The Blue Devil Blitz is a simple idea with huge ambition.
For three days in early August, roughly 80 Merced College ambassadors fanned out into Merced County to recruit, re-recruit and unearth new students.
The Blue Devil Blitz was scheduled to lead into the college’s annual Extreme Registration, where students could register for school, enroll in classes and get loaded up with resources for Fall 2022.
“This is us taking a step to serve our community in nontraditional ways,” said Merced College Dean of Student Services Greg Soto.
The college used the Blitz model to address a significant drop in enrollment due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Cal Matters, a nonpartisan, state policy newsgroup, said the statewide community college system lost 20 percent of its enrollment between Fall 2019 and Fall 2021. The State of California responded with funds to attack outreach, retention and technology. Merced College received $800,000 to be used in 2021-22, and another $1.2 million for 2022-23.
In preparation the Blitz campaign, the Merced College Outreach team trained employees from other departments to field questions they might hear from prospective students. Roughly 20 people per day worked 10 locations, including Broadway Market in Planada, Orchard Grill in Chowchilla, O’Reilly AutoParts in Livingston, Hobby Lobby and Get Fit 24/7 in Los Banos, and Merced County Credit Union and Save Mart in Atwater.
In Merced, they manned tables at Raley’s, Body Shak, In-Shape, Best Buy and Planet Fitness. Another group attended National Night Out at Applegate Park on August 2.
Their experiences out in the community ran the gamut.
PLANET FITNESS, MERCED
Soto’s team met a husband and wife duo walking out of Planet Fitness. The wife hung back to ask about the college’s popular nursing program.
“She said, ‘I’m an RN, but my husband needs to find a focus,’” Soto recalls. “‘I think this could be it.’ She was so motivated. It was amazing.”
Soto told her that her husband might be eligible for free tuition, prompting the wife to promise to go to Extreme Registration.
Another day, Soto’s group was in Chowchilla, meeting people who were choosing between Madera Community College or Merced, and senior citizens asking about noncredit and enrichment classes.
“We saw a complete cross section of our student body,” he said.
HOBBY LOBBY, LOS BANOS
Jessica Moran, Dean of Instruction in Los Banos, met several Spanish speakers, including one very motivated mother.
Moran gave Extreme Registration information to the woman’s child, who had registered at Merced College but not yet enrolled. Moran then told the mom about College for Kids for her younger children.
Moran explained that the woman’s 7th-grader could talk to a counselor once she got to high school, to start taking college classes early through dual enrollment. After all that, Moran felt compelled to encourage the mom to look at the college’s new Relaunch Program, which is designed for working adults, for herself.
The mother worried about whether her English was good enough, until Moran told her about the English as a Second Language courses the college offers throughout the county.
“We were able to help every single family member,” Moran said. “It didn’t matter where they were in their lives. … It made me realize the information we share can be timely for so many people.”
Travis Hicks, Dean of Instruction for English & Humanities, felt buoyed by working with colleagues he rarely sees—Caroline Dawson, Dean of Instruction for Business and Adult Education, and Michelle Joseph, Director of Child Development Center—and locals who shop a block from the Merced campus.
They met two business students there—one returning and one newly enrolled at Merced College.
“It was nice because Caroline gave the incoming student a larger picture of what they would face and shared ideas about what they could study once there, like entrepreneurship and international business,” Hicks said.
They were talking about academic pathways and networking, when one of the students said he felt nervous about starting college.
“I told him to lean on his partner, and that we’d all be there to support him,” Hicks said.
How successful was the Blitz? Soto said 70% of students they worked with at the two Extreme Registration sessions found them through the Blue Devil Blitz. It also showed Merced College employees how powerful they could be at the ground level.
“Like Broadway Market in Planada,” he said. “It’s not a heavy traffic area, but every person we met needed info. What we shared was meaningful for them.”
Hicks said the quality of the interactions opened everyone’s eyes.
“The purpose isn’t just to engage with potential students,” Hicks said. “It’s for all of us—faculty, administration, managers, students—to mix and mingle.”
Soto sees ambassadors eventually attending Mercado Nights and setting up shop at the Merced Mall.
“We ran into questions like, ‘Oh, you’re offering courses?’” Moran said. “Some may think we’re shut down or only still online. That’s a reason to be more present in the community, to say, ‘We’re here. We’ve never stopped.’”