American College Application Campaign: Preparation Pays Off in Virginia

ACAC CEL logoIn January, ACT announced that the American College Access Campaign (ACAC), previously housed at ACE, was becoming part of ACT’s Center for Equity in Learning. As part of that new relationship, content from ACAC will be appearing alongside Center content on the blog. The following article originally featured in the Feb. 5, 2019 American College Application Campaign newsletter.

On September 17, 2018, the State Council of Higher Education for Virginia (SCHEV) convened college presidents from across the state at Virginia Commonwealth University (VCU). At the same time, Hurricane Florence was heading toward Virginia and, as a result, SCHEV staff, visiting college presidents, and VCU students quickly found themselves taking shelter in the basement from the multiple tornadoes spawned by the storm. Making the most of their time, SCHEV began filming #WhyApply to college videos with the “stranded” college presidents.

How did this come to be? Paula Robinson, assistant director of college access and PK-12 outreach for SCHEV and the Virginia College Application Week (VCAW) state coordinator, came prepared. While she didn’t anticipate a series of tornadoes contributing to their efforts, Robinson and Laura Osberger, the SCHEV Communications Associate, knew this annual gathering of presidents was a prime opportunity to request #WhyApply to college videos.

Robinson met with SCHEV’s communications associate to create a social media plan for Virginia’s College Application Week. They decided to send an email, attaching the provided ACAC template and guidance, to all public college and university presidents and their government relations liaisons. The message informed campus leadership about #WhyApply, how to engage, and requested brief videos.

“After our email request, we received one or two responses directly from presidents, but it was clear our request didn’t really grab their attention,” said Robinson.

The annual presidents’ meeting was around the corner so Robinson and Osberger decided to take advantage of the opportunity and brought #WhyApply signs, a camera (cellphones), and the confidence to ask the presidents to share their #WhyApply to college statements during the evening reception. Confidence soon gave way to convenience when alarms sounded and required all in the building to hunker down in the basement.

“We were all standing around the library basement with students and faculty, waiting for the all clear to resume normal activity, and realized it was the perfect time to ask them.” SCHEV Director Peter Blake wrangled the presidents together, Robinson gave a brief overview of the #WhyApply social media campaign and Virginia’s application initiatives, passed out the sign templates, and asked presidents to write something to share on a video. “No one hesitated to say yes. They were already familiar with the campaign thanks to Laura’s earlier email and, quite frankly, it put their idle hands and minds to good work during the emergency,” said Robinson.

Osberger took charge after that and formatted the videos, collected other photos and signs from SCHEV staff and posted something every hour on September 21, national #WhyApply Day. She was careful to remember to tag the participating colleges and universities to increase chances of retweets.

In addition to engaging college presidents to help encourage more applications, during VCAW partnering high schools took over the @SCHEVnews Twitter feed. SCHEV also posted a college application tip each day of the week and awarded schools with “Best Social Media” awards using campaign hashtags # IApplied, #IAppliedVA and #VCAW.  So, while the winds raged through the area and the evening reception was cancelled, all at the SCHEV meeting remained safe and out of harm’s way – and came out a little more social media savvy on the other side.

Fortunately, you don’t need a weather emergency alert to engage your constituents. All you need is a little planning, organization, and creativity to leverage the support of state-level leaders with your college application initiative.

To learn more about Virginia’s College Application Week, click here.