The challenge of reaching enrollment goals in a pandemic.

For admissions departments, reaching enrollment goals is already a challenge in a typical school year. On top of competing against other universities to recruit incoming students, 2020-21 added extensive hurdles with a global pandemic. Inside Higher Ed reported, “College and university enrollment nationwide fell by 651,774 students — a decline of more than 3 percent — from fall 2019 to fall 2020, according to data from the U.S. Department of Education’s National Center for Education Statistics.”

With some students deciding to defer their enrollment or take a gap year as an alternative to a “traditional college experience,” Saint Louis University – Madrid Campus (SLU-Madrid) had even more complexity to overcome. According to Cat Gaa, SLU-Madrid’s Admissions Communications Coordinator, SLU-Madrid’s most powerful yielding tool – a campus visit – was not an option for most prospective students during the COVID-19 pandemic. 

For a university that recruits students globally and relies on campus visits to “try before you buy,” SLU-Madrid’s admissions team had to determine how they were going to bring their vibrant campus life and peer-to-peer connections to prospective students virtually and persuade them to join their incoming class. They also had other aspects to consider, such as gaining buy-in from parents and family members who were hesitant about their student traveling and living abroad during the ongoing pandemic. They also had a business requirement for counselors to manage communication with admitted students and their families in an authenticated community to avoid inaccurate information sharing from unofficial social media groups.


Deploying digital campus communities for admitted students and their parents.

The St. Louis, Missouri-based university with a campus in Madrid, Spain prides itself on being the “American University in Spain,” delivering a world-class education that expands students’ cultural horizons. The Jesuit university is home to 900 students from the U.S., Spain and 50+ other countries, including a combination of short-term study abroad students and four-year degree seeking students. 

Given their unique physical location and international student demographic, the admissions team at SLU-Madrid sought out a campus app to support their efforts, ultimately choosing to deploy two Raftr communities, one for admitted students and another for their parents and family members. 

“We’ve come a long way with Raftr in a very short time! After the first call with Raftr, I was excited about the possibilities of using the app, but also a bit daunted by the amount of work involved. But Raftr’s support throughout the process allowed us to set up our communities effectively with hands-on guided implementation help and now we’re able to see how users interact with our communities.”

“We have worked hard to make this a meaningful app for our students and their parents, and we are overall very happy with our communities in Raftr.”

Heidi Buffington - SLU Madrid

Heidi Buffington

Director of Admissions, SLU-Madrid


Doubling fall 2020 enrollment numbers with the support of an admissions platform.

Paired with better tracking, improved communication, extra webinars and digital events, as well as a larger focus on counselor connections, the admissions team more than doubled their fall 2020 numbers,


increase in first-year enrollment this fall 2021.

Student activation rate


within the first three weeks.

Raftr users logged


total sessions.

Active participation of


sessions per user.

Average duration of


minutes per session.


Connecting students and parents with campus life early to increase yield, reduce melt and maximize enrollment.

By leveraging Raftr’s communities, 95% of families on Raftr had students enroll this fall 2021. Of the 140 students who activated accounts in SLU-Madrid’s admitted students community, 104 of these students enrolled at SLU-Madrid this semester. According to Heidi Buffington, Chief Strategic Enrollment Management Officer, Director of Admissions of SLU-Madrid, they welcomed their “largest incoming class in decades.” 

With Raftr, SLU-Madrid accomplished both students’ and staff members’ needs, working toward their overall goal of increasing yield, reducing melt, and maximizing enrollment for their fall 2021 class. 

By introducing both an admitted students and parent community they were able to: 

  • Integrate and expand upon existing admissions strategies
  • Connect students to SLU-Madrid’s campus life early on prior to the decision period
  • Extend student and family reach to receive resources necessary during the admissions process
  • Empower admissions leaders and counselors with admin tools to help save ample time
  • Provide dynamic omni-channel communication among current and admitted students