Admissions on the big screen: University takes enrollment events to the drive-in

by Jeremy

It’s harder than ever for colleges to fill their incoming classes, but some schools are meeting that challenge with creativity. In this monthly column, called The Pipeline, we’ll spotlight innovative tactics colleges use to cut through the noise and reach prospective students throughout the recruitment and enrollment process.

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As the pandemic worsened this past fall, local restrictions on in-person gatherings put Kent State University in a bind. Like colleges nationwide, it wouldn’t be able to hold admissions events the way it usually did, with packs of students and families gathering indoors for presentations and traversing the campus on tours.

That worried school officials, who relied on those visits to lock in prospective students, said Vince Slomsky, Kent State’s strategic communications director for enrollment management.

It needed an alternative. And Slomsky had an idea.

Amid the pandemic, he had seen some of his favorite artists, like the country star Jordan Davis, pull off concerts in drive-in theaters, where they’d perform to car-bound crowds.

Why couldn’t the university shift its admissions soirees to such a venue? Chomsky put in a few calls to drive-ins across the state to explain his “off-the-wall” idea. The theater operators were confused at first, but we’re up for it. Now, it was a matter of whether the students would turn out.

To catch their eye, Kent State created a website for the events, called KSU2U, which its admissions officials plugged, including on social media.

Each event followed a similar format: Students and their families would arrive around dusk, pulling their vehicles into the spaces where moviegoers would otherwise park to watch a film. As the music played across the lot, university representatives greeted attendees, gifting them swag bags filled with branded goodies like beanies and mittens.

Attendees would remain in their cars while Kent State officials floated around the lots to answer their questions, calling over admissions and financial aid counselors as needed. Minding COVID-19 safety protocols, school representatives wore face masks and stayed at a socially distanced range.

When darkness fell, university staff would project an hour-long admissions video on the silver screen that they traditionally showed during campus visits. It covered frequently asked questions like the number of majors the university offers and included students sharing why they selected Kent State.

Attention then turned to Instagram live, where current Kent State students would use the streaming service on the popular photo-sharing platform to address student and family questions and talk about their experiences. Prospective students would tune in from their smartphones in the car.

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