University focused on recruitment despite solely virtual outreach

Riley Guerzini, Editor-in-Chief

USI is normally full of admitted students and their parents touring campus this month as high school seniors try to find the best school for them before signing up for classes.

Coronavirus and social isolation has forced the university to shift their typical campus tour to a virtual alternative. 

Rashad Smith, executive director of enrollment, said although everything happened quickly, the university did a great job of switching everything to virtual.

He said the largest impact going virtual had on his department was campus visits as daily visits have sharply declined. 

“That was one of the immediate things that we needed to address,” he said. “We had a lot of folks scheduled to visit and of course, we could do that in advance and so we reached out to all of those families and let them know about going virtual and began immediately to implement a virtual opportunity for them to visit campus.”

Admissions was able to have prospective students meet with counselors and discuss admissions options within a week of going virtual. 

Potential students can also request to meet with faculty members when they schedule their virtual visit.

“The bottom line is we had to move quickly, very quickly to move into those options,” Smith said. “We had to build in as much creativity as we could to make it a better experience than just the ability to call in.”

Smith said his department has hosted a number of virtual sessions for prospective students and their parents, including ones about financial aid, registration and the orientation process. They are collaborating with the Student Development Programs and the Center for Exploring Majors for these sessions.

Faculty, staff and even current students are also reaching out to prospective students to encourage them to enroll at USI.

“We understand what they’re going through, especially not being able to have a graduation or go to prom or even participating in their senior year,” he said. “It’s a lot for them to handle and so we’ve been doing a lot of outreach that way and just really walking hand in hand with students through this process.”

Smith said they have made several adjustments to the application process including waiving the application fee, moving the Merit Scholar deadline to June 1 and waiving SAT and ACT test score requirements.

“The difficult part is these students (and) their families are having to navigate this process, along with all of the personal challenges that they have going on,” he said. “The college search process is stressful enough as it is without any of this.”

Smith said the recruitment cycle is going to extend further into the late summer and it will ramp up as they head closer to the fall semester, which is unusual for recruitment efforts.

“You can’t look at where (enrollment) was this time last year because nothing is the same,” he said. “The process isn’t the same.”

Smith said he is encouraged that only less than 10 students have dropped their enrollment at the university since the pandemic hit, though he said there has not been a lot of movement in enrollment.

He said faculty have reached out to hundreds of students in just the last week and a half to help with recruitment. He said the campus community has come together in a significant way to help with these initiatives.

“I can’t say enough about how the campus has really stepped up and met people where they are with the situation, the rate at which it had to be done and the speed at which everyone had to learn how to be operating in the way that we are now was just remarkable to see,” he said. “I truly believe that’s where USI truly shines.”