AC Solutions

A Community College Roadmap for the Strategic Enrollment Management Journey


As the twenty-first century continues to unveil new challenges for higher education, enrollment planning and management strategies offer a pathway for community and technical colleges (CTC’s) to sharpen their focus, optimize their resources, and achieve enrollment goals that support the health and viability of their enterprises. While there is no single formula for strategic enrollment management, several of the steps suggested in this article may help college leaders get started on their own unique journey.

Community and technical colleges face a number of unique enrollment challenges. First , as open door institutions, community and technical colleges address the question of “controlling” their enrollment quite differently than baccalaureate institutions, which may utilize various selectivity tactics to increase or decrease their enrollments, and to match those they admit to their offerings. By and large, CTCs are enrolling most of the students who walk through the door, and are meeting wildly varying levels of needs, interests and preparedness for college work. To manage enrollment and/or to focus on different populations that are matched with special programs, CTCs may find it helpful to develop segmented marketing and recruitment plans, and may rely on faculty and staff from different segments to utilize their community connections to assure healthy programs and enrollments.

Second, though CTCs are open door, many of them do provide programs that have restricted entry; this is often seen in health science programs. In those cases, it can be very helpful to observe the practices of the baccalaureate institutions to find successful models of strategic enrollment management. Practices such as focused marketing, application processes, analysis of access to pre-requisites, and waiting list management should be examined.

Third, increasingly, CTCs are finding their “niche” being nibbled away by other institutions and learning organizations. This calls for a serious review of the institution’s market position, a review of the viability of current programs, and an entrepreneurial approach to new program development. The challenge is not only in the area of certificate and degree programs. The ability of some competitors to offer 24/7 service, non-traditional delivery modes, and other benefits may exceed the available resources of a typical CTC. However, a number of CTCs are developing model programs of re-organized student services, as well as aggressive partnerships with business and industry to expand their program relevance.

Fourth, community and technical colleges, which historically have flourished because of their focus on their local community, are challenged to expand their vision to global concerns: the ability of their graduates to function in international work environments, the ability of their faculty to infuse global issues into their materials, and the ability to occupy a positive position worldwide as an effective education provider. This goes beyond the notion of managing (growing) enrollments by attracting more international students. Opportunity beckons the CTCs to assure their local residents that they can “think globally and serve locally”.

Though the list of challenges could become quite long, only one more will be identified here: inadequate funding. Typically funded at a lesser rate than their sister public four-year institutions, many CTCs are trapped in an environment of needing to enroll more students in order to gain more tuition income and/or state and local funding, yet never having enough income to catch-up to the expenses of that enrollment. This challenge goes to the heart of strategic enrollment management, which is the ability to identify strategies and practices that match resources with wants and needs. In other words, CTCs should carefully identify their different funding streams and expenses, and match the emergent needs with their prioritized missions. Analyses of program mix, of class scheduling routines, and of budgeting methodologies, for example, are central to optimizing, and growing resources.

Building an Effective Strategic Enrollment Management Plan

Notwithstanding the goal of imbuing every member of the college with a sense of responsibility for enrollment management and success, an enrollment management plan, usually developed within some sort of collaborative group, helps the college focus on key initiatives that intentionally move the college toward its goals. There is no strict recipe for developing a SEM plan; a college’s unique culture, opportunities and challenges should drive its formulation. However, the following steps are offered as a suggestion for both method and format.

1. Establish relevance. Identify the portions of the college’s strategic plan that are relevant to the enrollment position of the college. The SEM plan should support the strategic plan.

2. Conduct an environmental scan. Analyze internal and external enrollmentrelated
data that expand understanding of the issues raised by the strategic plan, as well as related strategic enrollment issues. SEM findings can also be used in a feedback loop to overall strategic planning.

3. Identify and explain the issues.

4. Select the most critical issues and identify key strategies that respond to those issues. Focusing on a limited number will enable the college to concentrate its attention and resources toward achieving the biggest impacts.

5. Set goals, using measurable elements wherever possible.

6. Identify tactics. Brainstorm, use data, assess resources, and be selective about the tactics that will have the most positive response to the issues. Identify the commitments and the accountabilities for those tactics.

7. Create an assessment, feedback and revision schedule.

8. Communicate. Periodic meetings, a campus feedback mechanism, and sharing of the plan help assure collaboration and follow-up.

Strong executive leadership and broad participation are the key elements in the success of the development and execution of an strategic enrollment management plan. Re-visiting the college’s strategic plan, analyzing data, and identifying issues that affect enrollment are the foundations of a strategic enrollment management plan and are well-suited to the role of college leaders in starting their institution on the road to enrollment health and viability.

Written by Christine Kerlin, a Senior Consultant for AACRAO Consulting.

Download this paper here: A Community College Roadmap for the Strategic Enrollment Management Journey

Building Student-Centric Processes – A Guide to Business Process Analysis and Reengineering


Providing efficient and effective student-centric services is a major challenge for most institutions. “Student learning, persistence, success and satisfaction are influenced by student’s experiences with critical processes. . .” (Balzer, 2010). In spite of best intentions, policies and procedures are often not adequately documented, reflect the past more than the future, and fail to take full advantage of existing and emerging technologies. In addition, process knowledge often resides in service and academic silos (financial aid, admissions, advising, registration, academic departments, etc.) or with individuals, rather than holistically across staff members and departments.

Engaging in a comprehensive business process analysis provides insight into how to improve processes from a student-centric perspective. By doing so, institutions often find that they can improve service levels with the same or fewer resources. Business process analysis and reengineering does not necessarily result in technology changes, acquisitions or further automation. It simply focuses on increasing efficiency, effectiveness and establishing goal oriented processing. “At the heart of reengineering is the notion of discontinuous thinking – of recognizing and breaking away from outdated rules and fundamental assumptions that underlie operations.” (Hammer, 1990)

Business process review and reengineering is ideally an on-going process. However, due to resource and time resource constraints, it is often something that is undertaken when change must occur to resolve a critical situation. Regardless of when the activity is undertaken, the focus should be on the following:

  • Aligning existing policies and procedures (formal and informal) with the process and in support of student success;
  • A holistic approach that involves all process stakeholders (including students) in constructive inquiry;
  • Gaining a complete understanding of the service area where the process resides;
  • Reviewing the technology that supports the process;
  • Identification of improvement opportunities, especially high-impact improvements yielding the greatest improvement in processes;
  • When improvement opportunities are identified; offering quick and tangible results; and making sure to communicate changes and results to all stakeholders.

The greatest challenges faced by an institution engaging in business process reengineering are a lack of sustained administrative commitment, the setting of an unrealistic scope and expectations, a culture that is resistant to change, inadequate resources dedicated to the process and an unpredictable external environment (Malhotra, 1998; Balzer, 2010). Included below are guidelines to help ensure the success of a business process reengineering initiative.

Getting Started

Business process analysis and reengineering begins with planning and activities that include the creation of a project team and project sponsorship. It is critical to have project participants from administration, operations, and information technology working as a team towards a common goal. While team composition can vary based on a best match for an institution’s culture and organizational structure, the team should include a person or people who fit the following roles (McDonald, 2010):

  • Process manager
  • Process owner
  • Process users
  • Skeptics
  • Facilitator
  • Technology expert

A starting point for all business process analyses is to ask why a specific process is being used. A key consideration is whether the process is tied to any state, federal or other regulation or internal policy that mandates the process to be performed in a particular way. Further analysis should map how that process moves through the institution. For example, with document retention practices, many institutions discover they have a difficult time parting with various forms, even though the data contained on the form has been processed in the student information system. Institutions often cite both external and internal requirements for retaining the documents. The reality is that few state regulations or professional association guidelines require institutions to keep many documents, and perhaps none at all, once they have been processed. Often internal practice is based on assumptions of requirements that are no longer are in effect.

Figure 1: Business Process Improvement Cycle

The following tenets should be the foundation for business process analysis and reengineering (adapted from Malhotra, 1998 and other sources):

  • Student Focus: Using the student lens to view an existing process for areas of improvement will lead to processes which support student success.
  • Aligning Process to Goals: An institution’s goals should be the foundation for any business process.
  • Technology: Measure if the technology employed to support the process is being used appropriately, effectively and from a competitive position (i.e., is the service level provided by current technology comparable to other institutions serving a similar student population or target market?).
  • Determine the Business Process Owner: The process owner must be in charge of the business process, be responsible for performance and manage changes.
  • Process Mapping: Document existing processes in order to completely understand the existing process and to identify opportunities for improvement.
  • Benchmarking: Compare the current process with best practice and where possible, institutional competitors.
  • Implement changes as soon as possible and measure the success of those changes: Once a solution has been identified, implement the change, establish measure of success and use those measures to further refine the process.


Finding both time and internal resources to support the initiatives described above for even one department can be challenging given ongoing operational needs. External consultants are regularly engaged to provide the needed manpower to support the process evaluation and to bring an external perspective of best practices at other institutions. This external perspective often turns out to be of great value to the institution because it is not just the experience of one consultant but rather access to the resources and experiences of a network of consultants. AACRAO Consulting is uniquely positioned to provide consultants with extensive experience with business process analysis and reengineering at different institutional types.


Balzer, W. K. (2010). Lean Higher Education: Increasing the Value and Performance of University Processes. New York: Productivity Press.
Hammer, M. (1990, July-August). Reengineering Work: Don’t Automate, Obliterate. Harvard Business Review , pp. 104-112.
Malhotra, Y. (Fall 1998). Business Process Redesign: An Overview. IEEE Engineering Management Review, Vol 26, No. 3 .
McDonald, M. (2010). Improving Business Processes: Expert Solutions to Everyday Challenges. Cambridge: Harvard Business School Publishing.

Written by Wendy Kilgore, Director of Research and Managing Consultant for AACRAO Consulting.

Download the paper here: Building Student-Centric Processes – A Guide to Business Process Analysis and Reengineering

Employing Noncognitive Variables to Improve Admissions and Increase Student Retention


Today, a growing number of North American postsecondary institutions are incorporating the use of noncogntive variables into their admissions process. Why is there more and more interest in utilizing these non-academic variables? It’s all about success! The results at those colleges and universities that have added these measures to their admissions requirements are showing strong correlations to student’s academic success, persistence, and graduation. AACRAO Consulting has packaged these variables along with business processes to effectively manage them within the admission process. Our name for these services is FairSelect.

What are Noncognitive Variables?

