Retention Publications

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 “At the heart of reengineering is the notion of discontinuous thinking – of recognizing and breaking away from outdated rules and fundamental assumptions that underlie operations.”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

Building Your Student Relationships with Three Cups of Tea

sem_logo-2007.gif Each summer in recent years, between July and August, I have visited South Asia with my student recruitment colleagues to attend predeparture sessions for new University of Windsor international students. At these sessions, like so many I have taken part in over the years for four different institutions, we welcome new students and their families to our educational family and begin the high school–to–university transition, which for many international students is a serious challenge.

This year, however, something happened that changed things for me.

A few months back, while stranded at a North American airport and browsing in one of the many book stores there, I bought the book “Three Cups of Tea: One Man’s Mission to Fight Terrorism and Promote Peace … One School at a Time.” Because my plane departed shortly thereafter, I didn’t get the opportunity to begin reading the book until a month or so later while stranded at another airport. I read the introduction and first chapter, and, like before, my plane departed, and so I put the book back into my bag. Although I was intrigued with the story, my day-to-day tasks did not permit me to open the book again until, once again, I was in an airport—this time on my annual trip overseas to meet new international students.

And that is where the story gets interesting.

You see, “Three Cups of Tea” is a story about a people—the people of rural Afghanistan and Pakistan—and a former mountain climber and nurse who committed his life to building secular elementary schools for girls as a first step toward enhancing peace through the education of young girls in a conservative Muslim region of the world. And it is so much more. Its 349 pages take you into yourself. For me, it was inspiring. I encourage you to make time to read this book. It will change how you view social justice in our modern age and recharge your batteries for making a difference in the world. It may also affect the way you see our work.

One of the central passages in “Three Cups of Tea” presents a concept we all know to be true but to which we give little thought on a daily basis. Here is what the authors, Mortenson and Relin, write:

When the porcelain bowls of scalding butter tea steamed in their hands, Haji Ali said, blowing on his bowl. “The first time you share tea with a Balti, you are a stranger. The second time you take tea, you are an honored guest. The third time you share a cup of tea, you become family, and for our family, we are prepared to do anything, even die,” he said, laying his hand warmly on Mortenson’s own. “Doctor Greg, you must take time to share three cups of tea. We may be uneducated. But we are not stupid. We have lived and survived here for a long time.”

That day, Haji Ali taught me the most important lesson I’ve ever learned in my life, Mortenson wrote. We Americans think you have to accomplish everything quickly. We’re the country of thirty-minute power lunches and two-minute football drills. Our leaders thought their ‘shock and awe’ campaign could end the war in Iraq before it even started. Haji Ali taught me to share three cups of tea, to slow down and make building relationships as important as building projects. He taught me that I had more to learn from the people I work with than I could ever hope to teach them.

So, while traveling through the Punjab region of India, I thought about what might be possible if I took to heart Haji Ali’s “Three Cups of Tea” philosophy. It all came together for me as I was with a family from Ludiyana who had come some distance to meet with me. They wanted the chance to tell their story, and so I sat with them and had tea. The father told me of his dream to have his daughter study in Canada, and his daughter spoke with pride of her achievements but also voiced fear about the prospects of going far from home to attend university. Bearing a beautiful bouquet of carnations (a local custom), they asked for my time and understanding. Because she still has one more year of high school, we promised to have a second cup of tea together next summer when I will next visit Ludiyana. As we parted, I thought to myself that we should plan to share a third cup of tea together at the university when she arrives for what will surely be the continuation of a true personal odyssey.

Many of us have gotten caught up with the new-fangled business concepts, such as institutional effectiveness, management information systems, continuous quality improvement and return on investment. We have looked at how we might do things faster, easier and with less funding. We manage multi-million dollar student information systems, Web portals and customer relationship management systems. And we have lost something along the way.

