Enrollment, Admissions, and the COVID-19 Pivot

Posted on 3/8/2021 1:29:56 PM

Despite changes necessitated by COVID-19 health and safety guidelines, IUP’s Division of Enrollment Management kept its focus on being student-centered and successfully pivoted to new ways of doing business.

Spring 2021 Enrollment and Retention Facts in Brief

Student Group

Head Count

Undergraduate students

7,019

Graduate students

1,879

Clock-hour program students

264

Total head count

9,162

This total exceeded projections by 45 students.

IUP’s fall-to-spring retention rate—87.85 percent for full-time, first-time degree-seeking freshman students—is at its highest since the fall 2015 rate, also 87.85 percent. This compares to our fall-to-spring 2019 full-time, first-time degree-seeking freshman retention rate of 84.49 percent. This is a very positive sign for enrollment.

The undergraduate, graduate, and Academy of Culinary Arts teams are working hard to recruit the fall 2021 classes. This work has required a great deal of creativity and new thinking. Student trends and behaviors are not following any historical models. The teams are doing an incredible job of meeting these challenges and of designing initiatives that provide students with the tools they need for success and graduation.

Undergraduate Admissions: New Ways of Doing Business

One of the most effective tools in encouraging students to enroll at IUP is campus visits. Events are planned a year in advance or more. So, with the transition to working remotely, the admissions team faced the challenge of redesigning all of the on-campus experiences and of communicating with those students and families who had made plans to attend these on-campus events.

Small, on-campus tours have been offered since September, following all health and safety guidelines. For those students and families who could not come to campus, the admissions team worked with the Marketing and Communications team to offer a variety of campus tour videos.

Experience IUP, a daylong event for admitted students, has traditionally been a very high-yield event, with 70 percent of the students in attendance committing to IUP. That event is now virtual, with sessions for students, faculty interactions, and a live virtual welcome from President Driscoll.

New initiatives to improve yield include the following:

  • A diversity series
  • Online programs on financial aid, housing, and orientation
  • YouVisit, a real-time tour program
  • Use of ThankView videos to students (in partnership with the Division of University Advancement)

Challenges, but IUP Is ahead of the Curve

  • School visits and college fairs have gone virtual. IUP admissions team members completed 500 in-person visits in a typical year, pre-pandemic. Student attendance at these virtual events has been a challenge.
  • Cancellation of SAT and ACT testing. IUP would purchase names of students who take SATs and ACTs for recruitment outreach. Without that source of names of prospective college-bound students, there are fewer students in the pipeline.

Fortunately, IUP was ahead of the curve with SAT-optional admission, in place since 2015. With help from the Division of Academic Affairs, this option has been expanded, which allows IUP to remove barriers for students and to offer faster admissions decisions—in many cases, instant decisions.

Keys to Success

  • Strong partnerships across the university
  • Strong leadership of the division
  • A team that adapted quickly to necessary changes

Graduate Admissions

Throughout the transition to remote work, the Office of Graduate Admissions has maintained its focus on being student-centered and its commitment to keeping in touch with campus offices and students.

More than 70 virtual events have been held since March, with a very strong response. Students are participating in the events, which allows a greater outreach beyond the region. For example, in one of the sessions, attendance included students from four countries and 12 different states.

Additional priorities:

  • Keeping students informed of updates to their admissions process
  • Providing support to program coordinators
  • Working closely with the Marketing and Communications Division on materials and outreach
  • Working closely with the Office of International Education
  • Working closely with the School of Graduate Studies and Research
  • Remaining connected as a team through technology
  • Incorporating diversity, equity, and inclusion exercises into the team’s weekly routine

Results:

  • Closer collaboration with on-campus partners
  • New enrollment growth in graduate programs

University-Wide Retention and Persistence Committee (UWRPC)

The “new reality” of COVID-19 changed the way the committee could operate, but it hit the ground running in the fall semester to create its goals for the 2021-22 academic year.

This group includes a number of subcommittees and ad hoc groups, including the following:

  • Financing Your IUP Education
  • Peer Mentoring
  • Mental Health and Emotional Wellness
  • Assessment
  • Student Engagement
  • Registration Messaging Group for fall and summer registration messaging (ad hoc)

UWRPC’s newest addition, formed in November 2020, is the Advising and Data Strategies Standing Subcommittee. It partners across campus to develop and implement technology solutions that support systemic sustainable practices that affect student retention.

This subcommittee harnesses the many resources and tools across campus to help meet retention and persistence goals.

One of the initial outcomes of the subcommittee’s work is IUP Advise. Its intent:

  • To help IUP faculty and staff understand very specific student data to help students be successful. It offers both alerts and positive progress notifications.
  • To harness the tools and data we already have for a holistic look at our students and for individual portraits of our students
  • To help us better understand the student journey
  • To provide a place to collect notes from staff and faculty that can assist a student’s success

Future intentions are for IUP Advise to help provide two-way communication, including to and from students, and to incorporate a texting platform to improve communication with students.