Noncognitive variables are based on more than 30 years of research by William Sedlacek, Professor Emeritus, University of Maryland College Park. According to Sedlacek, “The term noncognitive is used here to refer to variables relating to adjustment, motivation and perception,” and can be assessed efficiently in a variety of ways, and incorporated into any admissions process (Sedlacek, 2004, 2011). Noncognitive information complements “traditional verbal and quantitative (often called cognitive) areas typically measured by standardized tests. Noncognitive variables are useful for assessing all students, but they are particularly critical for assessing nontraditional students, since standardized tests and prior grades may afford only a limited view of their potential” (Sedlacek 2004; Lauren, 2008). The use of these variables in admission decisions has been tested within the US legal system and ruled to be viable.

Description of Noncognitive Variables

  • Positive Self-Concept: Demonstrates confidence, strength of character, determination, and independence.
  • Realistic Self-Appraisal: Recognizes and accepts any strengths and deficiencies, especially academic, and works hard at self-development. Recognizes need to broaden individuality.
  • Understands and Knows How to Handle the System: Exhibits a realistic view of the system based upon personal experiences and is committed to improving the existing system. Takes an assertive approach to dealing with existing wrongs, but is not hostile to society nor is a “cop-out.” Involves handling any “isms” (e.g., racism, sexism).
  • Prefers Long-Range to Short-Term or Immediate Needs: Able to respond to deferred gratification; plans ahead and sets goals.
  • Availability of Strong Support Person: Seeks and takes advantage of a strong support network or has someone to turn to in a crisis or for encouragement.
  • Successful Leadership Experience: Demonstrates strong leadership in any area: church, sports, non-educational groups, gang leader, etc.
  • Demonstrated Community Service: Identifies with a community, is involved in community work.
  • Nontraditional Knowledge Acquired: Acquires knowledge in a sustained and/or culturally related ways in any area, including social, personal, or interpersonal.

Institutions engaged in measuring these noncognitive variables are showing positive results in better predicting students’ success, regardless of their incoming GPA or test score. While high school curriculum, GPA, and SAT/ACT scores continue to be useful in measuring some aspects of students’ abilities, a more comprehensive assessment of an applicants’ potential can be made by assessing both academic and life skills. This approach is generally referred to as “holistic admissions” or in Canada as “broad-based admissions”.

Using Noncognitive Variables

Adding noncognitive variables to admissions requirements can provide better assessment of student ability and potential, while increasing diversity, and accounting for different learning styles and cultural backgrounds. Those institutions that have employed noncognitive variables find that they have learned more about a student much earlier, and that they can better serve the student once they have matriculated. This affords the institution an opportunity, and more importantly, a responsibility, to serve the student more comprehensively, and much earlier in the educational process. This is an important part of why students are more successful once they matriculate. Campus faculty and staff can learn to help students be better prepared and informed on how to access and use campus services before they have arrived on campus. This greatly aids a new student’s ability to be successful, and a more confident, self-assured student can result. In addition to admissions, noncognitive variables have been used to improve scholarship selections as well.


AACRAO’s FairSelect services help your campus understand and implement noncognitive variables. Michele Sandlin, foremost practitioner and a twelve year implementation veteran of holistic admissions/noncognitive variables, teams with William Sedlacek to work with institutions worldwide. They can assist your institution by providing information and training regarding theory, research, legal backing, question and scoring development, alignment with academics and student affairs, business processes, and staff training.


Jaschik, S. (January 18, 2013). What is Merit? Inside Higher Ed.

Lauren, B. (2008). The College Admissions Officer’s Guide. AACRAO. P. 99-108.

Sedlacek, W. E. (2004). Beyond the big test: Noncognitive assessment in higher education. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Sedlacek, W. E. (2011). Using noncognitive variables in assessing readiness for higher education. Readings on Equal Education. 25, 187-205.

This article was authored by AACRAO Senior Consultant William Sedlacek and Managing Consultant Michele Sandlin.

Download the paper here: Employing Noncognitive Variables to Improve Admissions and Increase Student Retention

Ensuring a Successful Enrollment-Related Technology Implementation


Technology has become a necessary tool for enrollment-related activity. It is necessary to deliver effective student services as well as to provide actionable intelligence, such as the dashboard reports needed to inform strategic decision-making. This need exists in a dynamic environment where the technologies we use are constantly evolving, as are the expectations of service from students, faculty and staff.

Given these realities, decisions about whether to update or enhance current enrollment-related technology, or to implement new technology, are inherently part of an institution’s success. In fact, administrative/enterprise resource planning (ERP) systems and their associated issues of cost, staff development, user training, business process modifications, and regulatory compliance were chosen as number two in importance for the strategic success of institutions among the issues ranked by information technology leaders for 2008 (Allison et al., 2008).

Key Concepts for Successful Implementation
When existing technology no longer enables the institution to meet its needs or to keep up with its peers then the implementation of new enrollment-related technology must take place. However, the idea of implementing new technology either an entirely new ERP or an add-on enrollment-related solution can be perceived by staff as a daunting and unpleasant task. This is especially true for those who are not part of the information technology unit or who currently use technology strictly as a tool to complete clerical functions. Even when staff supports the change in technology, finding time to complete the required steps, while keeping up with ongoing workload, is a major challenge.

In order to be successful, any technology implementation must be carefully planned to minimize any perceived negative impact on staff and/or daily operations. Successful implementation of enrollment-related technology hinges on factors similar to managing any significant organizational change, such as a clear vision of the end goals, a champion for the effort, systemic buy-in from cross functional areas and the development of a realistic timeline to name a few.

Phelps and Busby (2007) described implementing a new system as similar to remodeling a house in that there are typical questions such as, “Where can you upgrade or make things easier, or Why not put in new plumbing and electrical systems since you have already ripped down the walls?” Before making a enrollment-related technology purchase questions like those listed below should be thoughtfully addressed.

  • What is our budget for purchase, implementation, support and maintenance?
  • What functional areas are going to be impacted by this change in technology (e.g., admissions, records, registration, institutional research, finance)?
  • What business processes are we trying to change and improve with this new technology and why?
    What other business processes will be effected?
  • Do our current processes need to be reviewed for relevance to the end goal and the new technology?
  • What is our customization expectation?
  • How much training is needed for staff to use the new technology?
  • Will we be able to extract the data we need from the technology for our operational and regulatory purposes?
  • What is the timeline for the implementation and does that timeline conflict with operational business cycles?

Once you have answered the questions listed above and selected an enrollment-related technology, there are seven additional questions derived from Nah et al. (2006) which are critical not only to a successful implementation, but also to an institution’s overall enrollment efforts. These questions include:

  • How will this technology enhance the institution’s ability to fulfill its strategic plan?
  • Is the institution’s level of preparedness for the operational and cultural changes that will result from the implementation adequate?
  • Is there a clear communication plan regarding the implementation with all stakeholders?
  • Are those involved in the details representative of all of the business areas impacted by the new technology?
  • Are the institution’s governance structures supportive of the change and is the team leadership for the project given an appropriate level of authority and responsibility to get the job done?
  • Is there a clearly defined scope and timeline for the project?
  • Is there adequate technical expertise (both in the operational unit and in the information technology unit) and infrastructure to support the new technology?

Post-Implementation Considerations
Throughout the implementation phase the focus is primarily on “going live”. However, “going live’ is not the end of implementation. As in any planning process, the next step is to focus on honing the deployment. This can include; examining functionality that was not initially implemented, re-examining perceptions that drove the initial implementation decisions, re-examining the institution’s business processes and business paradigms, as well as sharing and collaborating with other institutions who have previously implemented similar systems.

The environment of higher education is constantly changing as a result of both internal and external factors and changes in technology. As a result, the honing process is not limited to the period immediately following implementation, but really represents a continuous cycle of activity. As such, successful enrollment-related technology implementation will continue to be best served by using a holistic approach from the selection of a product to the end of its lifecycle.

Given the many inherent challenges, institutions often struggle with selecting and deploying enrollment-related technology or find that the implementation did not provide the desired results. In many cases, external consultants are brought in to address the issues. The best consultants are able to address both the business practice and technology aspects of the project. The consulting experience may include policy review, staff interviews, business process mapping, organizing technology demonstrations and follow-up training. One of the advantages of using an external consultant to help select, implement or refine enrollment-related technology is their objective, external perspective, which includes the benefit of observing best practices at other institutions. AACRAO Consulting is uniquely positioned to provide consultants with extensive functional experience and different institutional types as well as technical expertise.

Allison, D., DeBlois, P. & EDUCAUSE Current Issues Committee (2008). Current Issues Survey Report, 2008. Educause Quarterly 31(2): 14-30.

Fui-Hoon Nah, F. & Delgado, S. (2006). Critical Success Factors for Enterprise Resource Planning Implementation and Upgrade. The Journal of Computer Information Systems, 46(5): 99-113.

Phelps, Jim and Busby, Brian (2007) Service-Oriented Architecture: What is it, and how do we get one?

Educause Quarterly 30(3): 56-30.Swartz, D. & Orgill, K. (2001) Higher Education ERP: Lessons Learned. Educause Quarterly 24(2): 20-27.

Written by Wendy Kilgore, Director of Research and Managing Consultant for AACRAO Consulting.

Download this paper here: Ensuring a Successful Enrollment-Related Technology Implementation

Evaluating Staff Workload: The Need for a Standardized Tool for Institutional Planning


A current limitation of many institutions is the ability to determine what is the proper workload for staff. Because of the standardization of the credit hour, most institutions have a standard calculation for faculty workload. However, no such measure exists for evaluating staff load, which can be a significant hindrance to student service and staff morale.

One of the difficulties for administrators is that credit hours and full-time equivalency (FTE) calculations of student load used for financial projections are almost meaningless when it comes to assessing staff workload. One reason for this is that these units of measure (credit hours and FTE) do not directly correspond to the time required to serve students. For that, student headcount is a much more realistic measurement. Each student requires roughly the same amount of time and service regardless of the number of courses she takes or whether he is part-time or full-time. Each of these students must still be recruited and apply for a program, apply for and be awarded financial aid, be advised and register for classes, and be evaluated for progress toward program completion. All of these activities must occur whether a student in enrolled in one credit hour or 18 credits per term.

The disconnect happens since institutional planning and budgeting is most often based on credit hour enrollment rather than student headcount since few institutions bill students a flat rate per term (even those institutions with block tuition rates still are affected by service to students over multiple semesters depending on their time to completion). Also, planning and budgeting rarely consider student headcount in the assessment of staffing needs. Even those institutions that may take student enrollment into account do so more globally rather than segmenting programs and students based on unique service-level requirements. For example, transfer students require more time for evaluations and advising than do traditional students who follow an institution’s curriculum from start to finish.

Variables Involved in Staff Service Levels

So, what is the answer to this disconnect between student service and the planning needed to deliver that service? A solution must be developed that can account for the variables across institutions while, at the same time, providing a standard format that can be easily completed and understood for institutional planning and budgeting (and for integration with human resources).

sample staff workload 2

To develop such a standardized evaluation and planning tool, each institution must determine a baseline headcount for all programs against which each staff position will be evaluated, a program
complexity factor that compares the complexity of the program served to the baseline, and the actual student headcount for the program served.

