Some concerns but Class of 2024 signing up

Katie Cantrell and Peter Lujan
Transcript correspondents

While the coronavirus continues to grind out grim news daily, bright spots do exist, including the efforts and results in recruiting the Class of 2024 to Ohio Wesleyan.

Financial deposits for fall semester continue to come in at an equal or better pace than previous years and new strategies to reach prospective students are working, OWU President Rock Jones announced in a faculty-wide email today.

“Even in this uncertain time, fall deposits are running ahead of or even with the previous four years, and 9% ahead of last year,” Jones wrote. “In addition, we are seeing success with new initiatives to create connections with prospective students.”

Last fall, OWU welcomed 420 new students. This year, many of the projected 450 high school seniors planning on visiting campus are now:

  • Taking virtual tours through various platforms
  • Attending online Bishop+ information sessionsand
  • Trading instant messages with students, faculty, and staff

Jones said this week no one knows, including him, if students will actually return to campus in the fall. In an April 6 administrative report, he said national surveys show many students plan on taking a gap year rather than going away to school and international students may find it impossible to return due to travel restrictions.

“Students from the coasts may choose to remain closer to home, at least until a vaccine is developed,” Jones wrote. “There’s a lot of fear and apprehension out there.”

With millions in the country unemployed, families facing unprecedented financial burdens may not be able to afford college immediately.  With OWU facing a potential deficit that could balloon to $11 million to $12 million and a loss of up to $60 million in other income, losing students is far from good news.

Prior to the spread of the virus, OWU was aiming to enroll 450 new students, even though the budget was designed to expect 415, Jones said.

“We are reviewing financial models and adjustments that may be required if enrollment declines, as well as the impact of our decision to cancel next year’s tuition increase,” Jones said. “The entire senior leadership team is focused on this work, as is the entire admission and financial aid staff. We now are looking at different budget models reflecting various enrollments for the fall.”

The overall admissions process has been altered only slightly due to the impact of the virus, Laurie Patton, director of Admission, and Stefanie Niles, vice president of Enrollment and Communications, said in a co-signed email.

“But luckily we live in an age where prospective students can still experience Ohio Wesleyan remotely.” – Emma Neeper ’20

But virtual tours were developed earlier this year and launched several months before the pandemic struck.

“Students and families can take a virtual campus tour and design a customized Viewbook based on their own specific interests,” they wrote.

In addition, general information sessions are offered Monday through Saturday, along with the option to schedule individualized chats with an admissions counselor by phone, FaceTime, Zoom, Google Hangouts, or other platforms.

Prospective students and their families can also access nine podcasts on various topics.  And the school recently launched Bishop+, which is a series of topic-based information sessions hosted two to three times a week.

In further effort to gain the attention of potential students, OWU has stepped up activity on social media channels, like Instagram.

For a more unique and personalized touch, the school enlisted alumni and current students to write notes, and there’s the “Ask a Bishop” feature on the OWU website that allows students, faculty, staff and prospective students to chat online.

Meanwhile, tour guides like senior Emma Neeper, are still primed to help out and jump into interacting with potential students as much as possible.

“I’m still available to answer prospective students’ questions and to share my experience as a student here,” Neeper said. “I’ve also been sending out postcards to admitted students to congratulate them on their acceptance.”

It’s a new normal for Neeper who is still working for the Office of Admission.

“It’s definitely different than what I’m used to,” Neeper said. “But luckily we live in an age where prospective students can still experience Ohio Wesleyan remotely.”