SEM Publications

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

AACRAO Book Release – Applying SEM at the Community College

SEM_CommCollege_Web_medStrategic enrollment management (SEM) is fast becoming an integral part of the community college landscape. Initially developed as a conceptual framework for four-year colleges, SEM is now a relevant tool to help community colleges meet the enrollment and financial challenges brought on by the recent economic downturn. However, the concept, implementation and scope of SEM in two-year institutions can be vastly different for enrollment managers than that of their counterparts at four-year schools.

Applying SEM at the Community College identifies the vital and unique enrollment issues confronting two-year colleges, and suggests effective strategies for resolving them. Written by field experts Bob Bontrager and Bruce Clemetsen, along with 9 other contributing authors, this 204-page resource helps administrators set enrollment goals for their diverse student populations, redefine and improve student academic success, and achieve institutional success through financial planning. It also proposes methods for gathering and using data to inform strategies, for strengthening marketing plans, and for fostering interdepartmental collaboration.

Order Information
To order this or related AACRAO SEM publications, please visit or call (301) 490-7651.

Item number: 0124
Member price: $60
Non-member price: $80

Applying SEM at the Community College was made possible in part by the generous support of SunGard Higher Education.

Building a SEM Organization, The Internal Consultant Approach

cuj_logotype_solid_med1This article was a preconference paper for the 2007 AACRAO Strategic Enrollment Management Conference.

There is little doubt about it: Colleges and universities are reluctant to change. They are large and diffuse organizations with few clear lines of control. Yet the external environment in which colleges and universities operate is changing quickly. The U. S. higher education community is experiencing the most dramatic shifts in student demographics since the post–World War II era (WICHE 2003). States and other organizations are conducting new external evaluations to justify lower amounts of public fiscal support. Public expectations for a wide variety of high-quality student services are rapidly increasing.

These changes make it essential for institutions to implement at least some aspects of strategic enrollment management (SEM) in order to develop greater institution-wide understanding of how to best respond to emerging student trends, needs, and markets. As a growing number of institutions encounter this reality, many find themselves grappling with a fundamental question: What is an effective, sustainable approach to implementing SEM that is likely to be embraced by the entire campus? The complexity of the current environment as well as most administrative structures has fostered an expectation that environmental scans, assessment of strategic needs, development of marketing plans, and other core planning activities are often best accomplished by outside professionals and consultants. Over the past two decades, many institutional leaders have come to highly value the professional SEM consulting field. Demand for help in responding to changing markets and in revising institutional expectations has driven the rapid growth of the support industry. A June 2007 compilation of higher education consultants listed approximately 200 consultants with focuses in 50 different categories (University Business 2007); more than 130 firms were noted for their abilities to assist universities with implementing SEM in terms of change management, marketing, diversity, financial aid, distance education, student market research, strategy, planning and/or communications. Why must institutions look externally for assistance with these critical institutional needs?

This white paper presents a performance concept of the “in-house consultant” model (IHC) as a means to better position the chief enrollment officer and SEM units as a campus-wide support team focused on helping most campus units achieve and sustain core institutional strategic initiatives. Fundamentally embracing the IHC conceptual metaphor would address the mind and skill sets required by enrollment management professionals to help their institutions operate in a more efficient and proactive manner.

The scope of an external consultant’s stature has significantly expanded in our era of high-tech, enterprise-planning workplaces. These temporary, expert employees are expected to provide a client with objective advice and assistance relating to the strategy, structure, management and operations of an organization in pursuit of its long-term purposes and objectives. Such assistance may include the identification of options with recommendations, the provision of an additional resource, and/or the implementation of solutions (Institute of Management Consultancy 2002).

Whereas an institution may find it exhilarating to utilize the resources and knowledge of a field expert, it also may feel frustrated by the loss of energy and competence when a consultant concludes his/her project. Many people are familiar with the scenario: a problem is identified; a consultant is hired; a plan is written; and then the institution is let to develop the structure to implement and sustain the new plan.

This is not to argue that external consultants are either superfluous or ineffective at addressing detailed problems. There is a time and place for colleges and universities to seek outside help. External perspectives are often needed to help institutions reorient or break through bureaucratic obstacles and bring valuable insights from a breadth of experiences. Many schools need a SEM “road map” that only an external agent can help construct. This is true particularly for schools with no prior SEM orientation as well as for institutions facing an emergency enrollment situation. A short-term contract with an experienced firm or individual can prove invaluable.

When a campus does employ the services of an external SEM consultant, the question may be asked, “Where do we go from here?” This scenario provides a “jumping-of point” that can be seized and embraced. By positioning a campus-based SEM professional as an in-house consultant, campus leaders can signal that they are serious about meeting the institution’s enrollment goals and they are willing to take the steps necessary to support a SEM-based organization.

Whether or not an institution starts with an external consultant, SEM professionals can be most effective if the campus community views them in a “consultant” or helping role rather than as just another administrator running a support unit.

There is no one-size-its-all, cookie-cutter approach to enrollment management, with higher education’s trademark of diversity of mission, purpose, size, and control (Kurz and Scannell 2006, p. 35).

The fundamentals of enrollment management focus on the use of research and cross-unit collaboration to drive student recruitment and retention activities. The best enrollment professionals use analytics and tactical skills to engage the entire campus community in knowledge and activities that spur student success and optimize institutional resources.

Many recent SEM papers provide tremendous insight into operational definitions, organizational models, assessment tools, functions, and tactics required of effective SEM organizations (e.g., Black 2003, Bontrager 2006, Henderson 2004, Hossler 2005, and Kalsbeek 2004). Because of the wide variety of colleges and universities and the environments in which they operate, these and many other authors have concluded that no standard model for SEM can exist, though standard expectations of SEM leaders do exist (Kurz and Scannell 2006).

The parallels between the desired qualifications of a SEM leader and a professional consultant are evident. A cursory content analysis of 200 recent job advertisements for enrollment executives further illustrates institutions’ desire to have enrollment management leaders with consultant-like skills and characteristics (Tuchtenhagen 2007). When aligning the desired qualifications and abilities of SEM leaders with Kibbe and Setterber’s (1992) primary skillsets of successful consultants in nonprofit organizations, the parallels in expectations of the positions are obvious (see Table C.1).

The IHC concept is not new, but seldom is publicly embraced by executive leaders, in spite of the previously noted similarities between consultants and SEM professionals. Michael Hovland’s (2006) “Experts Close to Home: How to Work Like a Consultant on Your Own Campus” presentation illustrated how many traditional consulting tactics can be applied systematically by SEM professionals. Jim Black’s SEM framework paper (2003) and SEM business practices workshop (2002) promote the use of such traditional consulting practices as using diagnostic tools, establishing staff technical competencies and training systems, and using key performance indicators (KPIs) for cross-campus data sharing and outcomes assessment.

Shifting a campus’s perception of SEM professional from “administrator” to “in-house consultant” can be a natural transition. Most SEM professionals already possess the expert knowledge expected of practitioners as well as the characteristics and skills common among successful consultants. The Institute of Management Consultancy’s model for professional managerial consultants further defines this professional role by outlining the professional behaviors of effective consultants (2002). Similar to the chief enrollment management officer advertisements, the Institute’s standard emphasizes that consultants must be individuals who regularly manage complexity and responsibility; seek personal growth; use analytical and proactive thinking; have strong interpersonal interactions; and have delivery effectiveness.

In fact, the number of professionals possessing the skills, knowledge, and leadership abilities to effectively create a SEM organization has increased; many of them now have full-time positions within institutions. These professionals draw on their extensive professional networks in order to aid their institutions. Yet many colleges and universities continue to believe that answers to their SEM problems are best found outside of the institution. The task of supporting the external consultant is often let to the very individuals who possess the training and capacity to write the plan but who are disregarded because of their position within the institution. Such a scenario can be changed.


Noting the similarities between external consultants and current expectations of SEM professionals is only one step in understanding the IHC approach. Creating the role of internal consultant is as much an understanding of needed knowledge and skills as it is an appreciation of how education systems operate and of the role of SEM within those systems. This section seeks to reframe how colleges and universities operate by recasting the way in which campus constituencies view SEM and its leaders.

Over the past two decades, several preeminent SEM thinkers have elaborated on the role and structure of SEM organizations. Hossler (1986), Dolence (1993), Henderson (2004), and Kalsbeek (2006) have discussed the appropriate administrative structures and the orientation of SEM. Both structure and orientation are important aspects of understanding and leading SEM units. The location of a unit in the overall structure can signify its importance and predetermine whose voice will be heard in institutional decision making. Further, philosophical orientation (e.g., administrative, student-focused, academic, or market-centered) can affect the ways in which SEM units operate and interact with other units in the organization (see Kalsbeek 2006). However, neither structure nor orientation fully optimizes the SEM units’ impact on the overall function of the university if the SEM processes and its leaders are not valued.

Universities are complex systems filled with multiple organizations and subsystems. To consider them single organizations that move with cohesion, grace, and unified vision would be inaccurate. In reality, departments and other entities operate as loosely coupled units: even though departments are interdependent, they retain a high level of independence due to their specialization (Weick 1976). When we recognize that universities operate as large systems comprising multiple organizations, the concept of an “internal” consultant who helps bind the institution together begins to make more sense.

Whether a consultant is viewed as “internal” or “external” is purely a matter of perspective. If we view the university as a collection of organizations and subsystems rather than as a singular organization, it quickly becomes apparent that the SEM professional can bring an “external” perspective to other units within the institution. Certainly, each interdependent unit possesses expertise that can be shared among all the units. But such sharing can prove difficult as one purpose of loosely coupled systems is to protect the core units (academic departments) and shield them from the influence of the environment as well as from the actions of other units. For example, changes in the math department typically have little impact on the biology department; similarly, adding student activities does not alter operations in the financial aid office. Simply stated, one unit’s ability to influence the rest of the units is structurally limited without collaboration (Birnbaum 1988). In contrast, management of student enrollments is one of the few functions that cuts across units at any college or university.

The academy has been highly successful in creating buffers to protect academic units from environmental forces. The problem is that the resulting isolation results in many units continuing to operate on outdated assumptions of past environmental conditions; the units have not kept pace with current realities, such as how to recruit and retain undergraduate students (Birnbaum 1988). Different ways of working within the existing structure can keep departments current in regard to changing student trends and can help them adjust their internal plans as needed.

Though it is commonly assumed that external consultants are more effective than internal personnel at fostering change, research into organizational operations suggests that this is not necessarily the case. Kurz’s and Scannell (2006) reflection on SEM’s third decade of existence in higher education illustrates the need for successful SEM professionals to act as internal consultants. Kurz and Scannell and (2006) outline three primary contemporary SEM functions:

  • Setting and establishing linkages, shared goals, improved communication, and synergy across all institutional units. Rather than functioning as stand-alone systems, unit objectives need to be tied directly to enterprise-wide goals.
  • Using an analytical, empirical, data-driven approach to problem solving and decision making. Intuition is important but not sufficient. The “culture of evidence” is a cornerstone of effective enrollment management.
  • Providing critical leadership. Enrollment management almost always means changes in structure, reporting lines, communication, goals, etc. The challenges and risks of change should never be underestimated. Effective enrollment leaders are willing to accept risks in areas where they see the need for change.

Lawrence and Lorsch (1967), who have produced several seminal works in the field of organizational theory, discussed similar success traits in their discovery that internal consultants (or “interdepartmental” liaisons) were the most effective mechanisms for coordinating departments and resolving conflict in the business arena. The most successful of these individuals possessed four primary characteristics:

  • Ability to bridge goals and build trust among different departments. SEM professionals need to understand and actively work to build relationships among administrative offices, academic units, student affairs departments, and so forth. These areas have different cultures. An effective internal consultant needs to be able to bring key stakeholders together.
  • Respect earned through demonstration of an expert knowledge base. One of the primary arguments for having SEM professionals serve as internal consultants is that they possess technical competence that needs to be supported at the executive level and communicated throughout the system.
  • Understanding and communicating institutional vision. Enrollments undergird the functions of the university. Without them, the institution would not exist. Those who work in SEM units are more attuned to campus-wide functions than those in other units and thus can more easily communicate the need to maximize the university’s overall performance.
  • A high profile throughout the organization. An internal consultant does not deserve a high profile; rather, someone with a high profile is more prone than someone without such a profile to help an organization foster change. Execution of this concept is more in the hands of the president than in the SEM professional, but it does emphasize the importance of having strong support from central administration.

The research suggests that individuals who are familiar to the organization, who have intimate knowledge of the organization, and who are trusted by the organization and its members possess great capacity for initiating and sustaining change.

Fundamentally, the expectations and stronger working relationships that can result from the IHC model strengthen institutions’ long-term efforts to optimize resources and focus on successful and repeatable business practices. These include:

  • Cost savings that result from acknowledging institutional competencies. External consultants can be expensive; depending on the complexity of the project, costs may range from $800 to $3,000 per day, not including travel expenses. Even the most narrowly defined consulting projects can cost in excess of $50,000.
  • Greater organizational unity and engagement with regard to core business practices. In order to succeed with SEM, a focus on fundamentals—core business functions—is essential (Black 2002). Organizational complexity and narrow developmental budget margins create an opportunity for SEM to link campus-wide functions and bridge student service gaps. If accepted, the SEM process and consultant-like activities help bond the various leaders and units around a more centralized vision and around business activities. Stronger linkages and working relationships can help highly specialized departments identify the significance of their role in the institution’s progress and financial standing.
  • Increased likelihood for sustainable change. External consultants have been criticized for not understanding the institutional culture — that is, the unique political and structural challenges that exist on any campus. The IHC model positions SEM professionals to use their institutional knowledge to better establish the linkages and trust needed to undergird a stronger and more coordinated strategic plan through regular communication and requests for unit input. In other words, the in-house consultant is expected to regularly “take the plan of the shelf ” and put it into action.


The IHC approach must be more than a rhetorical strategy for heightening the SEM organizational culture: It should be a values-based training philosophy; an institutional expectation for collaboration; a push for heightened professionalism.

Typically, a professional consultant will provide change management solutions to a client. The following five-step platform can help an institution develop the IHC paradigm while implementing SEM principles for planning, training, and reporting activities.

Step 1: Establish a Vision
The first step in developing the IHC model is to define the conceptual role of SEM within the organization. We refer to the core concepts of SEM, not the office or unit (Bontrager 2004). SEM needs to be viewed as a system of institutional responsibilities that transcends divisional boundaries and other administrative silos. In fact, institutions should adopt a SEM-oriented, thematic goal which is “a single, qualitative focus that is shared by the entire leadership team—and ultimately, by the entire organization—and that applies for only a specified time period” (Lencioni 2006, p. 178). (In this context a thematic goal could include “improving the reputation of the institution” or “becoming the college of choice for students in the region or state” [Lencioni 2006, p. 178].) The thematic goal can help reorient the institution and help other units better understand the importance of the SEM unit. Typically this goal is part of the strategic plan (e.g., increasing, stabilizing, or diversifying the student enrollment). Ideally it reflects a meeting of the school’s capacity to serve with a descriptive vision of the type of students it seeks to educate. Whatever the goal, and however it is expressed, the president and the executive board should ensure that everyone within their divisions understands the concepts of SEM as well as SEM’s overall importance to the institution in achieving the initiative.

