Despite the unusual circumstances in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, April is still the time of the year when high school seniors across the country are making their choices about which college to attend. Here, University of Redlands Vice President for Enrollment Kevin Dyerly speaks to Mika Elizabeth Ono and Katie Olson of the Bulldog Blog about how the University’s admissions and financial aid teams have responded.
Bulldog Blog: How has recruitment changed under the circumstances of COVID-19?
Kevin Dyerly: We've shifted pretty quickly and dramatically to virtual recruitment strategies. Over the course of the last few weeks, we’ve developed more than 30 virtual events for prospective and admitted students and their families, from virtual campus tours to information sessions. We’re mindful of students being bombarded electronically, so we’re also putting together branded care packages to send to them in the mail. I received word yesterday from the mother of an admitted student who said her daughter was really struggling with missing out on the remainder of her senior year in person and the care package from Redlands that arrived in the mail made her week!
BB: What do those virtual events look like?
Dyerly: We’ve hosted a variety of events online that consist of a video presentation and a chat feature that allows participants to ask the presenter questions. Some events have focused on a certain department or area of study, such as psychology, business, or biology, where professors offer insights into the program and speak about their own research. There have also been events relevant to transfer students, STEM studies, and a parent perspective panel. Giving prospective students the ability to engage with counselors and professors in real-time seems to be beneficial.
BB: What changes have you made to make the admissions process simpler for students?
Dyerly: We’ve created more flexibility for admissions submissions and documents, not only at the College of Arts and Sciences, but across all the schools, including the School of Business, School of Education, and Graduate School of Theology. In addition to the previously announced test-optional policy, we have created flexibility for official transcripts. We’ve also extended the application deadline for prospective students in the College and have reached out to local students who might be more interested in attending college closer to home now. We’re asking our local school district partners to communicate with seniors about the possibility of enrolling at the University of Redlands. Ultimately, we want to work with students through the admissions and financial aid processes as best we can in these circumstances.
In the School of Business, we’ve created a specific scholarship for students who were planning to start a program this spring and have been directly impacted by COVID-19, whether that means a job loss or loss of income.
BB: Do you have a sense that the incoming class will reflect more of the local population than in a typical year?
Dyerly: I do think we’re going to see a higher percentage of students choose a local option for college, which is likely different than what they had originally planned. I’ve seen a few surveys suggesting that. The vast majority of high school students who go to college choose to attend an institution within a 200-mile radius of their home, and that number might be more concentrated now.
BB: Are there any programs at the University that are particularly relevant within the context of a pandemic?
Dyerly: Definitely. In the face of a global pandemic with, among others, social, political, health, and economic implications, perhaps there’s no better time to make the case for a broad, integrated, liberal arts and sciences education. Locally, I think about the role our colleagues at Esri are playing on a national and international front to assist with information about the Coronavirus. Our programs in spatial studies and location analytics help to prepare students with the critical knowledge to help their organizations adapt to circumstances such as these.
BB: What have you and your team learned during the past few weeks through making these changes?
Dyerly: One silver lining in all of this is that it has forced us out of the traditional ways in which we have engaged with and recruited students. Now, more than ever, we’re meeting them where they are. In the years to come, we’ll continue to augment our in-person strategies with the online programming we’ve developed recently. I’m also mindful of affordability concerns among our students. People don’t yet know the complete picture of how their financial situations might change, and it’s important for us to think about how we will adapt.
BB: How are your staff members holding up?
Dyerly: Each of them has grown from these circumstances in different ways. From communicating with prospective students to helping current students transition home—each area of the enrollment division has navigated these different implications and responded in a graceful, flexible way. One great example of adaptation was in conducting the entire Hunsaker Scholarship interview weekend online. That involved 40 admitted students from all over the world, two dozen faculty members, alumni, and administrators. The admissions staff planned the entire program to be conducted via WebEx over two days, and it was a seamless experience for the students. The team responded and developed online programming for a weekend-long event that was supposed to happen in person. It was remarkable to see everyone step up and adapt.
BB: What are the most important things that you want prospective students and families to know?
Dyerly: I would say to prospective students that, in uncertain times like these, when everyone’s utmost concerns are health and safety, the value proposition of a University of Redlands education couldn't be stronger. Personalized education is the approach that we take on a daily basis, and that we've seen that in the last month, with our students, our faculty, and our staff exhibiting the utmost care and respect for everyone's wellbeing and safety. I want students and their families to know that that is who we are as an institution, and, should you choose to start a program here in the coming months, your health and safety will be at the forefront of our consideration.