How COVID-19 is changing the face of college admissions

Strategies for driving engagement with prospects—and providing flexibility for decision-making
Kristen Capezza is vice president of enrollment and university communications at Adelphi University in New York.
Kristen Capezza is vice president of enrollment and university communications at Adelphi University in New York.

Flashback. It’s September 2019 and higher education is facing one of the largest disruptions to date; the National Association for College Admission Counseling votes to remove long-standing provisions of the Code of Ethics and Professional Practices (CEPP), drastically changing the landscape of college admission. Institutions are left worrying what the future holds and race to remain competitive. Words like “sweepstakes” are introduced to the college process.

Read: Admissions ethics code now allows ‘student poaching’

Fast-forward. The bustling spring season approaches, and this year, it’s not business as usual. Contrary to expectations, this spring’s challenges are not a result of fall CEPP changes. The global coronavirus pandemic (COVID-19) disrupts all of higher education, forcing campuses to close and operations to resume remotely. Enrollment teams scramble to make class and create strong connections with admitted students, some of whom never set foot on campus.

It feels like the perfect storm.

Read: Updated: 89 free higher ed resources during coronavirus pandemic

Driving engagement

Many of us would claim our institutional culture becomes undeniably apparent through our on-campus events, bringing to life the words found in our glossy viewbooks. At Adelphi University in New York, our visitors experience the personalized interaction between our faculty, staff and students, and they feel the safety and energy of the possibilities that await them on our breathtaking campus, an award-winning registered arboretum.

For many, COVID-19 stole those visit experiences this spring. But Adelphi pivoted to recreate those feelings in our virtual campus environment, as did many others. And while no online interaction can replace the feeling of pulling onto campus, our honest and innovative responses may help us long into the future. Here are four considerations for enrollment leaders now:

  1. Build transparent, empathetic communications. As enrollment leaders, we are taught to act with empathy, keep promises and provide useful information. That should remain true even while navigating a worldwide pandemic. We must acknowledge social, financial and other priorities that guide human behavior, and we must work extra hard to reflect them in an empathetic approach to college enrollment. This lesson should remain central to all institutional enrollment strategies well beyond this pandemic’s lifespan.
  2. Harness the power of robust asynchronous and synchronous web content. Stealth shopping is commonplace and has been, long before COVID-19. We must invest in our web design, content and user experience to serve the hyper-digital user we cater to today. Build a mix of real-time and on-demand content to provide students and families with options for engagement. Years from now, your website will remain a key piece to your enrollment strategy.

    We must acknowledge social, financial and other priorities that guide human behavior, and we must work extra hard to reflect them in an empathetic approach to college enrollment.

  3. Offer virtual opportunities for personal connections. We know students seek opportunities to build meaningful social and emotional ties to their future campus community. Whether on campus or behind the glow of a screen, students and families are comforted by individual and small-group interactions. Virtual tours, one-on-one Zoom advising, student panels, and parent and family chats are just some of the new(er) opportunities used to drive valuable engagement. When colleges are granted permission to resume on-campus operations, I would urge campuses to remember the students and families without the ability to visit every campus of interest. Continue to use the dynamic innovations of this challenging time to extend your reach to under-resourced students as they undertake their college search.
  4. Call on your experts. Institutions nationwide should power up their networks to demonstrate value in one’s college experience. Members of Adelphi’s world-class faculty, our caring and dedicated staff, our nearly 8,000 enrolled students from 64 countries and 43 states, and our more than 115,000 successful alumni around the globe have rallied together to reach out to admitted students and families. The uniform message: Welcome to our community where you’ll have the opportunity to build a successful career with purpose and passion. This camaraderie will remain a part of enrollment strategies long into the future.

Read: How these colleges are marketing to admitted students during COVID-19

Providing options, flexibility

Our team here at Adelphi will continue to meet students where they are. As a result of CEPP changes and the challenges of COVID-19, our team has planned the following.

  • We’ve set aside a handful of seats for students who decide late in the summer that their plans have changed and they wish to attend school in our safe suburb of Garden City.
  • We’re offering flexibility in our deadlines for any families who need it, accepting deposits beyond May 1. We’ve also extended financial aid deadlines.
  • Recognizing current economic challenges, we’ve reduced our summer program costs by more than 50% at the undergraduate level to only $500 per credit. With more than 200 online summer courses, we’re welcoming current, visiting and prospective students to spend their summers with us.
  • We’ve created opportunities for prospective and visiting students to “try us out” this summer, providing those that transfer to us this fall with one-time discounts equivalent to any amount spent on Adelphi’s summer courses—on top of merit and need-based aid.
  • While recruitment has historically ended on May 1, this year, our virtual events will continue throughout the summer, offering students and families opportunities to get answers and build connections.

Read: Schools offer summer scholarships to cope with disruptions

Looking ahead

The fall enrollment picture is uncertain for colleges coast to coast. Students are delaying decisions, and many are asking for deposit extensions as they consider their options. We anticipate a large number of students will change plans and opt to stay local, seeking comfort in being near to home. There are students who will request gap semesters and years, waiting to start a campus experience uninterrupted by thermal scans and face masks.

As we look to the months ahead, they are filled with challenges, difficult decisions and unpredictability. Through it all, we must keep our students and institutional missions at the core of our decisions, offering flexibility and accessibility to those who need it most.

Kristen Capezza is vice president for enrollment and communications at Adelphi University in Garden City, New York.

UB’s coronavirus page offers complete coverage of the impacts on higher ed.

Most Popular