Step 2: Align Systems
A critical component of the IHC model is to reorient the ways in which SEM is integrated into an institution’s organizational structure. First, for SEM to work, a clear organizational structure with a champion for all core SEM functions (e.g., research, recruitment, and retention) must be designated. The existence of a clear and comprehensive enrollment management structure or administrative designation continues to be a problem on many campuses. While almost all U. S. institutions have appointed a recruitment officer (Noel Levitz 2007), as of 2004, more than 45 percent of four-year colleges and universities in the United States had not designated a formal retention officer (Habley and McClanahan 2004). There needs to be a formal clustering of units that link the research, recruitment, and retention functions of the institution. Once this is achieved, the chief enrollment officer and the SEM units can offer support through market-based knowledge and technical resources to assist all campus units in setting and achieving their enrollment-related objectives.

Second, the IHC model argues for frequent, regular meetings of the service directors and unit leaders who interact most often with students. Like the cross-unit “sharing meetings” that are called when an external consultant is hired, these regular meetings should include the managers of units responsible for admissions, advising, financial aid, student billing and collections, registration, student housing, food services, student activities, orientation, camps and pre-college programs, alumni, and career services. Appropriate faculty and student representatives must be involved. The SEM team should be encouraged to share unit issues and events and, more important, to discuss campus initiatives that might have an impact on students’ ability to remain and succeed at the institution. The team’s concerns and suggestions should be documented and shared with the president and executive leaders.

Step 3: Create and Execute Plans
It is important to create enrollment management plans centrally as well as at the unit level. Objectives should focus on core SEM measurements, such as establishing the institution’s student service volume and the subsequent admissions, student profile, and retention benchmarks. While academic departments likely will know their enrollments and credit-hour generation, it is unlikely that they understand how their enrollments evolve over students’ tenure in their programs. Such information can be important at the undergraduate as well as graduate levels in regard to optimizing course offerings and advising workloads. Using unit audits, the in-house consultant should work with the academic and student service departments to generate benchmarks and determine how best to track unit progress. To begin, the in-house consultant should determine a department’s capacity to serve students by evaluating measures such as teaching loads, class sizes, and service needs. At this point, he/she can — as appropriate — create a profile of students the department wants to attract, retain, and serve. Then the consultant should work with the department to create benchmarks and desired, measurable outcomes. The same types of research and planning exercises can be performed with most campus support units, including food service, billing and cashiers, counseling, career services, and student activity offices.

Step 4: Integrate the Vision
Successful implementation of the IHC model depends on the ability and training of the people employed to execute it. It is important for new hires to have a solid understanding of SEM, to be able to move easily among and to relate to different types of departmental cultures, and to understand and communicate institutional goals. Objectives, deliverables, and reporting activities need to be emphasized in all job descriptions and performance goals. Annual training plans should ensure regular exposure to happenings in specific fields through the sharing of articles and journal readings and the provision of opportunities to attend relevant professional conferences. General training should be based on consulting competency topics, such as effective student learning, analytical and budget skills, market analysis, strategic goal setting, systems management and plan development, and execution methods.

Step 5: Review the Process
In addition to creating the objectives and performance indicators for instituting the SEM vision, it is important to create a mechanism through which the SEM professional can report back to the broader collegiate community about the implementation of SEM initiatives and the market changes that may affect it.

A key deliverable for any consultant is a report and assessment of key performance indicators. (A thorough explanation and definition of SEM KPIs is provided in Dolence, Lujan and Rowley 1997). The fundamentals are growth by program, student profile and diversity, student retention and graduation rates, and preferred discount rates. Whatever the objectives, they need to be determined and embraced by the institution’s executive team. Once established, performance on each objective must be communicated through dashboard indicator reports distributed widely across campus. Data and data interpretation must be widely shared if the information is to be used in cross-campus decision making.

The IHC model encourages the preparation and dissemination of annual reports that include updated environmental scans, comparisons of enrollment performance with strategic plan goals and competitors’ performance levels, and student market assessments. Regularly scheduled events that include all internal stakeholders — such as a state of the university address or a mid-year luncheon — are logical times to review data and discuss the strategies for continual SEM improvement.

Not an argument against using external consultants and gaining from their valuable input, the foregoing discussion of an in-house consulting model has to do with establishing an ideal organizational position and performance model for SEM professionals. The IHC model promotes the idea of letting internal, experienced SEM practitioners develop institution-wide partnerships and plans to better ensure that the university lives up to its promises to students, families, faculty, and alumni. Fully embraced, the IHC model can play a uniting role for the typically isolated, silo-focused units of most campuses. The model represents an ideal for strategic levels of performance and professionalism. It can be used to build an organizational culture that better motivates staff and faculty collaboration, demonstrates a dedication to intelligent planning and strategy execution, promotes a stronger passion for academic and student success through shared governance, and embraces the regular use of solid analytical and data-driven skill sets to move an institution in the direction it has chosen.


Birnbaum, R. 1988. How Colleges Work: The Cybernetics of Academic Organization and Leadership. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass Publishers.

Black, J. 2002. Excelling in the core business functions of strategic enrollment management. Paper presented at the 17th Annual Enrollment Planners Conference, Chicago, IL.

———. 2003. Deining enrollment management: The symbolic frame. Accessed September 28, 2007, at www

Bontrager, R. 2004. Strategic enrollment management: Core strategies and best practices. College and University Journal. 79(4): 9–15.

Dolence, M. G. 1993. A Primer for Campus Administrators. Washington, DC: American Association of Collegiate Registrars and Admissions Officers.

Dolence, M. G., H. D. Lujan, and D. J. Rowley. 1997. Working Toward Strategic Change: A Step-by-Step Guide to the Planning Process. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass Publishers.

Habley, W., and R. McClanahan. 2004. What Works in Student Retention–All Survey Colleges. Iowa City, IA: ACT, Inc.

Henderson, S. E. 2004. Refocusing enrollment management: losing structure and finding the academic context. Paper presented at the 14th Annual SEM Conference. Orlando, FL.

Hossler, D. 1986. Managing college enrollments. New Directions for Higher Education. No.53. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass Publishers.

———. 2005. Managing student retention: Is the glass half full, half empty, or simply empty? Paper presented at the 15th Annual SEM Conference. Chicago, IL.

Hovland, M. 2006. Experts close to home: how to work like a consultant on your own campus. Paper presented at the 2006 GACRAO Conference. Kennesaw, GA.

Institute of Management Consultancy. 2002. Introducing the new management consultancy framework. Accessed September 3, 2007, at

Kalsbeek, D. H. 2006. Some relections on SEM structures and strategies. College and University Journal. 81(3): 3–10.

Kibbe, B., and F. Setterberg. 1992. Succeeding with Consultants: Self-Assessment for the Changing Nonprofit. New York: The Foundation Center.

Kurz, K., and J. Scannell. 2006. Enrollment management grows up: Enrollment managers share their current approaches. University Business 5(5): 34–38. Norwalk, CT: Professional Media Group LLC test.

Lawrence, P. R., and J.W. Lorsch. 1967. Organization and Environment: Managing Differentiation and Integration. Boston: Graduate School of Business Administration, Harvard College.

Lencioni, P. 2006. Silos, Politics, and Turf Wars. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Noel Levitz, Inc. 2007. 2007 National Research Report-Student Recruitment Practices at Four-Year and Two-Year Institutions. Coralville, IA: Author.

———. 2005. Recruitment Practices Survey. Coralville, IA: Author.

Tuchtenhagen, A. June 2007. Enrollment management position descriptions
2004–2007. Unpublished compilation. University of Wisconsin–River Falls.

University Business. June 2007. Consultants, dealers, services & products. Norwalk, CT: Professional Media Group LLC test.

Weick, K. E. 1976. Educational institutions as loosely coupled systems. Administrative Science Quarterly. 21(1): 1–19.

WICHE. 2003. Knocking at the College Door: Projections of High School Graduates by State, Income, and Race/Ethnicity, 1988 to 2018. Boulder, CO: Author.

About the Authors
Jay W. Goff is the Dean of Enrollment Management at the Missouri University of Science and Technology, formerly the University of Missouri – Rolla. With more than fifteen years experience in university enrollment and communication programs, Goff believes in building a team-oriented workplace and service driven success plans. His data-focused and student-centric approach has achieved record setting enrollments, retention and graduation rates.

Jason E. Lane is Assistant Professor of Educational Policy Studies and Administration and affiliate faculty member in the Rockefeller College’s Public Policy Program at the University at Albany, SUNY. Dr. Lane’s research agenda focuses on governance, politics, and organizational capacity building in the postsecondary sector.

This article originally appeared in College & University (Volume 83, No. 3 [2008]), and is being reproduced/distributed with the permission of the American Association of Collegiate Registrars and Admissions Officers. © Copyright 2008.

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

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

Expanding the Conversation about SEM: Advancing SEM Efforts to Improve Student Learning and Persistence

This paper was originally distributed as a 2009 Strategic Enrollment Manangement Conference pre-Conference paper.


It’s now nearly ten years since I started participating in and presenting at national conferences related to strategic enrollment management (SEM). Having entered this profession with nearly 20 years of experience in transitional initiatives related to the first-year experience and academic advisement services, I have perceived an essential need for enrollment management conceptual and organizational models to focus more intentionally and purposefully on efforts related to improving student learning, success, and persistence. Oftentimes, SEM still is viewed from a conventional lens comprising marketing, recruitment and admissions, financial aid, and registrar-related student services functions.

Hossler (2005) notes that SEM retention efforts often have resulted in a “laundry list” approach to improving student persistence and that higher education institutions do not systemically assess the impact of these efforts. By design, this white paper is intended to consciously connect dialogue about improving student learning and persistence to an institution’s SEM efforts. It is my hope that this work will serve as a resource for those considering the complex task of systemically integrating efforts to improve student success and persistence with the more traditional institution-based strategic enrollment management enterprise. I hope to show through this process that a holistic SEM enterprise is greater than a laundry list of its programs and services.

Student Persistence Is a Complex Challenge

Higher education nomenclature includes many terms for describing student success. “Retention,” “persistence,” “attrition,” “student departure,” and “improving student learning” are used synonymously to refer to whether students succeed in college. The literature on student retention and attrition is prolific with details on why and when students leave college. Tinto’s (1975, 1993) landmark studies have shaped how researchers and practitioners alike have come to understand the issue of student persistence. Having prompted nearly 35 years of dialogue on student retention and persistence in higher education, his attrition model, in particular, has become a foundation for most research regarding student persistence. Pascarella and Terenzini’s (1991, 2005) significant evidence links students’ first-year academic performance to both persistence and degree completion. Astin’s (1977, 1985) research details the connections of student involvement to student persistence. More than 30 years of research now exists on factors which influence student persistence and degree attainment, yet issues of student retention and persistence continue to be as pertinent today as they were in 1975, when Tinto first published his student integration model.

Swail (2001), in “The Art of Retention,” notes that in the 1970s and 1980s, public policy was focused primarily on access, with federal and state legislation aimed at reducing barriers to higher education. By the mid 1990s, this discussion moved from access to issues of choice, affordability, and persistence. Since 2000, much attention has been given to improving student success and learning and assessment in their first year and throughout the student’s undergraduate experience. Today’s public agenda is daunting: creating a culture for institutional and departmental assessment; improving institutional transparency and accountability; improving evidence-based decision-making efforts; reducing the costs of higher education; and increasing the numbers of higher education graduates, especially those from traditionally underrepresented and low-income groups.

Approximately 18.3 million students are attending higher education institutions this fall, representing an increase of nearly 3 million since fall 2000 (NCES 2009). Despite this incredible increase, the reality is that one of every two students still will not complete a degree. Often, the graduation rate of an institution is used to define “student success.” Because public policy focuses on graduation rates, they seem to be the measure on which most people rely for determining student success. However, it is important to note that graduation rate is “one number in time” commonly used for a particular group of students who enter higher education as “first-time full-time students.” Unfortunately, many students are not in college long enough to realize the benefits of a college education. On average, four-year colleges and universities lose 29 percent of their first-year students before those students start their second year (ACT 2008). Student persistence research shows that of those students who leave higher education, most leave in the first year of college–especially during the first semester–with some leaving even during the first few weeks on campus (Tinto 1993).

Although the focus of this paper is not to highlight the amount of time students take to graduate, I thought I would draw your attention to some findings from the recent longitudinal study prepared by the Data Quality Campaign (DQC) (2009). The DQC study shows that on average, first-time recipients of bachelor’s degrees in 1999–2000 who had not stopped out of college for 6 months or more took approximately 55 months from first enrollment to degree completion. Additionally, the DQC study showed that graduates who had attended multiple institutions took longer to complete a degree. For example, those who attended only one institution averaged 51 months from postsecondary entry to completion of a bachelor’s degree, compared with 59 months for those who attended two institutions and 67 months for those who attended three or more institutions. This pattern was found among graduates of both public and private not-for-profit institutions.

The DQC also studied other factors related to time to degree completion. As parents’ education increases, the average time to degree completion decreases. As age and length of time between high school graduation and postsecondary entry increase, time to degree completion also increases. Further, the study shows that higher grade-point averages were associated with a shorter time to degree completion among graduates of public institutions but not among graduates of private not-for-profit institutions. The DQC study also examined data on transfer students from two-year colleges: Students who transferred took about a year and a half longer to complete a bachelor’s degree than students who began at public 4-year institutions (71 vs. 55 months) and almost two years longer than those who began at private not-for-profit four-year institutions (50 months). The type of institution from which graduates received a degree also was related to time to degree: graduates of public institutions averaged about 6 months longer to complete a degree than graduates of private not-for-profit institutions (57 vs. 51 months). Many institutions today are tracking graduation rates at four, five, and six years; a number of institutions also are tracking the graduation rates of their transfer-in students. The DQC study has produced useful information in helping us to understand degree completion data.

Retention and graduation rates are significant means by which university effectiveness is measured. We have known for years that students leave college for varying reasons and that their persistence is affected by pre-entry attributes, goals and commitments, institutional experiences, and academic and social integration factors (Tinto 1993). We know too that some students who leave an institution will go on to achieve success at another institution. We know that institutions are different from one another and that some institutions may have more part-time “mobile” students. And we know that many students who enter our campuses today are non-traditional and may choose to attend college on a part-time basis. Regardless of the type of student or institution, the pressure is on to enhance student success and persistence-to-degree rates and to account for these results in the public domain.

The study of student persistence is indeed a complex issue. While postsecondary enrollment has increased to more than 18 million students, efforts to improve student persistence to graduation remain challenging. Federal and state government agencies as well as public college and university state systems have embraced this issue because the “institutional graduation rate” has held at a constant 50 percent for most of the past half century. As “one number in time,” the graduation rate represents only first-time full-time students–not students who transfer to and obtain degrees from other higher education institutions. It is not uncommon for today’s millennial student to attend multiple institutions before obtaining a degree. Graduation rates also do not take into consideration the non-traditional part-time student whose college attendance behavior often reveals a “stop-in-stop-out” enrollment pattern. Ask yourself how many transfer students your institution enrolls on an annual basis. The institution by which I am employed enrolls nearly 900 transfer students annually; they comprise nearly 35 percent of the institution’s new enrollment annually. Only about half of these students transfer from community colleges; the other half transfer from more than 100 baccalaureate-granting institutions annually.