Baseline Headcount: Each institution or department must establish a baseline against which to measure all other programs at the institution or within the department. The ideal is to select the most standard academic program at the institution (e.g., the traditional undergraduate program at a four year institution) and determine the number of students that a staff member can serve effectively. This should be determined through a variety of measures including turnaround time for communications and other student service tasks as well as broader student satisfaction regarding staff services. Once a baseline is established, that headcount can be used to assess service levels for each program at the institution or within the department.

Program Complexity Factor: Each academic program within the institution has unique service requirements that influence the tasks and staff time needed to serve students well. This factor should be determined in comparison with the program used to establish the baseline headcount for the institution or department. For example, an adult degree program that requires direct communication and advising, as well as routine re-evaluation of transfer credit, may require two to three times the amount of staff time as compared to another program at the institution. In contrast, a cohort-based program, with a standard program and little variation in advising may require less staff time than the baseline. In the actual tool, this factor will be multiplied by the actual headcount for the program to compare to the baseline.

Administrative Load: Many staff positions require responsibilities that are not focused on student service but on serving the operational needs of the institution or department. This might include management of other staff, committee representation, or technical support of institutional or department systems. Such administrative load should also be represented in a tool designed to assess staff workload and should be represented as a percentage of the overall position requirements.

% of Full-time Status: A comprehensive tool also needs to be scalable for all positions within the institution or department. For those positions that are less than full-time, a percentage should be entered into the tool to account for the staff FTE and the effective headcount served by the position should be modified appropriately by this factor as well.


All of the variables noted above must be combined to compare a staff member’s existing service level and workload to the benchmark. Once that comparison is completed, administrators can see at a
glance if each staff member has capacity to serve additional students or if he is over capacity and an additional staff member must be added to meet service expectations.

Long-Term Benefits

There are several benefits of a comprehensive tool for evaluating staff workload. One is that such a tool can be standardized to compare all positions within a department or for the entire institution if needed. The factors that comprise the tool can also be coded into an institution’s ERP system and built into standardized reports for regular evaluation by institutional decision makers. In addition, the tool can be customized for each institution to account for unique needs and variations (i.e., staff serving multiple programs). The benchmarks that are the basis of the tool can be evaluated regularly to insure that the base information is accurate (especially compared against service expectations and student satisfaction measures). Finally, the tool can be used to determine the capacity of each staff and can be charted against anticipated enrollment projections for budgetary planning purposes, thus demystifying the evaluation process of adding staff and promoting financial stability for the department and the institution.

Sample 2 Reid

This article was authored by AACRAO Senior Consultant Dr. Reid Kisling.

Download this paper here: Evaluating Staff Workload: The Need for a Standardized Tool for Institutional Planning

Finding the Academic Context: The SEM Role for Faculty


For institutions to have effective strategic enrollment management (SEM) operations, they must place SEM within the institutional academic context. From the beginning, SEM was seen as a comprehensive process designed to achieve the right mix of students for an institution, and to maximize the student’s chance for recruitment and acceptance to, retention in, and graduation from the right academic program.

Placing SEM within the academic context is a more difficult challenge than some might think. This is perhaps why enrollment managers focused on structure in the early years. Among the structures most commonly adopted is a separate enrollment management division that includes at least admissions, registration, and financial aid. The result, however, was often the creation of an enrollment management silo with limited interaction with faculty. In our zeal to create a new enrollment management profession, we distanced ourselves from the very heart of SEM – the academic context.

In recent years, some enrollment managers have changed the lens through which they view SEM; increasingly, they are focusing on academics. AACRAO Consulting Services (ACS) Senior consultant Stanley Henderson describes this as the emergence of an “enrollment management ethos.” By placing the focus back on the academic context of the institution and making structure the servant rather than the master of enrollment policy and strategy, SEM will touch every aspect of institutional function and culture and set the tone for a comprehensive approach (2005).*

Henderson identified six guiding principles:

  • Enrollment management is a shared responsibility. Each member of the institutional community must nurture the ethos as well as the enrollment planning.
  • Enrollment management is a major and essential part of institutional strategic planning.
  • The essence of SEM is service—to students, parents, faculty, staff, administration, and others. The very purpose of processes and procedures is to enhance student success.
  • Enrollment management requires the measurement and use of key performance indicators, indices of institutional and academic health.
  • SEM requires an effective research and evaluation plan.
  • SEM is by definition long-term, continuous, and never finished.

Involving Faculty
Successful enrollment management is impossible without strong and lasting relationships with faculty members; they are important to all aspects of enrollment management and essential at key points.

At some institutions, faculty members have long played a role in enrollment management. Enrollment managers with successful enrollment efforts involve faculty members in several key activities, including enrollment management planning, optimizing admission yield, and new student orientation. Faculty have been active in new program development, student recruitment and retention, academic advising, and support for co-curricular learning. Sometimes their involvement is attributable to deeply-felt beliefs about their role in faculty governance. In other cases it reflects the way teaching and learning is practiced at the college or university. Often, it is rooted in the self-interest of individual faculty members. Whatever their motivations may be, faculty members who participate in enrollment management influence the size, academic quality, diversity and values of the student body.

It is also important to note, however, that not all faculty members are interested or gifted in these activities. Finding those who are is critical to your success.

Enrollment Management Planning: For those faculty members with a bent toward research and how it impacts enrollment management, consider inviting them to join your enrollment management planning committee. Faculty members are frequently critical of the enrollment operation. They can often be heard to say that it is not informed by data, “but only by intuition.” Many are surprised when they learn how data driven SEM actually is, or is intended to be. Once engaged, these faculty members often become SEM ambassadors within the institution’s academic environment.

New Program Development: For institutions to remain vibrant and relevant to today’s “millennial student,” they must develop new academic programs and modify or discontinue existing academic programs. One of the outcomes of enrollment management planning is the identification of new academic fields that could be considered for new program development. New faculty members are often interested in new program development, as are those senior faculty members with a personal commitment to the future of the institution. Enrollment managers who work with faculty on program development will create important relationships that can lead to collaborative SEM efforts in the future.

Student Recruitment: Some faculty members are so passionate about their teaching and the subject matter they present that they seek out opportunities to become involved in selected student recruitment activities. These faculty members are the “keeners” and are often ideal to serve as presenters at open house programs or to meet with students individually as they visit campus. Always be on the lookout for these faculty members. Be aware, however, that some faculty members may be seeking to fulfill their service responsibilities without having to serve on institutional committees. Frequently, these faculty members are not effective recruiters for the college or university. It is important to work with their department heads or deans to ensure that the faculty members carry out their service responsibilities in an area of strength, rather than one of weakness.

Admission Yield:
Once students have been offered admission and sent the “thick package,” they have moved to a new decision point in the college choice process. Up to this point, general information about the institution and its academic programs is usually sufficient to keep them interested in your institution. Admissions counselors and financial aid staff are less effective in the post-admission cycle. Faculty, on the other hand, have the potential to be extremely effective in helping the student to choose your institution. Faculty members can make the “experience” more real by sharing their passion for their academic disciplines and the institution to which they have committed to working. They might be involved in critical admission yield events or participate in a faculty calling campaign.

New Student Orientation: New student orientation usually includes an academic component. Faculty are often called upon to provide an academic overview of their program and to provide the students’ first academic advisement. For this reason, faculty often see a clear role for themselves at orientation. Be aware, though, that some faculty view social events such as those held at orientation as outside their realm of responsibilities, and the purview of staff or student volunteers. For them, you may want to provide the linkage between social and academic integration, and student-faculty engagement.

Academic Advising: Most institutions expect faculty to participate in some form of academic advising. This can be part of their teaching load or considered a service duty. Some institutions assign faculty advisors to each incoming student. Others use a designated faculty advisor system that assigns academic advising responsibilities to one or more faculty members in each department. An increasing number of institutions have given some or all academic advising duties to professional staff advisors. Where academic advising is considered part of teaching, faculty members participate actively. However, where it is considered a service responsibility, faculty may resist the additional work since they receive little or no credit in the tenure and promotion process.

The challenge, then, is to either encourage those faculty with an interest in student advising to become designated faculty advisors or to investigate ways in which advising might be considered part of the teaching load. Both will require the enrollment manager to be actively involved in the academic context.

Co-curricular Activities: Those faculty with a holistic perspective of higher education will take the view that they should be involved in co-curricular activities. Many others see their role as limited to the classroom or the laboratory. Those who do involve themselves in such activities find it is one of the best ways to engage students and often results in some of their most high-impact moments with students.

Enrollment managers new to the profession might at first think that strategic enrollment management can be successful without support and/or participation by faculty. Programs based on acceptance of this premise will have limited impact on student choice, retention, and graduation. Those that reach out to faculty, engage them actively in their SEM efforts, and see faculty as partners will reach more of their enrollment goals and be more successful at change management and institutional effectiveness. AACRAO Consulting Services has found that successful enrollment management plans involve faculty from the very beginning as an integral part of the operation.

* Henderson, S.E. 2005. Refocusing enrollment management: Losing structure and finding the academic context.
College and University, 80(3), 3–8.

Written by Clayton Smith, Senior Consultant for AACRAO Consulting.

Download this paper here: Finding the Academic Context: The SEM Role for Faculty

How are We Doing? Gauging Enrollment Performance


Even the most casual observer of American higher education has noted the continued turbulent environment. In the short-term, the uncertain economy has contributed mightily to operating deficits, forcing many schools to respond with personnel reductions and sizable increases in tuition and fees.

Unfortunately, simply responding with short-term crisis management until the economy strengthens presents its own set of risks. Longer-term trends of changing demographics, increased competition for students, student retention challenges and shifting student financial aid, among others, indicate that any return to “business as usual” is more like “the impossible dream.”

Forward-thinking leadership must continually be asking the “How-are-we-doing” question about enrollment management and be judging the answers received. The rise of performance evaluation, institutional research and the like attests to the question’s immediacy. The weapons in this arsenal now range from market research to organizational reviews to satisfaction surveys to measuring outcomes.

But has this activity produced substantive performance improvement? Too frequently, the answer is no or not enough. Failing to produce significant change can be traced to the absence of one or more vital elements: comprehensive performance measures, meaningful performance standards, well-defined and communicated strategic imperatives and a comprehensive game plan for change.

Comprehensive Enrollment Performance Measures: What Are the Critical Issues?
For enrollment-related performance assessment to have meaning, it must first be looking at the “right things.” Data on several valid and common measures of performance are typically available on most campuses; enrollment numbers, standardized test scores, recruitment yields, retention numbers, various financial outcomes and placement success are among the more obvious.

