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An interview with Director of Admissions Jay Murray

This March, WCSU welcomed Jay Murray as new director of the Admissions Office. The husband and father is a Connecticut native with extensive experience in the world of college admissions. Murray attended Marist College in Poughkeepsie, N.Y. where he received an undergraduate degree in Communications and Masters in Public Administration. During his time at Marist, he worked as a tour guide and eventually ran the guide program. A year after graduation, Murray returned to Marist to work in admissions and has remained in the field since. Most recently, he was in the admissions office at Post University. With 20 years of experience in three different institutions, working with undergraduate, multicultural and international recruitment, the university could not have chosen a more qualified candidate.

This month, the office of Institutional Advancement met Jay Murray and discussing his plan for making Western Connecticut State University become a school of choice.

Most of your career has been in the college admissions field; what role does the admissions office play for a university?

Jay Murray: “The Admissions office is the marketing arm of the institution. They are not only recruiting students to enroll, they are spreading the word about Western through face-to-face interaction, e-mail and print. It is about finding those students who are the best fit for the institution; those who are going to be successful here, and then go on to be successful, happy alums that support Western.”

How would you describe the current state of the Admissions department at Western?

“There are very different operating models in the private sector versus the public sector in admissions. Within private institutions, there is greater flexibility specifically with budget and, resource access, but I think the staff here at Western has done a great job; they are very knowledgeable and do as much as they can to keep Western in the forefront.”

What are best practices for an admissions office and how do they help a university with student enrollment?

“Best practices are always strived for, and I expect to make that routine at Western. There are a number of methods that provide tremendous results and raise institutional standards to a more professional level. As an example, it is customary for schools to implement a process called 'Student Search' which offers prospective students the ability to provide personal information to colleges that are looking for students like them.

The concept of inviting visitors to campus around the clock, particularly between September 15 and the winter break is also a best practice. Colleges want students to come to them first in the fall of their senior year so that they have the best possible experience before looking elsewhere.”

The university would like to increase out-of -state enrollment; is there a best practice that could be implemented?

“Students from Danbury and the surrounding areas are going to know about our school, but a student from Ohio doesn’t. The big question is how to get your name out there without spending a lot of money. At any given moment, a student from anywhere can and will be able to know about us by adopting the use of the “common application.”  Every school that has ever adopted the application has seen an increase in application completion and subsequently, an increase in enrollment.”

You’ve mentioned financial constraints within the university; what changes have you seen in the economy that also have placed a challenge on higher learning?

“The economics of the financial crisis of 2008 are still being felt today. Many industries have left and are never going to come back. Many individuals have obtained jobs, but not at the same level they were before and, finally, there are many people who have given up. For some graduating high school students, the cost of college is just too high right now. Additionally, there are also many students being financially supported by their parents, which makes the parents the actual consumer. That challenges our office to make sure we are reaching students, but also making information accessible to parents and guardians.”

Has social media played a factor in college enrollment?

“Though many of us see marketing and social media as going hand-in-hand, it can sometimes be a disadvantage. Technology has made the admissions process more independent in that students aren’t necessarily visiting schools and interacting first with the admissions staff. Instead, the university’s website is their first experience. We must have a website that engages students and parents and keeps them engaged enough to apply and enroll.”

How has the admissions office begun to combat these issues?

“When I joined the office, I tried to create an atmosphere that encourages trying new things and thinking of innovative ways to build a better mousetrap. We have been making small, short-term changes, but most of what we will do is to institute long-term strategies for strong impact on the university’s future. We hosted the first 'Accepted Students Day' this year, which was another one of those industry standard things that I want to continue bringing onto campus. This day gave people the opportunity to get a last look before making decisions; literally look under the hood and kick the tires before driving the car home. The more times you can entice a prospective student to come to campus, the better the opportunity you have to encourage them to enroll.”

The admissions experience you are trying to create is much more personally based then?

“Exactly! We want each and every student to have that “aha” moment where they fall in love. It’s going to be something different for each and every student, so we need to create as many opportunities for them as possible. The private universities never stop, and neither should we. We are going to keep calling, sending e-mails, hosting events and doing everything we can to engage students and create a buzz for Western.”

What are your personal goals for Western’s admissions office?

“More personal touch and visibility are what we need to do to keep raising the bar. We really need to create a culture of engagement at the institution and to instill that Admissions does not just benefit this person or that person, it helps the university at large.

Here at Western, there are so many selling points: quality academic programs, our location, resources and cost. I always hear from students that this wasn’t their top choice, and we really need to change that. Find me a school in Connecticut that has had five Fulbright scholars on 5 years; not Yale, not Wesleyan, not Trinity, not UConn, but here at Western that is a reality. The school that students don’t think of as their first choice is doing a better job than the schools that students are thinking of as their first choice. My hope is to move the university on a path of enrollment that aligns with the prestige of our programs, students and faculty.

The question comes down to, “Is the degree worth the money and is the outcome equal to or better than the outcome elsewhere?” I fully believe that at Western Connecticut State University that is the case.” 


Story Photo: Admissions Director Jay Murray working with student employees to prepare for Accepted Students Day this semester

Contact us

Office of Institutional Advancement
181 White Street, Danbury, Conn.
(203) 837-8419