While national college enrollments have increased over the years, other changes also have occurred—for example, in the nature of the student body and in the pathways to and through postsecondary education. Colleges and universities confront issues related to academic preparedness, greater diversity, stop-in/stop-out college-enrollment patterns, and many others not mentioned here. Data from the “Beginning Postsecondary Student Survey” (BPS:03/04) provides some insight into the student persistence debate:

Attainment and persistence at any institution through 2006:

  • 83 percent of beginning students who first enrolled full time in a postsecondary institution in 2003–04 with plans for a bachelor’s degree were still enrolled at a postsecondary institution three years later;
  • 62 percent of beginning students who first enrolled at a public two-year institution in 2003–04 and then transferred to another institution had not yet attained a degree and were still enrolled at some postsecondary institution three years later;
  • 50 percent of beginning independent students who first enrolled at a four-year institution in 2003–04 had not attained a degree and were no longer enrolled three years later.

Attainment and retention at the first institution attended:

  • 70 percent of beginning students who enrolled full time at a postsecondary institution in 2003–04 with plans for a bachelor’s degree were still enrolled at their first postsecondary institution without a degree three years later; 4 percent had attained a degree or certificate at their first institution; 20 percent had transferred elsewhere without a degree, and 7 percent had left the first institution attended without a degree or certificate and did not enroll anywhere else within three years.
  • Among students first enrolled at a public two-year institution in 2003–04 with associate degree plans, 23 percent attained an associate degree from that institution, 31 percent were still enrolled there without a degree, 24 percent had transferred elsewhere without a degree, and 21 percent had not attained a degree and were not enrolled there or anywhere else three years later.
  • One-quarter of all students who enter postsecondary education for the first time end up at another institution before attaining a postsecondary degree.
  • Almost half (46 percent) of first-time students who left their initial institution by the end of the first year never came back to postsecondary education.
  • Students who attended full time or whose attendance was continuous were much more likely to achieve their degree goals than other students. However, only about two-thirds of students were continuously enrolled;
  • 50 percent of four-year students who did not delay entry into college earned their degree at their first institution, compared to only 27 percent of students who were delayed entrants;
  • 42 percent of students whose first-year grade point average was 2.25 or less left postsecondary education permanently.

The data from this study support earlier studies indicating that continuous enrollment at the initial institution, full-time attendance, and more thorough academic preparation are key factors related to degree attainment.

Longitudinal studies have shown that first-time full-time student graduation rates changed little despite widespread and concerted efforts by many colleges and universities to increase them. ACT (2008) reports that the gaps in performance and persistence rates seem to endure despite significant institutional programming and service efforts to close them. Conversely, it is important to note that while retention rates have not improved over the last 30 years, neither did they decline. This is noteworthy considering both the increase in enrollment nationally and the diminished college readiness of incoming students during this time.

So what can institutions do to positively impact student success and learning such that student persistence and degree attainment are improved? A substantial degree of prescriptive literature exists to guide campus leaders in making decisions regarding the different types of programming and student support experiences being used to enhance the quality of students’ education (Upcraft et al. 2005). Many higher education institutions today offer an extensive catalog of student support services in the form of new student orientation, academic support services, tutoring, supplemental instruction, early alert programs, freshman seminar, learning community course clustering, living and learning community environments, developmental and proactive academic advising, proactive career counseling, leadership programming, community service learning, multicultural programming, developmental course work, mentoring programs, and many other programming initiatives. Many of our institutions have advanced their efforts by segmenting services to meet specific students’ needs (e.g., academically underprepared, underrepresented, student athletes, honor students, non-traditional students, residential students, commuter students, first-year, transfer, and other student groups). Many institutions work hard to retain students, typically relying on strategies that hinge upon their first-year experience. However, successful student persistence is not just a first-year issue: It is a multi-year issue that cuts across every year of a student’s undergraduate experience.

Case Studies of Interest on Improving Retention and Graduation

I focus here on two major studies of student retention. The first was conducted in 2002, when the Lumina for Education Foundation sponsored a research study which looked at retention practices at 19 public and private institutions that serve low-income students; half had a high six-year graduation rate and half had a low six-year graduation rate. The second study was conducted in 2005–06 and focused on the collaborative efforts of the American Association of State Colleges and Universities (AASCU), The Education Trust (Ed Trust), and The National Association of System Heads (NASH), which together sponsored a study to help campuses understand the reasons that some public four-year colleges and universities have an unusually good record of retaining and graduating students.

In the Lumina-sponsored study, teams met with presidents and CEOs, faculty, staff, and, most important, students (Swail 2001). Swail notes that they visited special programs and tried to get a feel for the climate and atmosphere on campus. The research team expected to find that schools with high graduation rates would have dedicated staff, would be committed to retaining students, and would utilize tried-and-true teaching and learning strategies that make a difference in the learning atmosphere and social climate of the institution. The researchers found what they expected. However, they were astonished to also find what they really didn’t want to find: Resources trumped all other factors. That is, they found that institutions with resources could implement almost any strategy they wanted to. And perhaps more important in so far as the retention debate was concerned, those institutions with resources were able to attract more qualified and competitive students—students who almost surely were going to graduate from college, even if they were from low-income backgrounds. Swail notes that lower-performing schools had staff at least as or even more dedicated than those at better performing schools and that they offered a high-quality education. Nevertheless, institutions with resources were able to use them to make the difference in who came, who stayed, and who completed a degree.

The second study sought to investigate the reasons that some public four-year colleges and universities have unusually good retention and graduation rates. A study team visited the twelve campuses selected for the study and submitted a campus report for each. The campus reports then were analyzed, and the final report was written by Peter Ewell of the National Center for Higher Education Management Systems, with the assistance and collaboration of team leaders, project directors, and others. The stories told about these colleges and universities underscore the diversity of successful approaches to retaining and graduating students. Half of the study institutions had recently raised their admissions requirements—surely a contributing factor in their success. But the other six had not changed admissions practices appreciably and yet still reported high graduation rates. What really distinguishes many of these campuses is the pervasive belief that demography is not destiny: all of the students they admit have the potential to graduate, and they all should be held to high levels of expectation. Good performance is not just the province of small, selective institutions. Clearly, the single most important lesson relates to the significance of institutional culture in shaping the day-to-day behavior of faculty and staff in their interactions with students. Consistent behavior builds retention—as one report put it, “one student at a time.”

Factors Related to Retention

A number of factors related to retention have been found in the research literature over the last 30 years.

Academic Preparedness. Academic integration and preparation are primary features of many models of retention. Research shows that between 30 and 40 percent of all entering freshman are unprepared for college-level reading and writing, and approximately 44 percent of all college students who complete a two- or four-year degree had enrolled in at least one remedial/developmental course in math, writing, or reading.

Campus Climate. While researchers agree that “institutional fit” and campus integration are important to retaining college students to degree completion, campus climate mediates undergraduates’ academic and social experiences in college. Minority and low-income students inadequately prepared for non-academic challenges can experience culture shock. Lack of diversity in the student population, faculty, staff, and curriculum, specifically with regard to income and race/ethnicity, often restrict the nature and quality of minority students’ interactions within and outside of the classroom, threatening their academic performance and social experiences.

Commitment to Educational Goals and the Institution. Tinto (1993) hypothesizes that students’ commitment to their occupational and educational goals, as well as their commitment to the institution at which they enroll, significantly influence college performance and persistence outcomes: The stronger the goal and institutional commitment, the more likely the student will graduate. Research shows that congruence between student goals and institutional mission is mediated by academic and social components and that increased integration into academic and social campus communities results in greater institutional commitment and student persistence.

Social and Academic Integration. The process of becoming integrated into the social fabric of a university also has been found to be both a cumulative and compounding process: that is, the level of social integration within a given year of study is part of a cumulative experience that continues to build throughout one’s college experience. Establishing peer relations and developing role models and mentors have both been identified in the literature as important factors in student integration, academically and socially.

Financial Aid. Attending college and persisting to degree completion most often is rewarded with higher annual and lifetime earnings. But for many low-income and minority students, enrollment and persistence decisions are driven by the availability of financial aid.

Source: The Art of Retention, Swail, 2001

What Can Institutions Do to Improve Student Progress and Persistence?

The following section of the white paper, which concentrates on what institutions can do to improve student progress and persistence through improved student services, was shaped and inspired by the research cited above, by my work at Slippery Rock University, and through consultations with a number of other institutions. Apart from improving institutional selectivity and admissions requirements and lowering the cost of obtaining a higher education degree through improved financial aid programs and scholarship opportunities, institutions still have much control over the outreach and support services provided to students once they are admitted and enrolled. Rather than provide a fragmented laundry list of recommended support services or best practices identifying specific programmatic experiences, I provide some helpful strategies, questions to ponder, and thoughts for reflection on how an institution may work to enhance efforts to improve student learning and persistence.

Each of our institutions is accountable for improving student learning and success. We can achieve these goals by using strategies to engage more with our students; to identify their needs earlier; to track student progress and persistence; to measure and assess the impact of these efforts; and to use evidence to justify the need for additional resources. At the institution by which I am employed, we have worked collaboratively, intentionally, and purposefully to find ways to improve student engagement, involvement, and student learning. First- to second year retention rates have increased from 70 percent in 2000 to more than 80 percent in 2009. Improved student persistence has led in turn to increased graduation rates. Given today’s economic conditions, which pose even greater fiscal and operational challenges and which limit the use of already scarce resources, it is even more important for our institutions to channel energies toward improving student learning and success. Doing so will lead to positive outcomes with regard to student progress and persistence.

The following strategies, questions, and thoughts for further reflection are intended to help us focus on ways we can improve student learning and success on our campuses.

1. Articulate a Collective Vision and Mission

How student-centered are your institutional vision, mission, and/or core value statements? Do these represent more than statements preserved either on a bookshelf in a well-written document or on your institution’s Web site? In what ways can you provide evidence that your campus is committed to improving student learning and success? Are specific groups or individual(s) on your campus responsible for coordinating programming and service initiatives related to improving student learning and success? How do departments and individuals work in partnership with one another?

Institutional vision, mission, and goal statements should articulate and address our desire to enhance student learning and success. Our desire to graduate students and to create an educated citizenry should be inherent in everything we do. Vision, mission, and goal statements often include language related to “providing educational excellence,” “advancing students’ intellectual growth,” “connecting students to a diverse world,” and “offering outstanding undergraduate and graduate academic programs,” all of which are intrinsically related to student persistence. Teams in the AASCU study (2005) frequently reported that the institution’s “mission” was seen less as a written document than as a shared belief system and code of conduct embraced by faculty and staff. Central to these institutions was a clear sense of institutional purpose focused on fostering student learning and success. Many of the institutions noted that this sense of shared purpose helped reinforce a culture focused on serving current students.

2. Invest in the Culture and Leadership

Does your campus have a culture focused on student learning and success? What evidence do you have to demonstrate this across departments and divisions? In what ways can you develop the culture to enhance its efforts to improve student learning and success? How does your institution engage leaders (e.g., faculty, administrators, support staff, and students) across campus in the effort to help improve student learning and success?

Each of our campuses has a distinctive and multiple cultures. Ask yourself whether your campus culture embodies a value for improving student learning and success. At least three key elements of campus culture could be distinguished at the institutions in the AASCU study (2005): First, the AASCU study teams noted a pervasive attitude that all students can succeed; this belief was reinforced by a wider culture that was not content to rest on past success. Second, the study teams found a sense of inclusiveness on the part of all members of the campus community—a group they frequently characterized as a “family.” Finally, the study teams found a strongly held sense of institutional mission that recognized the campus as “distinctive” or “special.” Investing in the culture to nurture and support a student-centric environment is critical to enhancing efforts to improve student learning and success.

Leadership at multiple levels of an institution can help shape the culture by valuing and recognizing institutional, departmental, and individual achievements and successes as they relate to improving efforts focused on student learning and success. The process is represented through a responsibility that is shared at each institutional level and that is deeply embedded in the way an institution works on a day-to-day basis. The AASCU study, in particular, has shown that presidential qualities needed to build and sustain a campus’s culture and organizational processes are more about listening than talking and more about consistent personal modeling. At many of the campuses in this study, top leaders had held their positions for a long time and had been very consistent in their actions. Reflecting on the idea of shared responsibility across departments and divisions, boundary spanning was simply part of the way the institution did business, commonly without a great deal of visible organization or authority.

Campuses making a difference in improving student learning and persistence to graduation seem to do everything in their power to provide students with the support they need to succeed and to build students’ sense of personal responsibility for their own achievement (AASCU 2005). Leadership across these institutions set targets that can be met; provide support and examples to meet them; then raise the bar yet another notch. The AASCU study showed that institutional leadership can alter the way people look at their own institution. Presidents, especially, can raise a topic like building and improving a student learning success-oriented culture. Various levels of leadership across an institution can help by keeping people talking about it long enough to foster a shared sense of ownership and responsibility; they also can help make the process work by focusing on specific interactions and behaviors that lead to increasing collaboration and partnership for improving the student experience.

3. Plan and Act Strategically

Does your institution have a plan for improving student learning and success? How is this plan used as a measure of institutional performance? How are the goals communicated across campus? How are the results of assessments and measures of student learning outcomes, persistence, engagement, and satisfaction reflected in the plan? How are these types of assessments used at the department level? For example, if you are using measures of student engagement, how are experiences created to facilitate student-faculty engagement outside of the classroom, and how are faculty encouraged to participate in these types of activities?

Perhaps the most typical institutional response to an identified need or challenge is to add a new program or activity to address it. The resulting additive actions affect many areas of college and university life, but perhaps most of all, programming directed at retention and student success. Planning an effort designed to improve student learning and success is a complex process and should include integrated review of student recruitment and persistence goals, learning outcomes goals, engagement goals, and satisfaction goals. Have you ever participated in a strategic planning retreat in which retention goals were set as annual numerical increments despite the lack of defined, agreed-upon strategies or tactics for achieving the goals?

The AASCU study noted two questions that leaders should ask before adding a new program: First, how will the initiative help build or reinforce the wider culture of student success the institution has to sustain? Second, how will the proposed initiative position the institution to take the next step? Successful academic, social, and personal intervention initiatives require a comprehensive planning effort. Current services and programs should be reviewed on a regular basis to determine their effectiveness. Services that matter or that seem to have a positive impact on student learning and success should be improved and supported. And meaningful assessment and outcomes results should guide future directions and should be made transparent to the campus community.

4. Use Data and Meaningful Assessments as Sources of Evidence

How does your institution collect and share student information, including: (1) new and continuing enrollment data; (2) student pre-enrollment characteristics, attitudes, and behavior; (3) student persistence and progression data; (4) student engagement, involvement, and satisfaction results; and (5) student learning outcomes? Does your institution use peer comparisons and national benchmarks for examining the data, assessment, and survey results? How does your campus use the assessment outcomes and results to inform decisions and specific actions?

Institutions must have easily accessible and accurate information if they are to strategically manage student enrollment data and assessment and survey results. Our institutions have massive amounts of information available, but if that information can’t be used to personalize services, strengthen relationships, support processes, or make decisions, then the value of the data is diminished. Today, an increasing number of colleges and universities are depending on portal-based reporting solutions so that key individuals across campus may access student information and communicate it to key users. Different levels of personnel have specific and differing needs to accurately identify trends, pinpoint areas that need improvement/intervention, and build relationships with students.

