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
“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
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.”
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.”
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.”
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
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