Embracing New Ways to Connect with High Schoolers

Independent Research Shows Need for Colleges to Connect Virtually with Prospective Students

Say what you will about America’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic, one thing remains true: change is constant.

Regardless of whether you think the country overreacted or underreacted back in March, circumstances continue to change more quickly than most people and institutions are able to keep up with.

Back in the spring, when the CDC and WHO were recommending masks only for healthcare workers and social distancing was a soft suggestion, not a regulation, colleges had to pivot on a dime to transition all their operations from in-person to virtual instruction. Unexpectedly, the quick change didn’t have much of an immediate impact on enrollment.


“Little or no change in enrollment status is a reassuring sign that most college students were able to stay on course during the first two months of the pandemic,” said Doug Shapiro, executive director, National Student Clearinghouse Research Center.


“However, there were early signs of broader impacts that are underway,” Shapiro continued. “Data reveal[ed] the emergence of small but concerning racial and ethnic patterns, as more students took leaves of absence than in pre-pandemic years,” particularly Black and Hispanic students.

The financial and health considerations tied to college education, coupled with a lingering sense of uncertainty, continue to build, and those early patterns are coming to fruition.

Inside Higher Ed reports that 41% of minority high school seniors say “it's likely they won't go to college at all in the fall” or “it's too soon to say,” compared to just 24% of white high school seniors saying the same.

For these minority groups in particular, who are more likely to be first-generation college students and more likely to face systemic barriers to higher education, getting a representative from your institution in front of them at the high school level has long been a crucial aspect of recruitment.

So what do you do when that’s no longer an option?

The Imagine America Foundation surveyed a subset of our database of 2,000 high schools across the country and learned that 72% of high schools will not be allowing college representatives into their high school to present to students this fall (while 28% said they would allow representatives... but only if their school buildings open at all).

These numbers are already grim, and we believe they’re just going to get worse. We plan to conduct additional rounds of this survey, and we anticipate seeing closer to a ninety-ten split in August and September.

Career colleges will likely have the benefit of economic countercyclicality on their side, but history isn’t enough to ensure enrollment success against this unprecedented pandemic.

Schools also need to “recognize the role that virtual communication must now play in helping build affinity and connection with the institution, campus, and student body,” says Molly O’Connor, senior director in strategic research at EAB. “Whereas before, we widely assumed that prospective students would visit campus at some point and have the opportunity to connect live with current students, that is no longer the case.” Likewise, campus representatives will also no longer be able to connect live with prospective students on their own turf.

One of the best ways to connect with prospective students and their school counselors during the pandemic is via partnership with Imagine America. We allow colleges and universities around the country to increase their exposure to high school counselors and potential students—and to gain access to qualified career college students.

Although it may not seem like it now, things will eventually get back to normal—a “new normal,” perhaps, but normal all the same. The pandemic will end and higher education will continue on.

But not all institutions will survive this crisis. Those that don’t adapt quickly to the evolving suggestions, regulations, and legislation will be left behind.

To best position your college or university for fall enrollment, reach out to the Imagine America Foundation! We’re here to help schools find their best-fit students, and to help students find their best-fit schools.

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