Hope is here, with a couple of caveats.

As we enter the late-Covid class recruitment stage, recruitment is ripe with opportunity. Students have said they’re interested in heading back to campus. Yet, our least-represented students – both culturally and socioeconomically – are more disconnected than ever. How do we balance the excitement of returning to in-person learning with intentional outreach to our underrepresented students?

As enrollment officers know, the racial and socioeconomic gaps are growing. This concern predates the last year, but the pandemic accelerated the issue. As Desmond Tutu reminds us, “There comes a point where we need to stop just pulling people out of the river. We need to go upstream and find out why they’re falling in.”

Last year, I wrote a post about recruiting in uncertain times. Those who found success had one thing in common – they recognized where families really were at the time and leaned into the discomfort intentionally as they recruited. While we don’t have ALL the answers yet on what fall will look like, most of us (and our prospects) are in a different place today. How should our recruitment tactics change? I’ve worked with over 100 university sales programs, and to me, our recruiting partners’ lessons in the last economic downturn still relate directly to today’s universities.

Recognizing and communicating value are still paramount and tweaking the approach for today’s market will yield the best results. Below are five ways today’s enrollment professionals can make the biggest impact:

  1. Seek first to understand. Considering the other side of the desk is always paramount in engagement. This year, experiences were not universal. Personalization is more important than ever. Before sending handwritten letters or making phone calls, empathize with that student’s reality. Are they already sold on getting back to campus, or were they so impacted they’re still working their way back to center? Opening with an invitation to discuss their current mindset can yield the most useful insights to their needs.
  2. Revisit your value proposition. You have a Covid story. Align it with your audience’s concerns and preferences. How have your technology investments enhanced their future on-campus experience? How did your community strengthen over the past year? Getting back to campus doesn’t mean you’ll be back to the “old way” of doing things. Have some of your professors tell stories of what they learned in their quest to support students. How will that impact their classroom approach in the coming year? Back, but better, should be the underlying theme.
  3. Work to reach students who need us most. While students have said they prefer to be in school, and many from families with college experience are actively navigating back to life as residential students, one population is very concerned about the idea of coming to campus. From having a more disconnected experience the past year to greater concerns about affordability, the call for direct, intentional programming for underrepresented students has never been louder. This is true of current students (save the sophomores!) as well as first years. Consider outreach around the reality of the reset for students who feel concerned. For those you’re still trying to reach as prospects, ask your feeder school guidance counselors to join you for a brief “what to expect” video, so students hear from someone they already trust.
  4. Invite your donors to the table. We have all been part of this wacky year. Donors are looking to make a difference. Let them know the impact of providing access to a significant population. Those of us who benefited from the Pell Grant program and other need-based aid as students are often in a position to pay it forward. And many of us are very motivated to do so! We are keenly aware of the positive impact of a university education. Instead of asking donors to name a building, ask them to name the Wi-Fi network. It improves the experience of the students today and limits surprise costs for those with limited means.
  5. Call your old friends… and their friends. This one needs to be very intentional, as it can easily become a distraction. As we know, there’s a large population of folks who made it part way to their degree. Others considered advanced degrees but never took the leap. One of last year’s gifts was the opportunity to reflect and reconsider our goals. Revisit your processes for those seeking reentry to undergraduate or entry to graduate programs. Be sure engagement is user-friendly and considers the scheduling reality of the audience. Minimizing friction in the application process is the surest way to enroll a wider student base. Make it easier for these folks to (re)join the community and be sure to establish support for when they arrive. Following through with schedule-friendly models – more readily available and accepted following a year of online learning – is a sure way to keep them enrolled.

How you navigate this hopeful new stage of campus reentry – your outreach, programming, and efforts – will become your post-pandemic legacy. Now is the time to build the post-covid story you want to tell.

Author’s Bio

Jeanne Frawley joined Apogee in 2017 as Director of Business Development for Apogee. With over 20 years of higher education experience, Jeanne has worked in Enrollment Management, Housing, and on the business faculty of top-ranked universities. As founding director of The Sales Education Foundation, Jeanne partnered globally with universities to establish and expand their professional selling programs and build a bridge between industry and academia.

Jeanne holds both her BA and MSE from the University of Dayton. She enjoys travel, mainly for the food, and works as an advisor for Retreat to Broadway, fortunately never taking the stage.

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