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4 things universities can do today to ensure a successful online college orientation

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online successful student orientation program

4 things universities can do today to ensure a successful online college orientation

Six months ago, the idea of putting college orientation online was not even a twinkle in a college presidents’ or deans’ eye. Fast forward to today, it’s not so far-fetched anymore. As the summer marches on and most institutions delay making decisions about in-person classes until more information is available, reality is starting to sink in that even if institutions return to in-person instruction, things are going to have to look a little different this year. For fall orientation and welcome weeks, do you take a wait and see approach, or decide now that programs essential for student preparation, learning, and development will not survive a social distancing framework? It is critical now to realize this and pivot to an online college orientation program.

For many institutions, the spring scramble to go online was not so successful (unless success is defined as completed). As the days tick by, delaying orientation and welcome week planning does not leave much time to plan and execute an intentional onboarding model online. AACRAO reinforces student development theory that a well-designed orientation program sets students up for success. A quickly thrown together virtual program could have repercussions that last throughout a student’s tenure, if they end up even matriculating.

Here are four things colleges and universities can do today to ensure a successful start and online college orientation program for students:

  1. Determine today if you have the resources and space to execute a fully socially distanced orientation program with the tightest socialization restrictions we have seen to date. The reality is, the next few months are completely uncertain, so you need to plan as if you can run your existing program under the worst possible conditions. Then ask yourself, will that program be equitable for international and immunocompromised students who can’t be there in person?
  2. Don’t take a wait and see approach. Assume the worst and plan that some, if not all, of your programs will need to be virtual. Time is running out to plan and execute a comprehensive, virtual, and successful student orientation program, but it’s not too late yet.
  3. Put a framework in place that allows students to build community AND absorb the content that will prepare them to be successful. While it might be easy to rely on existing institutional and free systems like Canvas and Facebook, a bifurcated orientation experience will not be the seamless, quality experience students and their parents and families are expecting as they prepare to make the biggest investment of their lives. Don’t give parents and families a reason to think you are not invested in their students’ success.
  4. Invest in the students you have already recruited to your institution. While the idea of spending money right now hurts, according to Ruffalo Noel Levitz your institution has already spent over $500 for public institutions, and over $2000 for private institutions, per student to recruit them to your institution. Now is not the moment to get cheap. Fall tuition dollars from a full incoming class more than justifies an outlay for these students to be successful. Reallocate the money you are planning to spend on continental breakfasts and space rentals from your unlikely to occur in-person programs to a configurable digital platform that does not sacrifice the critical community building elements of an in-person orientation program.

Lori Hurvitz, Ed.D. serves as the Associate Vice President for Alumni Relations at Tulane University. Her career has centered around building communities and developing engaging in-person and virtual programs for students and alumni.

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