8 Ways to Prepare for Post-Pandemic Enrollment

John W. Dysart, President, The Dysart Group 
April 28, 2021

Institutions can take steps now to prepare for enrollment recovery for the coming year

The impact of the pandemic on higher education has been significant and far-reaching. New student recruitment, financial aid expenditures, retention, and fundraising have all been adversely influenced. There are some things, however, that institutional leaders can do now to prepare for enrollment recovery and success for Fall 2022. 

Many institutions are still reeling from poor outcomes last year. Enrollments at colleges and universities declined significantly in Fall 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic and its corresponding impact on the economy.

  • Overall enrollments decreased by approximately 4 percent.
  • Community college enrollments plummeted by 13.1 percent.
  • Likely contributing to enrollment decline has been the fact that FAFSA completions dropped by 16 percent.

These enrollment challenges occurred at a time when many colleges and universities were already struggling with declining demographics and increased competition.

Early indicators are that enrollment numbers will be as bad, if not worse, for Fall 2021. Some institutions are reporting declines in admission applications and acceptances; early deposit trends are alarming.

If your institution has been negatively impacted by the pandemic, now is the time to prepare for enrollment recovery for Fall 2022:

  1. Finalize your discussions regarding standardized test requirements for Fall 2022.I believe that “test optional” is the best choice for the majority of colleges and universities. Colleges and universities are learning that the standardized tests may not be as important as once assumed. Eliminating barriers to simplify the admission process makes sense for a number of schools.
  2. If you have elected to permanently discontinue test requirementsor plan to at least suspend the requirement through Fall 2022, make sure your decision has been publicized to your various constituent groups. Issue a press release and update information on your website accordingly.
  3. Preparation for enrollment recovery will require that leaders be more be aggressive than ever, encouraging both new and currently enrolled students to apply for financial aid.Plan now to increase financial aid application rates utilizing reminder postcards, text messages, and emails. A systematic reminder campaign over the period between October and August is essential. Addressing cost concerns has never been more important.
  4. Consider adjustments to your financial aid award policy and funding levels for need-based institutional aid, as the economy is unlikely to recover fully this year. Many students will be faced with greater financial need and higher federal and state grant amounts are unlikely to be approved in the short term. Increased need must be addressed with scarce institutional resources in the post-pandemic market.
  5. In order to enhance your recruitment efforts, implement initiatives to generate inquiries from sources other than standardized test entity searches, as the number of test-takers is going to decline. You may need to consider greater use of electronic/internet sources, more travel, and additional direct mail communication to support post-pandemic enrollment recovery.
  6. Start your admission funnel analysis nowto identify which stages of your funnel (inquiries, applicants, acceptances, deposits) have dropped in the last 18 months. Ensure you have a detailed plan to increase outcomes for each affected stage.
  7. Prepare now to increase communication with your currently enrolled students over the end of the Spring term and throughout the summer to keep them engaged.Begin the pre-registration as early as possible. Pay particular attention to financial aid appeals and requests for academic transcripts and act immediately.
  8. Consider creating an enrollment recovery team to create a comprehensive plan of actionfor Fall 2022. Include professionals from your retention team, faculty, financial aid, and admission offices.

It is going to be another challenging year. Your best opportunity for post-pandemic enrollment recovery and success must include new initiatives. Traditional approaches, as many have witnessed over the last cycle and a half, will not be effective.


eSchool Media Contributors

John W. Dysart, President, The Dysart Group
John W. Dysart is President of The Dysart Group, a higher education consulting firm specializing in recruitment, financial aid, college finance and retention. Considered a national expert on enrollment management, John has worked with more than 200 colleges and universities in 42 states on issues related to enrollment management and enrollment growth.

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