These measures, however, don’t reveal the full picture and typically miss the underlying factors over which the institution has real control. For example, what information is available to evaluate items such as administrative and academic processes, the cost of operating these processes, stakeholder satisfaction, employee training effectiveness, morale, organizational communication, utilization of technology, teamwork, or the impact of reward systems? These issues all affect the ability of the college or university to perform well or create change.

One of the right things any organization should continually gauge is how well it recognizes and reacts meaningfully to the environment and competition. At best, the high performer establishes an atmosphere that fosters leading-edge innovation and creativity to which others must respond.

Meaningful Enrollment Performance Standards: How Good Is Good?
Measuring the right things only partially addresses the task at hand. Suppose a school’s financial aid unit has a student satisfaction index of 70 on a scale of 100, with the index based on knowledgeable and friendly staff, convenient location, understandable processes and similar metrics. Is 70 a good score? Perhaps—if avoiding mass revolt is the only goal and mass revolt is unlikely at an index higher than 50. But a different conclusion might be reached if one or more competitors are at 90.

Such goals cannot be established in isolation. Setting meaningful goals that call for the institution to stretch requires an external viewpoint—for example, comparison with other colleges and universities. Organizations outside of higher education can also be excellent sources for goals as well as best practices.

The external view is also valuable when countering a reaction of skepticism or disbelief to challenging performance goals. Selling new goals (and hence change to different practices) is easier if one can quickly point to another organization already performing at that “unattainable” level.

Strategic Enrollment Imperatives: Where Do We Want to Be?
Lack of comprehensive measures and meaningful standards often reflects a more fundamental problem: absence of a clearly defined and communicated mission and objectives. Without this roadmap of strategic imperatives, the enrollment evaluation process has no sound footing.

Even if a statement of institutional mission exists, often it isn’t adequately translated into actionable terms for those responsible for implementation. Individual functions are thus left to follow their own agendas, with little reflection of broader issues and strategies. This lack of alignment among functional, departmental and institutional purposes can render the most well-intentioned improvement efforts ineffective.

A Game Plan for Change: How Do We Create Effective Change?
Even if performance measures and standards are appropriately defined, clear answers to “How are we doing?” will be of little value unless strategies responsive to the current situation and future objectives are produced. For example, a recent university self-study concluded that “there is no systematic, university-wide mechanism for ensuring that implementation of [assessment] results is taking place, or for documenting changes made as a result of assessment information.”

Implementation strategies must mirror the typical interdisciplinary nature and complexity of many opportunities. Such initiatives may include a series of steps such as revising the marketing plan, restructuring the organization, offering training, providing ongoing intensive communications, redesigning processes, building faculty and staff involvement and/or creating new systems.

Orchestrating these efforts is no simple task, and it calls for finely honed skills in answering questions like:

  • What overall timetable is appropriate? What should be done first?
  • What resources are needed, and how are they best marshaled?
  • What is the linkage among the tasks?
  • How will we know when we get there?

Putting It All Together
As shown in the diagram below, “The Winning Enrollment Combination” requires equal attention to performance (“Where do we want to be?”; “What are the critical issues?”; “How good is good?”) and the implementation of effective change.

AC Solution Gauging Enrollment graphic

Shortchanging either dimension will yield suboptimal results. Focusing on implementation issues to the exclusion of strategy or performance issues produces “all form and no substance”: perhaps the institution has intensively implemented the wrong things or focused on issues no longer of primary relevance. This errant focus can be likened to fine-tuning a buggy whip: like the buggy whip, the strategy is out of touch with the times.

Conversely, the ivory tower approach produces lots of studies and analyses but no results. Change is a difficult, time-consuming process that requires more than good insights on new directions to pursue.

The key to meaningful results, then, is a proper balance of what and how. Attaining meaningful results not only means knowing where you want to go—through strategic imperatives, performance standards and comprehensive performance measures—but also requires a comprehensive game plan for change that gives equal time to performance issues and methods of implementation.

This paper was authored by AACRAO Consultant Tom Dibble.

Download this paper here: How are We Doing? Gauging Enrollment Performance

Integrating Enrollment Management: Budgeting and Academic Planning


Integrating Enrollment Management, Budgeting and Academic Planning

Integrating Enrollment
Enrollment management is sometimes compared to filling seats on an airplane: every empty seat constitutes a loss of enormous proportion,not only in forgone revenue,but in a highly developed and costly infrastructure designed to transport passengers to new horizons. The ultimate goal is to fully utilize this infrastructure – fill all available seats in highly competitive markets and while generating sufficient net revenue to support the enterprise. Toward this end, some passengers pay “full fare” while others pay discounted fares and still others fly free.

The point of generating revenues is, of course, to support the expense of providing the quality faculty, facilities, technology and program support services – the airplane, if you will – that will both serve students and define that sense of place, the visible and tangible representation of the institution that serves as a home for learning and creation of new knowledge. Generating net income – net revenue in excess of expense – supports the expansion of programs and services.
net income
Filling seats in classrooms is a complex undertaking, and much depends on enrollment managers making the right decisions about whom to admit, where to invest, or how to market. Matriculating too many or too few students in particular fields will translate into infrastructure being overly taxed or underutilized. For many colleges and universities,even slight enrollment shortfalls can lead to budget and program reductions.

Considering the importance of enrollments to institutional finances, it should not be surprising that at budget time the question will be posed: “What’s the bottom line?” In any given recruitment cycle,answering this financial question can involve myriad factors both within and outside the direct control of enrollment managers:

  • Did we accurately assess and effectively respond to changing student demographics?
  • Will our new retention programs achieve their targets?
  • How will coverage of our institution by the press — negative, positive, or non-existent — affect enrollments?
  • Have we strategically used financial aid to achieve enrollment and net revenue goals?
  • How will our deployment of new technologies affect enrollment outcomes?
  • How will “consumer choice” play out with our new marketing strategies and changing academic program offerings?
  • What effect will changing economic conditions have on enrollments?
  • Did we invest sufficiently in the “right things” to achieve planned results?

Management, Budgeting and Academic Planning

In a given recruitment cycle – or budget cycle – the answer to one or another of these questions may prove more significant than the rest. Translating these dynamic factors into definitive enrollment and revenue outcomes provides a critical foundation for budgeting and, because of their multi-year implications, forecasting future enrollments, program offerings and institutional costs.

Like enrollment management,both academic and budget planning affect colleges and universities in far-reaching ways and involve similarly complex sets of internal and external considerations. Decisions about facility and faculty investments influence institutions for decades to come by defining capacity, capabilities, and costs. With respect to longevity, the decision to hire a faculty member who will make a decades-long career at a single institution is not unlike the decision to build a new building. Both constitute long-term investments that at once reflect and shape institutional missions and prospective program offerings.

Academic program plans and expense budgets reflect both the consequences of past decisions, in the form of continuing programs, infrastructure and services, and new investments in future institutional directions. While largely driven by annual processes and concerns, these processes – like enrollments – have multi-year consequences.
budget planning
Many insights and metrics that inform effective enrollment management, such as current and future market demand, can play pivotal roles in guiding and informing these institutional investment decisions as well.

In practice within higher education, linkages between budget, enrollment and academic planning have been more incidental, or even accidental, than strategic. On most campuses, these respective processes are “owned” by disparate operating units, rely on specialized data sources and may not even share information freely. Effectively managing each segment of what are in fact overlapping and interdependent processes presents a “chicken-egg” dilemma with multiple chickens (or multiple eggs):

  • Enrollments shape budgets that shape programs that shape enrollments.
  • Enrollments shape programs that shape budgets that shape enrollments.
  • Budgets shape programs that shape enrollments that shape budgets.
  • Budgets shape enrollments that shape programs that shape budgets.
  • Programs shape enrollments that shape budgets that shape programs.
  • Programs shape budgets that shape enrollments that shape programs.

It is no wonder that academic planners see programs, budget managers see budgets, and enrollment managers see enrollments as the decisive wedges to leverage future institutional aspirations. The fact is that each has valid claims upon the others. Precisely because of these interrelationships, strengths or weaknesses in any one component can have compounding impacts on the others. Strong enrollments promote strong budgets and programs; similarly, weak enrollments undermine both budgets and programs.

Recognizing the inter-dependence and breadth of sway these processes have on institutional capacity, capabilities, and costs, leaders of colleges and universities over the past decade have prompted an explosion of strategic planning designed to provide a common blueprint for realizing institutional aspirations. These plans typically utilize “seed capital” gleaned from budget reallocations, new fundraising or net income gains to implement new program initiatives. Yet at the operational level, budget, enrollment management and academic planning largely remain “silo” annual processes. Unfortunately, no single engine of change – even one as central as strategic program initiatives – can achieve aspirations as effectively as synergistic efforts across these related processes.

Transforming strategic thinking into everyday operational reality is itself a formidable task requiring not only common vision and shared strategies, but also shared tools, understandings of critical financial and non-financial data, and above all meaningful insights into the implications of alternative budgetary and operational strategies. There is much to be gained by the integration of enrollment management, budget, and academic program planning:the optimal utilization of resources to achieve institutional goals.

Written by AACRAO Consultant Guilbert Brown.

Download this paper here: Integrating Enrollment Management: Budgeting and Academic Planning

Leveraging Financial Aid: A Powerful Tool for Enrollment Success


As college costs continue to rise against stagnant family incomes, the pressure to provide more financial aid from an institution’s operating budget has also risen. This rise in aid is accompanied by questions of its place in the financial health of the university. Are we spending too much? Is it being spent on the right students? These are common questions in university board rooms, faculty senate meetings and enrollment management committees. A strategic analysis of financial aid can help the enrollment manager and his or her institution to answer these difficult and sometimes elusive questions. It can also lead to an improved financial aid strategy, which is an important component of attracting and retaining students the institution seeks to serve.

Like many enrollment management techniques, leveraging uses data to inform decision-making. In a rare place within the realm of data utilization, leveraging rivals predictive modeling and retention analysis in its complexity and use of data across variables from different data areas of the institution and (in best practices) external data, as well. Leveraging may be defined as an analysis of student enrollment behavior through the lens of financial aid that leads to confirmation of or changes to institutional aid strategy. It is also a Continuous Quality Improvement process that uses analysis to refine and improve the institution’s financial aid strategy within the constraints of its available resources.

Financial aid leveraging seeks to achieve three goals:

  1. Provide aid packages that yield the optimal mix of students, including those who may not otherwise enroll at the institution (recruitment);
  2. Help close gaps between costs and resources that may prevent students from persisting to degree (retention); and
  3. Meet net tuition goals.