In older technology systems, data often are quickly outdated and incomplete, especially by the time a report is produced in response to a specific query. Frequently, good information is not sought if it is difficult to obtain. At other times, institutional data may not be “clean,” with the result that common queries result in disparate answers. In these circumstances, floods of static print reports pile up on an individual’s desk, resulting in confusion rather than insight. Using timely data on students at crucial college transitions is important for determining successful academic and student life experiences and challenges, including the progress of different student groups (e.g., first year, transfer, non-traditional, residential, commuter, underrepresented, honors, underprepared, etc.). Institutions today can monitor student persistence earlier and throughout students’ entire college experience.

So how do we use technology solutions today to process and to measure meaningful outcomes and to foster organizational and financial efficiency? We see increased interest in “actionable intelligence” (Kilgore 2009), which includes business intelligence tools such as dynamic reporting and dashboard reports needed to inform evidence-based decision making. Kilgore (2009) notes that this need exists in a dynamic environment where the technologies we use are constantly evolving, as are student, faculty, and staff expectations of service. Many institutions today are seeking technologies and processes that use data to understand and analyze their performance. These types of tools provide insight into institutional performance rather than an account of its transactions.

Often referred to as Business Intelligence (BI), these tools include data access, reporting, and analytics. They commonly draw data from multiple sources (e.g., institutional data, national survey results, department assessments, and other data sources) and provide users with sophisticated models for analysis. Analytics refers to extensive use of data, statistical and quantitative analysis, explanatory and predictive models, and other fact-based reporting used to drive decisions and actions. Older data systems had tools that were more transactional in nature. They answered questions such as “What happened, who did it, and when did it happen?” Newer BI tools answer questions such as “Why did it happen, how will it happen in the future, and what can we do about it?” The answers to these types of questions help us improve institutional effectiveness, service, and performance.

Some colleges and universities are beginning to use newer portal reporting systems to disseminate information on student persistence, academic progress, engagement and involvement, and satisfaction. Such systems provide users at all levels of the institution with the information they need, in the format they need, at the time they need it. Newer business intelligence software enables data to be leveraged in existing systems and combined with other data sources; as a result, key personnel across multiple levels of the institution can access, analyze, and glean greater value from the data as they improve their decision-making processes.

Important data points should be compared with peers’ benchmarks. Programs and services can be improved through the identification of strengths and challenges.

Examples of Using Data and Communications as Evidence for Making Programmatic and Service Decisions and Creating a Need for Interventions:

Pre-Matriculation Questions

  • How does your institution communicate its emphasis on student learning, success, and persistence with students and families throughout the recruitment and pre-enrollment processes? How do you work across departments and divisions to provide a comprehensive message that meets the needs of a number of departments so that students and families perceive the enrollment process as seamless?
  • During the summer prior to fall enrollment, what percent of your institution’s first-time full-time students participated in your orientation programming (insert any program used by your institution to orient students to campus)? How does your institution engage with students and families (if appropriate to your institution) to encourage their participation in the programming experience? Does your institution use multiple strategies to communicate the value of this programming to a new student? Do you know what percent of students who attend orientation matriculate to the institution in the fall? Does your institution experience a “melt” from orientation? How does your institution communicate with students who attended orientation and registered for classes but who do not matriculate in the fall semester? How does your institution determine why such students do not matriculate? How does your institution work with students who matriculate in the fall but who did not attend orientation? Do incoming students have schedule loads and course selections that meet their needs and abilities?

Early Intervention and Support Service Questions

  • During the fall semester, what percent of your institution’s first-time full-time students (insert any group of students, e.g., transfer, residential, commuter, underprepared, underrepresented, part time) participated in your freshman seminar program (insert any program determined to have a relationship with connecting the student to campus or improving student engagement/involvement, e.g., participation in tutoring, learning community program, academic advising assistance, early intervention experiences, academic support services, living/learning community experience, leadership programming, athletic study experiences, and other student support programs)? What impact does this program have on a student’s academic and/or social integration? How do you study the differences between those students who engage in your institution’s freshman seminar program (insert any program, as above) and those who do not? How do you determine the impact of these programs on specific groups of students (academically underprepared, underrepresented, student athletics, residential, commuter, online, traditional, and non-traditional)? Do students who participate have a higher rate of persistence, progress, credits earned, engagement and involvement?

Academic Progress Questions

  • What type of early intervention strategies does your institution use to track academic, personal, or social challenges? Does this strategy focus on class attendance, participation, and academic progress?
  • Do you review periodically the D, F, W, and I rates for the highest enrollment courses for your first-year students?
  • How does your institution track withdrawals? Course withdrawals?
  • How often does your institution track persistence throughout the term? Does it track mid-year persistence each year of a student’s experience?
  • Does your institution assign mid-term grades for first-year students? Who receives copies of the grades, and who is responsible for intervening with students at risk? How do you intervene with students who have lower grades? Does your academic support services program reach out to students with lower grades?
  • Once your registration period begins for the next term, how does your institution track persistence to the next term through the registration process? How does it intervene with students who have not registered?
  • Once final grades are assigned, who intervenes with students who have experienced academic challenges during their first semester? Who reviews their scheduling for the second semester to determine appropriate course selections (e.g., repeating courses, altering course load, etc.)?
  • If economic conditions result in students’ stopping out, how does your institution maintain a relationship with such students so they consider re-enrolling in the future?
  • Does your institution advise students who have stopped out to enroll in online courses or courses at less costly institutions, such as local community colleges, in order to stay connected to higher education?
  • How might your institution advise students with lower grade point averages to consider enrolling in online or community college courses in order to improve their academic performance and obtain credits?
  • How do you connect with students who have withdrawn from your institution in an effort to support their further pursuit of higher education?

Overall Support Program Assessment Questions

  • How does your institution assess the programs and services determined to have an impact on improving student learning and success, engagement and involvement, and progress and persistence? What are the specific measures used to assess the program’s effectiveness and efficiency? How does your institution use assessments which measure specific student learning outcomes related to program goals? How are the results used for improving program effectiveness? How are the results communicated across campus? Are regular program reviews in place? How often do they occur? How are the results used to improve program success or to redistribute resources?

These questions reflect only a sample of the types of data and assessment information that can be used for decision making and the types of proactive positive interventions that can be made with students to intentionally and purposefully improve their learning and success. It is at least as important to move from mere data-based evidence to using the evidence to intervene with students to improve their engagement, involvement, and learning; this in turn leads to students’ improved performance and persistence. Building an information infrastructure capable of simultaneously monitoring progress and providing detailed feedback about what is working for which student populations is critical to improving student learning and success. By assessing the impact of each program, service, or activity, an institution can allocate its scarce resources in ways that best meet students’ needs.

It also is important for campuses to build a transparent and visible “culture of evidence” which requires attention to data and student progress and achievement. It is crucial to determine who needs assistance on campus–academically, socially, or financially–and to target these students for services early in their collegiate experience. It is important to link the evidence gained on persistence and progress with resources and budget and to invest in experiences that contribute to student engagement, involvement, and learning.

An institution can do many things to improve student learning and success. It is imperative that institutions provide the necessary programming, strategies, and interventions to help students succeed not only in their first year of college but also in each and every year the student is enrolled. Because the issues and needs of students evolve throughout their college experience, strategies should not be duplicated each year. Today, it does not seem to be a question of whether institutions are providing such services; many do. Rather, the question to be asked is whether institutions ensure that their services of high quality. Does your institution deliver services to the students who need them at the time at which they need them? For example, hanging a sign that reads “academic advising,” or “student leadership programs,” or “retention services,” or “career counseling” doesn’t do the job. Instead, institutions must work to identify students who can benefit from the high-quality services and programming available at the time students need them in order to improve their learning and success.

5. Engage and Partner with Faculty

How does your campus promote excellence in undergraduate teaching? How does your institution develop faculty for instruction, advising, and engaging with students outside of the classroom? How do out-of-classroom programs and services which are determined to have an impact on student learning and success partner with faculty?

A significant influence on a student’s engagement and involvement in school is interaction with faculty. As Austin (1993) explains, increasing student and faculty interaction both inside and outside the classroom fosters student development and increases the likelihood that students will be satisfied with their experience at the institution. Student-faculty engagement encourages students to devote greater effort to other educationally purposeful activities (Kuh and Hu 2001). Faculty become role models, mentors, and guides for continuous lifelong learning (Kezar and Kinzie 2006 ).

There are a number of potential positive outcomes of linking faculty involvement to efforts to improve student progress and persistence. While a single encounter is unlikely to forge a meaningful relationship, creating a culture for faculty engagement in the total SEM experience is critical. Because they are the content experts of our institutions’ academic programs, faculty can and should become integral partners in your efforts to improve student learning and persistence. Many campuses already use strategies designed to connect faculty to recruitment efforts by involving them in marketing initiatives, on-campus interviews, small group department sessions, large visitation information sessions, informational fairs, open houses, academic camps and summer enrichment programs, and early summer college experiences. Because faculty are engaged directly in students’ in-class experiences, it seems consistent and natural to involve faculty in an effort to advance SEM efforts toward improving student learning and persistence.

Outside of the classroom, faculty can serve an important role in an institution’s student retention efforts. Following are a dozen recommended strategies designed to connect faculty to retention efforts: Faculty can (1) participate in new student orientation activities by leading advisement and academic transition sessions; (2) lead small-group discussions related to a summer reading provided through the orientation process; (3) interact with students at a reception following a new student convocation in order to provide students with information about their disciplines and related careers; (4) serve as advisors and mentors to first-year students; (5) serve as sponsors or advisors to student clubs and organizations; (6) serve as sponsors of department clubs for new students interested in or majoring in their field; (7) sponsor service-learning experiences for students in areas relating to their academic discipline; (8) visit student residences in order to conduct small-group discussions related to course content, test-review sessions, tutoring, or academic advising; (9) avail themselves as interviewees for new students enrolled in a first-year experience course; (10) create opportunities for faculty-student research teams; (11) meet with other faculty advisors who work with exploratory students to identify the key features of their majors and minors; and (12) meet with residence life coordinators/advisors to discuss strategic study tips and active learning strategies that may be useful to students.

What else can campuses do to involve faculty in student retention initiatives? First, avoid 800-pound gorilla language (i.e., retention) and connect faculty and all of your retention efforts to improving student engagement, involvement, and learning outcomes. High-level administrators need to be involved in and must support these efforts. Public comments in faculty assemblies, campus news and communications, and student retention–related committees need to highlight the importance of these efforts. It is important to engage faculty in retention-related activities that leverage their passion and knowledge base in their discipline. It is important to show that their contributions to improving student learning and success makes a difference. Provide data demonstrating the results. Share data on student engagement (NSSE) and student satisfaction surveys; make such data relevant and meaningful by preparing them at the department or program level (whenever appropriate). Share thank you letters from students and families. Nominate a faculty member for an all-star award or special recognition, or support faculty from departments to attend national conferences related to improving student learning and success. Meaningful recognition of faculty contributions is significant. What do faculty on your campus consider to be meaningful recognition? Consider how your campus recognizes and rewards faculty for their involvement. In addition, consider how your institution assists faculty in improving their teaching and learning practices. Does your institution have a place on campus where faculty can learn about different pedagogies, teaching practices, learning styles, and assessment tools? Faculty are busy: They need to know that their engagement is highly valued and that it is in the best interest of the institution and its students.

6. Consider How Your Institution Might Draw on Best Practices and Strategies

What programs, activities, and support services comprise your institution’s efforts for improving student success? How do these services meet the needs of specific student groups (e.g., residential, commuter, traditional, non-traditional, first year, upper division, underrepresented, academically underprepared, and others)? How does your institution connect students to these programs? At which points in students’ experience are they connected to these programs? How do students connect with their major departments and academic advisors? How are students’ academic advisement needs met on your campus?

Take stock of the programs, activities, and support services that comprise your institution’s focus on improving student learning and success. A number of benefits stem from this process, as the AASCU study (2005) demonstrates. First, it might reveal a healthy, student-centered culture. Second, it may reveal pockets of success in relatively unconnected programs or initiatives. Finally, taking stock may reveal a campus culture that does not fundamentally value graduation as a goal. Depending on the findings at your institution, campus leaders will need to nurture and sustain success, work to integrate the successful pockets, or promote the value of a culture of student success.

In considering best practices, it is important to find out what other institutions are doing and how they are assessing these efforts. Borrow as much as possible, but stop there. Each college and university is unique. Strategies used to improve student learning and success should be tailored to each particular campus’s culture and students’ needs. While, you don’t need to reinvent the whole wheel, it is important to consider how best to adapt the new program or service to meet the needs of your students and how to engage the campus culture in this process. Simply identifying best practices somewhere and “plugging them in” is not likely to prove effective.

Experience has led me to believe that the best programs are intentional and purposeful in design and delivery, integrated in effort, and collaborative with other departments on campus. These strategies need to meet specific students’ needs at the individual institution. While I have avoided including a laundry list of best practices in this paper, it is clear that many campuses rely on best practices to enhance student learning and success. These practices certainly play a significant role on our campuses, and they do consume valuable resources, so it is even more critical given higher education’s current economic condition that these practices are evaluated regularly to be certain that they are meeting students’ needs.

7. Review Institutional Policies and Procedures

How often does your institution review policies and procedures related to student success, persistence, and progress? What specific policies and procedures on your campus have an impact on student learning, progress, or persistence?

Often, specific institutional policies and processes are not examined for their impact on student learning and success. Can you think of an academic policy or process on your campus that may not contribute positively to improving student learning and success? What evidence can you provide that this specific policy or practice does not have a positive impact on student learning and success? What is the process for changing the policy or process?

Strategies for improving student persistence and graduation rates can be influenced by our institutions’ academic policies. Consider the following questions:

What is the impact of your institution’s registration practices on student progress? Are sufficient courses available to meet students’ major program and general education needs? Are students advised as to specific college requirements and appropriate course scheduling?

What impact do your drop/add policy, course withdrawal policy, repeat policy, and incomplete grade policy have on student progression? What impact do your academic probation, suspension, and readmission policies have on student persistence?

How useful and reader friendly is your college catalog with regard to institutional policies, practices, and procedures? Such information should be located in a central place and/or on your institution’s Web site; its logical order or sequence should enable students, faculty, and staff to locate information easily.

8. Consider How Your Institution is Organized and Your Use of Resources and Facilities

How is your institution organized for improving student learning and success (e.g., through a specific organizational structure, committee(s), or other coordinated approach)? Do your facilities promote opportunities for enhancing student learning and success?

Institutions differ greatly from one another. Internal organizational features may include program structures, reporting functions, delivery models, staffing, budget, and facilities. Decisions can influence the way faculty, staff, and students view services, thereby affecting the campus culture. Collaboration and partnerships across divisions, units, and departments are critical to efforts to improve student engagement and involvement. The silo mentality is out of date and virtually extinct as an effective model for improving student engagement.

Resources also play a huge part in the ability of a campus to provide the support services necessary to engage and connect students. Many institutions work hard not only to provide resources to ensure that students have all the tools they need to successfully navigate the maze of higher education, but they also work strategically to reach out to specific students in need. For example, these types of programs will intentionally connect students to tutors rather than wait for students to seek them out. They will seek relationships with faculty and staff in order to improve the quality of the services offered. They may provide smaller study and discussion sessions for larger course sections. They provide extensive and proactive supplementary support services. They monitor student progress at critical time periods in a student’s undergraduate experience and create positive interventions as needs warrant.

