October 22, 2021

Colleges look online to attract students

Colin Spencer/staff reporter

Mike Bersani, the assistant director of admissions communications at SUNY Cortland, shows a virtual tour of the school Friday. Colleges in the area have been looking at alternative ways of attracting prospective students during the coronavirus pandemic.

In years past, open houses at SUNY Cortland would attract hundreds of prospective students and their families, said Mike Bersani, the assistant director of admissions communications at the college.

That has all changed.

“The pandemic has totally shifted the way we’re interacting with prospective students,” Bersani said. “We’ve really had to rethink what we’ve always done.”

Gone are open houses and meetings with faculty and staff. In its place are virtual campus tours and webinar information sessions, Bersani said.

It’s a change Bersani and other members of SUNY Cortland’s admissions department have had to adjust to, he said, but have still allowed interested students to interact with members of the college.

This includes chatting online with tour guides and this week, the college hopes to start hosting online information sessions with faculty and staff members from different majors for prospective students, Bersani said.

“We want them to get the same information they would at those open house sessions,” he said.

Bersani said only having remote sessions has meant fewer high school students participating in the events, but it has also allowed for more individualized time with students and their families.

“You realize that every conversation matters,” he said.

At Tompkins Cortland Community College, members of the Enrollment Services Center will contact potential students by email and phone, said LaSonya Griggs, the associate dean of enrollment management.

Potential students will receive an email from the college notifying them of an upcoming phone call with a staff member to discuss the school and what program the student wants to enroll in, she said.

A virtual office has also been set up for prospective students to speak with staff members online.

“I wanted people who were visiting our site during normal business hours, they should be able to speak to someone,” she said.

Griggs said there have been some challenges in getting her staff set up remotely. They needed headsets, and replies from some potential students were delayed, she said, but the staff is working through them.

With the nation’s unemployment rate expected to soar because coronavirus shut down businesses, Griggs said the college will be looking at ways to promote programs for adults that can give them skills to get back into the work force.

“We want to make sure we can meet their needs and make sure they have a skill set for the job market going forward,” she said.

Bersani, while he appreciates the work to inform prospective students about the college remotely, looks forward to the day when they can meet in person.

“There’s nothing like seeing a campus in person,” he said. “It sounds corny but being here makes a difference.”