Like everyone else I know, I’ve spent the last week focused on nothing but the impact of the novel coronavirus. As one long-time enrollment leader pointed out to me in a recent conversation, “This is a health and safety challenge like never before.” The COVID-19 crisis throws existing plans and assumptions in disarray everywhere, not least in the world of enrollment.
To track how higher education’s enrollment leaders are responding on a broad scale, EAB launched a survey on March 10 on how COVID-19 is affecting their activities and experiences.
So far, 250 responses have been tabulated, though more are still coming in. In the interests of immediacy, though, I wanted to share the results to date; we will post updates as the situation unfolds.
Broad Concern About Yielding the Class
Enrollment leaders across the country have broad concerns about yielding the fall 2020 class due to the COVID-19 pandemic. As circumstances continued unfolding, we updated the survey this past Friday to ask, “Are you concerned about yielding your fall 2020 class?” Though only 28 respondents have taken the survey since then, the results are striking: on a scale of 1 (low) to 5 (high), 18% of respondents reported “3,” 32% reported “4,” and 43% reported level “5” concern.
In light of all the disruptions and challenges to our staff, students, and families, it’s not surprising to hear that level of alarm; as another enrollment leader told me, “We’re fighting with one arm tied behind our back to yield the class.”
Fewer Visits, More Alternatives
Campus visits would be one of the first changes one would expect to see in today’s environment, and the survey responses have borne this out. According to the survey, 36% are experiencing a decline in visit requests, 50% are not and 15% are unsure. A large majority, 87% of respondents, worry that future visit requests will decline.
As you might expect, even across the past few days, trends have been shifting as the COVID-19 virus spreads across the country. More recent respondents to the survey are more likely to indicate lower visit request volume as students depart campus and shift to virtual instruction.
Enrollment leaders are pursuing a range of strategies to compensate for the expected decline in campus visits. According to survey respondents, 62% are adding video conferences; 54% are promoting their virtual tour; 46% are adding social media platform live events; 43% are increasing the number of social media live events already scheduled; and 26% are adding a virtual tour.
Finding Ways to Go Virtual
According to the survey, 51% of respondents are already adjusting admitted student programs and 31% are “uncertain.” For those who are adjusting them, the most common responses were cancelling, abbreviating, postponing, or limiting attendance at events.
To mitigate the impact of these changes, respondents will offer virtual or live-streamed events, remote yield and orientation programs, and alternative later campus visit dates.
Similarly, many respondents are adjusting their immediate travel plans due to the outbreak, and the number of enrollment teams in this position will surely increase as national college fairs are cancelled and public schools close. According to the survey, 46% of respondents are limiting travel by geography; 48% are reducing time spent on the road; 48% are limiting college fair participation; 43% are cancelling planned yield programs; 34% are reducing off-campus yield events; and 22% are cancelling off-campus programs. Nineteen percent of respondents indicated they were not adjusting spring recruitment travel yet.
More “Wait and See” on International Students
The EAB survey specifically asked about whether enrollment teams are making any changes to their international strategies given the COVID-19 disruption. Half of the respondents said that they aren’t making any specific changes.
The most common response to international disruption is reducing yield projections; 28% of respondents reported that they are proactively bringing down their yield projections in an expectation that fewer international students will be able to arrive next fall. Twenty seven percent of the survey respondents are admitting more domestic students to compensate for the decline in international students.
Respondents reported a range of other strategies related to international students. Among respondents, 18% said they are deferring admission for students from countries most impacted by coronavirus; 12% are admitting more international students to mitigate melt risk; 7% are extending deposit dates and/or offering refunds; 6% are expanding the domestic student wait list; and 4% are expanding their international student wait list.
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A handful of respondents suggested that they are extending application due dates, identifying a replacement for the TOEFL exam, hiring local international alumni to recruit, or hosting interim online courses.
Preparing for Potential Longer-Term Disruption
A majority of enrollment leaders are working on a scenario for how to deal with students who are not able to complete high school this year due to the coronavirus. Currently, only 5% of respondents have a plan in place to address this, but 65% are working on a plan. Only 17% do not plan to accommodate this scenario; a small number of respondents plan for the student to enter in a subsequent semester.
If deposited international or domestic students are unable to arrive on campus for the first semester as a direct result of coronavirus, a quarter of respondents are already planning to offer remote learning options such as online courses. This number could go up dramatically as the situation changes, however; 5% of respondents declared that were not going to offer remote learning, while 69% were unsure.
In addition to this survey, my EAB colleagues and I have spent countless hours on phone calls and videoconferences in the past week, tapping into the strategic thinking of wise enrollment leaders all around the nation. We’re grateful for their generosity and commitment to their institutions, students, and families, and we are already applying their insights to our work with our partners. I also plan to document their sage advice and challenging questions in upcoming blog posts, so as many people as possible can benefit.