Spring Enrollment Strategies for Dealing with the Pandemic

All in for Spring Enrollment Strategies!

This is not an ad to update your wardrobe, by the way, lest the title confuse you with its resemblance to an Old Navy commercial.  I’ve been thinking about spring enrollment strategies and sharing it in conversations Zoom and on campus over the last two weeks and decided to write it down. Under normal circumstances, recruiting new students for the spring semester is an after thought on many campuses.  “Real” students start in the fall, after all, so new students for spring are rare.  For example, the 2019 Admission Benchmarking Study for NACCAP states that 93% of the new students who enrolled at participating member colleges in spring or fall 2019 did so in the fall semester.

This Year is Not Normal

But this has been anything but a normal year . . . the pandemic and subsequent impact on job security and the student experience created what I’ve been calling “The Summer of Hedging Your Bets.”  New and current students changed their plans and, in many cases, had back-up plans in place if staying closer to home seemed wise or if their campus opened online when they preferred an in-person experience. Colleges who were excited by what appeared to be a high level of new student commitments or current student retention didn’t bank on those numbers, planning conservatively in budgeting. As a result, an unusually high number of students put their plans on hold this fall for a variety of reasons.  Some chose local options as a placeholder until they deem it safe to enroll at their first choice elsewhere; others chose gap year options or enrolled online or simply stayed home (since working for a year was a challenge).

So What Does This Mean for Colleges?

What should enrollment managers and their colleagues in academics and student life do right now?  My recommendation?  Create and enact a plan to go all in for spring enrollment strategies!  Here are a few suggestions about what being “all in” looks like:

  • Pick up the trail of admitted students who changed their plans – provide an efficient review of courses they are taking, create clear pathways to transfer those credits in the spring, reinstate financial aid packages, and begin to communicate with certainty about your desire to see them on campus in the spring. Pay careful attention to your clearinghouse data to learn about others who may have “settled” for this fall.
  • Make sure your website shows you open for spring enrollment in more intentional ways than your normal patterns. Feature “apply for spring” links prominently, make it clear financial aid is available, and assure students there will be great space available in campus housing and classes.
  • Mobilize your partners in athletics, music, honors programs, theatre, student leadership . . . make sure you are all acting in concert to attract, welcome, and serve students who start this spring.
  • Re-energize new student orientation for spring – we spend several days celebrating and welcoming new students for the fall; time to do the same for spring. This can’t be an afterthought as in “oh, yes, we will have a few new students so we’ll do a lunch for them.”  Intentional, comprehensive, thoughtful, and student-centered orientation will set these students up for success.
  • One last thought . . . did you benefit from a “stay local” surge over the last few months? If so, make sure you are serving those students well so you can move from fall back plan to the place they are glad to have found under these unusual circumstances.

This is but one of the many opportunities to come out of this time of tremendous challenge; take full advantage now and then apply these fall 2020 lessons to future spring recruitment efforts. Want to learn more about how Fuller Higher Ed Solutions can help you with your enrollment? Contact Us Today!