October 30, 2020

Q&A Session Focused on Recruitment and Retention

UMW faculty and staff tuned in yesterday to a Zoom presentation and Q&A session centered on fall enrollment and retention in the time of COVID-19. Facilitated by Chief of Staff Jeff McClurken, the hour-long event included Vice President for Enrollment Management Kimberley Buster-Williams, Director of Undergraduate Admissions Melissa Yakabouski, Executive Director of Continuing and Professional Studies Kimberly Young and Director of Graduate Admissions Christy Pack.

Vice President for Enrollment Management Kimberley Buster-Williams

Vice President for Enrollment Management Kimberley Buster-Williams

Buster-Williams and Yakabouski, who together have worked half a century in college admissions, said that the recruitment-related woes they’ve faced throughout their careers have been trumped by unemployment rates, health concerns and other disruptions caused by the current pandemic.

COVID-19 has taken an increasingly competitive college-enrollment landscape to new heights, the administrators said, forcing them to re-imagine strategies for recruiting and retaining students, and pose innovative solutions. At the time of the talk, first-year deposits stood at slightly more than 100 less than anticipated, according to Buster-Williams. This mirrors a downward trend across the country, she said. Mary Washington, like other schools, has extended the enrollment deposit deadline to June 1.

“We find ourselves in the midst of a recruitment crisis, and the outpouring of support has been truly appreciated,” she said of faculty, staff, alumni and other members of the Mary Washington community who are pitching in to help yield a strong incoming class.

Director of Undergraduate Admissions Melissa Yakabouski

Director of Undergraduate Admissions Melissa Yakabouski

After working for years to build a 2020-21 UMW undergraduate cohort – visiting schools, attending college fairs, reading applications and more – “our entire operation went online,” Yakabouski said. Without the overwhelming support, she said, “we could not have pivoted as quickly or as well.”

Among incoming students’ top concerns, she said, are a need to connect and a desire to know if Mary Washington will be able to meet its goal of providing in-person learning this fall or if the coronavirus crisis will force courses back online.

Pack and Young said they also have been “sorting through uncertainties” to meet the changing demands of adult learners by enhancing testing and pathway options, and financial support opportunities.

Director of Graduate Admissions Christy Pack

Director of Graduate Admissions Christy Pack

Together, Pack said, the two have hosted virtual sessions throughout the past six weeks for 150 students interested in enrolling in UMW’s MBA, M.Ed., MSGA, BSN, BLS, GIS-certification and other professional development programs.

“Uncertainty means we have hope,” said Young, who is keeping a close eye on the ways in which UMW can help meet the changing needs of area industries, such as offering COVID-19-influenced courses required of educators.

Participants posed a host of questions about such topics as how other schools’ decisions impact UMW’s admissions operations and what unique enrollment strategies are being considered.

“We are making sure we’re being really brilliant at the basics,” Buster-Williams said.

Executive Director of Continuing and Professional Studies Kimberly Young

Executive Director of Continuing and Professional Studies Kimberly Young

In answer to Professor of Chemistry Nicole Crowder’s question on how the entire UMW community can continue to support this crucial effort, Yakabouski suggested being responsive to inquiries from prospective students and their parents, and sharing innovative ideas.

“Recruitment isn’t just about the four of us on this panel,” Young said. “It’s about all of us.”

Watch the May 20 Q&A session on YouTube.