by Heidie Raine, Student Public Relations Writer
Since 2007, Cedarville University has experienced record student enrollments. And despite the many obstacles COVID-19 has brought about for higher education across the nation, it looks like the 2021 freshman class may help continue that trend.
Being creative with prospective student visits has been crucial.
“COVID changed everything about student visits,” said Matthew Dearden, director of undergraduate admissions.
“We had to rethink how we handled campus visits, including how many prospective students could visit campus and the best way to maintain COVID-19 protocols while connecting students with faculty members.”
Prior to the pandemic, student visits began with families arriving in the morning and participating in a full day of activities, including an admissions presentation, chapel, eating in one of the university’s eating facilities, attending a class of their choice, and meeting with professors. However, the close-contact proximity that these activities demand required admissions staff to alter their usual practices.
“There were a series of different adaptations over a period of months that we worked through,” Dearden explained. “At every point in the process, we’d stop to figure out what was working and what wasn’t.”
Roughly a month after the campus shut down in March 2020, the university created a live virtual visit opportunity for students to use Zoom to “visit” campus. The experience allowed students and parents to attend an admissions presentation and ask questions in real-time. For a chapel experience, students were directed to the chapel archives.
Throughout the next adaptation in the summer months, the university began small-group tours with individual families. With only one family per tour guide, social distancing was easily maintained.
“When students were returning to campus in August 2020, we knew we needed to figure out a new visit program that would allow for larger groups of visitors while keeping everyone safe,” Dearden said. “We wanted to make sure everybody wasn’t rubbing shoulders — maintaining the 6-foot social distance guideline.”
Dearden’s team then implemented four staggered start times for campus visits. As a result, the visit capacity in the fall rose to a maximum of 32 families a day. Since this plan was implemented, the university’s daily visit numbers have continued to be strong and effective.
“Most parents and families have been very positive,” Dearden added. “The biggest sentiments we’ve heard are those of gratitude. We were scared families were going to be frustrated that they couldn’t do everything, but they were just happy to be here.”
“We’re certainly glad to reintroduce in-person visits, but one of the silver linings of the pandemic has been upgrading our virtual options,” Dearden shared. “We started a website in conjunction with the marketing and communications division called ‘CU in Class’ to share high-quality recordings of dozens of courses for prospective students to view remotely.”
Dearden believes there are many reasons for Cedarville’s long-standing record enrollments, and he hopes 2021 will continue in this pattern. Dearden says Cedarville is continuing to grow because of the benefits of returning to campus for in-person classes, Cedarville’s excellent career outcomes amidst a difficult economy, and the flexibility of the Cedarville community in adapting to pandemic changes.
“We don’t take it for granted,” he said. “It can’t be explained except for God choosing to bless this school as he has.”
Located in southwest Ohio, Cedarville University is an accredited, Christ-centered, Baptist institution with an enrollment of 4,550 undergraduate, graduate, and online students in more than 150 areas of study. Founded in 1887, Cedarville is one of the largest private universities in Ohio, recognized nationally for its authentic Christian community, rigorous academic programs, strong graduation, and retention rates, accredited professional and health science offerings, and high student engagement ranking. For more information about the University, visit www.cedarville.edu.