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How 3 Higher Education Institutions are Rethinking Recruiting & Admissions

By April 21, 2020

Leading Through Change

By: Margo Martinez & Luke Skurman

Even before the COVID-19 pandemic rattled the nation, higher education institutions across the country have been seeing a concerning trend with recruiting and admissions. Trying to predict uncertain factors like student yield, impact to international students, the unstable economy, health concerns, and summer melt—the industry term for committed students who decide over the summer not to report to their campus in the fall—makes the upcoming school year incredibly hard to plan for. Yet, some Salesforce customer institutions are rising to the challenge and seeing positive results. Johnson & Wales University, George Mason University, and the University of Virginia are finding innovative ways to create connections by engaging digitally with prospective students, be more transparent than ever, and take a deep dive into data that’s providing valuable long-term insight.

Partners in the Salesforce ecosystem are digging into data, too, to support institutions as they readjust their strategies. partner Niche surveyed more than 50,000 high school students, college students, and parents about how COVID-19 has affected their college plans. Detailed results can be found on the Niche blog, but here are some key findings from Impact of Coronavirus on Students’ Academic Progress and College Plans.

Students are rethinking their choices:

  • 38% of seniors haven’t made a decision on where to enroll later this year
  • 7% of seniors are considering not enrolling or deferring admission for a year
  • 39% of seniors are reconsidering the schools on their list
  • 36% of seniors and 41% of juniors plan to pick a college that’s closer to home than originally planned
  • Students are relying on less traditional sources for information. 69% rely more on college search sites, student reviews, and social media for their college search and decision making

If it wasn’t already obvious, it certainly is now: this is the time when colleges need to work even harder to build trust and make strong connections with families.

Johnson & Wales University Online

Ricky Carchedi, director of online admissions at Johnson & Wales University Online, has been thinking up creative ways to meet students where they’re at. With the understanding that prospective students aren’t exactly eager to make a traditional phone call like previous generations of students, he and his team implemented a live chat feature to engage students directly on their website, as well as an SMS text chat to reach students where it’s most comfortable for them.

Taking it one step further to get a more comprehensive picture, he and his team have also developed a series of dashboards to provide insight into recruiter activities and pipeline activity, such as lead and application status tracking. This information offers them the ability to track prospective students and understand where they are in the lifecycle and where the college is with their enrollment goals.

Carchedi sees the shift to online as a cultural one. His team challenges themselves with proving a “culture of feedback“ in an effort towards transparency, which is proving all the more important in today’s environment.

George Mason University

At George Mason University (GMU), the team has created a streamlined student experience through their Student Service Center. Similar to the group at Johnson & Wales, GMU has also recognized that communicating with students in the ways that they’re most comfortable is a recipe for success.

Led by Kathy Zimmerman, Salesforce Administrator at GMU, the team has incorporated an online chat feature that routes questions for review and response by the appropriate team. The speed at which they were able to get this up and running means enhanced support for both current and prospective students.

University of Virginia

Courtney Leistensnider, the admissions coordinator at the University of Virginia’s Frank Batten School of Leadership and Public Policy, has been supporting prospective students virtually by hosting online open advising sessions. Using Advisor Link, the team has enabled students to schedule their own appointments with admissions staff, which previously required an arduous back-and-forth communications process to route appointment requests to specific teams.

In addition to their forward-thinking advising sessions, they’ve been conducting virtual panels to help provide admitted students with an idea of what it’s like to attend Batten. The goal of these sessions is to provide an authentic voice from current students and staff. The sessions have been so popular that they plan to provide additional digital content to the broader prospective student audience in the coming months, while also continuing their support of admitted students by implementing new student success plans to help curb the aforementioned “summer melt.”

UVA Batten School of Leadership and Public Policy

The University of Virginia’s Frank Batten School of Leadership and Public Policy, pictured, converted its Admitted Students Weekend to an all-virtual series.

Admissions Teams Rising to the Challenge

Let’s acknowledge the passionate and committed employees who work in university admissions and marketing departments. They’re working overtime to find creative solutions to some pressing challenges that have been amplified over the past few months, in order to provide added value, support, transparency, and communications to current and future students and families alike.

As we prepare for more summer melt than usual and a lot of musical chairs between now and the fall, remember that students want a traditional college experience — they’re craving those social connections and higher learning. Fall of 2020 is up for grabs, and those who understand the needs of prospective students during this moment will be more likely to succeed.

Join us for a community webinar on April 23 with the University of Virginia Batten School of Public Policy. Learn how Batten is pivoting to an all-virtual admissions experience and gain insight into optimizing your existing org for virtual engagement. Register here.

About the Authors

Margo Martinez

Margo Martinez, director of higher ed industry solutions at, oversees the go-to-market strategy at for recruiting and admissions and student experience. She’s served in higher education technology roles for eight years and spent 20 years in technology, spanning CRM to marketing and media.

Luke Skurman

Luke Skurman is a member of the Board of Trustees at Carnegie Mellon University and the founder and CEO of Niche, a website that connects people to their future schools, neighborhoods, and workplaces.