What will college enrolment look like this September?

As colleges and educational institutions across the nation try to adapt to a ‘new normal’ way of working in the wake of the global coronavirus pandemic, how will enrolment look for a new year of learning?

The Tribal community of FE colleges has come together to share their thoughts on how the summer months and beyond are likely to pan out -  and the picture of the market that is emerging shows a novel approach to dealing with the restrictions of social distancing rules.

As the situation is so rapidly evolving, many UK colleges do not feel fully confident in basing all their scenario planning around students being able to come on site for enrolment. Quite a few colleges foresee only partial operations, with vocational courses, especially more essential ones such as those for plumbers and electricians that supply a need for qualified tradespeople in the workforce, being the first to come back, with students on more traditional academic courses continuing to learn from home.

Other colleges that have a higher proportion of vulnerable students must cater for these first, meaning the higher achievers are likely to be the ones continuing with a more digital form of learning. This serves to highlight the role that colleges play as a part of wider society within their local communities – a role that has only been strengthened by the current closure of other facilities such as young people’s centres.

Many are expecting to come back after the summer with minimal class sizes to ensure that social distancing can be enforced, which will not allow them to run anything like a full timetable on the premises for quite some time.

One Tribal customer in the South East put it into perspective, saying: “We are in the middle of scenario planning right now – we know that the FSC are expecting provision at least for those who must take assessments next year. But it’s the factors surrounding on-site learning that complicate it. The logistics are proving extremely difficult – for example, a lot of our students use public transport to travel to site. We would also struggle without being to provide any on-site catering, and there are issues with things like access to toilet facilities. There has been little to no guidance from the government on any of these matters, so working out how to deliver to our students safely on site will be a huge challenge.”

All of this means that most colleges are likely to move to a more hybrid approach to enrolments and teaching. For example, some colleges are looking at only having brand new starters come onto campus, whereas returning students would be re-enrolled online, using video and live chat to support the process. Many other colleges have also echoed an intention to use this ‘hybrid enrolment’ model.

In terms of compliance with FSC regulations, digital signatures have been deemed acceptable in a slight relaxation to the funding rules, providing that they have been run by internal auditors first.

There are some concerns from the market about how to keep students fully engaged with an online only enrolment process, but having the right tools to enable close communication and signposting to support services could be vital to make it work.

This continues the trend towards adopting paperless enrolment processes that has been gaining momentum throughout the sector. Institutions working with Tribal such as Bridgend College have found great success using tools like Prospect to create this process, being praised for ‘good practice that is not often seen elsewhere’ in a recent audit.  Rather than learners standing in a queue for hours, they have been able to create a vibrant and memorable experience on enrolment day.

Moving to this type of enrolment has also meant a real-time visibility of each applicant journey, targeted, safe communications to keep learners engaged all the way from enquiry to enrolment and the college also has a ‘single source of truth’ to give them accurate student data to support their forward planning and record keeping.

Whether enrolling in person, online or a mixture of both, our colleges agree that it really comes down to providing a great student experience - and with the right tools, that is exactly what you can provide.

Interested in moving to digital enrolment? Watch our webinar to find out how it could work for you.