Before embarking on a leveraging analysis, there are two preliminary steps that you must take. These are more conceptual and strategic in nature than the process steps that follow them. First, you must determine the lens through which you will examine the gap between resources and costs (“need gap”). Will you look at the cost of attendance through the lens often used by the financial aid office, which includes direct and indirect costs? This is a common calculation of costs and is also known as the student budget. It includes estimates for books, transportation, miscellaneous costs and room and board when the student does not live in campus housing. Or, will you look at costs through the lens used by many students and parents to include just those paid directly to the university — tuition, fees and campus housing for your residents? There are good arguments for both lenses but the way in which you leverage aid will have different results, depending upon your answer to this question.

Second, you need to have clear enrollment goals that go beyond the number of students you seek to enroll. These goals will form the inquiry questions that impact the design of the analysis and variables included in the data set. For example, if a college seeks more out-of-state students, state of residence must be included in the data set. If it seeks more math majors or men, intended major and gender, respectively, must be included.

The process of financial aid leveraging is then broken into four additional steps that comprise the process of leveraging financial aid: data gathering and cleansing, analysis, implementation and review.

Step One: Getting Your Ducks (Data) in a Row
Possibly the most difficult of all the steps is gathering and cleaning data in preparation for the leveraging analysis. It is critically important to include the correct variables. You will need to know who enrolled and who did not and the financial aid packages offered to students who were admitted. Some financial aid offices delete aid packages for those who do not enroll, requiring these to be recreated in simulated packaging, a time-consuming task. It is also common to find incomplete and inconsistent records with the assembled data set. Old codes that were supposed to be inactive have a strange way of appearing, once the data is examined for consistency.

Many enrollment managers want to know if their aid packages are competitive with peer institutions. It is possible to complete a competition analysis using National Student Clearinghouse data. Data requests can be made to the Clearinghouse by member institutions for an annual research fee, which is usually a bargain for what can be learned from it when wisely studied and incorporated into a data set with other variables.

Assembling a data set for analysis requires expertise that may be beyond even experienced enrollment managers. It is important to partner with the institutional researchers at your institution and you will need someone on the project with experience and skill in working with large data sets, statistical analysis and the accompanying software required to assemble and assess your data. For this reason, it is common for institutions to enlist the help of a consultant.

Step Two: Making Sense of the Data
Analysis of the data can answer several questions. The most common analysis performed is the assembly of a “grid” that places the student’s ability to pay against the student’s willingness to pay. Ability is usually measured as the Expected Family Contribution (EFC) from the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). Students who do not send FAFSA results to your institution can also be assess but they are placed into their own category on the grid. It is also important to separate out those students who come to your institution through special financial incentives. These could be athletic aid offers, institutional employee benefits or special talents, such as art or music. The behavior of these students within the context of financial offers is so different from the majority of students that leaving them in the analysis with other students may skew the results.

Willingness to pay may be expressed through academic preparation data. Those students with higher academic preparation levels will have more options for enrollment at various institutions and will likely receive merit aid offers from your competitors. Students with lower preparation levels may be thankful to be admitted to your institution and jump at the chance to enroll with less financial incentive to do so.

The grid of need and ability will contain many cells where these two variables intersect. There are multiple ways to assemble these data into the grid but standard for any assessment is the inclusion of institutional gift aid and total gift aid for each cell, along with the number and ratio of students enrolled to those admitted. Smaller institutions will need multiple years of data (also a good idea for larger ones, as one year’s data may be anomalous to overall performance) to avoid problems resulting from small sample sizes. Separation of student cohorts (freshmen, transfers, graduate, adult learners, in-state or out-of-state, etc.) is an important step, as different cohorts may react quite differently to various aid offers.

Each cell in the grid is carefully analyzed to determine to what extent financial aid may play a role in student enrollment decisions. For example, in the highest ability, lowest need cell, students may be receiving full-ride offers and yielding at very low rates. There may be no financial issue that improves this and these results may be a function of institutional position and/or recruitment techniques. Other students with very high need may not be yielding at high rates because they lack the basic financial resources to cover costs. At this stage, it is a good idea to have someone with extensive experience in financial aid analysis to take a look at these data to help the enrollment manager and institution walk through the questions and possible reasons for low or high yield rates. Using an analysis tool such as an Excel pivot table to construct the grid will allow analysts to “drill down” into each cell and examine the cases that comprise its summary averages.

There are several additional analyses that can add to the understanding of student enrollment behavior through the lens of financial aid. With large enough sample sizes, it is possible to assess behavior between academic programs, seeking to understand if the same merit or need awards elicit similar or different behaviors for engineering or history majors, for example. Behavior may also be different between students from varying regions of your recruitment territory, such as in-district or faraway states. A leveraging analysis can also be used to view the retention of students at your institution, substituting return to studies for initial enrollment as the dependent variable in the analysis.

Step Three: Adjusting Aid Strategies to Meet Institutional Enrollment Goals
From the analysis of institutional aid performance, changes to institutional aid may be made to help improve the yield of students desired to achieve institutional enrollment goals. One example of this is that institutions may decide to meet a higher percentage of the need gap for more desirable students than those less desirable to meet the qualitative enrollment goals of the institution (academic profile, geographic diversity, etc.).

This may be as simple as “tweaking” awards in certain cells to achieve marginal improvement in several areas or as radical as an overhaul of the institution’s aid scheme. Expected results are placed into a model matrix as targets for the entering class for whom these aid awards will be available. Documentation of the rationale for each change in awards should be made and kept, so that there is a record of why these new expectations were set. From this model, the expected net tuition revenue for each entering cohort can be modeled and incorporated into the overall tuition revenue projections for the institution. Needless to say, the timing of the entering classes should be far enough in advance that the awards have an opportunity to play a part in the recruitment of and yield of the entering students.

It is important to consider how these changes will be communicated to key audiences, including students, parents, guidance personnel, faculty, recruitment staff, financial aid staff, alumni and others who may have a vested stake in the recruitment and enrollment of your students. Making changes to scholarship or grant programs but failing to promote them may minimize the overall enrollment results you hoped to achieve.

Step Four: Rinse and Repeat – Continuous Quality Improvement
Once the entering class has matriculated, it is important to assemble the leveraging matrix for that cohort against the numbers you expected to achieve in each cell. Where expectations were different in any significant way, it is important to review the documentation for the assumptions made to see why the results over or under-performed the expected levels. From this review, additional changes can be made for the next entering classes.

As the institution gains experience with leveraging, it will be better able to forecast the impact of changes in aid strategy on net revenue for new and continuing cohorts of students. It may take several years of purposeful changes to acquire the desired results, especially if they require the infusion of significant new financial aid resources. It may not be prudent to add these new resources in a single year and enrollment managers must be mindful that increased discounting has a long-term rollout as students persist toward their degrees.

It was tempting to title this brief “Financial Aid Leveraging: Six Simple Steps to Enrollment Health” in hopes that readers would quickly see its irony – financial aid leveraging is anything but “simple” and it is not a magic elixir to improve the institution overnight. It is, however, a potentially powerful tool that can be employed by enrollment managers in combination with other proven enrollment techniques. As pressures mount to provide greater amounts of aid to students, having a firm grasp of aid at your institution and a purposeful plan for awarding it will be important assets for enrollment managers.

If you are interested in learning more about financial aid leveraging at your college or university, please contact

Written by Tom Green, Director of Technology and Managing Consultant for AACRAO Consulting.

Download this paper here: Leveraging Financial Aid: A Powerful Tool for Enrollment Success

Managing Evolving Technology Needs


Over the course of the life-cycle of an information system there are key points in time where it is essential to conduct a technology gap analysis to measure the ability of the system to support enrollment goals and prospective/current student expectations. In an ideal, mature information system analyses are completed on a routine and regular basis. However, more often the analysis is a reaction to an urgent issue, such as declining enrollment or change in a regulatory requirement. On the other hand, for new implementations the analysis should be part of the standard implementation protocol. The results of each analysis are vital to effective decision making regarding how to address the gaps in technology relative to the institution’s needs. Contextually, these technology gaps can be placed in the realm of strategic enrollment management with the following example:

We understand that prospective students who apply to more than one institution more often select the institution that responds to them first in the application process. With this understanding, let’s look at the impact of one institution having the ability to accept required documents as electronic application attachments vs. a competing institution processing the attachments through mail, email or fax. If attachments are processed manually rather than electronically there is often a comparative increase in the time required to respond to an applicant. This perhaps seemingly minor difference in technology can result in the applicant enrolling at the institution with the electronic attachment purely because of the difference in response time.

Further, according to EDUCAUSE’s Top-Ten IT Issues, 2011 it behooves institutions to be agile enough to adopt or change technology to meet the expectations of today’s prospects and students. Technology agility, adaptability, and responsiveness were listed as the sixth of ten issues, up from seventh in 2010. “More than ever before, students are expecting campus IT operations to accept and adopt the new and emerging technologies that have already made services and applications convenient for them.” (Ingerman, Yang, & 2011 EDUCAUSE Current Issues Committee, 2011)

When faced with the need to close a technology gap which cannot be resolved through routine upgrades or enhancements to existing systems, institutions are currently faced with deciding between the following;

  1. acquiring an additional module or modules from the system vendor if available,
  2. buying a bolt-on solution,
  3. modifying existing technology,
  4. outsourcing the development and maintenance of the technology, and
  5. developing a home grown solution from scratch.

While one could assume that the first step is to examine what technology solutions are available, that starting point could lead to the availability of a product and its functionality influencing the institution’s needs rather than the institution’s needs driving the product selection. Additionally, the technology solution cannot be systematically evaluated without first establishing the context in which it will operate. This context includes current applicable policy, enrollment goals and business processes and the vision, mission, goals and values associated with the service unit and institution.

Once the context has been clearly defined, the following activities and considerations should be part of the evaluation and selection of a solution:

  • Aim to select a solution which “off the shelf”:
    • most closely meets the operational needs of the institution;
    • retains or enables the ability of the institution to remain competitive with other institutions; and
    • limits the number of non-value added activities associated with the process.
  • Clearly differentiate and define needed vs. wanted functionality.
  • Examine all viable solutions in-depth including evaluating pros and cons such as:
    • identify the timeline for implementation and the opportunity cost associated with a longer implementation timeline;
    • detail the up-front costs including human resource internal/external and fiscal;
    • note the ongoing maintenance costs including human resource and fiscal;
    • ascertain the ability for the chosen solution to meet longer term goals regarding admissions functionality and enrollment goals.
  • Measure and document the gap between the solution and needed functionality and decide whether or not that gap is acceptable to the institution.
    • If not, also document what would need to be done to close the gap.
  • Invite stakeholders to provide their input on the options.

