“Things are not going to be the same,” said one crisis communications expert, who advised that colleges take steps to manage students’ expectations.
Each week, nearly a thousand faculty, staff, students, parents and alumni join Spelman College President Mary Schmidt Campbell for a virtual town hall where she updates them on the fast-moving events around the pandemic, takes their questions and addresses their concerns. Because the number of attendees is capped, the videos are later posted online.
Schmidt Campbell launched the series on April 1, after the historically Black college closed its Atlanta campus. Since then, the town halls have covered topics ranging from online instruction and the distribution of emergency aid to housing and refund policies. Spelman augmented the town halls with text messages, emails, phone calls and website updates.
That outreach may seem like overkill, but communication experts say that in this climate of uncertainty, the less is more axiom doesn’t apply.
“It was really important to allow open communications, not just for our prospective students but for our returning students, as well,” said Ingrid Hayes, Spelman’s vice president for enrollment management. “We’ve been working in a very intentional way to have candid conversations campuswide about our plans for the fall and to make sure our newest members of the community are informed.”
While the California State University, the country’s largest university system, announced plans in mid-May for a mostly online semester, the vast majority of students nationwide remain in limbo about their fall terms. This continued uncertainty, experts say, is why colleges and universities need a comprehensive communication strategy.
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