Why mascots are leading enrollment charge at one university

Widener University is also hosting virtual events to drive enrollment

College admissions teams are having to get creative—and also trying to have some fun—as they work to convince students to enroll at their institutions in the fall.

In recent weeks, Widener University near Philadelphia has bussed its mascots to the homes of about dozens of admitted high school seniors who live in the region.

The mascots’ mission was to congratulate students on their acceptance. But the enrollment team members also wanted to put themselves in the shoes of the students who have missed out on some important events, says Courtney Hoover Kelly, the executive director of admissions.

“The ending of senior year is arguably what they’ve been looking forward to the most,” Kelly says. “All those milestones—graduation parties, proms, awards ceremonies—all of it has turned upside down, so we thought there was a special memory we could create in the absence of those.”

Another part of the mission was to create the sense of welcome students get when they are able to visit Widener’s campus, Kelly says.

During the first trip in mid-May, a number of families and students took pictures and gave the students mascots high fives. The team also delivered yard signs for families to display.

Before the second trip about a week later, Kelly received several requests for visits, including one from a family in Texas.

Mascots visiting acccepted students' home is just a part of Widener University's enrollment strategy for fall 2020.
Mascots visiting acccepted students’ home is just a part of Widener University’s enrollment strategy for fall 2020.

The team also got help from several campus departments. Campus health and safety staff provided coronavirus screenings to the team, including the students in the mascot costumes, and measured the seats in the shuttle bus so all on board could maintain a safe social distance.

More from UB: Why face-to-face instruction will have big impact on fall enrollment

The environmental science division shared its geographic information system so the team could accurately plot its route.  And university relations promoted the trips, including on social media.

What admissions will look like in the future

Widener is also using its online Admitted Student Hub to drive enrollment, Kelly says.

The hub has hosted virtual events while representatives from residence life and other campus departments have participated in Zoom sessions with students and families.

Admitted and enrolled students have also connected with each other on the hub, which has offered games and other ice-breakers, Kelly says.

“We’re learning a lot about admissions that will be transferable to the future,” Kelly says. “I don’t see any reason to stop offering these virtual opportunities even when we get back to the more traditional campus visits.”

More from UB: Here’s when and how colleges plan to start fall semester

When campuses closed in March, institutions that already had strong virtual infrastructures in place were able to shift admissions, enrollment and recruitment online quickly, says Tom Green, the associate executive director of the AACRAO, the American Association of Collegiate Registrars and Admissions Officers.

These schools were able to connect students with financial aid counselors and other staff to aid in the decision process. “Once you get beyond concerns of COVID, then you have all the other concerns, some of which are exacerbated by 30, 40 million people now out of work,” Green says.

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

Matt Zalaznick
Matt Zalaznick
Matt Zalaznick is a life-long journalist. Prior to writing for District Administration he worked in daily news all over the country, from the NYC suburbs to the Rocky Mountains, Silicon Valley and the U.S. Virgin Islands. He's also in a band.

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