Open houses show college campuses are winning the fight against COVID

Admissions teams are showcasing academic programs and activities in person for the first time since the pandemic began.
By: | November 12, 2021
Photos courtesy of University of Houston-Downtown

The University of Houston-Downtown recently held an open house for 700 prospective students, its first since COVID-19 interrupted campus events. Southern Illinois University-Carbondale has been highly active this fall in welcoming interested students to its facilities in person.

These are positive signs for admissions teams and institution leaders as they try to boost the number of open houses and tours that are live on campuses.

“It was exciting to host our first open house event since the onset of the global pandemic,” said Ceshia Love, Executive Director of Enrollment Management at UHD. “We used the highest capacity meeting spaces available to accommodate our guests. It was a pleasure to invite prospective students and their families back to our campus to showcase all that the University of Houston-Downtown has to offer.”

Love said participant safety was top priority as it planned for the event, providing both masks and easy access to sanitizing stations for guests in high-traffic spots. The ability to host open houses to show prospective students postsecondary education opportunities cannot be undersold, especially as enrollment dips persist across the nation.

“There is nothing like seeing our campus for yourself. This often seals the deal for students,” SIU Carbondale Chancellor Austin Lane said in a recent post to the community. “We want students in our own neighborhood to know they are welcome and wanted at SIU Carbondale. They can get a world-class education, personal attention and unique opportunities close to home.”

SIU-Carbondale held the last of several open houses last Saturday and said it has more in the works in early 2022, part of an overarching plan to be more attractive through marketing, promotions, and yes, those visits. Lane says enrollment is up by nearly a third over last year because of those initiatives that have included fairs, tours and student-led talks.

Hosting events is not without challenges. Many institutions like UHD are keeping strong mitigation and hygiene protocols in place, including masking of all guests in indoor areas. Seton Hall University held a large open house in late October and has another planned in another week. It is not mandating that guests be vaccinated or show proof of negative tests but is enforcing social distancing and has pushed some gatherings outdoors to keep them safe. Tours are being kept small.

Several other colleges in New Jersey have open houses planned, including Drew University and William Paterson University on Saturday and the College of New Jersey and Caldwell University next Saturday. Rowan and Stockton universities held theirs last Sunday.

Not all institutions are ready to host in-person events or even want to do them because of logistics. The University of Pittsburgh recently held an online open house for its Public Health school, and San Jose State University had a virtual event for those interested in engineering last Friday. And Ferris State University in Michigan welcomed the opportunity to reach more students online—rather than try to hold an open house in person—with a flexible event for prospective students.

Some universities are doing both. Tuskegee University in Alabama held individual open houses for its College of Agriculture, Environment and Nutrition Sciences and for it College of Engineering this past weekend where faculty, students, staff and administrators spoke. And it has several more slated for Saturday, including Arts & Sciences, Nursing and Business. But it still plans to host a general virtual event on its academic programs and support services on Nov. 20.

The University of Houston-Downtown also plans to host an open house in December, where Dr. Daniel Villaneuva, Vice President of Enrollment Management at UHD, said they will “gather as much data as possible to ensure we’re meeting their needs. Their interest drives how we deliver instruction and services. Increasingly, student behavioral data informs us that our students want the flexibility to have in-person, virtual, and hybrid engagement.”

Those that are bringing students in couldn’t be more excited. Morehead State University in Kentucky is welcoming students and families to its Doran University Center for meetings and lunch with faculty, students, financial aid representatives, and student support services leaders.

“Our goal is to make it convenient to get answers to questions about starting college by bringing deans, department chairs and faculty from our academic programs together in one place,” Holly Pollock, director of undergraduate admissions said.