We may have lost the very reason that brought us into higher education. In our rush to do things the way our industry has encouraged, I believe we may have lost our way. Maybe, just maybe, we should adopt the “Three Cups of Tea” approach Haji Ali describes. And maybe we should slow down just a bit to get to know our students and their families, and to have that third cup of tea.

So instead of focusing on systems development, fancy new technologies and the newest words for efficiency, perhaps we should take time to take three cups of tea with the folks most critical to what we do in higher education—our students—and to build the relationships Haji Ali describes as essential to human life. I don’t know about you, but sign me up for lots of three cups of tea!

Mortenson, G., & D. O. Relin. (2006). Three cups of tea: One man’s mission to fight terrorism and promote peace … one school at a time. New York: Penguin Group.

Clayton Smith, Ed.D., is vice provost of students and registrar at the University of Windsor in Windsor, Ontario. Previously, Dr. Smith spent 20 years working in enrollment management at three postsecondary educational institutions in the United States, in Maine, Florida and New York. A senior consultant with AACRAO Consulting, he is a frequent conference presenter on SEM topics in both Canada and the United States.

This article originally appeared in the September 2008 issue of SEM Source.

Changing Demographics: Why Nontraditional Students Should Matter to Enrollment Managers and What They Can Do to Attract Them

sem_logo-2007.gifThere have been numerous reports demonstrating the shifting trends in age among students beginning undergraduate and graduate programs in America. According a 2002 National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) report, nontraditional students make up 73 percent of all students enrolled in undergraduate programs, and 39 percent of all undergraduate students are 25 years or older. Redd (2007) also indicated in a report for the Council of Graduate Schools that the number of nontraditional graduate students has risen dramatically and projected this trend to continue. Not only does this report indicate that nontraditional students already make up the majority of all postsecondary institutions, but a study conducted by the Western Interstate Commission for Higher Education indicated that after 2008, the number of high school graduates will decline until 2015, which means increased competition for undergraduate institutions seeking to maintain or increase the number of newly enrolled students. This expected decline in the number of prospective traditional college students may mean that institutions will make up for this decline by making a stronger effort to target nontraditional students.

Non-traditional students were defined in the 2002 NCES report as having at least one or more of the following characteristics: does not enter postsecondary enrollment in the same year that he or she completed high school, attends part-time for at least part of the academic year, works full time, is considered financially independent from a legal guardian, has dependents other than a spouse, is a single parent, does not have a high school diploma but a General Educational Development (GED) test. Defined in this way nontraditional students cannot be defined by age or any one characteristic but rather the term nontraditional seems to represent one’s life and educational experiences. This broad description makes it close to impossible to pin point one target nontraditional group for marketing and recruiting purposes; therefore, institutions must consider a more comprehensive view of who a potential student might be.

The 2002 NCES report also found that private, for-profit and non-profit postsecondary institutions experienced the highest percentage of growth among nontraditional students. The growth of nontraditional students within private universities can be seen by the rise of students enrolling in institutions, like the University of Phoenix, that offer online and face-to-face program options. In the 2008-2009 Almanac edition of The Chronicle of Higher Education, the University of Phoenix was reported to enroll more students than any other university in America. Other non-profit private institutions like the Union Institute and University, Cardinal Stritch University, Pace University, Villanova University and Loyola University of Chicago, to name just a few, all have both traditional college programs and programs that are geared toward working adults. My institution, Saint Mary University of Minnesota, also serves both traditional and nontraditional students. In the Twin Cities area, there are at least 15 other private colleges that compete for nontraditional student enrollments. The institutions listed here all offer some form of nontraditional programs, including distance learning options, evening and weekend courses, flexible schedules, and blended course options. While institutions like the University of Phoenix have critics and the academic world still places the majority of their resources on traditional academic programs, the growth achieved among nontraditional students at private institutions demonstrates that a large majority of people in the United States are choosing nontraditional program options to meet their academic goals.

