Over 20 million people have filed for unemployment benefits over the past few weeks. Economic and social uncertainty is in the front of parents’ minds. A survey of over 1100 students, released earlier this week, sheds light on how students & families are evaluating enrollment decisions amidst this crisis. Another poll of prospective students showed that over 12% of committed students have decided not to attend college this fall anymore.
While learning about campus life and student services are important, the main question that students and their families are looking for an answer to is whether college is worth it. Institutions need to address the ROI issue directly, whether it is augmenting the website, providing online personalized career exploration tools or via direct conversations. Colleges need to:
Articulate Career Relevance: What kinds of careers and occupations do different programs prepare students for? What is the job outlook of each career? Who are the top employers? What skills are they looking for? What kinds of co-curricular and experiential learning experiences are available in my college to prepare me better for these careers?
Showcase Alumni Outcomes: What career pathways did alumni of different programs pick? What industries and companies did alumni find jobs in? What kinds of courses did alumni take when they were in college to prepare for their careers?
What is really at stake?
'Summer melt', is the fancy term for students deciding not to enroll in a college after committing in the spring. The COVID-19 pandemic has amplified this problem. The traditional admissions calendar has gone out the window. Over 400 colleges have deferred their commitment deadlines. International student enrollments are predicted to drop steeply. Most colleges haven’t even made a decision on whether they are going to open the campus and have regular F2F classes in the fall. The reality is that summer melt is no longer an appropriate term for this problem. Many students are going to spend the better part of the next year thinking about if they want to go to college, leave alone where.
What do colleges need to do differently?
In better times, colleges have relied heavily on campus visits as a means of engaging prospective students and driving enrollment yield. These visits provided students an opportunity to interact with faculty, staff, students and experience the campus environment. It was also a way for parents to envision the future of their child at the institution. The stakes are different now. Parents are more interested in learning about the future of their children after college. Colleges need to lead with career relevance, even when campus visits are again possible.
Every student has a unique set of challenges, interests and goals. Questions about value and ROI don’t go away after students enroll. It is no surprise that first year retention is a major problem that colleges contend with. Arming students with personalized, online tools that help them connect college, program and co-curricular choices with careers is not just a solution to a COVID-19 problem. It is the only answer for students thinking about or in the first year of college.
Is your institution prepared to answer concerns about career outcomes?