Finally, it is important to note that the physical characteristics of your institution’s learning and living environment also are important to improving student learning and success. Consider how your institution’s learning and social environments invite interactions and enhance different types of learning. What impact do you think your facilities have on improving student learning and success? Reflect on the physical characteristics of your classroom buildings, student union, recreation centers, support services, and service offices. Are these areas inviting and conducive to student learning, engagement, and involvement? If your campus includes residential facilities, how do they–and their staff–foster student learning?

9. Consider How Your Institution Develops Faculty, Staff, and Student Leaders’ Understanding of Student Attitudes, Behaviors, and Aspirations

How transparent is your institution in terms of providing the campus community with data and information on students, student engagement survey results, student satisfaction results, and other important survey data? How do you use this information to understand students’ attitudes, aspirations, and behaviors? How is this information used by faculty, staff, and students who serve in leadership positions? How does your institution communicate student persistence data to the campus community, and how is this information used? Does your institution support attendance at national conferences related to SEM, first-year experience, student transition, academic advising, orientation, etc.? How is information gleaned from such experiences shared with colleagues?

Taking It Forward: Next Steps

As you move forward with SEM initiatives on your campus, use the questions and issues articulated in this white paper to consider how you may enhance efforts to improve student learning and success. The results of these efforts often are reflected in improved student engagement, involvement, and learning, which together lead to improved student persistence and graduation. Ultimately, overall institutional effectiveness is improved, creating an educated citizenry for the region, for the state, and for the nation.


ACT. National Collegiate Retention and Persistence to Degree Rates. 2008.

American Association of State Colleges and Universities (AASCU). 2005. Student Success in State Colleges and Universities: A Matter of Culture and Leadership.

Astin, A. W. 1977. Four Critical Years. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Astin, A. W. 1985. Achieving Educational Excellence. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Data Quality Campaign (DQC), 2009. Using data to improve achievement.

Hossler, D. 2005. Managing student retention: Is the glass half full, half empty, or simply empty? American Association of Collegiate Registrars and Admissions Officers. White Paper for AACRAO’s Strategic Enrollment Management (SEM) Conference, Chicago, IL.

Kezar, A., and J. L. Kinzie. March/April 2006. Examining the ways institutions create student engagement: The role of mission. Journal of College Student Development. 47(2):149-–72.

Kilgore, W. 2009. Ensuring a successful enrollment-related technology implementation. AACRAO Consulting.

Kuh, G., and S. Hu. 2001. The effects of faculty-student interaction in the 1990s. Review of Higher Education. 24:309–32.

National Center for Educational Statistics (NCES). Beginning postsecondary students (BPS 04/06) longitudinal study.

Pascarella, E. T., and P. T. Terenzini. 1991. How College Affects Students: Findings and Insights from Twenty Years of Research. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Pascarella, E. T., and P. T. Terrenzini. 2005. How College Affects Students: A Third Decade of Research, 2nd Rev. Ed. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Swail, W. S. 2001. The Art of Student Retention: A Handbook for Practitioners and Administrators.

The Pell Institute for the Study of Opportunity in Higher Education. Demography is not destiny: Increasing the graduation rates of low-income college students at large public institutions 2007.

Tinto, V. 1975. Dropout from higher education: A theoretical synthesis of recent research. Review of Educational Research. 45:89–125.

Tinto, V. 1993. Leaving College. Rethinking the Causes of Student Attrition, Second Edition. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Upcraft, M., J. Gardner, and B. Barefoot. 2005. Challenging and Supporting the First-Year Student: A Handbook for Improving the First Year of College. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics (NCES). 2003. The condition of education 2003 (NCES 2003-067), Indicator 21.

Other Supporting Resources

American Association of State Colleges and Universities (AASCU). 2006. Graduation rates and student success: Squaring means and ends.

Berkner, L., S. He, M. Mason, and S. Wheeless. 2007. Persistence and attainment of 2003–04 beginning postsecondary students: After three years (NCES 2007-169). National Center for Education Statistics, Institute of Education Sciences, U.S. Department of Education. Washington, DC. Retrieved September 20, 2009, from

Education Sector. 2008. Graduation rate watch: Making minority student success a priority.

Education Trust.

2004. A matter of degrees: Improving graduation rates in four-year colleges and universities.

2005. Choosing to improve: Voices from colleges and universities with better graduation rates.

2005. One step from the finish line: Higher college-graduation rates are within our reach.

College results online Web site.

Educational Policy Institute. 2008. Engaging faculty and staff: An imperative for fostering retention, advising, and smart borrowing.

Lumina Foundation for Education.

2003. Following the mobile student: Can we develop the capacity for a comprehensive database to assess student progression?

2007. Critical connections: Linking states’ unit record systems to track student progress.

U.S. Department of Education. 2006. The toolbox revisited: Paths to degree completion from high school through college.

This paper was authored by Amanda Yale, Ed.D., Associate Provost for Enrollment Services at Slippery Rock University of Pennsylvania.

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

Organizational Models for Enrollment Management at Small Colleges

College & University is AACRAO’s educational policy and research journal focusing on emerging concerns, new techniques, and technology in higher education.
Small private colleges that are heavily tuition dependent are challenged each year to maintain and grow student enrollments. This longitudinal study investigates how certain colleges have structured enrollment management efforts in response. The results indicate that over the last several years there has been a significant migration to the enrollment management division model.

Enrollment Management Defined
As enrollment management theory reaches a majority of larger institutions, it is still in a developmental stage in higher education as adaptations and various versions refresh thinking for many small colleges. Jack Maguire (1976) of Boston College is credited with the first use of the term enrollment management to describe institutional efforts to influence student enrollment. Kemerer, Baldridge, and Green (1982) formalized the concept, proposing that it is not just an organizational concept but that it is both a process and a series of activities that involve the entire campus. As a process, it includes tracking and interacting with students from the point of their initial contact with the institution until their graduation or departure from the institution. As an activity, enrollment management is designed to attract and retain students.

Hossler modified his 1986 definition of enrollment management in 1991, stating that it is an organizational concept and a systematic set of activities designed to enable educational institutions to exert more influence on their enrollments. Organized by strategic planning and supported by institutional research, enrollment management activities concern student college choice, transition to college, student attrition and retention, and student outcomes (Hossler 1991).

The theory of enrollment management was further developed by Dolence (1996) in the form of strategic enrollment management (SEM). He defines SEM as “a comprehensive process designed to help an institution achieve and maintain the optimum recruitment, retention, and graduation rates of students, where ‘optimum’ is defined within the academic context of the institution” (p. 16). Dolence does not outline which specific areas within the institution should be involved in SEM. He simply states that any factor that influences a student’s decision to attend or continue enrolling is fair game for SEM. This new line of inquiry into SEM has led to many applications of the original concept (Black 2001; Bontrager 2004b; Bryant and Crockett 1993).

The structure of enrollment management is a key component in student recruitment and retention. First outlined by Kemerer, Baldridge, and Green (1982), the four models of coordination for enrollment management efforts are still summarized by many authors in their recent work on enrollment management development (Bontrager 2004a; Dixon 1995; Huddleston 1999; Jones 2003; Penn 1999).

Enrollment Management Models of Coordination
The Marketing Committee first proposed by Campbell (1980) is often referred to as the Enrollment Management Committee (Hossler 2005) and is viewed as the preliminary organizational unit in representing enrollment management efforts. This is due to the relative ease with which it can be implemented at a college or university. There is usually not much resistance to its creation because it does not garner any authority, does not require any financial investment to operate, and only serves to raise awareness related to student marketing, recruitment, and retention. The committee often includes representatives from admissions, financial aid, student affairs, academic affairs, and institutional advancement. Its role is advisory in nature but seldom is used as a long-term fixture in enrollment management administration.

The Staff Coordinator concept introduced by Fram (1975) is currently called the Enrollment Management Coordinator (Hossler and Bean 1990). It is the next step toward integrating enrollment management across the campus. This position is considered to only have staff authority and therefore does not carry any formal direct authority to implement needed change in enrollment management. However, the coordinator, who is usually a midlevel manager, serves to organize student recruitment and retention efforts that may be spread across various units. The challenge is not in implementing this position, because it does not require any organizational restructuring or much administrative support. The difficulty is for the coordinator to get enrollment management concerns in front of senior administrators who are ultimately responsible for institutional decision making. The success of the position, therefore, lies with the person in the coordinating role, which requires a solid understanding of enrollment management issues and strong interpersonal skills to get voluntary cooperation from disparate organizational units.

The Matrix System (Kreutner and Godfrey 1980–81) now uses the name Enrollment Management Matrix (Hossler, Bean, and Associates 1990). This approach also does not require any organizational restructuring, but responsibility and decision making are assigned to a senior-level administrator. This then bridges the work of various areas, whether or not they report to the person charged with enrollment management responsibilities. This makes the model more acceptable to campus members, particularly to faculty if the chief academic officer is the enrollment management appointee. The challenge is that this responsibility is simply tacked on to the duties already performed by the administrator and therefore may relegate enrollment management concerns as low priority. Additionally, the position still faces the challenge of garnering the needed support of other administrators and midlevel managers to implement change.

The Enrollment Management Division (Caren and Kemerer 1979) is the most centralized model of coordination of enrollment management efforts and the most difficult to implement. It requires creating a new position at the vice president level. Organizational units involved in enrollment management are brought together in the newly created division. These departments often include, but are not limited to, recruitment and marketing, admissions, financial aid, academic advising and career advising, institutional research, orientation, retention programs, and student services (Hossler 1984). The exact makeup of the enrollment management division depends on the size of the institution and the expertise of the new enrollment manager. Reporting directly to the president, the new vice president has the authority to bring student recruitment and retention concerns to the senior administration of the institution. The authority afforded this position also mandates cooperation between enrollment-related offices. However, unless there is a perceived enrollment crisis, this model of coordination is the most challenging to implement. It requires a significant investment to establish a new administrative position and this change could create turmoil on campus when departments are moved from their established reporting lines to a new organizational unit.
Penn (1999) illustrates the differences related to the models of coordination for enrollment management (Table 1).

Table 1: Enrollment Management Organization Models

Model Degree of Restructuring Necessary Authority
Committee Low Influence
Coordinator Some Networks
Matrix Moderate Cooperation
Division High Direct

Further Developments in Enrollment Management Structure
The enrollment management structure or organizational model is the focus of several works in the field. Albright (1986) asserts that enrollment management has gained full partnership on campus when it is in the title of one of the vice presidents. Managing enrollments requires influence on the administrative and academic operation of the campus. Hossler (2005) highlights that institutions often move through the four organizational models developmentally, going from the committee to the coordinator, then to the matrix, and finally to the division. The work of Popovics (2000) extends the definition of the enrollment management division to the enrollment management organization. The focus here is on the inclusion of strategic planning, budgeting, and assessment to involve the entire institution to target student graduation and goal achievement. It is suggested that not only is a particular model not better than any other, but also that a particular model’s lifetime is finite (Kurz and Scannell 2006).

Hossler (1986) suggests that an enrollment crisis is often the impetus for establishing the most comprehensive model, the enrollment management division. One could argue then that many small private colleges that have limited resources and rely heavily on tuition for fiscal viability should consider that option. But is that the best approach? Have small private colleges changed their institutional enrollment management structure over the years to address issues related to student recruitment and retention? The institutional members of the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities (CCCU) were used in the current study to address enrollment management questions, particularly those related to the structure or model of organization on campus.

The CCCU includes 102 American church-related, private, four-year institutions in 30 states. These institutions are primarily undergraduate colleges with major emphasis on baccalaureate degrees in Arts and Sciences or Diverse Fields as classified by the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching (2006). In fall 2005, the full-time undergraduate student enrollment at CCCU member institutions ranged from 400 to 21,000 with an average enrollment of 3,000 students (Council for Christian Colleges and Universities 2006). The CCCU has been the focus of several studies related to enrollment activities (Brooks 1988; Gans 1993; Phillips 1997; Walter 2000), but none investigate the use of enrollment management structures.

Purpose of the Study
The purpose of the study was to investigate current enrollment management models of coordination at CCCU member institutions compared with those used in 1997. In each of the two years of the study, a secondary purpose was to investigate the relationship between the use of an enrollment management model of coordination and institutional selectivity. This study had three research questions:

1. From 1997 to the current study year, what percentage change occurred in CCCU member institutions having each enrollment management model in place, and how long had each model been in place at the time of the study?

2. What emerging models of coordination are evident at CCCU member institutions?

3. At CCCU member institutions, to what extent is the use of each model related to institutional selectivity for each year studied?

A causal-comparative method was employed in this longitudinal study. The data for this study were collected by using a survey instrument adapted from Taber (1989). The survey inquired about the model of coordination for enrollment management efforts and the length of time the model was in place. This was defined as either not in place, in place for a short term (less than five years), or in place for a long term (more than five years). More specifically, respondents could select from the four standard models of coordination or could choose “none of the above” and then give a description of how enrollment management efforts are coordinated on their campus.

Additionally, institutions were categorized based on institutional selectivity defined by Peterson’s (1996, 2005) as noncompetitive, minimally difficult, moderately difficult, or very difficult. Institutional selectivity was used as an independent variable in measuring the use of an enrollment management model of coordination because of its potential to act as a confounding variable, as Hyson (1995) concluded from his research on the CCCU regarding the use of marketing strategies. Using institutional selectivity as an independent variable in this study therefore was helpful in comparing these findings to those of model of coordination practices.

Data Collection
The survey was initially administered by mail to each director of admissions at all 87 CCCU institutions in America in fall 1997. The names and addresses for the mailing list were obtained from the 1996–97 Resource Guide for Christian Higher Education (1996). Overall, 69 of the 87 individuals responded to the two mailings, yielding a response rate of 79%. The same survey was administered again to each chief enrollment officer or director of admissions at all 102 American CCCU institutions (fifteen institutions joined the CCCU in the intervening time period). Overall, 65 of the 102 individuals responded to the e-mail and regular mail surveys, yielding a response rate of 64%.

Enrollment Management Model of Coordination
In discussing the results, percentages are used for survey responses instead of frequencies because the number of respondents differed in each year of the study (69 in 1997, 65 in the current study). Table 2 summarizes the survey responses regarding the model of coordination for enrollment management efforts.

Table 2: Model of Coordination in Place by Percentage

1997 Study (n = 69) Current Study (n = 65)
Model of Coordination Not in Place In Place Less Than 5 Years In Place More Than 5 Years Not in Place In Place Less Than 5 Years In Place More Than 5 Years
EM Committee 0.0 0.0 3.1 3.1
EM Staff Coordinator 13.0 10.1 9.2 10.8
EM Matrix System 7.2 5.8 7.7 7.7
EM Division 17.4 13.0 29.2 20.3
None of the Above 5.8 5.8 3.1 1.5
None 21.7 4.6

Note: Totals do not add up to 100% due to rounding.
EM = enrollment management.

The most significant change is in the percentage of institutions reporting “enrollment management efforts are not coordinated at our institution.” This decrease from fifteen to three institutions is reflective of the acceptance and implementation of enrollment management models at CCCU member institutions. The reduction in “none of the above” also supports the notion that mainstream enrollment management practices are reaching these smaller private colleges and universities. This will be elaborated on in the next section.

