I’ve just returned from SACAC – a few days in the Miami sun among partner schools and colleagues. As I thought about the conference and all of its conversations, my reflections tended to run along a theme. Admissions and enrollment in 2016 is, in no way, “business as usual.”

We all know that one of higher ed’s worst foes is the “this is the way we’ve always done it” momentum. I think our field is more vulnerable to this paralysis because of the cyclical nature of our work. We’ve already begun a new cycle before the old one is complete, which doesn’t leave much time for pausing and reviewing, much less for a full reboot. Doing things differently takes more time and more effort, at least at the outset. H·A ThirtyOne knows this well. Our business model isn’t one of massive scalability because we believe in doing things differently. And we like it that way. No cookie-cutters allowed. We know each school we work with is unique and we make the investment to reveal an institution’s authenticity. This is what makes projects interesting and what produces outcomes that make a difference.

That’s not business as usual. Neither is Prior Prior Year, or PPY, or Early FAFSA (pick your name).

During an excellent presentation on issues surrounding PPY and FAFSA, shared by Tyler Peterson of University of Alabama – Birmingham, Joseph Freeman of Randolph School (Alabama), and Jessica Sant of The Lovett School (Georgia), the disruption of predictable timelines or approaches was evident. One state school noted that they weren’t going to be changing any part of their timeline in response to PPY. Another school, a co-ed private, shared they were accelerating their scholarship timeline to start in November instead of March. That’s not business as usual. One private college challenged the hub bub around PPY recalling the fervor accompanying the Net Price Calculator – its advent did not move aid conversations to Junior year (as many had predicted). Enter counter argument…everyone has to use the FAFSA, the Net Price Calculator is optional.

There have long been some dependable mileposts in the process of admissions work. But with every new wave – from gap years, increased transfer numbers, entering students with credit, and PPY – those lines in the sand are washing away.

But here’s the good news. It’s not business as usual…and that’s okay.

With every new wave there is also the opportunity for adjustment and improvement. From communicating with students earlier in the student search process and developing effective communication flow plans to keep those students engaged, to developing strategies to support the lengthier PPY process and hold on to students through what will feel like a protracted negotiation period…these are all opportunities. To do things differently. To truly stand out. To approach our work in innovative ways and not ever fall into the rut of business as usual.

Karyn Adams is vice president & creative director for H·A ThirtyOne. When not working closely with enrollment leadership and strategic communicators she’s running, writing, reading, or debating politics with her eldest son. Want to talk higher ed? Deconstruct a conundrum? Find Karyn at: karyn.adams@hathirtyone.com / 865.207.6944