Pros and Cons in Brief

Each of the five solutions mentioned above inherently has pros and cons. In addition to the activities and considerations listed, the brief (not exhaustive) pros and cons included below should be part of the evaluation process.

Acquiring an Additional Module

Pros: Cons:
Tends to be pre-integrated with the existing system May not be available for the existing system
Usually less of a learning curve for users May not meet the needs without significant modification
Typically less of a learning curve for information technology staff May have limitations in agility and adaptability because of the ties to the main system
Upgrade/enhancement cycle often tied to the main system rather than on a separate cycle

Modification of Existing Technology

Pros: Cons:
Institution already “owns” the solution and it is currently in use operationally May need considerable modification to meet needs
Limits the number different solutions requiring ongoing support from information technology staff Annual product updates may take more time to support
No need to support a data interface between the solution and the existing system Can require a great deal of ongoing support from information technology staff and typically cannot be developed or executed by non-technical staff
Staff familiar with the basic interface Often a fairly long implementation timeline
Relatively easy to incorporate with other primary systems

Adding a “Bolt-on” Solution

Pros: Cons:
May be easier to support over time than modifications to the existing system Implementation and maintenance costs may be higher than other options
Subsequent system upgrades are often easier to manage with a bolt-on solution as compared to a modified primary system May have a steeper learning curve for end users and information technology staff
Often customizable through non-technical staff configuration A data interface may need to be created and maintained by the institution
May have a comparatively short implementation timeline

Outsourced Solution

Pros: Cons:
Can have a comparatively short implementation timeline May have comparatively higher ongoing maintenance costs
Typically has a reduced need for internal information technology support relative to other solutions Reliance on an external entity to support application and data exchange
Reduced if not eliminated need to ‘compete’ with other internal projects for information technology staff time to make changes or upgrades May have a steeper learning curve for end users and information technology staff
A data interface may need to be created and maintained by the institution

Home Grown Solution

Pros: Cons:
Results in a solution that perfectly fits needs of the institution Upfront costs are high in terms internal staff time
Ability to modify in-house as needed More typically has a long development and implementation timeline
May have comparatively lower ongoing maintenance costs Possibly a new platform for end users to learn and for information technology staff to support
May be difficult to support and maintain through primary system upgrades
A data interface with the primary system may also need to be created and maintained by the institution


As supported by the information provided here, this type of undertaking requires considerable effort and time. An external consultant can provide an institution with the additional dedicated resource and expertise to collaborate with staff to define the context, identify the best technology solution, outline business practice changes and develop an implementation plan. AACRAO Consulting provides institutions with this type of assistance by thoughtfully matching a consultant’s background and expertise with the institution’s type, culture and need. Additionally, when engaging a consultant from AACRAO you retain not just the experience of one consultant, but gain access to the resources and experiences of a network of higher education experts.


Ingerman, B., Yang, C., & 2011 EDUCAUSE Current Issues Committee. (2011). Top-Ten IT Issues, 2011. Educause.

This article was authored by AACRAO Director of Research and Managing Consultant Dr. Wendy Kilgore.

Download the paper here: Managing Evolving Technology Needs

Organizational Transformation to Meet and Exceed Service Expectations: The Role of One-Stop Centers in Higher Education


One of the greatest challenges for today’s enrollment manager is meeting and exceeding the expectations of students, parents, faculty and administrative units in the modern college and university environment. The utilization of new technologies to provide service to customers in retail and service segments of our economy has driven the expectations of students and other key constituencies to new levels and uncharted waters.

While many of us can find examples of outdated processes or policies on our campuses, the thought of transforming the way we serve students can be daunting. Where do we begin and how can we address the issues of personnel, technology and information? Adding a framework and approaching the process in step-wise fashion can provide a roadmap for enrollment managers who seek to reshape the way their institutions do business.*

A growing body of research on the relationships between service, marketing and customer retention in the business community can illuminate our view of service in the college or university environment (Boulding, Stein, Ehret and Johnston, 2005). In translating these into higher education and specifically enrollment management, we can view these as the relationships between recruitment, retention and student satisfaction with enrollment services. We must start by examining the changing landscape of service through the eyes of those we seek to serve.

A Framework for Examining Enrollment Services

One of the more recent terms heard in higher education when referring to enrollment management is Customer Relationship Management (CRM), especially in reference to our computer systems and communications. Bringing together technology, data, and organization forms, CRM seeks to leverage the knowledge we have of our students, parents, guidance personnel and others to create a more personal and efficient experience for them when interacting with the institution. It seeks to create greater value for both the consumer/student and the company/institution. When we successfully implement CRM as a tool for enrollment management, students are more pleased with their enrollment service experience; meanwhile, we gain in student numbers, qualities of entering students, and student persistence in meeting their educational goals at our institutions.

A Step-Wise Approach to Organizational Transformation

When we change internal processes and organizational form to respond to the changes in the external environment, we must do so carefully and deliberately. Using a process developed for organizational transformation as it applies to a service organization (Christopher, Payne and Ballantyne, 1991), an intentional process can be organized that will lead the institution in examining and redefining its service paradigm. The steps below have been translated here to apply specifically to higher education and the transformation of enrollment services.

Step One: Understand the Expectations and Needs of Your Key Constituencies

Organizations must seek to understand the expectations of the constituencies as a whole and among the various segments they serve. For higher education, these could be traditional freshmen coming directly from secondary education, their parents, guidance counselors, transfer students, returning adults, transfer counselors at community colleges, international students and graduate students, to name a few. Equally important is the understanding of how each segment routinely accesses or receives information in their lives through other sources (banking, music, hotel, airline or other services).

Step Two: Assess and Redesign Processes

From the perspective of the needs and expectations of the institution’s clientèle flow the processes and organizational structures that leverage technology and deploy personnel into more effective roles in the organization. In the community college setting, for example, the broad range of traditional and working adult populations, mostly geographically proximate to the institution, may demand that the service model provide students the choice of interaction formats (on-line, in person or over the phone) and convenient locations and times. Other institutions that serve a narrower, more traditional student market that spans a broader geographic range may focus on on-line services and extended service hours to accommodate multiple time zones.

Step Three: Develop an Infrastructure Aligned with Modern Practices and Technologies

As our routine transactions become automated and process redesign streamlines the processing of information within our institutions, the role of service providers also must be redesigned. Interactions between service providers and students will come to focus on the unusual or problematic situations in enrollment. Often, these situations span more than one office of the institution and are intertwined with admission, registration, financial aid and payment issues.

To solve problems more holistically and across office boundaries, a growing number of institutions are turning to a one-stop shop in enrollment services, where generalists with broad unit knowledge interact with students and other constituencies and specialists focus on the systems and information processing that support student enrollment. Specialists and their deep subject knowledge also assist in service by handling the complexities of student requests and problems that go beyond the broad knowledge of the generalists.

Step Four: Develop a Personnel Plan

Job descriptions, training and change management are all part of the personnel plan. New skill sets are required, especially in creating a generalist-specialist personnel plan that utilizes a one-stop shop, surrounded and supported by specialist teams, to deliver services. Transitioning existing staff to these new jobs and hiring new staff to fill vacancies will require focus on a number of customer service and technology skills that differ from those used previously. Initial and ongoing training programs must be developed to impart new and constantly updated information, processes, policies and systems.

This organizational structure makes new demands of staff and managers alike. The anxieties associated with massive organizational change must be considered and planned for when undertaking such a project. While the one-stop shop concept is attractive in its promise to improve service, it is far less comfortable for those faced with changes to the roles to which they have become accustomed and trained over the years. The enrollment manager is required to exhibit exceptional leadership in providing the unit and university a clear and consistent vision of the outcomes of this transformation. Providing communication vehicles that are both written (e-mail, web) and oral (unit-wide and small group staff meetings) can accelerate the adoption of the new service paradigm by those who must deliver it.

Step Five: Develop Monitoring and Reporting Mechanisms that Measure Effectiveness and Seek Ongoing Improvements

Data on customer service measures both the efficiency of the processes of the enrollment services unit and customers’ satisfaction with them. Call center software can display the number of calls in queue, the number of agents available to answer calls and the average wait time for callers. Customer comment vehicles, such as short, automated phone surveys at the end of phone transactions or comment cards with convenient drop-off boxes allow customers to provide quick feedback. Satisfaction surveys should start with baseline measurements and be repeated at regular intervals to measure changes; these can be part of large regular surveys, such as NSSE and CIRP, which accommodate local survey questions that can be developed for your institution.

Sharing these measurements of efficiency and of customer satisfaction within and outside the unit is essential to build an understanding among academic leadership of service levels and milestones. By demonstrating the increased levels of service available to students, you will make allies of faculty, who will refer students to the one-stop shop for assistance.


Behind each of these steps are specific areas to be addressed within the enrollment management organization. The alignment of institutional information available to prospective students and parents with their preferred methods of receiving information and tolerance for marketing, for example, is but one of many steps that will appear daunting to most institutions undertaking such a large-scale operational review. For this reason, it is important to seek peers who have successfully implemented institutional transformations or the counsel of a consultant with expertise in this area.

As the pace of technological change and innovation races around us, we struggle to choose the paths that can bring the greatest results without chasing fads or gimmicks that may be replaced by next year’s model. As Boulding and other researchers noted, the institutional transformations of CRM that link marketing, service and quality are not passing fads but “the outcome of the continuing evolution and integration of marketing ideas and newly available data, technologies, and organizational forms” (Boulding, p. 156).

While the initial transformation of a college or university’s enrollment services will be revolutionary on your campus, the future of its success will be predicated on its ability to be evolutionary. The ability of enrollment managers to connect with and respond to the needs of their customers, then adapt services to meet their emerging needs, will dictate the success of enrollment services, whether they exist in the one-stop shop or the yet-to-be-invented format of the future.


Boulding, W., Stelin, R., Ehret, M., & Johnston,W. A customer relationship management roadmap: What is known, potential pitfalls, and where to go.
Journal of Marketing, Volume 69, Issue 4,
October 2005, pages 155-166.

Christopher, M., Payne, A., & Ballantyne, D. Relationship Marketing. Oxford: Butterworth-Heinemann, 1991.

*It is important as we begin this examination, however, to clearly distinguish differences between business and education. In drawing parallels between the experiences of customers and students, these are limited to those interactions and transactions that occur when a student or parent (acting within appropriate FERPA laws) attempts to transact enrollment services (admission, registration, financial aid, payment, etc.) with the institution. It does not include student learning activities, inside or outside the classroom, where the “product” is student learning that leads to personal growth and development. In those cases, the use of “customer” confuses the issue, given that customers usually drive the delivery and content of a product or service. Student learning is an activity directed by faculty or some administrative areas of student life that impart knowledge or values deemed important for development.

Written by Tom Green, Ph.D., Director of Technology and Managing Consultant for AACRAO Consulting.

