As coronavirus spreads, college enrollment officers report concern filling fall classes

Dive Brief:

  • College enrollment officials are reporting widespread concern that they won’t be able to fill their fall 2020 classes due to the novel coronavirus, a new EAB report reveals.
  • The consulting firm surveyed about 250 enrollment leaders and asked on a scale of 1 to 5 how worried they were about meeting their enrollment goals for the coming semester. Three-quarters answered with a 4 or 5, the highest levels of concern.
  • College leaders are developing digital and other novel recruitment strategies as the virus and the disease it causes, COVID-19, leads to mass campus closures. 

Dive Insight:

Many colleges typically would be preparing to hold on-campus recruitment events designed to entice students who already received admission offers to commit to the institution. 

But as the new coronavirus spreads throughout the country, hosting traditional campus fairs has become nearly impossible. About half of administrators responding to EAB’s survey said they have adjusted admitted student programming in some way, including by promoting virtual tours of the campus. Nearly 50% of officials said they are adding live events on social media. 

Still, developing alternatives has proven difficult for admission officers because they are trying to replicate a feeling of excitement that students get when they visit campus, Madeleine Rhyneer, vice president of consulting services and dean of enrollment management at EAB, said in an interview with Education Dive this week. Rhyneer also wrote the analysis of EAB’s survey.

Half of administrators polled reported to EAB that requests to come to campus hadn’t declined yet, but nearly 90% feared they would in the future. 

About two-thirds of enrollment leaders said they were working on a plan in case the coronavirus prevented incoming students from graduating high school. As of Wednesday afternoon, officials have confirmed more than 214,000 cases of COVID-19 globally and over 7,660 ​in the U.S., according to data from Johns Hopkins University. 

Many colleges have moved classes online in light of the outbreaks and asked students to vacate residence halls. Most institutions are still adjusting to the shift to virtual instruction while also turning their attention to their fall 2020 enrollment yields, or the number of admitted students who ultimately attend.

Rhyneer told Education Dive that colleges face several barriers in recruitment as a result of the virus, particularly for international students, who tend to pay sticker price for tuition and as a result have been historically relied on to help balance colleges’ budgets. Federal bans on travel, cancellations of college admission tests in some countries and complications securing visas have made working with this population difficult.

Economists believe the financial turmoil the coronavirus has set off will likely turn into a full-blown recession, and so domestic students may be less inclined to enroll in college

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