Dordt takes proactive recruitment and retention approaches

Jaclyn Vander Waal — Staff Writer 

At this time of year Dordt University is usually host to 150-175 prospective students for campus visits. While campus is mostly empty, this year they reached more than 750 with virtual visits.

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Businesses and organizations are concerned with how the COVID-19 pandemic will affect their future, but Dordt officials are pleased with their recruitment and retention efforts.

Campus visit statistics from Eric Tudor, associate director of strategy and recruitment, show Dordt continues to press forward with recruitment.

Even though Dordt’s campus has been locked down to both the community and visitors, Tudor is thrilled the recruitment team has been no less busy.

“Our teams have been busy reinventing processes and reimagining how to best serve families,” he said.

Since the quarantine began, Dordt has not missed one campus visit date—with the first virtual visit being set up in just five days. While many schools are prerecording college students and professors to offer virtual tours on-demand, Tudor said Dordt is not taking this “safe approach.”

“Alternatively, we’re doing most of our experience live, including faculty appointments, a student panel and admissions counselor visits,” he said. “We believe that it’s important to communicate Dordt’s personable, transparent and authentic identity in these visits.”

Recruitment approaches have changed during quarantine. Recruiters are not traveling and are working remotely, and students are not coming onto the physical campus. Tudor recognizes the positives in this situation, however. Prospective students and their parents are more accessible than they’ve ever been, and their priorities have not changed.

“We still get to begin every day knowing that families are seeking the best educational future for their children,” Tudor said. “Relationships with these families are far stronger than a month ago. We’ve shared our joys and our challenges, and our team has further distinguished Dordt from other institutions by the ways they lead with empathy and love in an uncertain time.”

Most importantly, the mission of Dordt’s recruitment team has not changed.

“Our team passionately pursues right-fit students and helps them discern whether Dordt is where God is calling them.” he said. “This may no longer be happening face to face, but through Facetime, phone calls, texts and emails, we’re having meaningful conversations and building authentic relationships.”

Dordt officials have also been actively working to ensure retention of current students. The biggest project they have unveiled has been the Hope Fund. This fund will assist students who are financially impacted by COVID-19.

Harlan Harmelink, director of financial aid at Dordt, said the need for this fund became apparent through students’ stories: Parents who lost jobs, parents who saw reductions in income due to businesses that slowed or closed, parents who had to give up part-time jobs to stay at home with their children, and students who are uncertain if internships or summer jobs will be available.

“Contributions to the Hope Fund will be used to assist students who might otherwise find it difficult to return to Dordt next fall,” he said.

The funds are being raised through donations on Dordt’s website at http://www.dordt.edu/hope.

“Some donors are in a position to do more, but every dollar makes a difference,” Harmelink said.

He also understands that this fund goes beyond finances—seeing it as a way for Dordt to fulfil its Christian duty.

“Yes, this is being done to assist students and to help with enrollment and retention,” he said. “However, this is also a very real way for us as brothers and sisters in Christ to uphold each other during this difficult time. It is an opportunity to give unto others as God has blessed us and to help bear one another’s burden.”

Students who have a need are encouraged to contact a faculty or staff member, coach or director, or anyone they have a relationship with at Dordt to share how they have been impacted financially in this time. The Dordt personnel will then relay the information to Harmelink.

Harmelink said the Hope Fund does not have an application deadline because students and their families may not experience the full financial impact until later this summer. For example, many students are unaware of the status of summer employment.

“We remain committed to work closely with each of our students and families as we become aware of their situation,” he said. “We will work to be good stewards of the funds that donors have entrusted to us and strive to use the resources available to our office in a way to provide a measure of help to as many students as necessary.”

With these proactive efforts underway, Tudor and Harmelink are optimistic that Dordt will see many familiar and new faces for the fall semester.

“I have been encouraged to see how many prospective students are seriously preparing for next fall by submitting documents to our office in anticipation of starting college.” Harmelink said, “It is also my understanding that registration for fall by our current students is nearly on pace with this time last year. Overall, students are adapting well to online learning, but I have no doubt that they are eager to get back to campus and once again embrace the full Dordt environment and experience.”

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