In 1999, Keanu Reeves starred in one of his most memorable roles, Neo. In The Matrix, Neo learns that life is an elaborate deception somewhere between dream and reality and the end goal? To destroy this illusion.

Enrollment managers and admissions professionals have been given this opportunity: to destroy the illusion of what is worth our time, effort, and resources, and what isn’t, when it comes to recruitment initiatives. We’ve been functioning for a very long time, long before Neo entered the Matrix, somewhere between purpose and optics. Our purpose has been to share the story of our institutions with prospective students and their families, but we have often made decisions thinking about the perception of our initiatives rather than the outcomes of them.

As a former director of admissions, I remember the annual recommendation that I should be visiting XYZ high school because a faculty member somewhere told an administrator somewhere else that “we weren’t there.” We were, in fact, there, but among hundreds of other colleges and universities, the high school visit or college fair table were not the initiatives that would make us stand out. We would, of course, continue to invest thousands of dollars and countless hours on travel to and from these events, only to not be seen. We spent the most significant portion of our budget on optics.

We’ve learned over the past 18 months that there are better, more efficient and effective ways to connect with prospective students. We know that we’ve done some things well, but we could be doing them better. We’ve realized that we can use our resources more efficiently and reduce staff burnout from ineffective strategies. We have destroyed the illusion that legacy strategies such as college fairs and high school visits are effective, yet are we willing to walk away from them for initiatives with a better ROI, regardless of optics?

To my fellow admissions professionals, I encourage you to challenge what’s always been done and to demonstrate why your efforts and resources are better spent on initiatives with purpose and vision. Continue to host the in-person visit opportunities that matter, but be willing to consider that some information previously shared in-person is better suited for a virtual setting. Think critically to combine your in-person and virtual engagement into a prospective student experience filled with purpose and vision. Be willing to destroy the illusion.

Dr. Alice Arredondo is Senior Director of Client Strategy at PlatformQ Education.  An industry leader in admissions and recruitment, including virtual engagement strategy, with 18+ years of experience in enrollment management at the University of Kansas and the University of Missouri-Kansas City.  Dr. Arredondo holds a bachelor’s degree in English and Communication Studies from Truman State University (MO), a master’s degree in higher education administration and a Doctor of Education in Educational Leadership and Policy Studies, both from the University of Kansas.

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