Insights on Fall Enrollment Part 1 of 2: A 4-Year Public University Perspective

For Brian Jones at Minnesota State University, Mankato, it's all about enrollment.

Written By: Damon Vangelis, Founder & CEO

Ocelot recently hosted two education leaders for a conversation on how the pandemic is impacting enrollment. This post summarizes a 4-year public university perspective that was shared.

We were joined by:

Brian Jones, Director of Admissions at Minnesota State University, Mankato. Brian has served in his current role for roughly a decade. MSU-Mankato is a regional comprehensive institution in southern Minnesota that servies 14,000 students.

Curt Luttrell, Director of Admissions & Records at the College of the Desert, oversees admissions at the College of the Desert. College of the Desert is a  mid-sized California community college that serves the Desert area which is a region about the size of Connecticut with cities that include Palm Springs and Palm Desert. 

Key Takeaways

  • It’s all about enrollment – regardless of the school type, enrollment is the #1 priority.
  • Students and families are in flux.
  • These are two colleges facing the same storm, albeit in different boats. Each institution is feeling pain, but there are nuances. 
  • Lots of turbulence in admissions right now – some colleges are having an easier time than others. 
  • Admissions is generally a collegial group, but the pandemic has put all colleges in a tough spot. It could get weird around recruitment.
  • Technology is the way forward – in a world where you need to do more with less and the competition is increasing, technology is what will enable you to make sure no student slips through the cracks.

Comments from Jones

Jones shared seven concerns he has dealt with from an admissions standpoint at a 4-year public institution since the pandemic hit:

  1. Help current students finish the term
  2. How to support incoming high school students
  3. Summer enrollment on campus
  4. Largest lead generators have been interrupted
  5. Constantly pivoting to the next emergency
  6. Students sharing concerns about public health / finances / might not be able to stay in school
  7. The broader Higher Ed model being stressed

What Jones is Observing

“In a time like this — more than ever — students and families in our state need us to provide opportunity and retraining,” said Jones. “In this case, the workforce will change dramatically and the jobs that come back aren’t all going to be the same jobs that we went into this pandemic with. Higher education has an important role to play in that.” 

Jones said slightly fewer students enrolled in summer classes but many are taking more classes because they don’t have many other things to do. He added, “They want to capture this and parlay it into fall enrollment but they also have to consider the financial impact the pandemic has caused.” To combat this, MSU-Mankato has put together emergency grants and new donors are stepping up to help.

How AI is helping

MSU-Mankato added an AI chatbot in March, which “was very convenient timing,” said Jones. “We’re a pretty lean team. We have about seven recruiters tasked with bringing a freshman class of about 2,200 and a transfer class of just under 900. Being able to spread that work out helps us to support our students, particularly in light of this pandemic.” 

“In addition to this, there is new information every day—there’s new guidance or people will have new questions. The ability to use technology to personalize communication and meet needs of students during and outside of business hours is critical.”

On Widening the Funnel vs Being More Efficient to Boost Yield

“Anyone who’s worked in admissions for more than one cycle can appreciate that the answer to these types of questions is always more of all. Historically it’s, do you want more students? Or do you want better qualified students? The answer is: Yes both. You can’t afford to not do any of it. There’s immediate concern about how does the disruption of this pandemic affect the yield—students’ decision to enroll. And more importantly over the summer the melt of students deciding not to come after all.”

Fall 2021 and Fall 2022

In addition to dealing with the urgency of right now, Jones said that it’s important to look at the Fall of 21 and 22 to make sure there is a large enough pot, as these students are also getting disrupted. To do this, MSU-Mankato plans to provide flexible options in enrollment. 

Greater Competition for Students

“One of the biggest challenges is getting summer enrollment to offset potential losses for Fall. We have to think about how we can attract more students and appeal to folks staying closer to home. We’re going to send postcards out to students that were admitted previously and didn’t enroll with us and maybe went somewhere else. I have to think about how far I should extend that net. Historically, it would have been a lot more restrained due to NACAC’s guidelines but now due to the changes and necessity, I know that some of my competitors are going to enlist in these tactics.”

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