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6 Reasons to Make Your Spring Open Houses Accessible

By: Aylin Dunham
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College enrollment rates have dropped by 13%, meaning that the competition to attract potential students and retain them throughout admissions is now at an all-time high. As a result, making a good first impression is critical when recruiting.

Often, spring open houses are the first opportunity recruiters have to pique prospective students’ interest and their parents’ support. In fact, 99% of college leaders consider open houses one of the most effective tools for student recruitment and marketing. The best way to make the most of these events is to reach out to as many potential students as possible.

Unfortunately, many universities overlook the need to ensure that their open houses are accessible. This oversight excludes many students, both those visiting in person as well as students who choose to tour the campus virtually.

Not only will inaccessible open houses fail to reach all students, but they also fall short of accessibility standards – which become the university’s responsibility even before students enroll. Luckily, incorporating greater accessibility into the recruitment process can positively impact a student’s decision to apply. Additionally, improving accessibility won’t just impact the 7.3 million students with disabilities. Making in-person and virtual experiences more accessible can boost engagement for everyone. Today’s admissions professionals and event planners are working in a highly competitive environment. It’s important that they do everything that they can to craft open house events that attract potential students’ attention. Here are a few reasons to make accessibility a top priority for this year’s open houses.

1) Accessibility makes experiences more inclusive for all

Accessible open house events are no longer just about providing physical access for campus tours. Today, in-person and online events need to include prospective students with disabilities, including those who are Deaf and hard of hearing.

Schools like Indiana University make virtual open houses more accessible by captioning their campus tour videos. They’ve also designed an accessible campus tour to give students who are Blind or have low vision the opportunity to get to know their campus virtually. Others are captioning live open house sessions and Q&As on platforms like Zoom to ensure everyone can follow along.

These accommodations are critical for many students with disabilities, but they’re also important if a student has a parent with a disability. Parents are also interested in learning what a university has to offer their students, so it’s critical to provide them access to tours as well.

Additionally, solutions like captions help improve engagement for everyone. Even people who might not need captions often benefit from them. This includes students with ADHD and other types of neurodiversity. Captioning content proactively will allow people to benefit from the captions even if they didn’t know how useful this accommodation would be in their case. Also, captioning all content means students won’t need to ask for an accommodation. When prospective students and their families feel included from the get-go and see your commitment to accessible environments, they’re more likely to consider your school as a place they can thrive.

2) You’re likely to attract more students.

Virtual and hybrid open houses are helping recruitment leaders reach greater pools of students. Many students live too far away to visit campus. This includes thousands of international students who often can’t attend or afford to travel to open houses in person. Offering more virtual ways to engage remotely and making these experiences accessible can help you attract these individuals.

In fact, recruitment leaders are now receiving more international applications, with the number of applicants increasing by 51% last fall. These prospective students and the family members tuning in with them can often greatly benefit from access to tools like captioning. AST’s captions provide an additional visual aid that can help people who aren’t native speakers understand important information.

3) It can help secure family support for enrollment.

Parents and close family members often play a crucial part in a student’s decision to study.

“Students often look to their parents for advice and for confirmation that they’re making the right decisions,” Paul Kramer, Director of Student Experience, reported to Collegis Education.

Recruiters who consider and implement accessibility best practices into their open houses can also help to engage family members more effectively. Stevenson University is one school offering a comprehensive welcome page for prospective students and their families, with resources like an introductory video, a schedule of live sessions and pre-recorded videos to help parents better understand the experiences their student will have when attending. Adding elements like captioning to these videos can help engage these diverse viewers with equity.

4) Your school’s website will benefit from it.

Making your open houses more accessible can also improve your school’s website searchability and help you meet essential accessibility standards such as WCAG. Many schools are adopting these guidelines and taking steps to boost admissions website accessibility.

Also, recruiters can use these events to create videos that can then live on the university site. These videos can offer information to students who aren’t able to attend a live session. Ensuring that the videos have captions and searchable transcripts can help students navigate them to find the information they want. Plus, having video transcripts on your site will help Google and other search engines crawl them to increase their SEO. Taking this step helps content rank higher and reach more students.

5) It can improve your school’s brand.

Inaccessible communications don’t only cause students with disabilities to; they can result in bad press. Today’s campuses and virtual environments need to be inclusive and promote equity. Failing to make content accessible can discourage prospective students from applying and drastically affect your university’s brand.

In fact, 64% of individuals are more likely to select options they perceive as inclusive. As such, incorporating accessibility best practices into your open houses is more likely to result in applications and enrollments. It’s wise not to miss any opportunity to showcase your school’s commitment to diversity as a core brand value.

6) You’ll meet students’ modern viewing expectations.

Younger generations like Gen Z and Millennials are enrolling in colleges at higher rates than other age groups. Having grown up with streaming services like Netflix, these generations are now expecting features like captioning.

Adding captions to your open house events will help you better engage students consuming open house content, just as they do on any other platform today, from TV to social media. Plus, many opt to watch without the sound on due to various factors. Tools like AST’s accurate captions can help them participate when sound isn’t an option.

Access is easy to implement

Planning an open house is a serious undertaking with many components. Setting your events up (in-person, virtual or hybrid) to attract the greatest pool of prospective students makes the time, effort and budget invested in these events worthwhile.

Implementing more accessible experiences and materials is also incredibly easy, with many options for integrations with platforms like Zoom and YouTube.

AST can serve as an essential partner for your open houses this spring. Our captioning and transcription solutions support the University of Arizona and smaller colleges like Chemeketa Community College to meet the needs of their students and their families. For more ideas about how to keep prospective students engaged throughout the admission process, reach out.