Leaders at every college and university are concerned about retention, graduation rates and headcount. The last couple of years have made the realization of successful outcomes more difficult than ever.
The Covod-19 pandemic had a devastating impact on many colleges and universities. Coupled with the demographic challenges evolving over the last decade, enrollment at higher education institutions has declined significantly. Students were lost due to increased risk, changes in academic program delivery and restrictions on co-curricular activities. Students have also been lost, however, because of institutional policy changes, specifically, because of COVID-19 vaccination policies. Some currently enrolled students opted not to return, and some prospective students elected to postpone enrollment or attend a competing institution due to vaccination policies. Still others took advantage of an option to attend class virtually.
The truth is that some students elected not to enroll because they did not want to be vaccinated and others elected not to enroll to avoid being in contact with unvaccinated individuals.
Regardless of individual policies regarding vaccinations, it makes sense to have a plan in place to re-recruit these students to bring them back into the fold.
- Make sure you keep track of any previously enrolled students who decided not to return. Initiate telephone, text message and email communications to keep them updated on evolving requirements and conditions. Changing conditions may prompt changes in vaccine policies. Keep these students engaged and updated over the next ten months.
- Do the same for any deposited students who withdrew late in the cycle because of vaccine policies. It is acceptable now to communicate with such students, even if they have since enrolled at another college or university. Keep in mind that some of these students may have just delayed college enrollment.
- Communicate with the students who have enrolled virtually to keep them informed of opportunities to enroll next semester or next year for in-person classes. Begin now to prepare them for the transition to a more traditional experience.
- Make sure you communicate affordability. Consider sending a sample award letter. Guarantee renewal of any merit scholarship or grant.
- Offer virtual academic advising sessions for class selection. Explain how these students can stay on course for graduation.
Regardless of your institutional policy, understand that conditions are likely to change over the next ten to twelve months. It is best to be prepared to welcome students back to the campus if conditions allow.
John W. Dysart is President of The Dysart Group, 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.