4 ways COVID-19 has impacted graduate and adult learner recruitment

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4 ways COVID-19 has impacted graduate and adult learner recruitment

Insights from our recent survey and recommendations to meet your enrollment goals

I’ve spent the last few weeks making dozens of calls to partner colleges and universities to learn how they’re weathering the coronavirus crisis. But as a former business school dean, I always go back to the numbers.

To put data behind the insights and anecdotes emerging from our conversations with partners, we surveyed graduate, adult, and online education leaders about their institution’s response to COVID-19. We received 175 responses from enrollment leaders across the country. Here are the top four trends that emerged.

Survey respondents primarily work at graduate, business, arts and sciences, law, and engineering schools or in online education units. 75% of respondents are at colleges or universities with more than 300 graduate and professional students; 79% are at institutions with a mix of on-campus and online programs.

1. Concerned about meeting enrollment targets, many schools are trying new virtual tactics

In early March, more than half of survey respondents expected to meet or exceed enrollment targets. But as campuses nationwide began to close, fewer and fewer respondents reported confidence in their institution’s ability to meet enrollment goals. By mid- to late March, just 28% expected to hit or exceed enrollment targets.

Are/were you on track to meet enrollment goals?

Projections as of March 1Projections as of mid/late March
58% on track to meet or exceed targets28% on track to meet or exceed targets
26% on track to miss targets47% on track to miss targets
16% unsure25% unsure

As concerns about enrollment mount, colleges and universities have found creative ways to engage prospects virtually. 65% of respondents have added or increased live virtual events and 62% have expanded personalized outreach from staff and faculty. And to engage prospective students unable to visit campus, 40% of respondents have added or promoted a virtual tour on their website.

From continuing to reach out to prospects to promoting virtual tours, I’ve been heartened to see institutions aren’t pausing their marketing and are instead adapting their communications to fit the current moment.

Recommendations: Factor prospects into your COVID-19 communication to show them the kind of support and care they would receive as a student at your institution. For example, our Adult Learner Recruitment partners have added COVID-19 banners and links to resources in prospect emails to make sure students have the information they need at their fingertips.

Consider supplementing your current recruitment communications with a virtual tour. We’ve found prospective students spend more than four times the amount of time on a virtual tour than on a traditional university webpage. 

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survey respondents reported their college or university plans to relax standardized test requirements
survey respondents reported their college or university plans to relax standardized test requirements

2. Many respondents plan to streamline admissions policies and procedures

With our enrollment crystal ball cloudier than ever, three-quarters of survey respondents plan to adjust their enrollment and admissions strategies or tactics this cycle. Most commonly, respondents are relaxing or planning to relax standardized test requirements given exam cancelations and the stress facing all prospects during this crisis.

Which enrollment strategies or tactics have you implemented/do you plan to implement this cycle?

Planned tactics amid COVID-19. Most commonly, respondents are relaxing or planning to relax standardized test requirements.

Recommendations: Consider accepting unofficial transcripts, waiving application fees, and extending application deadlines. Identify ways to streamline the application itself. Because most adult learners expect to complete their application in less than two hours, it’s important application instructions are clear and navigation is intuitive.

3. Respondents were satisfied with the initial rollout of online course delivery

From my conversations with partners, it’s clear faculty and staff have moved mountains to ensure learning could continue during this crisis. We were happy to see that 82% of respondents were somewhat or extremely satisfied with their institution’s contingency plans for remote instruction.

But respondents were less satisfied with the support available to faculty and students unaccustomed to remote learning and instruction.

How effective is your institution at managing the following challenges related to COVID-19?

On a scale of 1 (not at all effective) to 5 (extremely effective)

Survey respondents were less satisfied with the support available to faculty and students unaccustomed to remote learning and instruction.

Recommendation: To support students and save staff time, post the most basic information—like quick tech support FAQs—online. Our research also shows on-demand services, like live chat, increases accessibility and visibility of support for students. Self-service tools and on-demand assistance features will free up staff time to focus on complex and sensitive student concerns.

Survey respondents say regular communication with faculty has been invaluable in ensuring faculty feel supported and informed. This isn’t just the first time some faculty are teaching online. This is a moment of crisis and all members of our community could use encouragement and support.  

Recommendation: In addition to regular communication and check-ins, assign faculty mentors with experience in online instruction to support faculty new to remote teaching. Read our blog post to learn more about how to support faculty, staff, and students online.

4. Most respondents plan to expand online graduate offerings in light of COVID-19

Although today’s emergency online courses don’t look exactly like the ones we would launch with months of preparation, I was glad to see 65% of respondents plan to expand fully online courses and programs.

In light of COVID-19 pandemic, which of the following changes, if any, will you make to your graduate programs?

65% of respondents plan to expand fully online courses and programs

Recommendation: Develop a prioritized course and program migration plan to inform how your institution will allocate resources like instructional design capacity. Then identify which courses to expand online. Our researchers recommend starting with high-enrollment courses, courses that are building blocks for full degree programs, and courses that align to employer demand in your region.

Whether or not you decide to expand online, it’s clear the COVID-19 crisis is unlike anything we’ve seen before. We look forward to continuing to share resources to support your team as they prioritize online program development and other long-term strategies in light of COVID-19.

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