Colleges across the country are using new tactics during the novel coronavirus pandemic to meet the avalanche of students’ questions about fall semester and beyond.

The goal is to connect with prospective students to convince them that attending higher education this fall is the right choice. And students want answers.

For instance, Danielle James and Brianna Pulliam, members of the Chicago HBCU Alumni Alliance, rounded up admissions officials from 20 Historically Black Colleges and Universities for a Saturday filled with virtual 15-minute informational sessions. Schools included Fisk, Howard and Jackson State universities.

The event drew over 127,000 viewers throughout the day, including about 1,500 students from the Denver area.

Pulliam said the goal of the event was to leverage the alumni network’s connections to put colleges in touch with a possibly unreached segment of teenagers.

“We wanted to bring students some positivity and let them know that we are all working together,” she said.

James said she expected about 200 students on the video chat. But the large numbers joining in clearly showed students are searching for answers, James said.

“Students are stressing about what’s going to happen,” James said. “They are struggling with not being able to actually go on campus and ask questions.”

Clearing admissions hurdles for students is especially crucial as college officials expect enrollment to dip and impact budgets. Colleges depend on enrollment to maintain their finances, especially at small schools, said Tom Green, American Association of Collegiate Registrars and Admissions Officers associate executive director.

Events such as the Saturday virtual tour are emblematic of the ways college admissions officials are adapting to get their message out and keep enrollment from dramatically dipping, Green said.

Green said some schools are also holding regular virtual meetings for students to ask questions of faculty or virtual tours where representatives walk campuses and interact with students. He’s heard students are worried about financial aid and what the learning environment will look like in the fall.

Many students attending higher education institutions are upset they’ve had to pay full price for remote instruction during the coronavirus closures. It’s also unclear when campus life will return to normal as some colleges prepare for a requirement to offer only remote instruction in the fall.

That might push some students to decide to unenroll or forego college, and enrollment dips are expected, according to a recent survey from the registrar and admissions officers association.

But Green said it’s clear colleges are trying hard to cut through the uncertainty as students make decisions about their future.

“Time is marching on,” he said. “It just is marching on under a very strange lens.”

Higher education reporter for Chalkbeat Colorado in partnership with Open Campus.