My 40-something mom friends and I continue to joke about how our teenage daughters will need to pry our skinny jeans from our hands and force us to do something different with our hair besides our favorite side part. I mean, we’ve been wearing these for years. The skinny jeans are comfortable and we like how they look, and the side parts take the place of the messy bun on those days we want to show we’ve made a little effort. Why would we make a change, no matter what better recommendations might be out there for us? Why would we even consider a balance between the old and the new, especially if we’re comfortable with the old and know what we’re going to get?
As many industries have permanently adapted during the pandemic, higher education temporarily adapted but is showing signs of being drawn back into its old ways. This seems especially true in admissions and recruitment where, even though students tell us they want virtual engagement to continue and we can see the results of our virtual efforts, we can’t wait to get back on the road to our high school visits and spend hours behind a college fair table and host as many on-campus events as possible. We are comfortable with what we’ve always done, we can’t NOT be seen at the same events as our competitors, and we are comfortable saying to those who look at us critically, “Here! Look at all we’ve done!,” no matter how irrational that commitment to effort is.
Let me be clear. After spending 18 years in enrollment management, I would never begin to tell my campus colleagues to stop investing time in legacy strategies. I am not that crazy. But I would tell those valued colleagues that it’s time to find balance, and that a return to campus should not be a return to everything we’ve been comfortable with for years. We should be thinking about what still fits and, quite frankly, what doesn’t. We should replace what doesn’t fit with what has been proven, especially over the past year, to work: virtual engagement is here and prospective students consistently report that it will remain a part of their college search process. If you don’t supplement your high school visits, college fairs, and in-person events with a robust virtual experience, you will miss out and no amount of comfort or effort in legacy strategies will make up for it.
Trust me, you won’t catch me wearing baggy jeans anytime soon, the same way I probably won’t catch you skipping out on that local college fair. But maybe, just maybe, it’s time to re-evaluate everything we’ve always been comfortable with and see where we’re willing to go. You never know what new look, I mean strategies, we might find.