Emory & Henry College Enrolls Largest Class in 185-Year History, despite the pandemic
John W. Dysart
The Dysart Group
I had the pleasure of working with Dr. John Wells when he was chief academic and enrollment officer at a University in North Carolina. During our collaboration, the University enrolled the largest number of new students in at least thirty years.
Dr. Wells assumed the presidency at Emory & Henry College in 2019. He was faced with a declining enrollment exacerbated by the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. We collaborated to implement a new recruitment and financial aid model. In Fall 2021, the College was able to increase freshmen enrollments by 63 percent despite the challenges of declining demographics in the local area and the pandemic.
So many colleges and universities have struggled with enrollment in recent years and the impact of the pandemic has been disastrous for most. How was Emory & Henry College able to overcome the obstacles?
Over the last four decades, I have found that effective leadership is the most important element for enrollment success. It starts at the top, with the President who is charged with providing the institutional vision but does not end there. EHC benefitted from the guidance of Dr. Wells, but also from strategic planning and implementation from the Vice President for Enrollment Manage-ment and External Affairs, Jennifer Pearce. An equally vital role was played at the tactical level by the Director of Admission, Traci Harrison. The coordinated efforts of these leaders enabled the institution to quickly execute the new initiatives.
- Market Expansion
The location of the College in Southwest Virginia presented unique demographic obstacles, as the population has dropped by nearly nine percent over the last decade. Institutional representatives continued to maximize recruitment outcomes in the local area while expanding the geographic reach into new markets.
- Virtual Experiences
Emory & Henry College made sure to offer traditional campus visits as safety circum-stances allowed but offered virtual options to learn about the College as well.
- Realistic Financial Aid
Effective enrollment management requires an understanding of the students and families your institution serves as well as an awareness of evolving market realities. For decades, Emory & Henry College has served the residents of Appalachia, where nearly 25% of adults aged 18-24 fall below the poverty line. COVID-19 served to make a bad situation even worse. The financial aid packaging plan for the College took the pandemic and the fiscal challenges of prospective students into con-sideration. In some cases, economic realities required greater investment of institutional aid resources.
- Personalized Communication
Individual, personal communication with prospective students and their families is crucial. Too many colleges and universities rely on generic blast messages and these students can see right through them. Utilization of individual test messages and personal telephone outreach supplemented by email and traditional mail has proven to be most effective.
- Program Expansion
Dr. Wells and his leadership team are always evaluating product offerings for enhancement. Emory & Henry College continues to improve current programs while adding new academic and co-curricular options in response to the proven needs of the market. New majors and new activities are added considering student demand and interest.
The team at Emory & Henry College succeeded during a period when many colleges and universities experienced headcount and revenue decreases. Your institution can realize growth even during these difficult times by using some of the strategies outlined in this article.