Thrown into the deep end of a pandemic, Bethel College’s recruitment and admissions staff had to figure out fast how to stay afloat.
Some of their new methods have proved durable for the long run, as the 2021 Summer Science Institute illustrates.
Like almost everything everywhere, SSI had to switch rapidly to an online format for its June 2020 program.
Summer 2021 still didn’t feel safe enough for an on-campus institute, yet SSI drew almost three times as many students (98 successful applicants) as in any of its previous 21 iterations.
Student locations were also the most diverse ever — 23 states and six countries in addition to the United States.
“This was a very interesting crowd of very highly motivated students,” said Dwight Krehbiel, professor emeritus of psychology and SSI director.
SSI gives high school students in STEM (science, technology, engineering, math) fields research and lab opportunities they normally wouldn’t get in high school — and shows them what a Bethel education could offer. SSI programming included panels of young alumni in graduate and medical school and prerecorded interviews with STEM alumni in developmental biology and the neuroscience of pain.
SSI wasn’t the only recruiting tool that needed to make the pandemic pivot. Adaptability was the main job of admissions and recruitment over the past 18 months.
“Heading into the pandemic, what jumped off the page was that we had no form of remote visit,” said Eric Preheim, director of admissions.
“As we have progressed over the past 18 months, we have built out many different options for a student from a distance to learn more about Bethel and also have personal interactions with members of the Bethel community.
“And we’re continuing to build it out, because the importance [of having a virtual visit option] will remain with or without travel restrictions.”
The software that Bethel adopted allows a student to schedule a visit tailored to their time frame and interests.
“You use videoconference platforms to meet with professors in areas you’re interested in, have a student ambassador talk through the campus tour, meet with everyone you normally would,” Preheim said.
“A surprise was, we were thinking about domestic students who couldn’t travel, but now international students are in play, who were never able to do a campus visit before.
“We’ve set up the infrastructure to make the leap into the next era of recruiting. To have that without the restrictions will be really exciting, whenever that day comes.”
The results are good. The 2020 and 2021 freshman classes were and are Bethel’s largest in more than 30 years.
Heidi Hoskinson, vice president for enrollment management, says colleges face “a pandemic of another sort”: a declining number of high school graduating seniors.
“We will be in a competitive environment with fewer consumers,” she said. “[Going through a pandemic] is helping us think about how we do that.”