“So many schools will under-enroll,” says admissions director

Future of college admissions amidst coronavirus“I guarantee you so many schools will under-enroll.” This week, Ken and I continue our Q&A special and discuss how coronavirus affects scholarships, test score requirements, colleges going out of business, and admissions officers losing jobs. He shares his predictions on the future of college admissions and recommendations on the types of questions college hopefuls should be asking amidst COVID-19. Ken’s a 20-year-veteran in college admissions, including at Skidmore, his alma mater. Today, he serves as the international admissions director at Widener University. Read Part 1 first here.

It seems like colleges will have to expect financial difficulties. How will colleges, as businesses that depend on tuition, survive the coronavirus downturn? What will happen?

I can guarantee you that many, many, many universities will not fill their class. They’ll be under-enrolled. The whole enrollment model is a financial thing where you have a target number of freshmen that fits the needs of the university and I guarantee you so many schools will under-enroll. That’s a big financial hit. There won’t be as much tuition revenue because there will be fewer students coming in.

Do you see there being a decline in interest in college overall?

You’ll probably also have more leaves of absence. I think some students might take a semester off. No one excited to jump back into a big group situation. Diseases and viruses run rampant through college campuses. They want to make sure that it’s completely gone and the threat is completely gone. And no one knows when that’s going to be. Not only will you have fewer incoming students, you’ll have more students, not necessarily transferring but taking a leave of absence.

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What does this mean for your international students in particular?

The embassies are closing. International students won’t even have the option to come. They just can’t even get their visas. They can’t go for the interview. It’s just a whole system shut down. I’m good friends with a rep from Quinnipiac University, just next to Yale, in Connecticut. He called me like in a panic, saying “I’m worried about my job.” I said, “I know, but we’re not miracle workers and people realize there’s nothing you can do.” If the embassy is closed and the student can’t get a visa, that’s not your fault. I totally understand that panic because all of a sudden things are even more beyond your control.

Do you think the coronavirus-related drops in enrollment will reflect poorly upon an admission counselor or recruiter’s performance? Will it affect them getting raises or getting their contracts extended?

There’s no real quota. There’s an expectation; there’s a goal. We can work hard and try to get an X number of students. Maybe you get a raise even if you don’t meet the goal. There’s others factors at play and a lot of it’s beyond your control, but of course, it’s a performance thing. That’s our job is to recruit students and then have them enroll. Obviously, there’s sympathy now that so much of it is beyond our control. Your boss knows that. And this is in light of universities already closing over the last couple of years because of so much competition. Now this just makes it even harder for people to keep doing what they’ve been doing.

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Do you think universities have a strategy to compensate for the COVID-19 related under enrollment?

Universities were already facing under enrollment just because United States demographics are changing. The first strategy was international students. US has fewer high school students. So how do we fill our class? Well, we go around the world and start having international students. Now with coronavirus, everyone’s in the same situation. No one can do that anymore.

What can universities do then in light of international students almost being off limits?

You are already seeing online becoming the next big wave. You’ll probably even see that even more. Southern New Hampshire University was known as the gold standard on how to have a successful and huge moneymaker online model. I might be in Texas, but they have my program online. So they’re collecting tuition from kids all around the country online. Other than recruiting international students and going online, I think the other thing would be non-traditional learning for adult learners or evening classes. The traditional living on campus as an undergraduate, while that will still exist, some schools are going to have to change their model or go out of business.

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Do you predict schools will actually go out of business due to the coronavirus?

Yeah, I think so. For the first time in my life, schools have started closing within the last couple of years. It was usually small liberal arts colleges that were rural. They just couldn’t attract a class. And now it’s gonna be more. It’s affecting the economy and if tuition money goes down, that’s what schools rely on.

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