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To Stop Summer Melt, Whitworth U. Sends Its Mascot on a Quest

College officials know that not every admitted applicant who sent a deposit will arrive on their campuses this fall. Each year, a small percentage never show up, a phenomenon known as “summer melt.”

To keep melt from becoming too severe, many colleges have amped up their summertime communication with incoming freshmen—by calling them, inviting them to summer receptions, or engaging them with online chats, academic advising, or housing selection.

Or, in the case of Whitworth University, by filming the school mascot—a pirate—loping around campus in pursuit of a golden pine cone.

At Whitworth, a small, Christian liberal arts university in pine-rich Spokane, administrators decided they could capitalize on their Facebook ties to their youngest cohort by posting choose-your-own adventure videos to the “Whitworth University Class of 2015” Facebook page. The videos will star the Whitworth Pirate on his “Quest for the Golden Pine Cone.”

“We had observed that there was a growing interest in the ‘Class of 2015’ Facebook group, and we wanted to meet students where they are,” says Greg Orwig, the vice president for admissions and financial aid. “Summer melt has actually been declining … but we’re relatively tuition-driven, and so every student counts,” he says, adding that this fall’s incoming class is slightly smaller than Whitworth had hoped to recruit.

In the first video, posted June 30, the Pirate skateboards around the Whitworth Loop, finds a Frisbee (cuing a Super Mario Bros. “power up” sound effect), and encounters a live-action role-player, or “larper.” In this case, it’s a bespectacled undergrad in a kid-sized knight costume. At the cliffhanger ending, students are asked to vote for what the Pirate should do next.

“Quest for the Golden Pine Cone” seems to have gotten students’ attention. Membership in the Facebook group jumped 18 percent in the six days after the first video was posted, and is up 39 percent since the video as of today, which Orwig says are unique spikes in membership.

Whitworth administrators plan to post the second video within the next few days. Then, class of 2015 students will learn how they voted—and whether the pirate took the larper out for coffee, chased him around the campus, or, naturally, pummeled him with pine cones.

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