Creating a more equitable and accessible enrollment strategy
After working with 15+ institutions for the past 15 months on their virtual recruitment and content strategies, I cannot help but think back to my glorious road trip that I took from Boston to Washington D.C. to check out the city and the institutions it had to offer. As a high school junior, I tagged along with a family friend who already had planned the trip and graciously offered to bring me along. This was the only trip I could afford to take.
With the burden that college planning can be for students and families, why would institutions revert back to limiting the opportunities to explore college life and academic programs by only having in-person admissions programming? Financial planners recommend setting aside upwards of $1,000 for visiting institutions and find that it’s not unusual to pay $3,000+ for all college visits. And this is on top of application fees, deposits, and tuition.
If COVID-19 has taught the higher education industry anything, it’s that we need to provide equitable access for all to explore an institution’s offerings.
To contextualize this, I grew up in Massachusetts. My family was (and my mom would proudly say “still is”) economical; meaning we counted our pennies. Massachusetts sits within the top quartile for median household income and the bottom 20th percentile for poverty rate. Despite being surrounded by such a wealthy environment, one college visit outside of our local area was all that we could afford.
If I grew up in Louisiana, here is what my household data would look like:
- Median Household Income (Louisiana): $51,073
- Poverty Rate (Louisiana): 19%
When we layer in the adverse effects of the socioeconomic gap on racial groups, the contrast is even more drastic. The racial income gap between white households (Median Income Estimate: $76,057) and black households (Median Income Estimate $46,073) across the U.S. is nearly $30,000 annually. If I was from Louisiana and black, my ability to explore my college/university options would be even more limited than what I experienced as a white male in Massachusetts. What’s even more concerning is that this is a single comparison derived in two income based statistics; it doesn’t account for many other demographic indicators of inequity that may further widen the gap of accessibility.
So what are our solutions to providing increased access to communities experiencing these disadvantages?
One solution is building out a robust virtual engagement plan. What sets virtual engagement apart is the low barrier to entry – an internet connection and a screen. Granted, an internet connection and a screen are not accessible for some, yet are easier to mitigate when in contrast to the money spent on in-person opportunities. Retaining virtual opportunities enables students to learn about the unique experiences and offerings of an institution without shelling out hundreds or thousands of dollars on visiting in person. A robust content plan consists of curated on-demand content as well, which provides your audiences the capability to browse and learn on their own time.
Thoughtful engagement planning is a win-win for admissions teams and student audiences alike. Increasing accessibility to information exponentially increases equity in the college search process. Increasing accessibility to information also enables your team to connect with more students from diverse backgrounds and foster meaningful relationships that lead to positive yield outcomes. We need to continue having conversations and idea-sharing on what barriers persist within the admissions realm and how we will overcome them for the betterment of our students, their families, and your institution.