If you have marketing majors, let them help your Public Relations Team (or person) help write the newsletter! Now, letting an accounting major deal with the chapter budget is pushing it, but if they ask how they can be more involved, tell them how in meaningful and manageable ways!
If you can hook one college student, you can hook a couple!
Start small when it comes to building commitment at this level. If you build commitment and dedication in a small number of students, they will more than likely start bringing friends! And when they do, make sure to welcome the diversity and change their arrival will bring to your group! Look at it like a breath of fresh air.
Do not underestimate the power of food.
Seriously. If you have snacks or food at the end of a chapter meeting, they will come. If you go to Applebee’s or Steak ‘n Shake after rehearsal, invite them and get to know them. Pay for their dinner a few times, invite them into the generous, kindhearted brotherhood that our hobby provides. That aspect is what will attract these guys more than anything. The music is great, and ringing a chord is awesome, but the fellowship and community that barbershop can bring is going to be worth a lot to them when their college days are over and the “real world” hits… I’m sure we can all remember that time!
While there are exceptions, it is important to remember that college student involvement is usually short-term and intense. While most college students may not become members immediately, if they remember a positive, exciting, and nurturing experience at even one rehearsal, one convention, one tag – that may be enough to make them come back to the hobby when their lives are more stable. Maybe your chorus has been successful in recruiting college students and is thriving for it! If so, feel free to share your success story!
Theo Hicks is the Co-Director of Collegiate Outreach for the Cardinal District. He received his Bachelor of Music in Music Education from Anderson University and currently serves as the Choral Director at Madison-Grant Jr./Sr. High School. Theo is an active composer and arranger, and has been a member of the Barbershop Harmony Society for ten years. He sings lead in the quartet Instant Classic and is also the Assistant Director of Circle City Sound.