The recent downturn in the economy has also provoked a dialogue in higher education about offering more distance learning courses and has charged higher education leaders to look for ways that institutions can cut costs and increase economic efficiency. The 2007 Chronicle of Higher Education’s For Profit Higher Education Index indicated that publicly traded education corporations such as Strayer Education Inc., and Laureate Education Inc., can be seen as long term investment opportunities and have proven to their investors that they can maintain enrollment, run efficiently and earn a profit. Kelly (2001) stated that “a growing number of traditional colleges and universities—under pressure to be more responsive to the needs of students, parents, employers and communities—are turning to some of the same entrepreneurial, customer-oriented approaches that have been used so successfully by for-profit institutions” (p. 2). Regardless of what strategies colleges use to meet enrollment goals, Kelly’s article revealed that for-profit institutions have been successful because people in our communities are demonstrating a need and a demand for education options outside of traditional daytime, face-to-face classes. If the number of high school graduates will be declining over the next few years, this is a perfect time for colleges and universities to take a look at how to attract and serve nontraditional students. The shifting demographics and the increase of distance learning course options also indicate that it may be time to rethink the traditional models of education delivery, and rather than focusing on traditional and nontraditional student populations, there may be some changes or services that are applicable to both groups, such as evening or distance learning classes.

The following is an overview of steps that colleges and universities can take to attract nontraditional students to their institution. This is not a comprehensive list of strategies but rather a high-level overview of several key factors admissions or enrollment professionals should be aware of when recruiting or developing services to support nontraditional students.

