Seven Ways to Engage with Incoming Students After COVID-19 (Part 1)

The COVID-19 virus has completely changed life in America after just a few short weeks. Every day schedules, our shopping and eating habits, and even our interactions with friends and family have been disrupted. These changes are even more apparent nationwide on college campuses that where in-person classes have grinded to a halt. Of course there are many questions on the minds of higher education administrators, managers and students across the country. SightLine has paired up with Dr. Jim Hundrieser, Vice President of Consulting at the National Association of College and University Business Officers (NACUBO) for this two-part series focusing on how to engage with students during the COVID-19 crisis.

At SightLine, we believe that times of disruption drive innovation. These innovations may develop into long term assets for both institutions and students. Additionally, we are encouraged and impressed by the empathy and support our nation has shown to our countries most vulnerable citizens and how adaptable the country has proven to be.

Following suit to our nation’s response, we are focusing on taking steps to propel student success and engagement during such a difficult time. This two-part series includes engaging the fall 2020 incoming class through enrollment (Part 1) and taking extra measures to support continuing undergraduate students this summer and fall (Part 2).

Enrollment Solutions to Keep on Track for Fall 2020 Enrollment

A recent survey by Niche Partners of 35,411 high school and college students indicated that 72% of students believe that how a school handles this crisis will affect their decision to enroll next year. Additionally, 39.9% of students have not yet decided where they are going to enroll but only 6.9% are considering deferring enrollment for a year. Communicating with your students and providing the proper resources will be crucial in the coming weeks. The following is a list of challenges or areas for improvement and high-level solutions.

The number of campus visits a student applicant makes is one of the leading indicators of enrollment.

Without this in-person time on campus, here are some of our recommendations:

  1. Virtual tours that may be condensed versions
  2. Online video conferencing with prospective advisors
  3. Social media live events to show off university facilities
  4. Social media live events as a Q&A with a campus tour guide
  5. Provide student reviews of your institution and offer a way for current and incoming student to connect. This could be as simple as a private Facebook group.

According to Niche’s survey, 69.1% percent of high school students are actively relying on college search sites, student reviews and social media for their college search.

Access to high school transcripts may be difficult while K-12 schools are shut down. Here are some recommendations to implement for the short term

  1. Adjusting applications to allow self-reported high school grades
  2. Requesting final transcripts at a later date

It may be important for your institution to quantify how the uncertainty in self-reported high school grades and even test scores may impact enrollment and retention outcomes. If your institution is uncertain about the caliber of students, the way at-risk students are identified may be impacted.

3. Long-Distance Student Applicants

Prospective students may be more cautious about enrolling at an institution away from their hometown. This may include anxiety about rent and lease agreements, paying for residential halls that they may not reside in for the entire semester, being in close contact with other students. One student from Niche’s survey says,

I no longer want to attend a school in a larger city. — Public 4-year college. California

Meanwhile, only 7% of high school students and 24.9% of college or graduate school students are more likely to consider online education in the future. Only 10.9 and 15.1% find online classes as effective as in-person classes respectively.

This situation has greatly impacted my educational experience because now I have to spend even more time studying to understand material and the resources I normally use in person at school are not as available since everything has switched to online (i.e., tutoring, office hours, records and administration, counselors). — Community College. California

  1. Promoting availability of online courses but retaining the caliber of coursework available at your institution
  2. Creating agreements with students to waive or reimburse residential hall fees and travel costs if a similar situation occurs during the 2020–21 academic year

4. Dual Enrollment Options

Institutions may need to plan for students that are unable to complete high school courses due to COVID-19 and school closures and difficulties transitioning to online or remote learning. SightLine recommends

  1. Leveraging newly expanded online capabilities and promoting and expanding your dual enrollment program
  2. Encouraging high school students to take one or two online courses at a discounted rate. This will help them stay on course for a 4-year graduation track and may cut down on long-term costs to the student
  3. Communicating clear pathways from high school to community college programs, to 4-year degree programs that are compatible
  4. Plan for students to postpone full time college enrollment to spring 2021 and potentially reduced tuition revenue during fall 2020

5. Quantifying the Impact of Enrollment Procedural Changes

Regardless of which tactics your institution decides to enact, it is important to quantify the impact that these changes may have on the number of enrolling students. For example;

  1. If on-campus visits are a leading indicator of enrollment, what is the worst case scenario if no more on-campus visits take place?
  2. What other marketing strategies (not in-person) are quantitatively proven to have a positive impact on enrollment?

Does uncertainty in high school GPAs and test scores change admissions procedures or decisions? Does this uncertainty impact the way we identify which incoming students are at-risk of dropping out?

6. Keeping up with Financial Aid Packaging

Here are just a couple reminders for your financial aid offices.

  1. Encourage students to complete their FAFSA forms as soon as they can
  2. Offer remote assistance through the process, or even set up a small call center
  3. If your institution is not quite caught up with sending out award letters, send out a notice to students that they will receive their award letter by a certain date.

Reducing any king of uncertainty that students are feeling right now will go a long way.

7. Remind Students and Institutional Staff of Their Long-Term Goals

It is important foryour institution and students to remember that the impact of COVID-19 will be relatively short term. Remember what the long-term goal is; to help students earn their degrees in a field they enjoy and excel in. As an industry, higher education may learn a lot from this experience and take new strategies and thought processes moving forward for the long-term overall good.

We Are Here to Help!

While your head is down working on the logistics of changes on your campus, we are here to look at the big picture and provide the resources and information that you need. We are here for you as a support resource, feel free to to brainstorm further ideas for your institution.

Originally published at

SightLine | EdTech Data Scientist | Founder

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