Staying Connected in the Remote EnvironmentKasey Urquidez | Vice President of Enrollment Management and Dean of Undergraduate Admissions, University of Arizona
While faculty and learners remain in the remote environment until further notice, communication is the lifeline between each other and the institution. Students need to feel connected to their campus, and as more time passes, it will be even more important for institutions to create a welcoming and connected environment for potential students. In this interview, Kasey Urquidez discusses the creative innovations her institution is using to stay connected, how they’re planning to get new students onboard and the updated processes needed to prepare for recession.
The EvoLLLution (Evo): Do you think anything is going to be adapted or adopted into our post-pandemic new normal?
Kasey Urquidez (KU): There are so many things that we’re doing now to provide students with opportunities and access, it made us question why we weren’t always doing it. In the enrollment management world, there are so many things that we’ve been able to utilize that we previously never pushed. For example, we had a virtual campus tour available but never pushed it because we thought if students saw it online, they wouldn’t bother coming to campus. Instead, we were able to enhance and use it to our benefit. Faculty trying to figure out this transition have really taken to connecting with students through one-on-one videos. On our enrollment side, we’re trying some innovative things like using Minecraft. We created the entire mall area of our campus into a Minecraft setting to use as a yield event. It will be a huge day for admitted students that we don’t get to welcome in person. We’re really excited because typically students would come in and sign the A to become a Wildcat. Instead, they can either sign or create their A within the Minecraft setting. That’s something fun that we can even carry with us into our new normal.
Evo: From an enrollment management perspective, what are some of the most significant challenges that are presented by this shift to a remote environment?
KU: Uncertainty is the biggest thing that makes our work hard. Students and parents expected that full college experience. What was interesting was that when everyone started to go online, we feared that everyone would want to stay online. But we’re seeing the complete opposite. They’re ready to come back and be with their friends on campus. If they can’t do that, some are thinking of taking a gap year or occupying themselves otherwise for that first semester or year.
It’s been a really big challenge for us to really understand who’s going to be in our class. We just hosted a Facebook Live seminar about housing for families of incoming students and other one about student orientation. Our new student summer orientation is virtual, and a lot of people will rely on that to make their final decisions. We need to provide them with that connection to campus to the best of our ability.
When students sign up for orientation, we provide them with the right to defer if they’re unable to do come in person. But then, what does that look like for scholarships? Most institutions provide scholarships for full-time, first-year students. If they go to another institution, they don’t get those scholarships anymore. So, we need to make changes accordingly and also looking at how they affect our financial model.
Those are all questions in our minds and students’ minds. They want answers that we don’t have yet. We want them to be Wildcats, but it’s a waiting game.
Evo: How important is the website environment and experience to translating the value of the institution?
KU: It’s critically important—and it was before, but now you definitely feel its effects differently. We know that we need more live sessions, so we’re offering them for admission, but our college partners and academic faculty are offering those live sessions as well. You also need those on-demand sessions to broadcast at convenient times for people, even if it’s at 2 AM and potentially in different languages.
You really have to make sure your information is clear. Not only does it need to reference the campus as a whole, but it needs to allow potential students to see themselves there because that’s the only way they make that decision. They need to feel that it’s the right place, that all the costs break down well and that it all fits together.
All of these questions we never really thought we needed to answer broadly because students can call or email us directly. They can still do that, but the world feels really different. Our website has to have everything that a student might be requesting to find at any time.
Evo: Are there any lessons that we can draw from how we adapted to the 2008 recession or is this something totally different?
KU: On the financial aid side, we’ve already gone back in our records to get an idea of how many people were asking for reviews of aid packages and what that meant for the institution’s finances. We know that we did a lot then, but we’ve increased tuition across the nation. We’re looking at how we can gear up to make sure we’re providing great customer service.
We know that school is a good option for people when the economy isn’t great. In 2020, however, it’s very different. Back then, there were very few online programs compared to current offerings. Our institution is evaluating what programs we may need to add–what are the most in-demand jobs on the market so that we can offer the right programming.
The demand will be pretty significant on the online and hybrid scope. No matter what, most of our students still come from a hundred-mile radius, even if they’re learning online. We want to figure out how we can offer additional services to help students stay connected and have everything they need whether they’re online or on campus. In doing so, we have to find alternative delivery methods, figure out cost models and go back to financial aid to ensure students can afford the education they’re hoping to get in a time where money is especially tight.
Evo: How do you start to deliver bureaucratic elements of the customer experience in a completely remote environment and make them accessible?
KU: There has to be a lot of work and connection with the IT teams and with those who understand the student experience. But you have to do that from the very beginning.
As soon as student are admitted, they go into the Next Steps Center. In this portal, there are specific instructions that tell them how to do proceed step by step. With this, students and parents can quickly understand what they need to do. Things become hardest for students when they don’t have that instruction in a quick timeframe. So, it’s important to continue to listen questions and concerns coming in, so we can be proactive in responding to them.
Evo: How can programming and enrollment processes be updated or shifted to create more access for these newly unemployed adults that might be looking for upscaling and rescaling?
KU: We have to be really nimble and quick and make our application processes not so involved, depending on what students want. We need to offer more certificates and small credential opportunities for those looking to acquire specific skills, rather than expecting every student to want a full four-year experience. In doing that, we need to work with students to ensure they receive enough information for us to do quick admits and get them through the academic process. Right now, students have a multi-step process to go through, but everything can be reduced to a much shorter timeframe.
The other thing we need to do is have more start times for courses. We can’t have our traditional semesters. We have to be able to be much nimbler so that students can get what they want, when they want it, or we aren’t going to succeed. We know some for-profits have been doing that for a while, but our public institutions and not-for-profit institutions are going to need to step up.
Evo: Is there anything you’d like to add about what it’s going to take to adapt to a recession environment and to create economic and socioeconomic mobility?
KU: The most important thing within leadership is to be able to do research and apply it. Then communicating within your own teams and helping everyone understand what’s going on, your expectations for them, task lists and pushing the initiative forward to make it go through.
That communication is so critical because everyone needs to operate with the same understanding. Taskmasters create new ideas and make them happen—without bringing them in, they could end up sitting on the outside with an incredible idea. Before you know it, the competition has already taken it over.
This interview was edited for length and clarity.
Editor’s Note: This interview was recorded on April 30, 2020.