Q: Now that we are in the midst of yield season, what tone should we be taking in our communications right now? We’ve gotten advice to proceed with a business-as-usual approach, but is this really the right approach?
As of April 7th, 42 states across the country had issued stay-at-home orders, causing significant disruptions in the lives of college-bound high school seniors –a growing number of whom will not be returning to school at all. Our COVID-19 Senior Impact Research confirms that students are most are concerned with the immediate impact of this virus on their lives right now. They are feeling disconnected from friends, social events, and the normal life of high school. They are likely experiencing higher levels of stress and anxiety than usual. They have lost the important rituals of high school life including participation in athletics, proms, and commencement ceremonies.
College choice has its place among these rituals of senior year of high school; this is a loss, too, but as our data shows, not at the top of their minds.
We believe that institutions should appropriately acknowledge the loss that students are feeling as they go through this difficult time. Colleges should also, however, consider this loss within the context of all of the other things that students are going through. By this we mean that colleges should take care not to place their needs above those of students. They should balance their messages to be supportive and offer additional support, but stick to the core messages that will yield the right students for their institutions.
There are also longer-term impacts of COVID-19 that many students may not be aware of yet. As of early April, our research shows that about one third of prospective student families had already experienced some kind of financial loss. This number will only grow, along with the number of families directly impacted by the illness itself. These realities will impact willingness to travel far from home, decisions about delays in college enrollment, and changes in school choice.
We believe the best approach is to acknowledge students’ loss, offer support, be creative about virtual opportunities to engage students who may no longer want to visit in person, and stay the course on your key messages. Download our report, Effects of COVID-19 on High School Students & College Choice, for more information about student perspectives. Keep in mind that things are changing very quickly; we are conducting continual research to stay on top of these changes.
More from the Wake-Up Call…
Where are all the men? This question is currently on the minds of many enrollment officers. While male enrollment in higher education has trailed female enrollment for decades now, the pandemic widened the gender gap dramatically. The National Student Clearinghouse reported that undergraduate enrollment among male students dropped by 5.5% between spring 2020 and spring 2021, compared to a more moderate 2% decline among women.
Early Application to college has gone from a good option for students who really know what they want, to a strategic play for those who are trying to increase their odds of getting into a college.