Colleges and universities aren’t always afforded the luxury of time when implementing changes. The COVID-19 pandemic has made that abundantly clear. Institutions are now tasked with not only helping students and instructors adjust to an online environment, but also ensuring that admissions teams are able to continue doing their work while facing unfamiliar challenges.

For most institutions, accepting a decline in enrollment simply isn’t an option. This is why it’s critical that schools are equipped with all the tools they need to overcome this disruption and keep up their enrollment efforts. Identifying problems and determining how to navigate them will be vital for institutional health.

5 Issues enrollment leaders are facing (and how to overcome them)

There will be many challenges in the coming weeks and months—this is a certainty. But there are also ways colleges and universities can make sure they’re prepared to effectively navigate a new reality.

1. Many employees have little or no experience working remotely

Admissions teams often include a significant proportion of entry-level employees, usually leading to a relatively young group of both leaders and recruiters. By some estimates, nearly one-third of admissions professionals are age 30 or younger. These staff aren’t often terribly familiar with being a part of the larger workforce, much less one that’s fully remote.

Remote work comes with a whole host of challenges for the uninitiated. Some professionals struggle with being able to focus, whether that’s due to sharing a workspace with a loved one or having trouble letting chores go undone for hours at a time. Others find themselves feeling isolated without their typical office environment.

The solution: In these unprecedented times, junior staff members are effectively students themselves. They’ll need their own orientation of sorts. Institutions should provide virtual training on how to work remotely. This could include presentations, live demos and written documents. Aim to help staff learn about best practices, which should also include what they can do to stay connected and engaged with each other.

2. Staff don’t have access to remote-friendly technology

Unfortunately, not every school leverages a customer relationship management (CRM) system to support the application and enrollment process. Some teams may be working from spreadsheets. Perhaps your institution does use a CRM, but maybe it’s on-site or ineffective. Outdated technologies like these are far from remote-friendly.

Other technology related issues include poor internet connection, limited reporting tools and even varying levels of proficiency among staff. Without the tools, services and skills an online work environment demands, admissions teams will have trouble performing their job duties effectively – if at all. And the impact could be devastating. Recruitment staff would have limited (if any) access to data, and they may not be able to engage with prospective students and families at a critical point in the cycle.

The solution: Implementing entirely new systems isn’t feasible on a tight timeline. But what you can do is provide training on which technologies are essential and how employees can use those tools most effectively to complete their responsibilities. Consistent, robust and ongoing technology support services are also vital to ensure that any particular systems issue does not grind the admissions operation to a halt.

3. Admissions staff are receiving unexpected messages

This is typically the time of year when students are committing to schools – the “deposit deadline” for many colleges and universities has traditionally been May 1, although the majority of schools continue to build their fall classes throughout the summer. Nonetheless, COVID-19 has changed the game. Dozens of schools have already made the tough decision to push out their deposit deadlines as students are rethinking their college decisions more than ever.

A recent poll of prospective college students reveals that 17 percent of respondents no longer plan to attend a four-year institution. A similar survey reports that many students who are reconsidering their initial plans now want to be closer to home. Taken together, this data suggests that institutions could simultaneously be losing students who were nearly committed and hearing from new prospects who are rapidly trying to gather information about local schools.

From an admissions perspective, this feels a lot like managing twice as many conversations without the necessary timeline. And many of the discussions themselves are leading into uncharted territory. Students and their families will be seeking a lot of reassurance as they consider the potential financial and health implications that could result from the pandemic.

The solution: Creating and implementing a strategic communication plan is essential for delivering the right message to students at every phase of their journey. A thoughtfully executed plan can help admission teams engage with new inquiries as well as students who’ve already been admitted. Communications can include emails that address concerns students have related to COVID-19 as well as text messages and phone calls intended to move students forward in the application and enrollment process.

Once again, training is also important. You need to make sure that staff are prepared to manage conversations with students and families who may be feeling uneasy. It’s also critical that they’re able to speak to specific value propositions that aren’t tied directly to the physical institution.

4. Some traditional recruitment tactics aren’t an option

On-campus programs have always played a critical role in both application generation and yield strategies. Admission teams rely heavily on them as a key variable in influencing students and parents. Open houses, information sessions and other events can help build excitement and encourage students to submit their deposits.

While some people are optimistic that larger gatherings will be permitted in the near future, no one can say for sure when public health officials will adjust their recommendations. Until the end is in sight, you will have to adapt traditional methods and implement some more creative alternatives.

The solution: It’s still possible to give students a taste of the campus through virtual tours, which some institutions are already doing. Repurposing in-person events as live sessions on social media could also provide an alternative.

Most importantly, schools need to maximize their outreach through phone calls, text messages, emails and video conferences. The substance of these outreach mediums needs to truly engage with students and parents, rather than just “communicate at” them, which will have a limited impact on influencing your admitted student market. Training staff on conversation management, value proposition messaging and best practices for text and email will be key.

5. Teams don’t have the bandwidth to start planning for fall 2021

As the current enrollment cycle pushes back, admission teams will find it difficult to begin engaging with the fall 2021 cohort. This is problematic because reaching these students is a necessary activity to better position oneself for application generation season, which is near the end of summer. Most admissions teams simply don’t have the bandwidth to simultaneously interact with so many student populations.

Complicating matters more, rising seniors may not be able to attend campus visits if social distancing protocols are still in place. These trips are often a huge part of the college decision process. Without this option, the importance of alternative outreach efforts is significantly compounded

The solution: This is another instance that calls for a comprehensive communication strategy. It’s important to engage with students via phone, text and email to ensure a seamless transition into the fall application season. Dedicating resources to these efforts is imperative. As previously mentioned, it will require staff training. Creating alternative options to a campus visit will also be key additions to an institution’s communication strategy.

Maintain your enrollment efforts

Every institution will face some growing pains as they adjust to recent changes. But facing new challenges doesn’t need to bring your staff to a standstill. By providing your newly remote workforce with the right tools and support, you can help them effectively work toward enrollment goals.

It’s also important to know that you don’t have to go it alone. Collegis Education has years of experience providing training and support to admissions teams, optimizing technology and creating data-driven marketing strategies. Our team of experts is prepared to help your institution overcome challenges specific to COVID-19 by providing assistance with: informational messaging for prospective students, engagement communication protocol, staffing and tracking, virtual training and development for admissions staff and more.

Contact us at info@collegiseducation.com.