I recently received an email from Eric Hoover, a senior writer for The Chronicle of Higher Education. He was preparing his presentation for the National Association of College Admission Counseling conference on how to work with the media. In his message, he asked if I had any advice for dealing with a crisis like an enrollment shortfall or an admissions scandal.
Below are the eight tips I shared with Eric. They might be helpful to you as campuses across the country kickoff the new admission season. After all, there are bound to be campuses who miss enrollment goals, have increase discount rates, drop in the rankings or send a mass email in error.
Return the reporter’s call. Period. Even if you only say you wish you could be more helpful, but you wanted to ensure they knew you received their message.
Clarify any misinformation or provide facts that the reporter may not know. Often our admissions realities are much more complex than a single story can tell. If so, help the reporter write the truth, or at least increase the odds of getting a fair take on your story.
Consider sharing data or strategy that explains your situation and why it may not be a mistake. For example, some campus communities worry about a dip in enrollment numbers when the reality is the institution is seeking to balance over-enrollment in the past. Admissions may have been directed to admit a number that is better aligned with retention services and housing availability. Others are focused on decreasing their discount rate—which means, from a revenue standpoint, an institution will be just fine if their overall number of students goes down.
Think through if there is anything the institution should own and then get permission to own it. Inevitably, each year some institution is going to send acceptance letters to a group that didn’t get in. Own it. That’s not a scandal—that’s just human error.
Don’t blame others (even if they are at fault). Take the high road.
It is rarely as bad as everyone initially fears (unless it is—and then own it). Do some research, get perspective, talk to your peers. Always approach a crisis with information and draft a strategy based on honesty.
Never be disingenuous or spin. Never.
Most importantly, never say “no comment.” Our jobs are as information officers, so let’s do our jobs.