There is little change in the use of the staff coordinator or matrix system and a slight gain in the use of the enrollment management committee model. The greatest increase is in the use of the enrollment management division model. Some institutions may have moved from not having a model in place to implementing a committee, staff coordinator, or matrix system, whereas other institutions moved from one of those three models to an enrollment management division. It is likely that some institutions went straight from not having a model in place to implementing an enrollment management division, as indicated by the number of institutions (nineteen) with that model of coordination in place for less than five years in the current study. Overall, almost half of the institutions in the current study use the enrollment management division compared with only approximately 30% in 1997.

Why are colleges adopting the enrollment management division to coordinate activities related to student recruitment and retention? A definitive answer is unclear, but it can be reasonably assumed that administrators in higher education have a greater awareness of enrollment management concepts. This is particularly true at smaller institutions where the budget for operations is heavily dependent on student enrollment. More selective institutions tend to have greater access to resources and therefore may not feel the pressure to maximize student enrollment to the same degree as less selective institutions. Does the model of enrollment management coordination vary by institutional selectivity? This will be addressed in the “Institutional Selectivity” section below.

Emerging Trends in Model of Coordination
In the 1997 study, eight institutions reported that none of the four standard enrollment management models of coordination represented how efforts are coordinated on their campus. These respondents gave a written description of their current situation. Responses varied from “senior administration coordinates [enrollment management] as part of five-year planning” to “I report my findings but nothing is done.” Other responses indicated that admissions and financial aid were working together informally or voluntarily but retention efforts were being coordinated by another operational unit. Finally, the “silo” theme emerged in several responses and is captured by the statement “The dean of enrollment services supervises [admissions and financial aid] but has no real strong ties to the academic and only limited ties to the administrative.”

In the current study, only three institutions indicated that their structure was not representative of any of the four standard models. This reduction in responses may be a reflection of an increase in understanding of enrollment management terms, but is more likely an indication that enrollment management concepts are being accepted and implemented on campus. For example, all three of the institutions reported that their structure was similar to that of an enrollment management division except that two institutions had retention efforts and one had institutional advancement operations coordinated elsewhere on campus.

The results in this area indicate that enrollment management practices have become more thought out, calculated, and purposeful. Even when exceptions were noted, they are not of the tenor voiced in the 1997 study. There seems to be an understanding of and an appreciation for organizing student recruitment and retention efforts. This change is not surprising given the growing emphasis on increasing efficiency in student services and operating as a whole to maximize student enrollment.

Institutional Selectivity
The number of institutions in each category based on institutional selectivity was similar for each year of study. In 1997 the number of institutions responding to the survey, by selectivity, included: noncompetitive (2), minimally competitive (5), moderately competitive (59), and very competitive (3). In the current study the distribution was rather similar: noncompetitive (0), minimally competitive (8), moderately competitive (54), and very competitive (3). Given the inequality in the number of institutions in each group based on institutional selectivity, only descriptive statistics could be used to answer the research question in this area.

Only institutions that indicated that they had one of the four models in place were included in this analysis. The noncompetitive category was not included because no institutions were categorized as noncompetitive in the current study. Of the three very competitive institutions in 1997, one did not have an enrollment management model in place, one used the staff coordinator model, and one used the enrollment management division model. In the current study, one very competitive institution did not have an enrollment management structure, whereas the other two used the staff coordinator model. There is no clear pattern regarding very selective institutions given the size of the sample in each year of the study.

Four of the five minimally competitive institutions that responded to the survey in 1997 did not have an enrollment management model of coordination in place. In the current study, all eight minimally competitive institutions did: four used the staff coordinator model and four used the enrollment management division model. This suggests that minimally competitive institutions have not only adopted enrollment management practices, but they have also embraced the concept given the movement from no coordination directly to staff coordinators and divisions. This change might have been out of necessity given the pressure to increase student enrollment with limited resources.

Table 3 shows the use of enrollment management model of coordination for moderately competitive institutions. Ten of the moderately competitive institutions did not use an enrollment management structure and seven operated under an alternative model in the 1997 study. In the current study, only two institutions did not have a structure and two institutions used an alternative model. This accounts for the increase in moderately competitive institutions reporting a standard model of coordination even though there was a decrease in the number of moderately competitive institutions responding to the survey.

Table 3: Breakdown of Standard Enrollment Management Models of Coordination for Moderately Competitive Institutions

1997 (n = 42) Current Study (n = 50)
In Place Less Than 5 Years In Place More Than 5 Years In Place Less Than 5 Years In Place More Than 5 Years
Enrollment Management Structure f % f % f % f %
Committee 0 0 0 0 2 4.0 2 4.0
Staff Coordinator 9 21.4 6 14.3 4 8.0 5 10.0
Matrix 4 9.5 4 9.5 5 10.0 5 10.0
Division 12 28.6 7 16.7 16 32.0 11 22.0

f = frequency

It is clear that there is a slight movement away from the staff coordinator model to the committee and matrix model for moderately competitive institutions. However, the greatest movement is away from not having a structure or using the staff coordinator model to the enrollment management division. This reflects an increase in the prominence of enrollment management efforts on smaller campuses. It has been suggested that the division model is the easiest to implement when there is a perceived enrollment crisis (Hossler 2005), and this may be the case for many tuition-dependent institutions in the study. The ease of implementation may also be enhanced by the small size of the departments involved in student recruitment and retention. It is easier to move a three-person financial aid office from the business and finance division to the enrollment management division than for a 30-person operation to make the same transition.

This shift may also represent a greater acceptance of enrollment management practices at smaller schools. Again, the smaller size may enhance quick changes given the fewer levels of the reporting line hierarchy. The physical structure of a small campus can enhance office movement if there are a limited number of buildings to house student services. It makes sense to bring certain operations together to save space and to provide more efficient service to students. The sense of urgency is heightened when student enrollment is threatened. That is, everyone on campus is more accepting of change if their jobs are on the line.

There are three limitations associated with this work. Only institutional members of the CCCU were included in this study. Many colleges and universities share similar characteristics with CCCU members, but there are sufficient differences to identify CCCU members as a unique set of institutions. Thus the ability to generalize the findings to institutions not associated with the CCCU is limited. The survey did not ask respondents to indicate the reason for implementing a particular model of coordination. Thus the rationale for implementing each type of coordination model is left to interpretation. Finally, the population of the institutions surveyed was rather small. This made comparing the models based on quantitative measures of enrollment effectiveness problematic.

It is clear a particular model is not perfect for every institution. Huddleston (2000) suggests that the type of model adopted differs in scope and influence based on institutional goals, revenue requirements, internal culture, and the competitive marketplace. There is a shift in enrollment management from rigid organizational structures to a more flexible organization in which individuals and their corresponding departments change based on challenges and opportunities faced by the institution (Kalsbeek 2001). Looking to the future, Black (2004) suggests that the enrollment management organization will be more responsive to the needs of students and the market.

The trend at CCCU member institutions is to move toward an enrollment management division. The small size of the student body can be a liability if student enrollment drops and tuition revenue suffers. However, the smaller size of CCCU institutions can also be a strong asset in responding quickly to changes in the student market. This includes how enrollment management efforts are coordinated on campus. The model of coordination in use could be a reflection of the acceptance of enrollment management practices or the state of student enrollment growth or decline. Future research could further the work of this study and that of Huddleston and Rumbough (1997) by investigating the reasons why CCCU member institutions choose a certain model of coordination.

By Brian A. Vander Schee, Ph.D.

Albright, J.W. 1986. Enrollment management: Successor to marketing or its synonym? College and University. 61(2):114–7.

Black, J. (ed.) 2001. The SEM Revolution. Washington, DC: American Association of Collegiate Registrars and Admissions Officers.

Black, J. 2004. Defining the enrollment management: The structural frame. College and University. 79(4):37–9.

Bontrager, B. 2004a. Strategic enrollment management: An introduction to concepts and structures. College and University. 79(3):11–6.

Bontrager, B. 2004b. Strategic enrollment management: Core strategies and best practices. College and University. 79(4):9–15.

Brooks, L.R. 1988. The applicability of services marketing principles to student recruitment at private, church-related colleges. Ph.D. diss., University of Arkansas, 1988. Abstract in Dissertation Abstracts International 50-07A, 1958.

Bryant, P., and K. Crockett. 1993. The admissions office goes scientific. Planning for Higher Education. 22(1):1–8.

Campbell, R. 1980. Future enrollment goals via traditional institutional strengths. Presentation made at the annual conference of the American Association of Collegiate Registrars and Admissions Officers, on April 22, in New Orleans.

Caren, W.A., and F.R. Kemerer. 1979. The internal dimensions of institutional marketing. College and University. 54(2):173–88.

The Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching. 2006. Basic Classification System. Retrieved August 2006, from .

Coalition for Christian Colleges and Universities. 1996. 1996–97 Resource Guide for Christian Higher Education. Washington, DC: Coalition for Christian Colleges and Universities.

Council for Christian Colleges and Universities 2005/06. 2006. Council for Christian Colleges and Universities. Retrieved August 2006, from

Dixon, R.R. (ed.) 1995. Making Enrollment Management Work. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Dolence, M.G. (ed.) 1996. Strategic Enrollment Management: Cases from the Field. Washington, DC: American Association of Collegiate Registrars and Admissions Officers.

Fram, E. 1975. Organizing the marketing focus in higher education. Paper presented at the annual forum of the Association of Institutional Research, in May, in St. Louis.

Gans, W.L. 1993. Admissions recruitment effectiveness in private four-year colleges and universities. Ph.D. diss., University of Michigan, 1993. Abstract in Dissertation Abstracts International 54-07A, 2480.

Hossler, D. 2005. The enrollment management process. In Challenging and Supporting the First-year Student, edited by M.L. Upcraft, J.N. Gardner, and B.O. Barefoot, pp. 67–85. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Hossler, D. (ed.) 1991. Evaluating Student Recruitment and Retention Programs. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Hossler, D. 1986. Creating Effective Enrollment Management Systems. New York: College Board.

Hossler, D. (1984). Enrollment management: An integrated approach. New York: College Board.

Hossler, D., and J.P. Bean. 1990. The Strategic Management of College Enrollments. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Huddleston Jr., T. 2000. Enrollment management. New Directions for Higher Education. 2000(111):66–73.

Huddleston Jr., T. 1999. Developing the enrollment model at four-year institutions. Paper presented at The College Board Seminar, in May, in Atlanta.

Huddleston Jr., T., and L.P. Rumbough. 1997. Evaluating the enrollment management organization. College and University. 72(4):2–5.

Hyson, R.J. 1995. An exploration of the utilization and effectiveness of marketing techniques by Coalition for Christian Colleges and Universities member institutions. Ph.D. diss., Ohio University, 1995. Abstract in Dissertation Abstracts International 48-02A, 0317.

Jones, P. 2003. Enrollment management: A new leadership paradigm in higher education. College and University. 78(4):39–43.

Kalsbeek, D.H. 2001. Tomorrow’s SEM organization. In The Strategic Enrollment Management Revolution, edited by J. Black, pp. 189–207. Washington, DC: American Association of College Registrars and Admissions Officers.

Kemerer, F.R., J.V. Baldridge, and K.C. Green. 1982. Strategies for Effective Enrollment Management. Washington, DC: American Association of State Colleges and Universities.

Kreutner, L., and E.S. Godfrey. 1980–81. Enrollment management: A new vehicle for institutional renewal. College Board Review. 118(Winter):6–9, 29.

Kurz, K., and J. Scannell. 2006. Enrollment management grows up. University Business. 9(5):81–4.

Maguire, J. 1976. To the organized go the students. Bridge Magazine. 39(1):16–20.

Penn, G. 1999. Enrollment Management for the 21st Century: Institutional Goals, Accountability and Fiscal Responsibility. Washington, DC: ERIC Clearinghouse on Higher Education. (ED432939)

Peterson’s. 2005. Undergraduate Guide: Four Year Colleges 2006, 36th ed. Princeton, NJ: Peterson’s.

Peterson’s. 1996. Choose a Christian College, 5th ed. Princeton, NJ: Peterson’s.

Phillips, L.W. 1997. An evaluation of the relationship between customer service activities and student retention in higher education. Ph.D. diss., Indiana University, 1997. Abstract in Dissertation Abstracts International 57-09A, 3846.

Popovics, A.J. 2000. Beyond the enrollment management division: The enrollment management organization. College and University. 76(2):3–8.

Taber, R.S. 1989. Enrollment management programs at Liberal Arts II Colleges. Ph.D. diss., University of Connecticut, 1989. Abstract in Dissertation Abstracts International 50-11A, 3497.

Walter, K.L. 2000. Staying or leaving: A multilevel approach to explaining variation in persistence rates among Christian college undergraduates. Ph.D. diss., University of Arizona, 2000. Abstract in Dissertation Abstracts International 61-05A, 1766.

Brian A. Vander Schee, Ph.D., is Assistant Professor of Business Management and Director of Freshman Seminar at the University of Pittsburgh at Bradford, in Bradford, Pennsylvania. Previously he served as the Vice President for Enrollment Management at two different colleges. His doctorate, in higher education administration, is from the University of Connecticut.

This article originally appeared in Volume 82, No. 3 of AACRAO’s College and University journal and was posted with AACRAO’s permission.

Planting the Seeds: A Community College Reaches out to Middle Schools

sem_logo-2007.gif Enrollment management efforts should include short-term and long-range strategies. Those of us who spend our days engaged in various aspects of enrollment management can appreciate the balancing act this implies.

Short-term strategies can include developing programs for immediate job skill training related to local business and industry workforce needs, creating a new tuition payment plan that helps low-income students face the mounting costs of education or developing a calling campaign. Community colleges, in fact, have a fairly good ability to nimbly respond to immediate opportunities to strengthen enrollment, especially if they can get their instructional leaders on board.

Long-range strategies may focus on such things as transforming an institutional image or brand, creating distance degrees, adding a new off-site center or reconfiguring student services. Community colleges, like baccalaureate institutions, face the challenges of marshaling the institutional resources to design and implement an intensive strategy that will not necessarily see an immediate, or even a directly traceable, effect.

Reaching out to middle school students, generally in grades six to eight, is clearly a long-term investment given that the students may not be of college age for another four to six years. But for community colleges it is an effort that speaks to one of our missions—assuring access to higher education.

There are several reasons that reaching out to these students is an appropriate strategy. First, within our public schools, a growing proportion of students are learners who have been traditionally underrepresented in higher education, such as low-income students and persons of color (1). Reaching out to them early builds the expectation that higher education is in their future and that there are financial options available to them.

Second, high school drop-out rates continue to be higher than any of us desire, particularly for African American, Hispanic and Native American students (2). If we focus only on high school juniors and seniors in our traditional-age outreach programs, we have missed the opportunity to get the message out to those who may need the message most.

Third, our need for college-ready students is acute amid the growing concern over the lack of math and science preparation and stagnating entrance scores (3). Middle school outreach provides the message to students about the importance of their progress and the strategic selection of their high school courses.

Fourth, the contact with middle school students does not stop at the student. These students have families, and the information and connectivity extends to parents and siblings who themselves may not be as informed as they could be about options for their child, or for themselves.

Fifth, middle school outreach programs build community relations. Too often we are scrambling to gain the attention of the high school counseling or career advising office, jockeying for the opportunity to visit or to participate in fairs, or to arrange visits by their seniors to our campus. Although many of us have good relations with our high schools, it is possible that our work with them is seen as ultimately self-serving—we want their students! Middle school personnel and parents of middle school students, on the other hand, are not inundated by college representatives and see our work with them as supporting their mission to enable students to complete successfully their secondary education.

