Enrollment Innovation During Covid-19

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Dr. Marylouise Fennell

Dr.Scott D. Miller
Virginia Wesleyan University

COVID-19 has presented higher education with many unique and unprecedented challenges. No institution has been spared its impact—national or global, public or private, liberal arts or research institutions, nor those with large or small endowments. It has become clear in the higher education landscape, however, that those who acted swiftly and thoughtfully appear to be in better shape than their competitors who waited to enact a plan.

The effects are felt far and wide across all areas of campus life, but perhaps where it is felt most is in enrollment. The pandemic arrived during what is considered the busiest time in university admissions as March and April is when high-contact activities are increased. It has upended traditional college recruitment, with prospective students largely unable to visit campuses in person, and the economic crisis will prevent many from attending college at all in the fall.

he visit to campus is a key factor—if not the most important factor—in a college decision. For the better part of the Spring, physical visits to campuses were not an option, and in Virginia where restrictions are now being loosened, many still feel uncomfortable with in-person tours. Accordingly, at Virginia Wesleyan University we have focused on two vitally important tactics: development of virtual visit opportunities and recruitment through digital communication and technologies.

Virtual Visit Opportunities

In early March as COVID-19 cases quickly began spreading in the United States, the VWU enrollment office clicked into virtual mode with the following engagement opportunities for prospective students and their families:

Virtual Open House:The format included a live and interactive recording, with campus representatives, administrators, faculty, and current students—in one place, spaced out at least six feet from one another.

Virtual Athletic Open House: This option provided prospective student-athletes with the opportunity to learn more about the institution’s intercollegiate athletic program and ask questions.Coaches from all 22 of our NCAA Division III sports and our Athletic Director participated in the sessions conducted via Zoom.

Virtual Information Sessions: Daily sessions include a presentation by enrollment counselors followed by a Q & A session. Prospective students have the opportunity to engage in a virtual campus visit any day, any time. Time is spent with an enrollment counselor followed by interacting with a variety of administrators and faculty. Prospective students can choose from several options to meet representatives from academics, athletics, campus life, and financial aid. They can choose one of multiple options. These virtual visits are also conducted via Zoom and through a combination of pre-recorded materials and live interactive conversations with Q & A sessions.

Virtual Tours: While nothing can truly replace a physical visit, thankfully there is an option that comes close. A virtual, 3-D tour that includes video, photos, and an interactive campus map provides interested parties the option to visit the campus on any day, at any time, rain or shine.

Faculty Videos: Pre-recorded videos from faculty members representing each of our majors and academic programs is available, along with a fact sheet.

Student Videos: Often the most helpful piece of a campus visit for some students is hearing from current students. To ensure this element stays part of the experience, current student ambassadors pre-recorded videos discussing their college experience and highlighting what they love about Virginia Wesleyan.

Spreading the Word Through Digital Communication

While some of these tools were already in the pipeline for a long-term plan, our team suddenly had to work swiftly to develop, modify, and implement the strategy. Our enrollment team worked closely with the Office of Marketing and Communications to update the University’s website to promote these opportunities for prospective students.

A targeted communications plan was developed for outreach and promotion of these options and included our website, email, text, telephone and social media advertisement campaigns.

While these virtual tools were a plus prior to the COVID-19 outbreak, they can become critical to the higher education landscape moving forward.

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Dr. Scott D. Miller is President of Virginia Wesleyan University, Virginia Beach, VA. Previously, he was President of Bethany College, Wesley College, and Lincoln Memorial University. He is Chair of the Board of Directors of Academic Search, Inc.Dr. Marylouise Fennell, RSM, a former president of Carlow University, is senior counsel for the Council of Independent Colleges (CIC) and principal of Hyatt Fennell, a higher education search firm.

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