Illustration of businesspeople on a life raft in open water

Resilience, Adaptation, and Change

The 2021 NACAC (National Association for College Admission Counseling) National Conference occurs this week in Seattle, and the theme for this year’s conference is so relevant to everyone working for colleges and universities, as well as all the tireless talent working and advising in enrollment management and college counseling.

The theme is “Leading Change” and no question, the past two years have been quite a catalyst for motivating and inspiring people to think and do differently. We reached out to someone we have known for years, NACAC president Todd Rinehart, who is also the vice chancellor for enrollment at the University of Denver, to ask him to share some of his informed reflections based on his interaction with so many colleagues and members of NACAC, along with his own team’s experiences at DU. Here are some of his thoughts and reflections:

  • While the pandemic has only affected our world since the early months of 2020, this academic year will mark the third recruitment cycle under COVID conditions. In the spring of ’20, admission teams quickly transitioned in March and April to host admitted programs virtually and recruit that year’s class as successfully as possible. This entire past year of recruiting the fall ’21 class was conducted under a number of different modalities and protocols, and it appeared that it was going to be even more challenging as many families weren’t able to visit college campuses most of the year. Yet most campuses are feeling very fortunate this fall with their enrollment numbers — many have experienced record enrollments! We’ve proven that a mix of virtual and in-person strategies can successfully recruit a class, and those strategies and programs appear to have been well-received by families.
  • It is simply amazing what higher education has managed the last two years with everything associated with COVID: revenue losses; expense additions with necessary testing, cleaning, and vaccinating; technology and classroom upgrades with new learning modalities; and simply the rapidly changing nature of the problems we were navigating and solving.
  • Higher ed really showed its resiliency and grit in new and meaningful ways, including renewed commitments to justice and equity for our students and our many structures and policies. As challenging and tragic as these past years have been for so many, we’ve also engaged in meaningful changes, and gained an appreciation for each other and the things in our lives that matter most.
  • On the enrollment front, while many schools experienced declines last year, early indications are that many have robust enrollments this fall for both undergrad and graduate programs — students seem eager to be back on college campuses for both academic and social purposes. While COVID has taught us that we can deliver learning in many different ways, it has simultaneously reinforced the value and demand for residential, in-person experiences.
  • The challenge with recruiting this year is that many of the plans we were developing over the summer were based on the “old” COVID, a world where we thought vaccinations were going to quickly open travel opportunities, school, and campus visits, as well as the removal of capacity limits and mask requirements. Little did we know that variants like Delta would force us to begin revising and re-scaling many of those plans. But if we’ve learned anything this past two cycles, we know how to be flexible, innovative, patient, and productive under adverse situations.

Lawlor Recommends

The 2021 NACAC National Conference will not be the only conference in the months ahead that brings higher education leaders and affinity groups together to actively discuss and discern about what to do in the near future. The theme of “Leading Change” is very relevant and a necessity, but as we have noted numerous times in the past year, a relevant evolution of the marketplace has occurred and is continuing to happen. So now is the time to get together with others on a more regular basis and learn even more about best practices, new opportunities, miscues, and how best to achieve even better, more effective goals. And as Todd Rinehart shared with us, then proceed with the spirit and drive of “We’ve got this!”


Quadrant for Discerning

The foreword to an essay series by and for college presidents offers a grid for assessing whether to internalize the new or reclaim the old. (Source: President2President)

Upending Higher Ed

The authors of The Great Upheaval predict that “colleges will lose power, prices will go down, and credentials will multiply.” (Source: Chronicle)

Data Analysis

Enrollment algorithms can identify a student’s exact willingness to pay — but may also reduce students’ chances to persist and graduate. (Source: Brookings)