Virtual Vision 2020 Recap

Dr. Bill Withers, faculty emeritus at Wartburg College, got our first ever virtual Iowa ACAC conference off to a great start! He discussed that in recent years many areas have been going through disruptions (or accelerated changes), and these have only been hastened by COVID-19 – media, health care, and K-16 education.

While there are many things enrollment leaders can keep an eye on and read more about, Dr. Withers recommends working through these important steps in order to work through the pandemic successfully:

1)      Refocus on your organization’s mission/vision

2)      Structure your services accordingly

3)      Adjust staffing to best serve your mission/vision

We should also try to see stress as having benefits, rather than being overwhelming. If we decide we will have a resiliency mindset, we may stumble, but then will continue up to sustained progress. Shift Happens, and now is the time to pivot and continue into the future!

(Recap by Jen Hacke Sass from Iowa State University.)

 Session two with Mark Mathis: Cheapo TV Production Ideas for Video Conferencing & Communicating: How to Look Good in a Zoom Meeting World.

Mark is the author of NonProfit Non Marketing: A Guide to Branding Beliefs and Benefits and has a blog called The One-Minute Marketer.

Mathis began to talk about his college days when he lived in the recession of the 1980’s and among others. Despite recessions coming and going, he exaggerated one thing that will never leave, Video Conferencing. Mathis explained that Zoom is just like being on TV in the sense that you are in a box. He then began to explain the importance of many key video features that can be improved to enhance the overall quality of a zoom meeting. He started with the quality of the lens and then commented on the significance of the camera angle and ways to prevent from seeing the ceiling behind you by piling up books or using a Bankers Box that would elevate the camera to eye level. He also touched on the importance of mirroring and making sure people are not seeing you backwards. A simple technique he shared was to act as if you were reaching out to give yourself a handshake. If successful, this would let you know if your video settings were correct. Mark continued with providing tips and tricks with lighting including a simple use of tinfoil that would bring more emphasis on the face. While focusing on audio, Mark suggested options including headphones with a mic built in or a simple lavaliere to prevent any background noise. As far backgrounds go, a simple green screen was recommended to improve the implementation of virtual backgrounds or any graphics placed behind you. He ended with tricks on how to properly place notes below the camera lens and stressed on the meaning of having fun in a zoom meeting if it is by supporting your local school with a cut out logo or a stick figure of Dr. Fauci when explaining proper ways of coping with COVID-19.

Overall, Mark provided a great outlook on improving the overall quality of a zoom meeting by providing techniques on various features and products that range in price and quality for all kinds of zoom meeting purposes.

(Recap by John Peterson from the University of Northern Iowa.)

Our final session was Demographics and the Demand for Higher Education, led by Nathan Grawe, Professor of Economics at Carleton College. 

Dr. Grawe is a graduate of St. Olaf College and the University of Chicago. His popular book, Demographics and the Demand for Higher Education spells out the changes facing our field as the country approaches demographic and population changes in the next twenty years.

Highlights of the upcoming changes in demographics and population:

-          In 2020, the under 18 age group will become majority non-white. By 2027, the 18-29 age group will be majority non-white.

-          Our country is seeing a decline in fertility. Young families experienced financial uncertainty in 2008 and delayed having children or had fewer children. We have seen 5.7 million foregone births from 2008-2018, even though the number of women of childbearing age increased.

-          We can anticipate how this will impact higher ed 18 years after 2008: we will see a decrease in the number of college-age students. Some regions are already seeing this decline.

-          We are already shifting away from a world where high-school graduate numbers are always bigger than the last. Those days are over.

As he researched his book, Dr. Grawe created the Higher Education Demand Index. Based off of WICHE data, HEDI takes information about race/ethnicity, geographic location, family income, parental education level, and other factors to calculate the percentage of likelihood to attend a four-year college or university. The model estimates the probability of college-going based on demographic characteristics, and Dr. Grawe applied those characteristics to census data to create the expected number of students that will go to college in general, and to a college in one of a specific type (top 50, top 100, regional, community college). What he found was that not only are there fewer students moving forward, but the students that exist may be less likely to attend a four-year institution.

Dr. Grawe’s HEDI model shows a significant difference by census regions. The west and the south are in a stronger position than the Northeast and the Midwest, which are already in decline, and will decline further in the mid-2020s. There just are not as many kids being bored in these regions.

The race/ethnicity distribution will also change. We are seeing a more diverse America. The share of Hispanic students is increasing. The diversification of America is being led by Latinx folks. The trend toward diversification will be experienced by all institution types. All are moving away from non-Hispanic white.

Top Takeaways

  • Demographic change promises real challenges. We can’t ignore the WICHE data.
  • Increasing return to prestige if attitudes don’t change. However, COVID-19 might change those attitudes.
  • Publics and privates are generally in the same boat
  • Race/ethnicity compositional changes aren’t huge, but are persistent; for some it’s about Hispanic share, for others Asian share
  • Declining first-gen share
  • Retention, not just recruitment

Higher Ed Responses

  • More price competition, discount rates will increase
  • Renewed urgency to the access agenda (increase college-going rates, policies like test-optional)
  • Partnerships with community colleges (35 North Carolina private four-year colleges are working on degree program paths and articulation agreements with all community colleges)
  • International student recruitment – COVID will make this more complicated
  • Attention on retention
  • Downsizing
  • “Antifragility is beyond resilience or robustness. The resilient resists shocks and stays the same; the antifragile gets better.”
  • How can our industry become antifragile.

What do you say to folks who don’t believe the data? The hard part is to get the rest of campus on-board. It can’t just be admissions, it has to be a bigger effort. Enrollment management has to think in innovative ways, but also has to get the rest of campus involved. Faculty might fall into the sense of “we’re not getting the right students.” We have to understand that there might not be another student out there.  The admission team does all this work to bring students in, but everyone else is responsible for retaining them.

Thoughts on the unemployment rate impacting the data? We don’t know yet. COVID is making the in-person version of what we do impossible. We are in a recession, lots of people have lost their jobs. It will be experienced by different institutions in different ways. We are prepared to do online instruction as well as it can be done. Some institutions have invested in this, others are scrambling to figure it out on the fly. Some institutions will be better prepared to reach the students who have been impacted financially and decide to go back to school.

Dr. Grawe shared his final thoughts on how colleges and universities can prepare for these changes, “One thing that has to be clear is our core mission and core identity. We have to have an honest conversation with our university partners. We have to be flexible where possible, but at the same time, we don’t want to compromise our core identities. If you start the conversation without knowing who you are, you run the risk of running a hodge-podge approach. It sometimes doesn’t add up to a coherent response. That thought of who you are has to be shared across campus, especially in retention conversations.“

(Recap from Susan Dickinson, University of Iowa.)

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