The University of California, Irvine’s (UCI) Division of Summer Session is among one of the largest Summer Session divisions, as measured by student enrollment, in the entire UC system. On average, UCI Summer Session enrolls over 40% of the student population (approximately 14,000-15,000 students) and generates between $35M to $45M in net revenue for the campus. This essential revenue helps fund academic departments and other core administrative needs for the campus as determined by the UCI Office of the ProvostProvost’s office. 

However, amidst the uncertainty of the COVID-19 pandemic, UCI Summer Session faced considerable challenges. When the entire UCI campus went remote in late March of 2020, this move came at a critical time for the Summer Session team. Under normal circumstances, Summer Session relies heavily on environmental advertising that reaches its peak in March and April. This includes banners and ads that would normally be displayed across campus, printed materials that could be physically distributed on campus through various partner channels, and in-person outreach and recruitment events. Without these communication avenues, the Summer Session team had to act quickly and transition promotional materials online. While the odds were stacked against them, the team rose to the challenge and, within two to three weeks, they developed various digital outreach strategies to ensure that Summer Session promotions proceeded on schedule. 

The main audience for Summer Session’s online communications strategy was UCI’s undergraduate student population of over 30,000. It was important that students were aware that Summer Session courses would still be available despite the pandemic, knew which courses were available for enrollment, and understood how courses would be conducted in the remote or online environment.

To ensure that the undergraduate students were receiving general updates about Summer Session, the team employed a multi-pronged communication strategy to disseminate important information in a timely manner. For instance, the strategy was particularly effective in distributing information such as enrollment deadlines, course availability, and opportunities to leverage fee incentive programs. The plan consisted of five main steps:

  1. Rapidly updating the Summer Session website to align with COVID-19 policy updates from central administration
  2. Publishing regular informational social media posts
  3. Sending direct messages through social media platforms to establish more direct communication with students and to avoid their crowded inboxes
  4. Using targeted emails to distribute the latest news
  5. Creating paid advertisements that targeted specific student demographics

      With a budget of approximately $5 a day per campaign, Summer Session was able to launch a multi-faceted outreach campaign on both Facebook and Instagram to reach potential students and inform them about the expanded course offerings that had moved to either remote or online options.

Led by OVPTL Marketing Manager Hai Truong, the Summer Session team also worked with an in-house data analyst to gather insights on UCI’s undergraduate population. By analyzing student sentiments and collecting demographic information, the Summer Session team was also able to send out targeted communications in partnership with UCI schools, departments, and instructors. This collaborative targeted messaging strategy was useful in distributing more tailored information such as which Summer Session courses would fulfill requirements for students in various schools and majors.

By the time Summer Session, which consists of three distinct sessions that span from June to September, drew to a close, it was clear that the team had accomplished a seemingly impossible feat. Not only had UCI’s 2020 Summer Session matched the enrollment numbers of previous years, they actually recorded a 20% increase in enrollment. While this was an impressive feat on its own, it was made even more remarkable by the fact that this growth occurred during a global pandemic. 

The following figures show that Summer Session enrollment in 2020 increased across nearly every student demographic as compared to 2019 numbers.

Despite the challenges caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, the Summer Session team’s rapid deployment of their multi-pronged communication strategy proved that even the most difficult circumstances can be overcome with teamwork and determination. In fact, UCI Summer Session’s efforts were so impressive that they were recognized as a 2021 CASE District VII Platinum Award Finalist.

Vice Provost for Teaching and Learning Michael Dennin (whose office oversees the Division of Summer Session) also shared praise for the team’s impressive feat:

“While the transition to remote was difficult for UCI’s entire campus, the Division of Summer Session was in a particularly tricky spot because the plans they had been working on for months were abandoned in a matter of days. However, the team rallied and was able to adapt in an incredibly short amount of time. Not only did the team work with impressive speed, but the quality and execution of their strategy were also outstanding. I’m so proud of everything the team managed to pull off, and I want to thank everyone for their hard work.”

Tom Radmilovich, Assistant Dean and Director of the Division of Summer Session, added:

“Our goal is to offer flexible pathways that allow our students to graduate on time. With the pandemic, it was more important than ever to reassure students and communicate that Summer Session would still be offering the courses that they needed to stay on track. The team did an exceptional job pivoting communication strategies to ensure that students felt supported and were able to make informed decisions to further their academic success.”

For more information on UCI’s Division of Summer Session, visit their website here