Developing the rationale, based on the issues outlined above, is not very difficult (4). The difficulties lie chiefly in integrating this outreach into an already full effort and finding the campus talent to deliver it. For the past several years, Everett Community College (EvCC) has been working its way through this and has developed a variety of programs. The following examples may be adapted to a variety of college communities.

Our primary program, “I Am Going to College,” was spawned through collaboration with the Northwest Education Loan Association (NELA). For several years NELA has shared a motivational curriculum with middle schools with a high proportion of students characterized as “at risk.” The curriculum provides modules focused on gaining information about college. Our college’s role is to develop an on-campus event for the students that includes informational games such as the Money Game (5), sample college classes, a tour and a “graduation” with a certificate of “College Knowledge”—all with the goal of motivating students to see college in their future, to be aware that there are financial aid options and to appreciate the importance of staying in school and taking substantive classes. The students leave with a backpack full of information to carry home.

Another investment is the Increasing Diversity in Engineering and Science (IDEAS) Summer Science Camp. In collaboration with other community organizations, and funded chiefly by Boeing, the camp is aimed at females and students of color in middle schools, although it is open to all comers. The camp, which is not residential, features a week of day-long activities aimed at having fun with science through on-campus experiments as well as field trips. The constant message focuses on using their middle and high school experiences to prepare for college, and to be aware of financial support options. Parents receive mailings, attend an orientation and are invited to graduation. Follow-up mailings enable us to stay in touch.

Our outreach efforts also include visits to the middle schools themselves. Increasingly, middle schools appear to be providing fairs and other activities aimed at career exploration with the intention of improving their guidance of students. EvCC has developed a “menu” of presentations that middle school personnel can request. These presentations are designed to be interactive and can be used in a large assembly or in a classroom, with topics ranging from “Math in the Real World” to “Who Needs College?”to “Training for the Skilled Trades.” We have also taken our College Knowledge presentation to the middle school parent-teacher associations.

Within the community we have partnered with the YMCA’s Minority Achievers Program (MAP), which includes middle and high school students. Services are aimed at students who come from low-income and immigrant families and students who are traditionally underserved in education, and the program provides homework activities, career exploration and other support services that build school persistence. Many of the students also participate in “I Am Going to College” and the IDEAS Summer Science Camp.

Do these efforts result in tangible enrollment gains? In some respects, it is too soon to tell because most of the students we started connecting with several years ago are still underage. Anecdotally, however, we have some success stories. For example, an East Indian student who attended summer science camp several years ago subsequently enrolled in our Running Start high school dual enrollment program. A young woman who had participated in MAP and summer science camp enrolled last year with a scholarship. Recently a science camp student from the first year, whose family emigrated from the Middle East, came in to register as a freshman. Obviously we can and will track the science camp students because their participation in the camp required registration. Our large group events both on campus and in the middle schools do not require registration owing to records confidentiality restrictions on the part of the middle schools, thus inhibiting our ability to track the students.

So why am I suggesting that middle school outreach can or should be a part of a long-range enrollment management strategy? My rationale is that it is a part of our mission of assuring access to higher education. It provides the right message at the right time to young people and their families who may not get the message in other ways. Furthermore, middle school outreach affects more than the young students themselves. For many of them, their parents become aware of the community college as a place to improve their English and to develop new career skills. We also know from experience that these students have siblings, some of whom are in the traditional age range for college and others who will follow them into EvCC outreach activities next year. We hear “My brother came to ‘I Am Going to College’ last year and I couldn’t wait until I was able to come this year!” We are building a familial loyalty to our college. We are also aware of how our collaboration with middle schools enhances our general relations with our school districts. We are seen as stronger partners and not as another college anxious to take seniors out of class to tell them about our school.

Enrollment management is not only about how many full-time equivalents are garnered for the next fall term from a particular effort. It is also about strengthening your position and your partnerships, about enhancing image and about diversifying your contacts with prospective students and their networks. In the case of middle school outreach, it is about fertilizing the ground and planting the seeds for future yield.

(1) “Forty-two percent of public school students were considered to be part of a racial or ethnic minority group in 2005, an increase from 22 percent of students in 1972.” From Planty M., S. Provasnik, W. Hussar, et al. 2007. The condition of education, 2007 (NCES 2007-064), p. 26. Washington, DC: National Center for Education Statistics.

(2) Snyder, T.D. et al. (2006). Public high school graduates and dropouts, by race/ethnicity and state or jurisdiction: 2001–02 and 2003–04. Table 102 from Digest of education statistics: 2006. Washington, DC: National Center for Education Statistics. Available at: [September 24, 2007] See also [September 24, 2007].

(3) Glenn, J. (2000). Before it’s too late. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Education, National Commission on Mathematics and Science Teaching. Also found at: [September 24, 2007]. For an example of a state initiative, see {September 24, 2007].

(4) For a lengthier discussion of these issues, and the research that identifies the challenges, see Vargas, J. H. 2004. College knowledge: Addressing information barriers to college. Boston: The Education Resources Institute. Available at: [September 24, 2007].

(5) The Money Game is a group activity where participants are split into teams and given pseudo-dollar bills in an amount commensurate with the average monthly earnings of persons with a certain levels of educational attainment. In round-robin fashion, each team then identifies how much they are able to spend on housing, utilities, food, transportation, clothing, entertainment, etc. The lesson quickly learned from the game is that those with lower educational attainment may not have as much money to spend.

By Christine Kerlin

Christine Kerlin is vice president for enrollment management and executive director of the University Center of North Puget Sound at Everett Community College, Everett, Washington. Previously she served as director of admissions and records at Central Oregon Community College and as director of admissions at The Evergreen State College (Washington). A frequent presenter at American Association of Collegiate Registrars and Admissions Officers’ (AACRAO) and Pacific Association of Collegiate Registrars and Admissions Officers’ conferences, Dr. Kerlin has also authored chapters in several recent AACRAO publications. Dr. Kerlin holds an Ed.D. in community college leadership from Oregon State University.

SEM and Institutional Success Reviewed in AACRAO’s College and University Journal


SEM and Institutional Success: Integrating Enrollment, Finance, and Student Access

Edited by Bob Bontrager
AACRAO, 2008, 93 PP.

Reviewed by Brian A. Vander Schee

Discussions regarding financial pressures, the increasing population of low-income students graduating from high school, and the need to make education affordable are timely and necessary. How institutions will respond to the changing economic, political, and demographic landscape is not well defined. SEM and Institutional Success: Integrating Enrollment, Finance, and Student Access, edited by Bob Bontrager, provides insight into this situation by fostering collegial discussion and institutional action.

The stated purposes of the book are to describe current financial and enrollment challenges; to provide a definition and context for current SEM (Strategic Enrollment Management) practice; to offer new perspectives on the interplay of SEM and institutional finance; to provide a SEM planning model to improve mission, enrollment, and financial outcomes; and to promote the use of SEM to improve student access and success. The intended audience is primarily administrators at four-year public institutions and non-elite private four-year institutions.

The succinct opening chapter provides a solid backdrop for the issues addressed throughout the remainder of the book. Don Hossler discusses the reasons that colleges and universities will experience challenging times in the near future. The reasons include a difficult financial market, demographic shifts, and increasing competition. More and more, community colleges, for-profit private institutions, and universities outside of the United States will compete against nonprofit higher education institutions. Many public institutions will confront flat or decreasing budgets, and private institutions with limited endowments will continue to rely heavily on tuition revenue. Problems related to limited resources and rising costs will be compounded by pressure to serve the needs of a growing number of lower-income high school graduates.

In chapter two, Bob Bontrager summarizes other authors’ as well as hi sown perspectives on SEM. In addition to a comprehensive yet concise overview of the rise of SEM, Bontrager provides a table – a clear visual – regarding the changing demographic and economic status of high school graduates over the next fifteen years. The chapter closes with a defense of SEM’s use of financial aid leveraging. Although Bontrager acknowledges the views of critics, his text reads somewhat defensively. This may reflect the understandable frustration of SEM professionals who are expected to appease faculty, the president, and the board of trustees as well as advocates for increased access for financially needy students. Balancing conflicting mandates is even more difficult when net tuition revenue may be increased by shifting aid dollars to less needy students who are more likely to attend, pay, and, eventually, graduate.

In chapter three, Gil Brown draws attention to the model in which cost = price + subsidy. His equation suggests that what students pay for their education never covers its true cost because some portion of the actual cost inevitably is covered by subsidies such as investment income, gits, or public funding. His chapter provides valuable details, as when Brown explains why a 6.5 percent increase in tuition (for example) would be required to fund a 4 percent salary increase at an institution that receives a 1 percent increase in state support which accounts for 60 percent of institutional revenue. Brown also explains fund accounting and its appropriate use at colleges and universities. Nevertheless, the chapter’s detailed description of how sponsored research complicates the fund accounting process seems out of place. The challenges are clearly articulated, but they are not clearly connected to the content of the remainder of the chapter.

The fourth chapter, also by Gil Brown, describes how SEM can be used to leverage under-utilized capacity to increase revenues. Brown suggests that “under-enrolled programs and courses provide opportunities for institutions to realize additional revenue without increasing marginal costs” (p. 56). However, being aware of such opportunities is not the same as realizing them; little practical guidance is given regarding how to do so. nevertheless, Brown does provide sound advice about preparing multi-year budgets with contingencies. The key is to keep enrollment goals flat and to treat increases as windfalls rather than to increase enrollment expectations each year just to keep pace with rising instructional costs. Unallocated revenue then could be used to increase access for students with significant financial need.

Bob Bontrager and Gil Brown outline the SEM planning model in chapter five. The chapter opens with a concise and accurate description of how institutions set their projected enrollment goals based on established budgets. The authors then outline the four phases of the SEM planning model: (1) developing comprehensive enrollment goals, (2) identifying strategic enrollment investments and measurable outcomes, (3) tracking enrollment, net revenue, and institutional budget outcomes, and (4) creating reinvestment strategies. Their methodology, using fictitious data for a large public university, is sound: such an institution might be best equipped to increase access to higher education. However, it is hard not to consider that those institutions least able to manage economic challenges and issues of access are those with much smaller budgets and no state funding. Thus, highlighting the nuances of the SEM planning model in a different institutional context — for example, a small private college with a small endowment — likely would be more useful to those readers who could use the most help.

In chapter six, Bontrager discusses enrollment leadership. He concludes that there is a need for “a new level of leadership, to identify and deploy innovative strategies that create avenues for all members of society to achieve their educational goals” (p. 89). his is an appropriate challenge for those in higher education who are slow to change and/or who continue to rely on unsuccessful strategies from the past.

SEM and Institutional Success highlights the issues of finance and access faced by most institutions. The book is easy to read, provides practical strategies, and should encourage SEM professionals to further explore application of the SEM planning model to other institutional contexts.

About the Author
Brian A. Vander Schee, PH.d., is Assistant Professor of Marketing at Aurora University in Aurora, Illinois. Previously, he served as vice president for enrollment management at two different colleges. His doctorate, in higher education administration, is from the University of Connecticut.

To purchase a copy of SEM and Institutional Success: Integrating Enrollment, Finance, and Student Access or other SEM related publications, please visit or call 301-490-7651.

This article originally appeared in College & University (Volume 84, No. 3 [2009]), and is being reproduced/distributed with the permission of the American Association of Collegiate Registrars and Admissions Officers.

SEM and Institutional Success: Integrating Enrollment, Finance and Student Access

SEM and Institutional Success AACRAO presents a webinar addressing concepts from Bob Bontrager, Gil Brown and Don Hossler’s new book, SEM and Institutional Success: Integrating Enrollment, Finance and Student Access. As demographic shifts, competitive forces, and public policy changes increasingly challenge campus leaders, they must proactively adopt new approaches for addressing these concerns. SEM and Institutional Success provides a detailed analysis of these issues and offers a strategic enrollment management framework for improving enrollment and educational outcomes.

The Webinar on December 11th will cover the following topics:

  • A Definition and Context for Current SEM Practice
  • Higher Education Costs and the Role of Tuition

This publication proposes an innovative student-centric SEM planning model aimed at helping institutions improve enrollment and financial outcomes while at the same time advancing student access and success.

The SEM and Institutional Success Webinar was made possible in part by the generous support of SunGard Higher Education.

Bob Bontrager, Director, AACRAO Consulting and the AACRAO SEM Conference
Guilbert Brown, Director of Budget and Financial Planning at George Mason University

Date: Thursday, December 11, 2008
Time: 2:00 – 3:00 pm Eastern Standard Time
Registration Cost: $75.00 for AACRAO Members / $95.00 for Non-Members

Register Online at

System Requirements: Broadband internet connection and computer audio (sound card and speakers required—the webinar does not use conference calling). You may test your system to see if it meets the requirements.

Please note: the webinar is audio-only and does not include video feed. For questions about the event please contact AACRAO at or call 202-293-9161.

To purchase a copy of the publication, please visit

SEM in Canada: Promoting Student and Institutional Success in Canadian Colleges and Universities

Canadian colleges and universities face distinct challenges in financial environments, demographic shifts, competitive forces, and public policy decisions; realities that have prompted campus leaders to use strategic enrollment management (SEM) practices to address these concerns. AACRAO is pleased to announce a new book, SEM in Canada, a comprehensive guide telling the Canadian SEM story through the experiences of 30 SEM professionals.

Edited by Susan Gottheil, Vice-Provost, Students at the University of Manitoba, and Clayton Smith, Vice Provost, Students and International at the University of Windsor, who collectively have over 50 years of SEM experience at a range of institutions, SEM in Canada describes how Canadian colleges and universities are using SEM to improve student and institutional outcomes. Chapters cover each of the major SEM components, including institutional administration, financial strategies, and key student experiences (e.g., First Generation, Aboriginal, international, transfer, francophone).

Continue reading

SEM Strategy & Implementation

Bob Bontrager

Director, AACRAO Consulting and SEM Conference

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. However, the more it is used, the more apparent is the range of interpretations surrounding this deceptively simple concept. Often perceived as merely realigning administrative reporting lines, strategic enrollment management is a complex amalgam of concepts and processes that enables fulfillment of institutional and student goals.

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. Higher education is facing unprecedented scrutiny regarding the ability of institutions to facilitate students’ academic achievement. At the same time, economic forces are more challenging than ever, resulting from the combined effects of increasing costs and diminishing financial support from federal and state sources. Implementation of SEM is an effective means of responding to these challenges.

The Core Concepts of SEM

The core concepts of SEM may be summarized as:

  • establishing clear goals for the number and types of students needed to fulfill the institutional mission
  • promoting academic success by improving student access, transition, persistence, and graduation
  • determining, achieving, and maintaining optimum enrollment
  • enabling the delivery of effective academic programs
  • generating added net revenue for the institution
  • enabling effective financial planning
  • increasing process and organizational efficiency
  • improving service levels to all stakeholders (e.g., prospective and current students, other institutional departments, other institutions, coordinating agencies)
  • creating a data-rich environment to inform decisions and evaluate strategies
  • creating and continuously strengthening linkages with functions and activities across the campus

Contrary to prevailing myths, enrollment management is not…

  • a quick fix to achieve higher enrollment
  • solely an organizational structure, though restructuring is a key consideration in implementing enrollment management
  • an enhanced admission and marketing operation
  • an administrative function which operates separately from the academic mission of the institution

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

Enabling institutional mission. Every institution operates in a unique context that drives the enrollment management enterprise. This involves understanding the unique role an institution plays in the environment in which it operates and how to translate that role in a way to attract and retain students.

