What is an institution to do when negative press hits right in the middle of a hot admissions cycle? The answer to this problem is not a simple one, however there is one basic step that you can take to influence how much of a drop you will see related to incoming (and retained) headcount: Flood the wire with positive media releases immediately and constantly. This requires a strong communications office and the internal planning to execute if and when the time comes that the media turns its eye on your school. You must find a cadence and publish positive stories about your institution regularly. An institution can't respond to bad press with good press at the same time the attention turns negative. You have to create momentum long before and continue well after.
Existing and incoming students understand that an institution is, indeed, an institution, and that it will survive well beyond the current administration or the current news cycle. The Internet, however, will perpetuate any stumbles and mistakes in ways that didn’t exist before the early 90’s.
Publish as much as you can, across as many platforms as you can, and do it immediately.
Use the opportunity to be honest and accept mistakes. Imagine for moment that you are working one day and someone sticks a microphone in your face and asks, “What do you think about the current scandal?” Unless you serve as the key media relations contact for the institution, the straight response should certainly be, “My name is [name], and I serve as [role] here at the college. I am not fully aware of all details, but the college will release a statement as soon as we have it.”
React to unforeseen circumstances as if a microphone was placed on your face. Respond immediately, stating that once the details are known, the college will release them instantly. People are accepting of mistakes but instantly reject those who they believe to be hiding information. Think of the current news cycle: there are likely many examples of journalists or pundits talking ill or criticizing someone or some entity of not being forthcoming with all of the details. This is a side effect of how the media engages its audiences and the nature of how myths or untruths can be perpetuated over time.
Your institution is not about your president or anyone else who works at the college: It is about students learning, succeeding, and graduating into a life of self-fulfillment and lasting success. Remind current students that those who divert our attention from the true mission of the institution have nothing to do with a student's personal narrative and the time spent in attendance or as a proud alumnus of the institution.