Creating an Enrollment Contingency Plan During the COVID-19 (Coronavirus) Crisis

Alejandra Sosa PieroniVice President, Enrollment ManagementMarch 12, 2020

COVID-19 is already impacting the delivery of coursework at colleges and universities across the country. More than 100 campuses have already made the tough decision to cancel in-person classes, taking all classes online through at least the end of March to help limit the spread of the virus. More institutions are making similar decisions on a daily basis. Colleges and universities with higher percentages of international enrollment, especially from China and South Korea, are already preparing for the potential impact of decreased enrollment from higher impacted areas on institutional financial health.

COVID and Enrollment Contingency Planning
Looking for alternative enrollment plans to address the impact of the coronavirus? Talk with our enrollment experts.

As the number of cases continues to grow in the United States, institutions are already starting to cancel their admitted student events and grappling with having to cancel new student orientations. If not canceled, attendance will be dramatically suppressed as students and their families actively avoid travel and large public gatherings.

As university leaders prepare for the disruption that this will cause, what are immediate enrollment strategies institutions can put in place?

5 elements of enrollment contingency plan for COVID-19

  1. Extend all admission and enrollment deadlines. With so much uncertainty, it is important that students and their families are given space and time to manage the situation at hand. Allowing flexibility around all your deadlines and communicating so via multiple channels with students and their families will alleviate unnecessary stress during this difficult time.
  2. Offer online yield and orientation events. Campuses have previously used online event platforms to provide alternatives for students given travel expenses and time investment. In the face of COVID-19, having the opportunity to engage students online is critical for campuses to deliver the key messages and information necessary to enroll their incoming classes. Live webcasting, streaming, and other online engagement platforms can provide a good alternative during this crisis.
  3. Facilitate online venues for students to make connections with other incoming peers and your campus community. While online events are a great alternative to disseminate information and connect with students, it is crucial that students connect with each other to reassure their decision to attend. Making sure you continue to build engagement by facilitating peer-to-peer interaction online will allow a student to stay connected and develop a sense of belonging, helping you secure the incoming class. As the current COVID-19 crisis disrupts the enrollment journey and threatens to escalate melt rates, this kind of peer-to-peer connection can keep students engaged and on the path to enrollment this coming fall.
  4. Prepare for lower international student enrollment by increasing yield efforts in domestic, close-to-campus markets. It is a reality that recruitment in the Asian Pacific countries will be highly affected by COVID-19, and hence doubling down your efforts on the domestic market can help you compensate for the loss of students in the international markets. Start by qualifying student interest via online surveys, email, and phone to determine student interest in your institution. Follow your outreach survey with a highly personalized campaign that addresses a student’s main decision factors while driving them to the next steps in the enrollment process
  5. Defer enrollment for affected students and help secure next year’s class. If your college or university does not have the infrastructure to administer online classes, communicating with international students about deferment can ensure that even though students won’t be on your campus this year, they have options to attend in the future. It is vital that you deploy a comprehensive omnichannel experience throughout the year to keep students engaged and committed to your institution.

While we are only just seeing the far-reaching impact COVID-19 on college enrollment, these collective strategies can serve as your immediate contingency plan and help your institution be proactive and prepared.

Talk with our enrollment experts about navigating these challenges

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My colleagues and I are here for you as your institution faces this unprecedented event. We can discuss further how you can use these strategies as well as other measures to safely keep students progressing toward enrollment so you can bring in your class this fall. Contact us to schedule a free consultation to talk about your contingency planning.

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About the Author

Alejandra Sosa Pieroni

Alejandra Sosa Pieroni is vice president for enrollment management at RNL. She offers more than 15 years of experience in higher education and has expertise in enrollment marketing, student recruitment, financial aid awarding, and yield...

Read more about Alejandra's experience and expertise

Reach Alejandra by e-mail at Ale.SosaPieroni@ruffalonl.com.

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