Download this paper here: Organizational Transformation to Meet and Exceed Service Expectations: The Role of One-Stop Centers in Higher Education

SEM in Canada: A Unique Approach


Shaping enrollment through a focused approach to student recruitment and retention is now acknowledged by many Canadian educators as an essential part of the higher education landscape. Yet some see enrollment management as primarily an outcome of the American experience and thus not easily transposed into the Canadian context. It is our view that although SEM’s emergence in Canada has been more recent, many of the issues facing Canadian colleges and universities are similar to those in American institutions. Yet Canadian history and value systems have also shaped a distinctive approach to SEM that has resulted in different areas of focus as well as different strategies and tactics to influence student recruitment and retention. As our profession reaches maturity there are clearly lessons we can learn from each other, pitfalls to be avoided and innovations to be adopted and adapted on both sides of the border.

The difference in approaches to SEM in the two countries is a result of the differing social, political and economic contexts in which it developed. Although Canada and the United States share some of the same heritage, the American break with England in the late 1700′s changed forever its cultural focus from being linked to Europe to charting its own course. Canada, on the other hand, remains well connected to both the United Kingdom and other parts of the world through membership in the Commonwealth and la Francophonie. Canada’s national commitment to bilingualism, multiculturalism and universal health care has helped to shape a different social and value system than its neighbor to the south. This affects the way both postsecondary educational systems operate in the 21st century.

With more than 4,300 colleges and universities, the U.S. postsecondary education system is heterogeneous in terms of academic focus, degrees offered, size of enrollments and students served. It is oriented toward providing a holistic student experience where student life is an important part of the college experience. It also operates within the context of decreasing state support of public institutions, increased accountability, increasing tuition levels, significant differences in regional student demand and continuing growth in the not-for-profit institutional sector. This has led to SEM becoming a mainstay at most institutions.

Canada, on the other hand, has far fewer (225) post-secondary institutions. Despite a recent emphasis on rankings and consequent tiering, there is a relatively small quality gap between top-ranked institutions and those ranked lower, which results in most institutions being considered of “good quality.” Canadian students frequently attend their local institutions as commuters. Until recently there has been less concern for student development and the broader campus experience in Canada than in the United States. Although participation in postsecondary education has continued to increase in Canada, there is a looming decline in secondary school enrollment. Dramatic cuts in provincial grants, a heavier reliance on tuition income and increased public accountability (in the form of key performance indicators and national newspaper and magazine rankings) have resulted in increasing competition between institutions. Although many enrollment practitioners have turned to American colleagues and consultants for “best practices” and ideas for new tactics and strategies, many Canadians still remain uncomfortable with SEM’s market orientation.

Outlined below are some of the areas where Canadian and American educational systems and SEM practices differ (Smith & Gottheil, 2006 and 2008).

In both countries, increasing access to postsecondary education is seen as key. Groups deemed to be underrepresented, and thus targeted for accessibility programs, differ due to historic immigration and colonization patterns. Both countries are interested in more access for first-generation and low-income postsecondary students. In the United States, there is also interest in more access for African-Americans, Hispanics, Asians and Native Americans. In Canada, access is seen as key for Aboriginal, Francophone and Northern Canadian students. SEM practices in each country reflect these differing priorities.

There is much interest in public accountability of higher education in both countries, with increasing government interest in loan defaults, recruitment accessibility, retention, graduation, transfer rates and other key performance indicators. Both countries have seen the introduction on a limited basis of performance-based funding. In Ontario, the National Survey on Student Engagement is now being used as an accountability measure in the university sector.

Admission Policies
The basis of admission in Canada is primarily high school marks, whereas U.S. institutions use Scholastic Assessment Test (SAT)/American College Test (ACT)/Advanced Placement test scores, essays, interviews and a variety of non-cognitive factors. Most admission offers in Canada are made between March and June, with some earlier offers made to top candidates. In the United States, offers are made throughout the final year of high school using early action, early admission and rolling admission approaches. Whereas the United States has a May 1 reply date, there is no agreed-upon confirmation deadline in Canada, although many provinces use a late May or June date.

Financial Aid
Both Canada and the United States have seen cuts in public funding of post-secondary education coupled with large tuition increases and some tuition freezes. There is a growing perception by low-income students that they cannot afford to continue their education after high school. This has led to the adoption of differing approaches to financial aid. Leveraging and discounting are used extensively in the United States but have no acknowledged presence in the Canadian environment. Canadian institutions have provided mostly merit-based scholarships, although there has been some recognition over the past few years of the importance of need-based aid (Junor & Usher, 2007). Whereas most American financial aid offers are provided to students near the time of their admission offer, in Canada the complete financial aid offer is not known to students until after they make their enrollment decision. Athletic scholarships, while present in both countries, are considerably more developed in the United States. In summary, the financial aid program is seen primarily as a student support service in Canada while American institutions see enrollment management as the primary purpose of financial aid.

Geographical Draw
In the United States, a considerable number of students choose to live on campus and to go away to school. This is true for a much smaller number of Canadians, who tend to attend their local institutions. This results in little student mobility between provinces and small residence populations on most campuses. There are implications, in this regard, for student engagement, retention and student life programming in Canada. Transfer agreements with community or technical colleges, 4-year universities or both are relatively common in both countries.

Enrollment Marketing
U.S.-based institutions make considerable use of direct mail and target marketing. In Canada, advertising is mostly geared to enhancing the image of institutions rather than targeting student recruitment. Further, Canadian enrollment marketing is mainly focused toward high school students, whereas U.S. marketing is more broad-based and oriented toward other market segments. Canadian students do not take SAT- or ACT-type tests and thus Canadian institutions do not engage in name purchasing. In general, Canadians also have a more highly developed notion of privacy, which affects marketing approaches. One way of differentiating between approaches to enrollment management is to examine the number of communications sent prior to application and post-admission. American institutions communicate slightly more in the pre-application phase and about the same as Canadians in the post-admission phase.

A large number of U.S. institutions have adopted a formal SEM organization structure. In Canada, SEM is still seen as largely a registrarial responsibility. Some institutions, however, have developed a matrix approach using SEM steering committees and related working groups, and have nominally assigned a senior administrator to coordinate SEM efforts.

Many institutions on both sides of the border equate the use of enrollment management strategies with having a SEM plan. An increasing number of U.S. institutions and a few Canadian institutions have developed comprehensive SEM plans, with a sizable number claiming they are in progress. A continuing challenge in Canada is that most enrollment data analysis occurs in planning offices by staff that do not always fully understand SEM and/or have the time to devote to reach and resources to SEM questions.

There are considerable differences between U.S. and Canadian approaches to student recruitment, although the differences have narrowed in recent years. Whereas American higher education no longer fears the “recruitment” word, Canada is still transitioning from a liaison outreach effort to one that includes more strategic recruitment. Historic collegial approaches to recruitment in Canada continue side by side with increasing use of targeted print materials, 1:1 marketing and e-recruiting. The United States makes much more extensive use of current student and alumni ambassadors, telecounseling and predictive modeling to attract students.

There is a great deal of similarity between Canadian and American approaches to retention. First-year-experience programs, integration of academic support services, student services consolidations and intrusive academic advising are present in both countries. Many U.S. institutions have formulated retention goals and action plans because retention is an accountability measure in many states. Canadian institutions are beginning to formalize retention plans as a result of the development of key performance indicators, increased public accountability and the impact of student satisfaction and other surveys. The most common retention practices in Canada include services for students with disabilities, emergency financial aid, Aboriginal student services, one-stop enrollment services, first-year experience programs, supplemental instruction, gender programs or services and peer tutoring.

Emerging Trends in Canada
We see a number of emerging SEM issues developing in Canada. These include:

  • Changes in educational systems – blending/overlap of college and university missions; pressure for more seamless pathways and collaborative programs; increased institutional differentiation; expanding capacity in selected provinces; and development of private institutions.
  • Fiscal pressures – decreased government funding; targeted funding with more strings attached; heavier reliance on student fees; and increasing operational costs.
  • Enrollment planning – the demographic bubble is about to burst as the economic recession impacts post-secondary enrollment.
  • On-line learning- explosive growth in recent years; distinctions between on-line and in-person instruction blurring; moving from the fringe to a central part of institutional operations.
  • Use of Data – increasing use of KPI’s and concern over a lack of a common data set.
  • Recruitment – escalating competition has led to the need to find new markets; concern with access for First Generation and Aboriginal students; and increased focus on parental expectations.
  • Impact of E-Recruitment – development of the “stealth” market place; CRM systems, Web portals and enhanced Web sites; expectation of 24/7 service; social networking; and on-line recruitment fairs.
  • Admissions – change of philosophy from gatekeeper to facilitator of enrollment; centralized application centers; holistic admissions assessment; and reserving space for under-represented populations.
  • Financial Aid – use of financial aid as a SEM strategy; growing use of merit aid and athletic awards; rising fees and higher student debt levels; and inability to close the gap for at-risk low-income youth.
  • Student Services –recognition of the link between recruitment and retention and increased focus on the first-year experience and student engagement.

Canada is well on its way to development of its own brand of enrollment management. Although much remains to be learned from the American experience, Canada has developed a wide array of its own SEM practices. These are now chronicled in the new Canadian SEM resource library, which can be accessed by going to Those interested in Canadian SEM are encouraged to visit the resource library, submit published work, technical papers and conference presentations, participate in the online forum and consider attending our annual Canadian SEM Summit.


Junor, S. and A. Usher, 2007. The End of Need-Based Student Financial Aid in Canada? Toronto, ON: Educational Policy Institute.

Smith, C. and S. Gottheil, 2006. Enrollment or Enrolment: The Emergence of SEM in Canada. SEM Source.

Smith, C. and S. Gottheil, 2008. Enrollment or Enrolment: Strategic Enrollment Management in the United States and Canada. College and University, 84(2), 28-38.

This article was authored by AACRAO Senior Consultants Clayton Smith and Susan Gottheil.

Download this paper here: SEM in Canada: A Unique Approach

Strategic Enrollment Management: Building Institutional Vitality


Strategic enrollment management. This three-word phrase is increasingly used as colleges and universities search for effective responses to today’s enrollment and financial challenges. Strategic enrollment management, or SEM, was originally conceived as institutions struggled to cope with declining demographics. More recently it has gained prominence in response to increased institutional accountability and constrained resources. Implementation of SEM is an effective means of responding to these challenges.

The core concepts can be understood within the contexts of several overarching goals of SEM.

Increasing academic quality and student success
SEM ultimately succeeds or fails based on the strength of its links to academics and student success. Whatever its broader purposes, every institution’s mission is based on the academic enterprise. Similarly, achieving enrollment goals depends on an institution’s ability to promote effectively students’ academic success. The ability to deliver programs and build relationships that enhance student access, transition, retention and individual goal attainment will determine whether the institution is able to recruit and retain the right number, type and mix of students.

