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COVID-19—What’s a College Admissions Office to Do? Part 2

Becky Morehouse

Becky Morehouse

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In my last article we looked at some near-term tactics that, can help you land the class amidst the ongoing pandemic. If you missed it, check out Part 1.

Today we’ll cover longer-term initiatives to implement so you’ll be ready to meet the challenges that Fall 2020 and beyond bring.

Before you start on long-term projects, it’s a good idea to review your answer to the essential question raised last week: what makes your school worth the money if your residential and campus culture is uncertain due to current events?

Understand that this answer becomes your raison d’ê·tre. It’s what you should evaluate every new idea and strategy against. Don’t be afraid to reduce or eliminate activities that undermine, detract, or take resources from that larger purpose.

After you’ve managed the immediate threats, use these longer-term ideas to help land the class even if some things remain up in the air:

Find Recruitment Opportunities Everywhere

Since traditional recruiting avenues may face unique challenges this year, it’s a good time to ramp up your focus on developing alumni recruiting networks.

Your younger alums may already have a relationship with some students who they can be coached to reach. You’ll want to sort potential alumni-prospect “matches” by location, academic interest, and post-graduate and professional experiences to help drive useful interactions.

It’s also a good idea to conduct a demographic analysis of your current students. This helps you identify and target prospects who match those primary segments. This includes customizing not only your messages, but campus experiences.

Be attentive to their motivations and willing to create community groups around those motivations. Begin with your two most viable (largest) segments. Once they are in hand, add two more.

Anticipate Changes and Adapt Fast

Consider your emerging virtual campus culture. How are your current students and families responding to the crisis? How are they serving their own communities? What communities are being created and how can prospective students be included? You might need to reach out to student body representatives or other sources to find this information, but it can be invaluable when seeking to differentiate from competitors’ online options.

It’s also a good idea to ensure you have current articulation agreements and strong relationships with your feeder two-year institutions. There is some expectation that historic four-year students will opt for a closer-to-home two-year experience until the dust settles, so these relationships will become even more crucial as the future emerges.

Expect that at least in the near term, your competitor set will change. Make sure your admissions staff knows how to sell against emerging competitors—keep those differentiators handy to give them the tools they need. Don’t forget to secret shop either!

Selling and Supporting the Online Experience

While you’re looking to the future, focus on bolstering your recruiting strategy for online students. Gather testimonials of online students that persuasively and compellingly articulate why they selected your institution and/or what sets your online offerings apart.

Look to wrap the online academic process in a dynamic and forward-leading online support experience. Similar to how alumni can be helpful in recruiting, current online students can help prospective online students by speaking to their needs and understanding their situation.

This disruption can also be a good opportunity to use sound research to strategically expand your online offerings. Focus on creating and aggressively marketing majors that lead to in-demand jobs with competitive incomes—this may seem challenging in the current environment but aim to project what will be needed once this crisis ends.

Managing New and Emerging Expectations

This is a new and uncertain time, so it’s good to verify rather than assume. One key assumption to avoid is that your best traditional faculty will automatically be great online teachers. Continually and relentlessly provide training for, monitor, and evaluate the performance of all online faculty to make sure students are still receiving the best experience you can provide.

If all this seems irrelevant because you do not currently offer online programs, consider partnering with a college that does. Or explore the possibility of licensing your curriculum to other online programs.

Finally, don’t trade a recruiting challenge for a retention challenge. In the crush to land the class there will be a temptation to risk selectivity standards. Resist that temptation. This is not the time to lower your admissions criteria. Stay true to your mission and vision—it will pay off in the long run. Next week we will look beyond the admissions office and consider some options for senior leaders.

Let’s talk strategies to land the class this Fall and beyond—set up a consultation with Stamats today.

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