  • Discuss Cost Payment Plans at the Beginning: Nontraditional students vary in their methods of tuition payment. For example, some may pay out of pocket, some may use financial aid, and some may be grant and scholarship recipients. But these options are often limited for nontraditional students and especially for nontraditional graduate students. There are also many nontraditional students who participate in employer tuition reimbursement programs or who are military students seeking reimbursement through the programs set up through the G.I. bill. Given these different types of students, it is important for institutions to create a billing system that will allow for some flexibility. An example would be allowing students to set up a payment plan. Field (2008) discussed the education benefits now available to veterans, indicating that with the recent changes to the G.I. bill, veterans will now have enough aid to attend the most expensive public colleges in their states. However, Field found that veterans prefer community colleges and for-profit institutions because these institutions are convenient and cater to the needs of veterans. Kelly also indicated that veterans tend to be between the ages of 25 and 34, are often married, and are looking for education opportunities that will assist with building on the type of skills they learned while in the service. Many universities are competing for military students these days, and the trends outlined by Kelly indicate these students are looking for nontraditional programs that allow for online courses or evening and weekend class formats and will assist them with navigating their way through the tuition benefit process. Establishing more scholarship opportunities geared toward nontraditional students can also be a great marketing tool.
  • Ease Transfer Credit Process: According to the NCES 2004 report “Participation in Adult Education and Lifelong Learning,” a majority of nontraditional learners have some previously earned college credit. The 2004 NCES “Student Effort and Educational Progress Report” also indicated that approximately 30 percent of undergraduate students drop out before receiving a degree. Many colleges assume that applicants know about transfer credit and do not emphasize this option in their marketing materials or limit their recruiting of transfer students to attendance at community college transfer fairs. The college and university drop out rates however demonstrate that there is a large of population of adults who have some earned postsecondary credit and cannot be found on community college campuses. Given the concern about cost, transfer credit can provide an incentive to applicants because it will reduce the time and money it takes to complete a degree program; therefore, it is important that institutions make this process clear and easy to navigate by having this information available on their Web site and making sure this option is listed in their marketing materials.
  • Offer Credit for prior learning, CLEP, DANTES etc.: Many undergraduate completion programs geared towards nontraditional students also emphasis the different ways that students can earn course credit. If your institution does offer any type of credit for prior learning, accepts CLEP credit or military credits, this should be emphasized in all marketing materials for nontraditional students. It is important there is a clear indication of which courses cannot be fulfilled through transfer credit, CLEP, or some other method. This will help students up front as they prepare their program schedules. The following are Web sites that offer information on these different types of college credits:,, and
  • Offer Evening, Weekend and Online Courses: The NCES (2002) report found that of the adult student population, 57 percent are married, 53 percent support more than on dependent, 29 percent are single parents between the age of 30 and 40, 39 percent worked full time. Given these characteristics, it is important that institutions recognize that a large majority of nontraditional students have multiple responsibilities outside the classroom, so evening, weekend or distance learning course options are a necessity. It is also important to talk with students at the beginning of the program to set clear expectations regarding time management.
  • Connect Faculty and Curriculum to the Workplace: Kasworm (2003) discussed the idea that the changing perceptions of the workplace and world have increased the desire for people to attain higher education credentials. Kasworm indicated that having a bachelor’s degree is a basic requirement now for many entry level jobs. Scholars such as Malcolm Knowles (1977) and Stephen Brookfield (2005) have indicated that creating environments that allow adult learners to share their experiences and apply what they learn to their work or daily lives will help to drive the learning process. On the admissions end, applicants want to know that the courses they take will be applicable to their work and they want to know how the program they are enrolling in will assist them in meeting their career goals. Given what we know from the research on how adults learn, it is important the faculty understand how to integrate some of their class assignments into projects that students can apply to their area of interest or to their workplace. It is also important that admissions counselors have some career counseling skills and discuss with applicants how they can apply their classroom assignments to their workplace.
  • Offer Career Counseling Services: Kasworm (2003), also indicated that career advancement is one of the main reasons people go back to school or begin postsecondary degree programs. This is one area that for-profit institutions that serve nontraditional students tend to emphasis in their marketing materials. For example, National American University, Argosy University and Capella University all offer career services to their students and alumni. Providing resources that will assist students and graduates with resume writing, interviewing and strategies to assist with the job search is an important factor for nontraditional students; therefore, it is important to emphasize these resources to prospective students. Career counselors can also help make inroads with the local community by helping to organize job fairs, work with local businesses to develop internship opportunities. This can bring visibility to your institution. Many colleges and universities already offer this service to traditional students, so this would mean broadening the service to apply to students with different levels of experience and different types of career goals.
  • Offer Orientation and Community Building: McGivney (2004) found that many adult or nontraditional students have some apprehension about going back to school. For many, it may have been years since they have been in academic setting, or they may have had a negative experience the last time they were enrolled. Creating a sense of community is one way to combat the apprehension and let students know they are not alone and that there are other learners with similar backgrounds in the program. Vincent Tinto (1988) has led the research on the importance of social integration for undergraduate students in retention, and scholars like Ashar and Skenes (1993) and Kember (1994) have applied Tinto’s concepts to nontraditional settings and also found that integrating students into the programs at the beginning stages is an important part of retention. This means planning personalized points of contact with advisors, conducting a new student orientation and letting students exchange a dialogue between one another to build relationships and help support one another. While nontraditional students may not be as focused on the social aspect of higher education as traditional college students, they still want to feel that they belong and that they have a support network through the process.
  • Adopt Flexible Leave Policies: Institutions must adopt policies and procedures that address the special needs of nontraditional students. Nontraditional students represent a broad range of age groups; therefore, institutions need to be prepared to work with students who are having children, going through long-term illnesses, going on military leave, getting married, and experiencing other important life events. If students need to take a semester off, this process should be easy to understand and explained to students at the beginning of the program. While allowing students the ability to take time off without penalty is key, it also important to establish deadlines and regularly check-in with students who are on leave.
  • Schedule Regular Advising Sessions: Along with following up with students who are on leave, it is important to build in a contact schedule with nontraditional students. Establishing personal contact will help make students feel secure and welcome at your institution. Many nontraditional students do not have as many social opportunities with other students or staff outside of the classroom, so this personalized contact is important in establishing a sense of belonging. These ideas are all based on the information found by researchers like Vincent Tinto (1988), which emphasizes the importance of social and academic integration on retention.
  • Recruit in Businesses and Community: While high school visits make up the majority of recruiting efforts for many traditional college admissions counselors, visits with local business leaders and attendance at community events is essential to recruiting nontraditional students. As mentioned earlier, nontraditional students represent a broad range of characteristics and are difficult to locate in any one setting; therefore, to recruit nontraditional students, the key is to create diverse recruiting strategies. Career fairs, professional conferences, county fairs, chamber of commerce events and other community events such as art fairs and festivals are all forums for recruiting. Establishing contact with human resource departments at local businesses, locating those businesses that offer tuition reimbursement, and reaching out to business leaders to serve on program development teams or as speakers at on-campus events, and inviting business leaders to your institution for special community events are all activities that will help to bring visibility to your programs for nontraditional students. Alumni and current students also represent an audience for recruiting, so it is important to let your campus community know about your nontraditional course offerings so they can help spread the word among their families, co-workers and friends.
  • Include Nontraditionals in University Mission: In a 2005 report for the American Council on Education, Cook and King discussed practices that institutions can follow to improve the retention for low-income, nontraditional students who are pursuing postsecondary degrees. One concept that stood out in their report was making sure that institutions acknowledge nontraditional students within the organization’s mission or within the strategic plan. If attracting nontraditional students to your institution is a goal, the success of meeting this goal will depend on whether or not this student population is represented throughout the university and included within the overall mission of the institution.

