When the Borough of Manhattan Community College (BMCC) in New York City invited students to an upcoming virtual open house, “we let them know their safety and health is the most important thing,” says Joshua Perez, BMCC’s admissions recruitment coordinator.
Because so many students lost a job or have a family member or friend with COVID-19, the main message from BMCC is that “staff is here to help them and ease their anxiety,” Perez says. “We’re trying to give a possible ray of light,” through assistance and even financial help, such as emergency grants.
College staff is urged to “show empathy with every conversation we have, even if it’s a transactional call asking them to send their transcript,” he says. “It’s about constantly throwing off positive energy, not just checking off a box.”
Obstacles = opportunities
“Generation Z likes a face and likes to make a connection with that face,” Perez says, so “we’re making ourselves visible” by posting the faces of key administrators along with their emails and a line about their hobbies on BMCC’s enrollment page.
It took just a single weekend to transform BMCC’s call center to a virtual center with staff working at home. The college’s new Live Help knowledge tool, accessible on a phone or computer 24/7, lets students write a question and receive articles based on their keywords.
The CUNY Explorers Program, which brings middle school students to campus to spark their interest in going to college, has gone digital, too. BMCC is hosting Instagram Live sessions for middle school students, with fun themes, such a pajama party.
Once things return to normal, the digital systems put in place “will make us stronger,” says Diane Walleser, vice president for enrollment management at BMCC. “It’s forced us to become creative and agile in our planning and delivery of services. We’ve taken a lot of obstacles and converted them to opportunities.”
Targeting the unemployed
At Delgado Community College (DCC) in Louisiana, “we’re trying to brainstorm as many things as possible” to reach students remotely, says Michele Greco, director of enrollment management.
DCC’s Community College Week, an on-campus recruitment event, was moved to Facebook Live, with a virtual open house and a welcome video from each campus.
Delgado is using the Microsoft Teams app to invite students to one-on-one virtual financial aid sessions in partnership with Southeastern Louisiana University. To reach students without a computer or wifi, DCC invites them via Facebook Live to use an 800 number to access a call center for one-on-one assistance.
So far, 1,500 students have registered for the summer session.
“That’s on track with what we expected,” Greco says, but it’s hard to predict whether enrollment will stay strong as registration opened earlier than usual. Fall registration started a little earlier, too, and so far, it’s about 100 students below normal.
DCC also will hold its first “Maymester,” a 14-day intersession in May to give students an opportunity to earn college credits in a compressed, online format on the Canvas platform. This session could be particularly helpful for the many laid-off hospitality workers in New Orleans who might want to consider a new career in the city’s growing cloud computing industry, Greco says.
“We’re stressing short-term training opportunities for those workers, as no one knows when tourism will come back,” she says.
To draw people to the Maymester and two new mini-mester sessions in the summer, the college is using TV and radio ads more than it usually does, and reaching out to industry groups representing restaurant and hotel owners, Greco says.
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