Once the COVID-19 pandemic started to impact colleges, it was time to shift gears and adapt quickly. This meant supporting current students immediately and communicating with the community. Now, it’s time to shift gears again and start thinking a little farther ahead. In this Quick Tips! video, Dr. Pamela Cox-Otto shares seven things college presidents should be thinking about right now to keep them from falling behind in the upcoming semesters.


Hi, I’m Pam Cox-Otto and I’m here to talk to presidents today. I don’t normally do this because, well, you’re a president and you don’t like people getting in your face and giving you advice. But I think it’s time because I think I’ve got enough data where I can actually be useful to you. If you’re a marketing person listening to this, pass it on to your president. I promise I won’t talk behind your back. So what I’m going to talk about are seven things that I think you need to be thinking about right now. I know we’ve been doing nothing but running around playing defense ever since we realized that COVID-19 was going to be impacting us. But now we need to start thinking ahead and I don’t mean next week, I mean months ahead. So a few things to think about.

First, everyone I’m talking to is anticipating that by fall they will be 20 to 25% down. I know there’s a few of you optimists, you crazy people, who are thinking you might be up because the last time we had a large, not recession, but certainly a downturn, people came back in huge numbers. This is not that same time because far more people are thrown out of work and they are stuck at home and they don’t have lots of options and we’re all living in a little bit of fear right now. So they’re not necessarily thinking education. In a normal year, you probably lost about 15 to 20% of your students in spring. You’re scrambling to try to fill your summer classes and you’re also telling your marketing people that they should be planning on making it a big recruiting year.

Cause you’re going to need numbers. So if I’m right, that’s what you’ve been saying. Let me tell you some things to think about. First of all, your PR person, your marketing person should be on your lead team. Yes, I know you pull them in when you have special times where you’re not talking about grownup things. I don’t care. Keep them on your team all the damn time and the reason is quite simply by the time the words trickled down to them, there are already too late to be stepping in front and helping you, so you need to have them there. They don’t have to talk a lot. They never let me talk, I don’t get it. But they need to be there so they can hear it and they can also give you advice and say that’s not going to play well before you all make your decisions and go running off to do one thing and your PR person says, I don’t think that’s a good idea. And by that time it’s too late. So PR person in your leadership teams all the time.

Enrollment. I know it’s scary. This is certainly the biggest scary time we’ve probably lived through, but let me tell you two things that are really kind of fun. First of all, a lot of you have dropped the name “community” from your college name because there was no point. Nobody really valued the community part. They do value the community part now. Do you think if they take online classes from Harvard, Harvard’s going to turn on their wifi in the parking lot and let anybody come in and use it so that they can send emails and look for help and read up on COVID? I think not. Do you think that they’re going, Harvard’s going to come to your parking lot and put out brown bag lunches to help students who are now struggling? I think not. There’s a million things that far away colleges will not be able to do for your community that you can do. You should be thinking about them.

Those are just a couple of my ideas, but there’s a million more of them out there and you should be thinking about it. A lot of you were thinking also you should be going big on this. You know, you were prepping for going online, so that would go big. Two things. One is unless you really are big and you really are good at it, remember the farther you push out into the universe, the more you have to compete with people like Stanford and Harvard and other schools who’ve been doing this a long time. And it’s probably likely that their faculty teaching a class are more well-known than your faculty teaching the class. But your faculty’s names carry weight and your community, particularly if they can teach things that relate to what’s going on around the real world, that’s where you can own the space.

So I would not plan on, you know, making your online program go international because after all, we’re all online. Now another piece to think about is, quite honestly retention. I know you’re telling your marketing people go out there and get me new people. But two things. One is look at your normal trending numbers. Are people coming in from out of state, out of county? Probably. Well they’re probably not going to be doing that this fall. So all of those folks who normally give you an influx, not going to happen. So the thing to think about is most community colleges lose 30% between fall and spring 30% the reason why you don’t dip 30% is you get 25 or 26% in new students that allow those numbers to buoy up and you go, Oh look, we’re only down about a percent for summer, for spring.

No, you need to be thinking about holding on to every darn one of those 30% and the number of for summer, which is what we’re going into right now between spring semester and and next fall start, you typically lose 50% if you can hold those numbers down and only lose, Oh, I don’t know, that’s dream 40% you would actually have 10% increase in what you’ve got. Assuming all things were the same. They won’t be the same. But part of what I’m telling you is if you did not have a retention problem, you would not have an enrollment problem, which is why you need to be turning to that. Now, the other reason, quite honestly, your marketing folks will tell you, you know where those people live. You’ve got their phone numbers, their emails, you are theoretically respected. So if you reach out to them, there’s things that you can do right now that can help them with their lives.

Why do you think the state and the feds gave you CARE money? Well, that’s where you can be using this money to help leverage these folks to come to you. Right? The other piece, and this is kind of a piece to think about, uh, there’s going to be a lot of people trying to sell you stuff right now. I mean, I could be one of them. The thing that I want you to think about is this. Anybody who tries to sell you something needs to be telling you how. If you buy their campaign, their plan, their whatever, how will that strengthen the response capabilities of your own staff? If you’re not careful by bringing in outside people to solve your problem, you’re going to create your own morale problem and you don’t want that. You want to merge from this where when you come out into the light, not only have you been able to keep your enrollment solid and strong, but your team is pulling together and knows you respect them.

So hire folks. You probably will need help with a big lift, but hire folks who get that part of their job should be training your people so that they can do it next time on their own without outside folks. Uh, finally is that really seven? Who knows? Um, finally think about your program mix. Yeah. That marketing is a thing. Retention is a thing. You have an awful lot of people who were home trapped in their houses and they may have lost their jobs or been furloughed laid off or furloughed and they’re struggling. They’re wondering what comes next. You have a lot of programs where people can work from home for those programs. Go through your list. I mean, I was just thinking about some things that I thought you might want to consider. Programming and software, online marketing, uh, graphic designer, writing, editing, customer support, um, accounting, data entry, coding, transcription, virtual assisting, social media manager, a medical billing, coding, web developer.

Those are just Pam sitting down with a list and coming up with them. You can begin to market these programs, particularly if you’ve been doing stackable credentials where you say, take this course this semester and you are qualified to become an entry level web developer and entry-level writer and entry-level, whatever it is, people are going to be looking for something that isn’t a two year transfer program. They’re going to be looking for something. I’ve lost my job. What can I train for? Where if this goes on a long time, I can work from my home and have a paycheck. Those are the things they’re thinking about. If I can help you, you reach out. I will always take your call and I’ll give you my best thinking and the meter is never running. That’s all for now. Call me if I can help. Bye.

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By Published On: May 4, 2020Last Updated: April 4, 2022Categories: VideosTags: ,