Achieving optimum enrollment
Many institutions operate on the simple premise that they want more students than they have now. Many such institutions would have difficulty stating how many students would be “enough.” The concept of optimum enrollment takes into account desired student demographics, academic program demand and capacity, mission-based target groups and many other variables. The outcome is not one enrollment goal, but many.

Delivering top-quality service
The mantra of customer service has been spoken for years in all sectors of society, from the corporate sector to higher education. Over the past 20 years, virtually every college and university has implemented a quality initiative of some sort, with varying results. Effective enrollment management requires that an institution take its commitment to top-quality service to a higher level, assessing and responding to student needs in innovative ways.

Optimizing financial opportunities
From the beginning, enrollment management has been hardwired to an institution’s financial well-being. In its early stages, enrollment management was essentially defined as increasing enrollment to regain financial stability for tuition-driven private institutions. By the mid-1990s, when financially challenged institutions had either increased their enrollments or otherwise adjusted to their new economic realities, the focus of enrollment management was expanded to embrace improving efficiency. This trend toward efficiency has gained momentum as public institutions increasingly find themselves in the same tuition-driven circumstances as their private counterparts, while at the same time experiencing significant budget limitations. Indeed, efficiency in the enrollment enterprise has gone from being secondary to enrollment numbers to being of virtually equal importance on many campuses. The goal is not only to increase tuition dollars but also, at the same time, to reduce institutional costs in order to improve net revenue.

Building campus collaboration
SEM depends on the creation of strong and effective working relationships with virtually every department on campus. Recruitment and retention of students hinge on a series of individual encounters, which define the quality of the student experience. These encounters can range from trying to find a parking spot on campus to having an advising appointment with a professor to encountering a receptionist. Communicating enrollment goals and assisting all members of the campus community with understanding their role in achieving those goals requires regular communication and feedback loops.

In the current context, strategic enrollment management is as much about managing educational processes and resources as it is about managing enrollments. In addition to traditional recruitment and retention strategies, enrollment managers have expanded their tool kits to include efficiency and effectiveness strategies such as geodemographic research, student outcomes assessment, student aid leveraging and institutional financial modeling. These tools and many others are woven together into comprehensive, long-term enrollment programs that seek not only to enroll the right number and mix of students but also to improve educational attainment, put institutions on firmer financial footing and enable effective planning.

Written by Bob Bontrager, Senior Director of AACRAO Consulting and SEM Initiatives.

Download this paper here: Strategic Enrollment Management: Building Institutional Vitality

Talk to Me: Communicating effectively with your prospects, applicants, students and alumni

logo2As higher education practitioners, a large part of our working lives revolves around communicating with people who want to be our students, who are our students and who were our students. There is a dizzying array of communication modes and technical platforms, from face-to-face to text messaging and everything in between. Prospective and current students are bombarded with messages from different service departments and faculty on a regular basis and through many communication channels. We are constantly challenged to determine how best to communicate with our prospects, students and alumni. It is infrequent that we have the time to take a step back and ask, “Are we communicating effectively?”

At its most basic, effective communication occurs when the message intent corresponds closely to how it is “perceived and responded by the receiver (Moss, 2007).” However, measuring that effectiveness and then implementing effective communication is not a simple matter. It involves the alignment of policy, practice and technology across the entire institution.

Selecting the appropriate communication platform is just part of the puzzle. We are aware of the decline in the regular use of email among the traditional aged student and young adults. According to a New York Times article, young people find that email “involves a boringly long process of signing into an account, typing out a subject line and then sending a message that might not be received or answered for hours” (Richtel, 2010). While texting is almost ubiquitous among young adults (63%), only a lowly 6% of 12-17 year olds use email (Lenhart, 2012); (Smith, 2012).

Although email remains a staple in the higher education communication portfolio, institutions have begun to engage in the process of finding new platforms to communicate with our traditional aged students: social media, text messaging, etc. Often the chosen solution involves a single communication platform for each type of message thus effectively implementing, a “one size fits all” model of student communication. By focusing on the communication trends for one part of our student population, we are likely not providing effective communication for other student demographics. Technology has evolved to support multiple communication platforms per message yet this often leaves out the question of student preference. Emerging technology allows the student to select which communication platform he/she wants based on “groups” such as student clubs, courses, messages from financial aid etc.

Not only is effective communication about picking the most appropriate platform or platforms, it also includes selecting the content, determining the intent and setting the proper tone which, in combination, will most likely achieve the desired result (e.g., applying for admission, paying bills, completing assignments on time, etc.). While it is easiest to think about aligning audience, content, intent, platform and tone in a linear manner, these variables are more accurately reflected in a communication matrix.

Communication Matrix

In an ideal setting with the resources to support it, a student communication matrix would outline how messages are delivered (platform) varying by the position of the student in the student lifecycle, the demographics of the student and the intent of the message (Figure 1).

Figure 1:


There are many message platforms to consider outside of the regular email, student portal and hardcopy and include, face-to-face, text messaging, social media, LMSs, phone calls, web pages, instant messaging/chat among others. Again based on the communication matrix the message platform or platforms vary. For example, a message to an undergraduate prospect with the intent of getting him to sign up for a campus tour may be sent hard copy, receive a telephone call and/or an electronic message via email or a prospective student portal. On the other hand a student life announcement to current students about a tailgate party may simply be posted to resident students through a portal or on digital information boards around campus and not posted to distance students who would not have the ability to attend the event. In the case of an emergency, the message should be broadcast to as many platforms as are appropriate for the nature of the emergency to help ensure that those who need the message will receive it.

Policy, Plans, Guidelines and Coordination

Development of a communication is only one aspect of creating a formal communication policy that sets the stage for student, faculty and staff expectations regarding how and who will communicate with students. All too often the lack of a clear communication policy or simply the lack of an understanding of the policy leads to “official” communications being delivered to students through a variety of platforms. Students are then confused about which platform they are required to monitor for official communications from the institution. Of equal concern is when policy is not clear about what can be communicated in accordance with FERPA and other regulations and across which platforms. For instance, if a communication policy is not specific enough or not widely understood; faculty and others may inadvertently communicate FERPA protected information to email accounts which are not issued by the institution without first confirming that the email account belongs to the intended student.

An institution’s communication policy should be reviewed every two years and the review should include the following important elements:

  • Involvement in the review from representatives of faculty and administration, including information technology personnel.
  • Current students should be consulted about their perceptions of communication practice/policy and surveyed on their communication preferences. This should include both content students find most valuable and preferred communication modalities.
  • An assessment of the regular and ongoing training made available to faculty and staff.
  • An assessment of the way new and continuing students are regularly and overtly made aware of the policy to avoid misunderstanding and violations of the policy. For example, if the policy is that official communication is only sent to the college issued student email, including billing information, students must be made aware that they may incur a late fee if they do not read their college issued email on a regular basis.

Communication plans are an important component of a comprehensive institutional communication policy. For example, admissions funnel communication plans are commonplace and well-understood. Less so are master communication plans for the remainder of the student lifecycle even though this type of plan is equally important. A comprehensive communication plan includes calendars, message frequency, templates and guidelines for developing message intent, new messages and revising existing communications.

The model where an institution maintains a single point of coordination (unit or person) for all student communication is not new. However the increasingly complex nature of a comprehensive student communication effort reinforces the need for this model. More often operationally this model only has responsibility for the co-curricular portion of student communication (e.g., recruiting, admissions, financial aid, etc.). Allowing a single unit or person to have the authority and responsibility the oversight of all student communication requires the agreement and trust across academic and co-curricular services. To be effective, this model does not include monitoring and “policing” all communication between the institution and students but rather the unit or person serves as a consultant and trainer to the various institutional constituents with some reviewing and approval authority based on the message intent, audience and source. The added value to an institution for this comprehensive oversight model is one where the overall level of effectiveness of student communication is increased which can positively impact recruitment and retention and provide a more positive experience for students.

Importance of Setting the Proper Tone

Guidelines may also include assistance with developing the proper message tone. The examples below from Betts (2009) indicate how much the tone of a simple communication can be impacted by the choice of words, word order and structure.

  • Do not include a cover page on your next paper :(
  • Do not include a cover page on your next paper.
  • Remember, do not include a cover page on your next paper :) (Betts, 2009)”

It is not an uncommon practice for student communications to use bold and capitalized lettering as an attempt to highlight important parts of the message. As these examples demonstrate, careful consideration must be given when constructing messages to ensure that the tone is as intended.

“Communication – simple, yet complex, easy to do and easy to blunder” (Cyr, Effective Communication , 2004)


Given the complex and time consuming nature of developing, implementing and maintaining all of the components of effective student communication there is often value to inviting an external expert to assist in that process. The best consultants are able to assist with everything from policy development/review to communication plan development and the optimization of supporting technology. AACRAO Consulting is uniquely positioned to provide consultants with extensive functional and technical experience to help your institution provide effective student communication is support of enrollment goals.

Works Cited

Betts, K. (2009, Summer). Lost in Translation: Importance of Effective Communication in Online Education. Retrieved September 26, 2012, from Online Journal of Distance Learning Administration:

Cyr, L. F. (2004). Effective Communication . Retrieved September 25, 2012, from The University of Maine Cooperative Extension Group Works Bulletin #6103:

Lenhart, A. (2012, March 19). Teens, Smartphones & Texting. Retrieved September 25, 2012, from Pew Research Center’s Internet & American Life Project:

Moss, S. T. (2007). Human Communication: Principles and contexts. New York: McGraw Hill.

Richtel, M. (2010, December 20). E-mail Gets and Instance Makeover. Retrieved September 26, 2012, from The New York Times:

Smith, K. Z. (2012, April 13). Digital Differences. Retrieved September 26, 2012, from Pew Research Center’s Internet & American Life Project:

Written by Wendy Kilgore, Director of Research and Managing Consultant for AACRAO Consulting.

Download the paper here: Talk to Me: Communicating effectively with your prospects, applicants, students and alumni

The Strategic Role of the Registrar: Changing Responsibilities in Light of Technology


When considering the areas that pertain to enrollment management, it is fairly obvious that the Registrar’s Office plays a part. But just how strategic is the office in the efforts of an institution that is attempting to implement strategic enrollment management? Isn’t the office primarily responsible for maintaining accurate records and insuring compliance with curricular requirements? How can an office that focuses on records and compliance be a strategic part of institutional efforts to manage enrollment? I think a significant answer to that question lies in addressing assumptions about the role of the office within the institutional context. Let’s first take a look from an historical perspective to see how the role of the office has developed over time.
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