Seven Insider Tips About Strategic Enrollment Management
By Brian Soika
Strategic enrollment management in education has become an increasingly complex job. As a result, more schools need professionals with the right skills to navigate changing trends.
So what does it mean to be a modern enrollment manager? To find out, we sought insight from Jerry Lucido, PhD professor of practice and Executive Director of USC Rossier’s Center for Enrollment Research, Policy and Practice (CERPP).
Together with Don Hossler, PhD, Senior Scholar at CERPP and Distinguished Professor Provost Emeritus of Educational Leadership and Policy Studies at Indiana University, they’ve dedicated much of their professional lives to research and practice in the field. (Hossler has also published several books on the topic.)
In 2019, the scholars launched the only master’s program dedicated to enrollment management based on a survey of leaders who confirmed that a graduate degree is ideal for job preparation.
Here’s what professors Lucido and Hossler have to say about strategic enrollment management and its career potential.
1) It’s the Fastest-Growing Field in Education Administration
Not only are long-held standards and practices of enrollment management being revised, the way admission offices make decisions is evolving as well.
In the past, enrollment managers relied on experience and intuition to create strategy. Now, in addition to those qualities, they have to be proficient with using new technologies, understanding data, and nimbly coordinating with other departments. Professionals need high-level knowledge and skill to be successful in the role. And due to the quickly-changing landscape, schools need trained personnel who can rise to the task.
2) An Enrollment Management Degree Is a Powerful Career Tool
Until recently, experience was the only way to earn a position in strategic enrollment management. However, leaders now need a graduate degree to excel at the job.
Historically, the registrar’s office may have exclusively handled research. But now professionals need strong research skills to not only predict enrollment numbers, but to understand research in context with other issues at play, such as financial aid, marketing goals and more.
As the formula for enrollment evolves, enrollment officers carry more responsibility. For instance, if a university has an equity initiative, they can impact the school’s reputation for enrolling students who need access to education. They might even play a role in setting expectations for enrolled students in a particular major.
3) Enrollment Is Changing—and Schools May not Be Ready
According to Hossler, enrollment is undergoing two major changes that should necessitate a greater demand from schools. However, currently there is no set of standard practices to deal with these challenges.
Fewer students are attending college after high school
In addition to a declining number of college-bound students in the U.S., fewer students are eligible for college than in the past. The dip in enrollment is causing schools to re-think admission strategies. For example, Kansas recently changed its standards for applicants to increase the number of students admitted to state schools.
The current enrollment management directors are aging out
The median age range for leaders in strategic enrollment management is 50-60. Without the assistance of new and mid-level professionals who can train for a long career, schools will be left unprepared for the loss of leadership.
4) Financial aid Is Becoming More Complex
Financial aid has always been an important part of the enrollment formula. From grants to merit aid, managers help figure out which students can receive complete, some or no assistance for tuition.
But as enrollment declines and student demand goes up, financial aid becomes more complicated. In the past, you had to understand higher education finance, a technical field. But modern trends require additional skills. For example, if your school is trying to increase access to more students who struggle with the cost of education, it will affect the distribution of financial aid.
Another new challenge is the early disclosure of aid packages. Previously, some schools may not have advertised the amount of aid students can receive before they accept an offer of admission. But in response to less demand for college, you may need to change your school’s strategy to be more competitive.
5) Success Starts With the School’s Mission
Successful strategic enrollment management begins with a school’s underlying mission. Lucido emphasizes that a strong, clear mission should inform recruitment practices, admission criteria, financial aid awards and more. In addition to helping you clarify your goals, you’re able to distinguish yourself from other schools, and strengthen the value of your programs.
6) Failure Is Measured in Student Outcomes as Well as Policies
A failed enrollment management policy isn’t just about incomplete goals. You have to consider the impact on students as well. Lucido cites the long-standing practice of early decision as an example. The enrollment tactic might help the school, but it doesn’t serve students without access to college counseling. When weighing the success or failure of your strategies, it’s important to always assess the benefit to students.
7) There Are key Mistakes to Avoid
While there is no magic enrollment formula that works for every school, all institutions should aim to avoid some common errors.Ignoring data can sink a strategy. Research and analytics should provide the foundation for everything you do—including the introduction of new programs. Creating programs without enough market research to justify their demand can be a challenge.