When the COVID-19 pandemic hit this spring, Western Connecticut State University lost one of its most vital recruiting tools: on-campus visits that allow prospective students and parents to explore and get a feel for student life.
WCSU isn’t alone. COVID-19 has upended higher education, forcing classroom instruction to go fully online or to a hybrid blend of in-class and online. With social distancing requirements in place, college recruitment and enrollment efforts have gone virtual too.
When WCSU closed its campus in mid-March, for instance, the university moved its April student acceptance day online.
About 900 to 1,000 students and their families typically attend the all-day event to tour the campus, meet faculty members and chat with current students. Instead, WCSU held six shorter online events, featuring a mix of recorded and live Q&A sessions with university leaders, faculty members and students. In total, about 800 students attended the sessions.
“We pivoted to multiple virtual events to try to capture the same audience. We knew we couldn’t replicate a six- or seven-hour on-the-ground event. No one would stay online for that length of time,” says Jay Murray, associate vice president for enrollment services at WCSU. “So, we broke it down to 90-minute and two-hour virtual events, and it seemed the students warmed to them.”
Universities are experimenting with different technologies to recruit students, including online video tours and cloud-based videoconferencing and live event software to hold virtual information sessions. Some have even experimented with using text messaging and social media to engage with prospective students. “This generation of students is very visual and used to engaging in a variety of media to interact with each other,” says Lynn Pasquerella, president of the Association of American Colleges and Universities.
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