Sessions for admitted students are going online, and graduate programs are worried, as are undergraduate programs that are well-known enough to have applicants from far away. And then there’s next year.

By Scott Jashik, InsideHigherEd.com, March 9, 2020

March is a month that worries admissions officials. Those that have already issued offers to students try for the best programming to lure them to say yes. Other programs are calculating their expected yield, the percentage of admitted applicants who enroll. Plus everyone is really working on more than one admissions cycle and starting to get ready for the next class of applicants. And this year, there are fears about the impact of the National Association for College Admission Counseling lifting its bans on offering certain kinds of incentives.

For most colleges, that would be plenty to worry about. But this year, they must grapple with the coronavirus. Most of the experts who spoke about the virus stressed that the situation is changing daily if not hourly for many institutions. With that important caveat, here is some of what we know:

  • Many institutions are shifting their programs for newly admitted students online.
  • Graduate schools with many international students are exploring options to admit students to study online only. Some are worried about enrollment for the fall.
  • Undergraduate institutions vary widely in their expected impact. The majority of institutions enroll most of their students from close to home and are expecting some confusion now but not a serious loss in enrollment. But undergraduate institutions with many international students or domestic students far from home are more concerned.

Immediate Changes

The University of Pennsylvania announced Friday that it is canceling events it had scheduled for April for all newly admitted students and for multicultural students.

“We are disappointed that we are not able to welcome admitted students to our campus in our traditional fashion; however, social distancing and avoidance of unnecessary travel are both strong counters to the coronavirus (COVID-19),” said a statement from Penn admissions.

PlatformQ Education helps colleges set up online programs for new students. In recent days, it heard from Stevens Institute of Technology, which as a precaution canceled all in-person admitted student events and moved them to an online series focused specific majors and programs. It also heard from the University of South Dakota, which canceled all international travel and so hosted a webcast for new international students. Other institutions — like the University of New England, Pepperdine University and Stony Brook University of the State University of New York — haven’t canceled in-person events yet, but they are boosting online content in case they do.

Gil Rogers, executive vice president of PlatformQ, said that the company had “always recommended” developing at least one online version of an admitted students’ program for domestic and international students. “Given costs of travel and time, it’s just good sense,” he said. “What we are seeing now in light of the coronavirus outbreak is more and more institutions understanding the importance of this approach and embracing it quickly.”

Graduate and Professional Programs

At Babson College, the full-time M.B.A. program is 78 percent international students, according to Courtney Minden, vice president of enrollment management and dean of admissions and financial aid.

With numbers like those, Babson is working to provide education online should it be necessary to close the campus. “The goal is for no classes to be canceled,” said Minden. “In the case that students can’t be in the classroom, we will deliver classes fully online to maintain academic continuity through the remainder of the semester.”

Suzanne Ortega, president of the Council of Graduate Schools, said that many graduate programs admit students conditional on their achieving certain scores on the TOEFL or an equivalent exam. Those exams aren’t available now in China and elsewhere, so graduate schools are working on other ways to evaluate students’ English ability.

Ortega stressed that no graduate programs to her knowledge are talking about the possibility of not having any new Chinese students in their classes this fall. If the situation is cleared up by July, she said, programs could admit students and they could arrive in time to start. From China and elsewhere, visa issues may also be a problem.

“None of this is good, but colleges are quite calm,” she said.

Undergraduates

At the University of Florida, admissions decisions went out Feb. 28, and the university did not change the criteria it used for Chinese applicants, according to Tammy Aagard, associate vice president for enrollment management. (Last fall, the university had 1,691 students from China, of whom 349 were undergraduates.)

Even if the newly admitted students are unable to make it to Florida on time, they will be offered a spot in UF Online, which allows students to earn 60 credits and then transfer to the traditional program. “We thought that this would give students a longer runway for the virus concerns to subside,” she said.

At Franklin & Marshall College, 23 percent of students were international, most of them from China, in 2018 — an exceptionally high number. The college sent one of its professors to recruit in China and credited her efforts for its success.

Monica Cable, the professor and director of East Asia recruitment for the college, said “it’s too soon” to say how Franklin & Marshall will fare this year. She is hopeful that the ties built in China will help the college.

At Smith College, “we are planning for a lower yield from China,” which provides the most international students, said Audrey Smith, vice president for enrollment.

It’s too early to project whether students will make its class from China this year, but Smith is allowing any student who can’t travel to defer admission for a year.

Trinity College in Connecticut typically enrolls about 35 new undergraduates from China a year, said Angel B. Pérez, vice president for enrollment and student success.

Pérez said that in terms of admitting the class, “we are proceeding with business as usual.” The situation “is changing every day, and we can’t overreact.”

He said the focus is on “being flexible, nimble and creative around yield efforts.” Pérez said the college is working to do yield events online if asked by the government not to host public events. And the college will be “flexible with enrollment deadlines and the dates when students can actually start their classes on campus.”

Seth Allen, vice president for strategy and dean of admissions and financial aid at Pomona College, said 2.3 percent of the student body is from China and South Korea (excluding Taiwan and Hong Kong).

But backup plans for this year involve domestic students as well. “We’re discussing limiting spring travel, both international and domestic, to only essential travel and instead thinking about ways to engage audiences virtually,” he said. “We’re preparing for possibly lower turnout at our on-campus yield events in case the situation gets worse and admitted students and their families don’t want to risk either flying or driving to campus in April.”

Laurie Kopp Weingarten, president and chief educational consultant at One-Stop College Counseling, in New Jersey, said that none of her seniors have expressed reluctance to travel — for now. “I think it’s a bit early for them to be too worried,” she said.