University recruiters may have been keeping a few secrets.

Among the largest is that there are fewer kids to recruit into college. A decline in birthrates in the late 1990s means there are fewer teens than previous years, which translates into fewer considering advanced education.

Recruiting from a dwindling pool of high school grads often results in lowering standards for admission, which is certainly not a great business model. It’s a tough fact to swallow when the lifeblood of any university is a continuous and consistent flow of quality students.

Here’s something that’s not a secret: transportation is moving up the lists of criteria used by students in selecting a university.

Hmmm…does this mean they need us more now than ever?

I am the director of Washington State University, which is a member of the Pacific-12 Conference (PAC-12). If transportation systems are selection criteria, we’re competing with the likes of Stanford, Cal Berkley, the University of Colorado Boulder, and the University of Washington, to name a few. From bicycles to buses, walking paths to carsharing programs, our system now competes with some of the best in the nation.

Our department is not discouraged, we’re energized. We’re excited by the notion that we can help WSU compete for quality students. We’re excited to have a new strategic opportunity and a new way to appeal to the university community for support of our transportation system.

I’ve begun introducing this concept to the community, including administrators, faculty members, student government, sustainability groups, or just about anyone else who will listen. And I’ve not been laughed out of the room. Pride runs deep in the university setting and competition is a way of life.

Let’s get into the game. The new message: “Help us help you. We’re all in this together.” It’s the beginning of a new era for transportation directors. When it comes to competing for students we have a seat at the strategic planning table.

It’s a good thing we’re ready.