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How to make preventing summer melt a campus wide goal

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preventing summer melt and ensuring a full entering class

How to make preventing summer melt a campus wide goal

If you are a TV watcher (and who isn’t these days) every commercial from Budweiser to Walmart tells us that we are “all in this together.” So, my question is, why are college admissions deans and university presidents sitting in their home offices, alone, biting their nails with anxiety about preventing summer melt and bringing in their freshman classes?

In most cases, the responsibility of bringing in a full entering class rests solely with the Admissions Office. For the more than ten years I ran new student orientation at a highly selective private institution, and every year I anxiously awaited my official hand-off date when I took over communication and programming for incoming students. While I certainly stayed in contact with Admissions and tracked summer melt, I didn’t really consider it MY problem. Perhaps it is because I am no longer sitting on a campus in the midst of this crisis, but my objective view stands to reason, if we really are all in this together, we should be telling admissions that they are not alone when it comes to preventing summer melt.

Higher ed administrators and faculty see their campuses wrestling with furloughs, layoffs, salary cuts, and every other idea to trim expenses. While those exercises certainly will continue, one of the key recovery strategies for struggling campuses is to bring in as full of an entering class as possible while also retaining current students. Nothing is more frustrating to me than reading articles written by faculty published in reputable news sources telling students they should be taking a gap year. There is a direct correlation between the number of students enrolled and institutions keeping their doors open and therefore, the number of faculty and staff needed to operate. The same faculty and staff who are frustrated and upset by seeing their benefits cut or their co-workers furloughed are the very ones who can help admissions with initiatives for preventing summer melt and keeping students engaged.

If you are an admissions dean, here are three things you can do to help others help you prevent summer melt:

  1. Make melt everyone’s problem.
    Admissions deans often hold incoming class numbers close to the vest as highly coveted secrets. I think everyone knows there is some magic algorithm that runs behind the scenes to get to that exact target number of entering freshman, and I’m not sure we need the details, but it would help if institutional leadership would be more transparent about the impact of tuition dollars on the bottom line. How do tuition paying students equate to job security for your anxious faculty and staff? Let the numbers tell the story of why everyone on campus needs to care about melt and retention. Transparency garners trust.
  2. Ask for help. You may be surprised who is willing to give it.
    Keeping incoming students engaged is a tall order, but when shared by many hands across campus it can become much more manageable. One Admissions team I am working with right now didn’t think anyone would care about their melt issues but were delighted when nearly 130 staff and faculty volunteered to be virtual community leaders for their incoming class. Take it from an orientation director, everyone wants to get in front of students. This year your campus partners recognize this might be their only way to share their resources. I have also heard some concerns about the quality of content if you let anyone produce new material. It is time to let it go. New content might not have the shiny and professional standards you were used to seeing pre-pandemic, but expectations are shifting, and the organic nature will likely show some authenticity to your students.
  3. Provide a framework and structure.
    Your tried and true summer melt strategies need to look a little different this year, particularly as NACAC changed its Code of Ethics and Professional Practices. So now what? Like everything else in the world right now, it is time to go virtual. If you were going back and forth about investing resources to build a virtual community, time to go forth. I hope I am not the first person to tell you that Generation Z has left Facebook so relying on the free platform isn’t going to cut it. Investing in the right tools to retain your class might be one of the best decisions you have ever made for your campus. Providing a tool and framework for your campus partners to create a seamless, engaging virtual experience for your students proves your institution is modern, adaptable, and ready to provide students with the experience they have been anxiously awaiting.

While there are still many unknowns for most of us including whether classes will be online or in-person this fall, all members of a university or college community can do their part to create and execute summer melt and retention strategies, but Admissions needs to share the burden and set their colleagues up for success.

Lori Hurvitz, Ed.D. served as the University of Chicago’s Associate Dean for College Programming and Student Services overseeing orientation for more than a decade. Her career centers around building communities and developing engaging in-person and virtual programs for students and alumni. Lori joins the Wisr team in a consultative capacity as Program Specialist for New Student Onboarding and Orientation. She is serving as a strategist to help schools to rethink their orientation and onboarding experiences for the pandemic and beyond.

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