Campus Community / People of SU

Mapping a Changing Higher Ed Landscape

Written by Tina Potterf

May 12, 2021

Melore Nielsen, photographed on the staircase in the library.

Image credit: Yosef Chaim Kalinko

Vice President for Enrollment Management Melore Nielsen

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As the new Vice President for Enrollment Management, Melore Nielsen is leading efforts on a comprehensive enrollment plan that aligns with Seattle U's mission and strategic directions.

Over the past 24 years working at Seattle University, Melore Nielsen has seen all dimensions of the college admissions process, from recruitment to acceptance to ultimately, enrollment. But this past year was unlike any other, with the pandemic upending the tried-and-true methods of the college admissions world, requiring flexibility, adaptation and modification of best practices.

“Although the economic impacts of COVID-19, declining student demographics and an uncertain national climate will undoubtedly challenge higher education, I firmly believe our Jesuit education was made for this moment,” says Nielsen.

As the new Vice President for Enrollment Management, Nielsen’s focus is on a comprehensive enrollment plan that aligns with and supports the university’s Strategic Directions. To this end, Nielsen and Provost Shane P. Martin are co-chairs of a recently formed University Enrollment Committee (UEC) that is comprised of key leaders from across campus. The UEC is tasked with setting enrollment priorities, including around undergraduate and graduate projections.

“Having more campus leaders engaged in the enrollment conversation is a critical step forward and I believe will benefit both our short-term and long-term planning,” she says. “I am also energized by a renewed commitment to our diversity recruitment and retention efforts in coordination with the new LIFT SU: Inclusive Excellence Action Plan for Equity and Antiracism. The announcement of our partnership with Rainier Scholars is just one example of opportunities that exist in attracting BIPOC students and building affinity sooner with families and students as they begin thinking about their college options and search process.”

In 2025 a “demographic cliff” is expected to occur when there is a sharp decline in the number of graduating high school students, says Nielsen. “This makes identifying new markets with growth potential crucial and also the need to further invest in the top of the admissions funnel now.”

This year, COVID-19 and the resulting shift to mostly remote learning presented a host of challenges impacting enrollment numbers overall with students and families concerned about the cost amid other financial impacts and hardships and the move away from in-person classes. International students had “their own unique set of challenges,” says Nielsen, with many not able to attend Seattle U due to visa issues and other travel restrictions.

“Among the recruitment issues we faced was our inability to offer in-person yield events and campus visits for students, which can be of vital importance for students making such a significant decision,” she says. “It was also tricky trying to relay fast-moving policy changes and accommodations and the uncertainty around how long quarantine restrictions would remain in place.”

With the marked departure from the norm when it comes to attracting, admitting and retaining students, Nielsen credits the collaborative nature of departments and programs that stepped up and developed creative strategies to support undergraduate and graduate students and their families. This involved more than 70 virtual events for admitted students, academic and student life Zoom sessions, virtual financial aid workshops and one-on- one meetings between students and admission and financial aid counselors. And it continues this summer with an entirely virtual orientation.

While the plan is a return to in-person instruction and on-campus activities this fall, elements that proved successful during the pandemic will likely continue.

“ ... What we have experienced this past year will have forever changed higher ed and how we serve and reach students. My assumption is that our virtual offerings will be additive and create an additional channel for how students can engage with us and receive information,” says Nielsen. “We see that we can reach a broader audience by offering virtual information sessions on different topics so they will continue in the future. I suspect we will keep at least one virtual admitted student open house for both undergraduate and graduate students as it allows us to expand our geographic reach.”

For prospective students considering Seattle U, Nielsen says there are several factors that set the university apart and help guide the work of the enrollment team in its recruitment efforts.

“Undoubtedly, for undergraduate students it’s the combination of a rigorous educational experience, centered on Ignatian pedagogy, located in one of America’s most exciting urban environments,” she explains. “Graduate students have also noted that they feel a special attraction to our mission. It is frequently our single-most distinguishing feature and it holds up across our wide range of degree programs. It is also affirming to have alumni consistently speak of their educational experience as ‘transformative.’”

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