A Year That Brought Surprises, Innovation, and a Lot of Inspiration

Scott JeffeVice President, Research (Graduate and Online)December 15, 2020

As I thought about an end-of-year feature for our blog, my main objective was to find something good to say. We have all struggled and worked hard to get through 2020—and for many of us we will echo something Queen Elizabeth said with typical British understatement when her family was in chaos: “This is not a year upon which I will look back with undiluted pleasure.”

As we look toward 2021, I was interested to know more about the tone and tenor on campus, and for that no one is more informed than my colleagues who manage our graduate and online client relationships. What they told me during our “Holiday Squares” interview below is a story of consistencies in the face of adversity, surprises with a positive outcome, and inspiration found in the most common of occurrences. You can watch the whole conversation, and I also have a few highlights mentioned below.

Consistent patterns

My colleague Aaron Mahl focuses on Midwestern schools. I asked him if he saw any consistent patterns among the schools he works with. He answered:

“What I found interesting was the institutions we work with were so consistent in how the focus of their work changed over the year—all with an eye to do as best as possible for their institutions. In the early days it was all about how to manage the shift of both instruction and recruitment processes online with as little disruption as possible to the student experience.

“In the spring and early summer, the focus shifted to trying to understand how sustainable virtual or remote learning – and recruitment and admissions – are for institutional success. More recently, I have been impressed by the number of institutions that are really tuned into the impact on enrollment and recruiting of student satisfaction with their experience this fall when they may be less forgiving after their first “COVID semester.”

Pleasant surprises

When I asked Charles Ramos, whose work focuses on eastern seaboard schools, what were the most consistent surprising developments or attitudes among the institutions he works with, he said:

“What I’ve noticed is that, as schools continue to improve their online offerings, there is this really consistent realization that all of this is an opportunity—an opportunity for enrollment and revenue growth. It is a way to address the concerns that have been growing for years about the mid- to long-term viability of the traditional undergraduate student market.

“We all know it, we’ve all been talking about it for a very long time, but only a handful of institutions had aggressively made moves that would make themselves attractive to working (or non-working) adults in need of occupational training, reskilling/upskilling, a graduate degree… all in flexible and convenient formats like almost every institution has now, or is now developing.”

Inspiring hard work

Holly Tapper’s work focuses on schools in the northeast. Here is what she said inspired her this year:

“I was just talking with a college that had a 45 percent increase in admissions this fall. How’d they do it? It was the way they handled their students during this scary time. They did weekly COVID testing and contact tracing, which resulted in a less than 1 percent infection rate while the rest of their state and the nation are in double digits. And that’s what students want to see. It really shows that using data and science to help make your decisions consistent with your mission, not only helps the students, but helps the school too.”

Simple acts

One of the most interesting things my colleagues mentioned was how strangely humanizing all of these virtual platforms we are all relying on have become. While none of us our face-to-face, we are in our homes, we are meeting the occasional dog or curious child. We are drinking our coffee, or wearing a sweatshirt from our alma mater. We are surrounded by the art on our walls and the sounds of active homes. It has been strangely comforting and therapeutic for us all in an otherwise challenging year.

All of us at RNL send our wishes for a happy holiday and a successful new year to all of our readers.

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About the Author

Scott Jeffe, RNL

Scott Jeffe has worked with more than 200 institutions in 40+ states to apply market data to strategic decisions. With a focus on profiling the demands and preferences of nontraditional (adult, online, etc.) students, Scott...

Read more about Scott's experience and expertise

Reach Scott by e-mail at Scott.Jeffe@RuffaloNL.com.

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