Ashar H. & R. Skenes. (1993). Can Tinto’s student departure model be applied to nontraditional students? Adult Education Quarterly. 43(2): 90-100. Retreived July 18, 2007 from EBSO database.

Blumenstyke, G. (2007). The Chronicle index of for-profit higher education. The Chronicle of Higher Education, 53(23): A25. Retreived November 10, 2008 from

Brookfield, S. & S. Preskill. (2005). Discussion as a way of teaching. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Cook, B, & J. King (2005).Campus programs and policies for low in-come adults. American Council on Education. Retrieved November 10, 2008 from

Field, K. (2008). Cost, convenience drive veterans’ college choices. Chronicle of Higher Education, 54(46): A1. Retrieved November 1, 2008 from

Kasworm, C. (2003). Setting the stage: adults in higher education. New Directions for Student Services, 102:3-10, Retrieved September 10, 2008 from EBSCO database.

Kelly, K. (2001). Meeting needs and making profits: the rise of for-profit degree granting institutions. Education Commission of the States, 1-32. Retrieved November 10, 2008 from

Kember, D., T. Lai, D. Murphy, et. al. (1994). Student progress in distance education courses: a replication study. Adult Education Quarterly, 45(1):286-301. Retrieved May 3, 2006 from EBSCO database.

Knowles, M. (1977). A History of the Adult Education Movement in the United States. Malabar: Krieger Publishing Company.

McGivney, V. (2004). Understanding persistence in adult learning. Open Learning, 19 (1): 33-45. Retrieved May 3, 2006 from EBSCO database.

Redd, K. (2007). Data sources: The rise of “older” graduate students. Council of Graduate Schools. Retrieved November 10, 2008 from

U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) (2004). Participation in Adult Education and Life Long Learning 2000-01. Retrieved September 10, 2008 from

U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) (2004). Student Effort and Educational Progress. Retrieved September 10, 2008 from

U.S. Department of Education National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) (2002). The Condition of Education. Retrieved November 10, 2008 from

Tinto, V. (1988). Stages of student departure: reflections on the longitudinal character of students leaving. The Journal of Higher Education, 59 (4): 438-455. Retrieved April 5, 2006, from JSTOR database.

Western Interstate Commission on Higher Education (2008). Knocking at the college door. Retrieved November 10, 2008 from

Becky Copper, M.A., is director of admissions at the Schools of Graduate and Professional Programs at Saint Mary’s University of Minnesota. She is pursuing an Ed.D. degree at Saint Mary’s University, and she is focusing her research on topics related to student services for nontraditional students.

This article originally appeared in the December 2008 issue of SEM Source.

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

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

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