Insights on Fall Enrollment Part 2 of 2: A Community College Perspective

For Curt Luttrell at College of the Desert, it's also all about enrollment.

Written By: Damon Vangelis, Founder & CEO

Read the first installment Insights on Fall Enrollment Part 1: A 4-Year Public University Perspective.

Ocelot recently hosted two education leaders for a conversation on how the pandemic is impacting enrollment. This post summarizes a community college 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 Luttrell

Curt Luttell shared four concerns he is working through at a community college:

  1. Our ability serve the community of the Desert
  2. Will have remote learning in the Fall, and not everyone has online access
  3. Enrollment down 10% for the Fall compared to same time last year
  4. Hoping students will stay local in the Fall and attend local community college

On Widening the Funnell vs Being More Efficient to Boost Yield

“To serve the people of the Desert to the best of our ability, we need to use what we have and get customers onboarded so we can build those relationships,” said Luttrell.

Luttrell added: “Applications are down 70% so we’ve created strategies for working with local school districts. Every application this year is more precious than ever. We must provide a response and individually touch each student either electronically or by phone. We have limited resources so we must put efforts in everywhere so we can fill the class and be ready to go for the fall.”

Dealing with Financial Strain

Luttrell noted: “Our financial picture is already looking pretty grim. The state overall is looking to take out 2 billion dollars out of the community college system and those budget implications have yet to hit here in the Desert but they’re headed our way.”

How AI is Helping

The Ocelot chatbot has answered an average of 3,000 questions a week over the past few months, “taking questions and conversations out of our workload so that we could reach the students who really need our help,” said Luttrell.

Luttrell added: “Our chatbot fits in with our communication plan—it was a component that was missing. One thing we do well, is our on time messaging to our customers on our campus. Once we have them, we have a nice series of planned communication methods to the customers. In fact, in the last three years in a row when we surveyed the students who are graduating, the item that gets the highest ranking from the students is our email messaging. It’s still basic emails but it’s a way to engage the students.” 

How do you attract students, including those without access to electronic tools?

“We have a rolling deadline for admissions,” said Luttrell. “We’re ready to go when you’re ready to go. Your interest is our expertise. We need to deliver class, we have budgetary requirements, we have expectations of the college, and we have expectations of the community. We need to concentrate resources to reach the people who are outside of the electronic areas so people aren’t left behind in opportunity.”

To learn more about how Ocelot combines AI and live chat interactions go to

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