Amidst the NACAC moratorium, COVID-19, and racial injustice, we asked enrollment leaders to reflect on recent recruitment efforts as they look to Fall 2021 and beyond. They shared what surprised them the most, what their teams have learned to move forward, and how life for admissions professionals has changed. Key learnings characterize a range of enrollment sizes at independent colleges and universities across the United States and bring rich perspectives from more than 150 cumulative years in enrollment management.
Recent conversations with enrollment leaders and results from Credo’s Admitted Student Research highlighted a recruitment season that challenged admissions teams in a variety of ways. We heard most frequently about less test takers, fewer inquiries from fairs and high school visits, and a decrease in on-campus visits – all motivating enrollment leaders to rethink strategies that build the top of the funnel and facilitate communication and engagement.
Rethinking the campus guest experience for Long-term Accessibility
With fall 2020 enrollment down by an astounding 13.1% overall, we wanted to find out how the most connective, successful campuses were still reaching students, developing meaningful connections with them, nurturing their applications, and ultimately enrolling them into their new campus communities. We found that the campuses who were connecting best with students were providing them a series of intentional, personal, seamless opportunities for bidirectional communication—through digital, in-person, and hybrid experiences.
Top among those communications that meant the most was prospective students’ experiences of campus through the official campus guest experience. According to our most recent study with admitted students, 9 out of 10 respondents participated in some form of a campus guest experience and reported it as meaningful to their decision to apply to and attend the college or university of their choice. Whether they attended an in-person, virtual, or “hybrid” tour of the campus, having the ability to see and experience the campus, talk with a member of the admissions team through the experience, and share the experience with friends, family, and other influencers and stakeholders are just as important—if not more important—during global pandemics and into the future.
The data makes it clear that students and parents still want a safe way to visit and campuses also need a stellar virtual experience. With infrastructures already in place, many campuses were able to pivot quickly, providing a more accessible, robust virtual campus guest experience.
Technology For The Win
Shani Lenore-Jenkins from Maryville University said, “We were able to quickly pivot to a virtual experience. We were already using a software for virtual events for our international population, and we simply added events for domestic students. We already had the knowledge base on our team to manage that software, so it was a quick pivot for us.”
In this example, and in so many related stories we heard from our partner campuses, an opportunity for a short-term pivot allowed the campus to accomplish additional long-term goals around accessibility for all prospective students, taking platforms fully online to bring the campus to the (prospective) student and empowering more families to “meet a campus” in a safe, low-stakes, low-impact way. For some families, this virtual model was a first step, but for others, it was everything they needed to make a decision.
One ASR student respondent highlighted their own recent college selection experience: “My decision was final after I had taken a Virtual Tour. I got to see everything I wanted to and could tell the campus is so nice. The welcome that I received from the Admissions Office was genuine and greatly appreciated. They didn’t miss a beat, even through COVID, and I know I made the right decision about where to enroll.“
A small independent college in the Northeast was an early Zoom adopter. Within the early stages of the pandemic, the admission team created a virtual event series allowing students and families to join information sessions, “open houses,” and other campus-guest related events. Families joined individually from their separate devises or together. Admission teams mobilized their campus, inviting faculty and staff from across campus to facilitate breakout rooms focusing on specific areas of campus life that prospective students and families were most interested in like majors and departments, intramural and e-sports, clubs and associations, and more.
A rural campus went online for the first time with virtual independent and staff-led campus tours and information sessions. With slight upgrades to their website platform and conferencing software, they were able to increase accessibility to their campus, which by land, is an hour away from the closest major airport. An admissions counselor noted, “We know that there are people who struggle to get to our rural campus. Now we can bring our campus to anyone with a phone.”
Our recent survey and additional conversations with enrollment managers confirm that leaders who invested in the virtual experience and challenged their teams to think beyond the norm on how to execute on-campus guest experiences, especially group visits, were better prepared for the recruitment cycle and in their ability to lift up their distinctives and positively impact prospective students’ perceptions of the institution. Even more, admissions teams felt better equipped to make families feel heard, seen, and welcome and to serve a more diverse class.
How has your campus guest experience adapted for the better since 2020?
Reflecting on the campus guest experience
As you reflect on your own campus guest experience, we invite you to take these questions to your team for discussion:
- How does the campus recruit, welcome, receive, and serve campus guests?
- How is the admissions office organized to provide great campus guest experiences?
- How are others on campus involved in the campus guest experience?
- Is your campus guest experience more inclusive and accessible than before? What steps can you take to make it more inclusive and accessible for all prospective students in the long-term?
Get started by reflecting upon your own successes across these seven assessment areas. For more enrollment reflection questions across key assessment areas, download 7 Focus Areas for Sustainable Enrollment Growth. Answer the questions on your own, take them to your team for discussion, and identify next steps for building an enrollment dashboard to measure performance against set goals.
What strategic adjustments are you making to optimize enrollment? Would you like to talk through your reflection questions, assess existing strategies and processes, or initiate new ones?
We want to hear from you. Let’s talk about your most urgent questions for boosting enrollment yield and implementing sustainable, future-focused enrollment strategy that benefits your admissions team, your campus, and your engagement with prospective students!
Check back soon for the next blog in our Enrollment Leaders Respond series!