The drive from Dallas to Suffolk, Va., should take about 20 hours. With a 95-pound bull mastiff named Stella in the backseat, it can take a little longer.
Jason Faulk made that drive in December—stopping in Atlanta for a night—to surprise his parents: After 17 years living in Georgia and then Texas, he was coming back home to Virginia.
“You’re going to be seeing a lot more of me soon,” he told his mother, who greeted him at the door of his childhood home with a quizzical look. “I just accepted the job of dean of admissions at Longwood University.”
“You mean the Longwood that’s just down the road?” she asked, before wrapping him in a bear hug. Over her shoulder, Faulk said he spied a tear in his father’s eye.
Faulk comes to Longwood from the University of North Texas-Dallas, where he served as director of admissions and in five years led an effort to increase enrollment from 1,000 to more than 3,000, while retention rates rose annually. On the surface, the fast-growing urban university seems a far cry from Longwood’s stately, historic campus, but Faulk sees more similarities than differences.
“Students are getting a lot smarter,” he said, “and more of them are asking themselves how the schools they’re considering fit with their personality and future plans, and what support systems are in place to help them along the way. A lot of the student support we had at UNT-D was great at really helping our freshmen navigate that first year and build a plan for success and graduation. What Longwood has in place is much the same, from the [Longwood Seminar] course to campuswide research initiatives. That is really attractive to potential Lancers.”
Faulk joined UNT-D as an admissions counselor in 2012. His energy, quickness to learn and aptitude for taking on bigger challenges became apparent, and he was named the director of admissions in just a few months. It was in that role that his recruiting philosophy took shape.
“You have to put students at the forefront of everything you do,” he said. “If you write a policy or procedure and it doesn’t have a student focus, you just wasted lots of time and money. If you are doing something and you can’t take it back a step or two to a student, it’s not student-focused. Sometimes we forget that we’re here for the student. Enrollment numbers are important, but we can’t let that be the entire focus of our jobs.”
While Longwood is aiming for only modest growth in the years to come, Faulk says the university shares his vision of student success and retention as the measure of a strong admissions program.
“Jason is really quite an extraordinary person, whose vision of a successful admissions department lines up with our initiatives at Longwood,” said Dr. Jennifer Green, associate vice president for enrollment management and student success. “In the past five years, we have shifted our approach to building classes made up of students who fit the Longwood culture and whom we can help be successful. Jason’s demonstrated not only a commitment to that principle but also an ability to be creative in how we go about accomplishing it. Add the fact that he grew up in Virginia and has an understanding of the special dynamics at play in the state, and he is the total package.”
When Faulk walked through Longwood’s front gate last year, it had been nearly 20 years since he was on campus—a 1998 visit when he was a high-school student.
My first thought was, if you get people on this campus, Longwood sells itself.Jason Faulk, dean of admissions Tweet This
“I immediately felt the energy of this place,” he said. “It was really thriving. The debate banners were everywhere, and there were smiles on everyone’s face. My first thought was, if you get people on this campus, Longwood sells itself. I knew I really wanted the job the second I got here. As I learned more, I understood there really are some fantastic selling points about this place: the beautiful campus, the affordability and the family environment, which isn’t just friendly, but also nurturing.”
Meeting the admissions staff gave Faulk confidence he could build on the good work already being done at Longwood. “The staff is really young, energetic and eager to do great things,” he said. “There’s a great mix of alumni and non-alumni, and my first goal is to make sure they have the tools and knowledge to succeed in their jobs. We just need to be really confident in what we are selling when we go out there, and, if we can do that, our enrollment numbers will make themselves.”
Faulk was born in Suffolk, the son of a peanut farmer and staffer at the Department of Housing and Urban Development. He and his brother, both star track athletes in the rural southern Virginia town, became the first members of their family to go to college—both of them on full athletic scholarships. Jason Faulk ended up at Morehouse College, in the heart of Atlanta—a major move for a country boy who grew up pulling weeds out of the family garden. While at Morehouse, he served as a campus recruiter and operational coordinator for Teach for America.
He began his career teaching high school in Fulton County, Georgia, a suburb of Atlanta, and earned his master’s degree from Troy University. The next stop was a charter school system in Dallas, where Faulk was hired to create a culture of college attendance. Within four years, the charter school system boasted a 100-percent graduation rate, and 100 percent of students were accepted into two- or four-year colleges or universities. He joined the University of North Texas-Dallas in 2012.
A key focus throughout has been working with students from low socioeconomic backgrounds, an experience that mirrored his own beginnings. As a first-generation college student, Faulk says he is acutely aware of the hurdles that families new to the process have to leap.
“A lot of first-generation college students don’t know what to expect when they fill out applications,” he said. “It’s hard to connect the dots, and that’s really the job of an admissions department: to help families choose the right college for a student and to let the student know what to expect, what’s available in terms of academic support and what’s expected of them so they can come in and be successful.”
Melissa Shepherd, director of financial aid, will continue as managing director of admissions through the end of May, capping the 2017 admissions cycle. This will ensure strategic consistency as well as continuity for staff, prospective students and their families from start to finish. Faulk will spend the next several months observing what works, becoming familiar with the rhythms of the department, getting to know faculty and staff and focusing on the 2018 recruiting strategy.