This interview with Vice President and Dean of Admission and Financial Aid Chris Gruber was conducted by staff writer and former Perspectives Editor Lizzie Kane ’22 on March 27th, 2020. The interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Can you explain why tours for prospective students continued for as long as they did? Was there a discussion about when to stop bringing people from across the country to campus?
We ended on Saturday, [March 14th]. When the decision was made, we canceled all tours from that Monday on. We heard from prospective students and families that were already out traveling. We also did have a significant number of cancellations immediately when the news was picking up on [the pandemic], but we thought, ‘Let’s just simply honor [tours] through Saturday and be done and be fair to some of the folks that were traveling’…. That was what we thought was the fairest, fastest way that we could shut tours down quickly, and then we totally stopped them. I will tell you that starting [this] week, likely on Wednesday, April 1st, we will be doing [admissions events] on a virtual basis, both tours and information sessions.
What questions, feedback, and concerns have you and your colleagues received now that all admissions decisions have come out during this unique period of time? Have there been any themes as to what people are worried about or what questions they have?
I think there are a number of themes. There is the thought of “How do I see campus?” That is not a unique question to Davidson because that is every place right now. Then, [how do you see] the true tenor of the place when students aren’t there? I think that is a concern because many students do wait to visit campus until they have been offered admission, so this is our chance, and this is why we have a group of ready — the last count was 180 — current Davidson students who have said, “Hey, I’m ready to help. I’ll volunteer anything that you need. Tell me what I need to do to help” by way of our senior fellows, tour guides, and others. I think the challenge is getting that thought of place to prospective students and the understanding of who you are going to be surrounded by.
Can you elaborate on how your methods to yield accepted students have changed?
Our greatest ability has always been to have students come to campus, and we would invite them for “Decision Davidson,” in addition to senior visit days — there are nine of those, basically — which also incorporate an overnight stay, visiting classes, and lunch with students, et cetera. All of those programs — what we could offer on campus — are gone….There was an “Ask a Wildcat” session last night where two of our students facilitated conversation virtually with 18 prospective students, so we will be doing many of those. This is all happening throughout the month of April. In addition, on that first weekend we were putting admissions decisions out, that was the time when we had planned to host the Belk Scholar interviews, which typically take place on campus. Accepted students that are competing for the William Holt Terry, the Missy and John Kuykendall, [auditions for] the music scholarships, in addition to the Patricia Cornwell, all of those interviews moved to this [past] weekend, [March 28th and 29th], or [past] Thursday, [April 2nd] and Friday, [April 3rd] to a virtual environment as well. All of those things have been done, and those are being done via Zoom; there are different chat programs that are going on as part of those weekends as well, but that’s what has been done.
[The pandemic] has changed everything. What are the things that we are doing as a result of that? There are strong email campaigns; there are a large number of virtual things that are going on; there are chat rooms that are going on; there’s a lot of faculty engagement by way of majors that students think they want to be involved with; there’s a lot of outreach based on what a student’s specific extracurricular interests might be and what we are able to get from an application to match them up with students that have those types of [interests] as well. There are social media [campaigns] going on as well and virtual tours that are available for students. Everything has been shifted to platforms whereby students can access them, and then [the admissions team] puts a plan in place so that we don’t trip over one another. What are we hitting students with on what days? We are really focusing on those things that are high impact that we think are really going to help students.
With these methods you are employing, are you assuming that all the accepted students have access to some sort of Internet connection?
Internet and/or phone because all of the things that we are sending are phone compatible, so students can get those things there as well. [We have sent] a combination of email, text messages, and also some print items. We still tell students about some of these things in the print messages that have gone out because not everybody is firing up the PC at the house. With the phone, there is probably greater access.
How do the virtual tours work?
There is one online right now, and one can just navigate their way through it….We have also been doing tours where students can come into a Zoom room; we put the virtual tour on the screen, and then one of our current tour guides does parts of the narrative that they would share normally, while taking you through and showing you the different things on campus. There were a couple of pilots that were done [two weeks ago] when the Belk Scholar interviews were taking place, and it worked out pretty well. It was kind of interesting because there is something to see; there is something that is moving; and it’s a narrative that can be tailored to the folks that are in the group participating on the tour.
Will expectations of final high school grades for accepted students change at all due to the fact that most students in the United States have switched to online learning at least for a few weeks?
We are going to work with [what different schools do], and we are prepared for that. We have got some students that are already done, and we are not going to have anything more. We’ve got some that are doing remote learning, and they’re still working on an ABCDF grade scale. We’ve got places that are moving to a pass/fail system and that’s it; a pass/fail could be any grade from an A through a D equals a pass. There are schools that have said they are changing the way in which they view a pass grade and now it’s somewhat higher, but they are going to go to pass/fail. There are a lot of different things going on right now and a lot of implications for that within the school. We are prepared to be very, very flexible in going forward; that same flexibility is going on with the NCAA. I think the key word is “flexibility.” You can’t penalize the students. The students are not controlling this; no one is. No student is going to get hung out to dry by this.
Has your office picked out a date for when on-campus tours will resume?
The tours have been cancelled through graduation weekend. That is the timeline as of right now; that is what we said when we made our initial closing two weeks ago….If I were a betting person — which I’m really not — I can’t think that we’ll be up by graduation yet either, or that first week after, which is when we would hope to start them again. I would love to be [up and running], but I don’t know if we will be there yet.