Increasing academic quality and student success. If enrollment management starts with institutional mission, it 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 effectively promote students’ academic success. The ability to deliver programs and build relationships which enhance student access, transition, persistence, and individual goal attainment will determine whether the institution is able to recruit and retain the right type and mix of students in sufficient numbers to achieve optimum enrollment.

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.

Establishing top-quality service. The mantra of customer service has been spoken for years now 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.

Optimizing financial opportunities. From the beginning, enrollment management has been hard-wired 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 was broadened so that it encompassed improving efficiency in addition to increasing student numbers. The 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 overarching goal is not simply to increase tuition dollars, but at the same time to reduce institutional costs in order to improve net revenue.

Creating a data-rich environment. SEM is a performance-based, outcomes-oriented enterprise that requires copious amounts of data to operate effectively. Whether they are referred to as performance indicators, success indicators, or outcomes assessment – a broad array of metrics are essential to assess the achievement of enrollment goals, evaluate program effectiveness, and benchmark operations and strategies with other institutions.

Ensuring and coordinating 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 the ability of a campus visitor to find a parking spot, to an advising appointment with a professor, to an encounter with a receptionist. Communicating enrollment goals and assisting all members of the campus community to understand his or her role in achieving them requires regular communication and feedback loops.

Thus, 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 models. 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.

Shared Enrollment Services as a Potential SEM Strategy

cuj_logotype_solid_med1Among the goals of strategic enrollment management (SEM) is the desire to improve both the efficiency and effectiveness of service delivery. This paper explores the applicability of shared services delivery models for higher education enrollment and student services functions.

Any discussion of fundamental change in an institution’s concept of operations—such as change prompted by shared services delivery—must begin with a clear understanding of the environment within which that institution functions. Thus, our exploration of shared services in higher education, with particular focus on enrollment service functions, begins with a summary of relevant environmental factors.

Societal Factors
Here at the beginning of the twenty-first century, a number of trends are evident that relate generally to organizational effectiveness and specifically to the applicability of shared services in an enterprise’s concept of operations. These factors include:

  • Globalization of organizations, processes, communications, and activities, which is having the effect of significantly widening the realm of potential customers, resource suppliers, and service providers for every enterprise. This has led increasingly to:
  • Outsourcing of functions and activities not deemed core to the enterprise, with those functions most related to the organization’s core mission remaining internal;
  • Customer-centricity as a primary organizational and operational principle, as reflected in the increased use of customer-focused performance measurement and reward systems and processes;
  • The Age of the Internet as a primary communications, transactional, networking, marketing, and service delivery vehicle;
  • Increased economic uncertainty as evidenced by fluctuating global financial markets, employment shifts, increased debt, uncertain currency valuations, deteriorating infrastructure, and dwindling energy resources;
  • Chronic deficit spending by the U.S. government, which, as fixed-cost obligations become an ever-larger portion of government outlays, increasingly prompts hard choices between spending priorities; and
  • State governments in a revenue/cost squeeze as a result of lower, recession-driven tax revenues while state services and their associated costs continue to increase.

Higher Education–Specific Factors

The above societal trends are having a significant impact on higher education, including:

  • Pressures for cost containment, given increases in the cost of higher education that consistently and significantly exceed the rate of inflation;
  • State higher education systems seeking to exert greater leverage on campus operations as a direct result of these cost pressures; in particular, such systems are seeking to take advantage of system-wide economies of scale in driving down costs.
  • A more student-centered, pre-K–20 view of the educational life cycle, seeking enhanced preparation, efficiency, coordination, and outcomes;
  • Rapid expansion of online education as higher education moves to leverage the capacity of the internet to deliver instructional content and to support a variety of student services functions;
  • Increased competition for students, driven by new, more aggressive global players, heightened academic standards, and changing student demographics;
  • Integrated, web-based enterprise IT systems to support the full range of higher education administrative, marketing, and student services functions;
  • New alliances between four-year and community colleges, colleges and secondary schools, among independent colleges, between institutions and suppliers, etc. — all seeking increased efficiency and effectiveness through collaboration.

All of these factors are at work in today’s higher education landscape, prompting increased consideration of shared services by colleges and universities.

“Shared service” holds different meanings for different people. for the purposes of this discussion, a shared service is defined as a function, process, or activity performed by a single “provider” organization in support of two or more “user” organizations. shared service initiatives typically involve the centralization to a single provider of one or more functions previously performed independently by multiple user organizations. such initiatives typically are undertaken to:

  • Gain economies of scale through centralized transaction processing;
  • Standardize practices, processes, and policies;
  • Standardize and improve services to students;
  • Leverage technology capabilities and investments;
  • Uncover and utilize best practices among institutions;
  • Foster increased interinstitutional collaboration;
  • Focus campus staff on high-value activities;
  • Reduce total unit cost in order to free up resources for reinvestment in institutional quality.

The case for a shared service typically anticipates benefits of the following types:

  • Reduction in unit transaction processing costs through:
    • Automation;
    • Economies of scale (i.e., increased transaction volume);
    • Process streamlining;
    • Sharing and standardizing best practices;
    • Balancing workload peaks and valleys;
    • Lower wage rates;
    • Reduced employee fringe benefits.
  • Cost avoidance, for example, of:
    • Additional capacity (facilities, hiring, training)
    • New information systems (sourcing, development).
  • Service quality improvement through:
    • Standardization of service;
    • Increased student focus by campus staff;
    • Improved cross-functional coordination;
    • Improved quality controls.
  • Increased mission effectiveness via:
    • Greater market impact;
    • Improved educational outcomes;
    • Increased stakeholder satisfaction.

While the above benefits may be significant, a shared service initiative may be perceived as potentially detrimental in that it may:

  • Detract from the institution’s differentiated mission or competitive position;
  • Risk disclosure of proprietary information;
  • Put campus staff morale and job security at risk;
  • Lessen institutional control over core activities and outcomes;
  • Not result in projected cost reductions.

These potential risks discourage many institutions from pursuing shared services and limit the scope of existing collaborations.


While shared services concepts can and do take a wide variety of forms in higher education, four distinctive models are particularly useful to examine:

Multi-Campus System Model
In this organizational model, several institutions are members of a state higher education system, which, as part of its system-wide function, coordinates the provision of various services to the individual campuses. In this model, shared services typically are provided either by a system-level organizational unit or by a lead campus which provides the service to all system campuses. Services typically provided in this model include IT, procurement, facilities planning, and, in some cases, enrollment services. State systems in New York, Maine, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Oregon, and California all have versions of system-level shared services of these types.

Consortium of Independent Institutions
In this model, several independent (usually private) colleges create an alliance to share costs, services, and ideas. Many such consortia exist in the United states. Typically, they are organized by geography (state or regional) or commonality of mission (religious affiliation, high admissions selectivity, etc.). for example:

  • The Pennsylvania Shared Services Consortium includes six independent colleges and universities that have joined together to jointly acquire insurance, banking, telecommunications, employee benefits, physical plant maintenance, and bookstore services.
  • The South Metropolitan (Chicago) Education Consortium includes sixteen institutions (public and private colleges, universities, and community colleges) pursuing joint advertising, marketing, and community outreach programs.
  • The Colleges of Worcester Consortium includes thirteen public and private colleges in central Massachusetts that collaborate in enhancing the city of Worcester as a higher education center.
  • The Council of Independent Colleges in Virginia includes 25 private colleges and universities that collaborate in joint market awareness and legislative affairs activities.

Many private colleges’ consortia focus on joint purchasing; other consortia—as, for example, the associated colleges of the south focus more on academic collaboration. Still other private college consortia focus on government relations, coordination of study abroad, cross-registration, employer relations, and career fairs.

Intra-Campus Service Provider
This is the traditional campus-level shared service model according to which individual academic departments, schools, and colleges within a university share common enrollment and student services and administrative support functions.

General Market Third-Party Provider

In this shared services model, a higher education marketwide organization provides common services to multiple client institutions. examples include services provided by higher education associations (AACRAO, CUPA, etc.), IT vendors (Oracle, Peoplesoft, Datatel, IBM), and a host of other suppliers to the higher education industry. (This model is relevant to this paper only to the extent that either of the first two shared services models described might incorporate the use of a third-party market provider.)

The utility of a shared services model for a given institution depends primarily on the organizational environment within which the institution exists. Large public multi-campus systems inherently have different opportunities for sharing services than do private, independent institutions. Nevertheless, certain commonalities do exist even between individual enrollment and student services functions. Following are three generic categories of work common to most campus admissions, financial aid, registrar, and business office functions:

  • The “front counter,” where students and parents gain access to and information about the office;
  • The “technical expert” function, which shares specific expertise with students, parents, and staff, makes decisions, oversees policy development and compliance, and coordinates activities with other campus offices; and
  • The “back room,” where mail processing, data entry, document imaging, and file maintenance occur.

Each of these work categories offers different types of opportunities for shared services. For example:

  • Many traditional “front counter” activities now are Web-enabled and are accessed through the internet by students and parents who self-serve. Campuses also may consolidate front counter activities across functional offices in a “one-stop” concept, reducing costs and improving service.
  • Function-specific technical expertise can be shared among schools within a university (e.g., a single campus admissions director) or among institutions in a system, facilitated by remote access to common information systems.
  • Back-room processing can be consolidated within a campus or among multiple institutions in an operations service center supporting one or more student services functions.

(Note that all such potential shared services applications depend on the use of common information systems, as discussed below.)


Higher education’s experience with shared services models varies widely. In state systems in New York and Texas, the shared services concept has been well developed in areas such as marketing and common admissions application processing. Other states, including Ohio, Maine, Oregon, and New Jersey, are beginning to more actively promote collaboration in enrollment services delivery in their efforts to leverage the power of interinstitutional system governance. For example, the recently created University System of Ohio has announced plans to create a single, integrated information technology infrastructure to support online admissions, financial aid, advising, registration, payment, course articulation, and credit transfer.

Some well-established state systems have made little or no provision for shared enrollment services, having limited shared services to areas such as IT, procurement, academic program coordination, budget formulation, and facilities planning. In such systems, concern for institutional autonomy seems to have trumped concern about duplication of effort or organizational redundancy. That said, there appears to be growing recognition of the need for — and the importance of — standardized information technology applications to maintain consistent levels of student, academic, and administrative support functions.

Collaborative enrollment management efforts among private colleges and universities appear minimal at present. (Those that do exist relate primarily to joint travel activities.) For example, the idea of a shared enrollment services center to provide back-room processing in support of admissions, financial aid, registration, and student billing for multiple institutions has not yet caught on. Institutions’ lack of interest appears to be the result of three primary drivers: concerns about enrollment information security, fear of compromising competitive advantage, and incompatible IT systems.

As institution-level IT systems are replaced by more standardized Web-enabled applications, it is likely that multi-institutional systems and independent colleges alike will envision greater opportunities for standardizing enrollment services functions and the processes they support. Not only could such systems eventually replace current paper-based processes, but the adoption of common systems by multiple institutions could prompt increased exploration of shared enrollment management services. In all such systems, the security of institutional enrollment information will remain vital.


Institutions that wish to explore the potential of shared student services according to either the “multi-campus system” or the “independent consortium” model will need to recognize and address several obstacles to effective implementation. These include:

  • Lack of integrated information systems. As noted above, moving to a more standardized, integrated IT infrastructure provides the common technology platform required to support any meaningful shared enrollment services strategy. Institutions without common systems will find it difficult to share services.
  • Lack of common policies and processes. Standardizing IT systems will be of limited value if the processes such systems support are not also standardized. This requires careful examination of the institutional policies embedded within such processes. typically, these are more diicult to standardize than IT systems.
  • A “we’re different” mentality. When an institution believes that its environment is unique, its student services processes—often highly customized—may prove to be not readily amenable to a shared services strategy.
  • Information security issues. Every institution has legitimate information security objectives that can be threatened by the specter of a shared services initiative that involves either the sharing of institution-specific information or reliance on an external agent for data security. In the case of shared enrollment services, concerns are acute as they relate to the security of applicant information, enrollment decisions, financial aid, yield rates, and other enrollment performance statistics.
  • Service reliability and access concerns. A common concern about any shared service is the extent of its reliability—particularly if the service is not under the direct control of the institution. Such concerns, typically addressed via explicit service agreements, governance processes, and continuity of operations plans, are heightened in a shared services environment. In enrollment services, concerns about reliability are intensified by the need to meet deadlines (e.g., application, acceptance, financial aid, enrollment, billing, etc.).
  • Concerns about loss of control and job security. Management and staff of traditional institution-based student services functions will be concerned about any initiative that threatens their control of performance outcomes and/or their job security. These reasonable concerns must be addressed explicitly.
  • Loss of competitive advantage. Even when there may be compelling reasons to do so, institutions in direct competition are unlikely to collaborate for fear of losing competitive advantage. For such institutions, shared admissions and financial aid processing is unlikely unless performed by an independent third party located at an independent site. [Nevertheless, the incidence of collaboration by former competitors seems to be increasing. For example, competing federal government contractors routinely collaborate on joint projects, and “competing" U.S. defense and intelligence agencies are being integrated in the effort to combat global terrorism.]

Given the mixed application of shared student services in higher education to date and the considerable obstacles to their effective use, what criteria can be used to evaluate the prospective benefits of shared services initiatives? Research shows that six primary criteria should be considered:

  • Is there a rigorous compelling business case for the proposed shared service that is based on quantified benefits, costs, and risks?
  • Does an organizational entity (e.g., system office, lead campus, consortium, etc.) exist to serve as the shared service provider?
  • Is a standardized, integrated IT systems infrastructure in place (or under development) to support the shared service?
  • Will meaningful service-level agreements and quality controls be put into place to effectively manage risk, reliability, access, and information security?
  • Can and will functional staff be restructured to provide job security and improved student satisfaction via functional consolidation?
  • Will the shared service enhance (or at least not jeopardize) the institutional mission?

If all of these criteria can be met, then the shared services initiative can be considered to have a high probability of success. Conversely, if any one of these criteria is not satisfied, then such an initiative can be considered to have a high risk of failure.

These criteria lead to the following key factors for the success of a shared student services initiative:

  • Rigorous planning and a quantitative business case for change;
  • A comprehensively designed concept of operations, including process, organization, staffing, systems, controls, and culture;
  • High and continuous user involvement and buy-in;
  • Development of control processes to ensure service quality;
  • Integrated, standardized, Web-enabled systems, processes, and policies;
  • Provision for any staff displaced by the initiative;
  • Ongoing communication among and training of service providers, users, and other stakeholders.

Prompted by intensified pressure for cost containment and expanded services, colleges and universities are demonstrating an increasing willingness to explore the benefits of shared services. Traditionally, shared services in higher education have focused on business functions such as IT services, insurance, and procurement; most colleges and universities consider enrollment and student services to be more institution-specific and more directly related to competitive position. Nevertheless, multi-campus state systems as well as some private college consortia have led efforts to expand the shared services concept into student services functions such as admissions, financial aid, registration, advising, articulation, and student accounts. As cost containment pressures continue to escalate (particularly on those institutions dependent on state funding), institutional interest in shared services can be expected to continue to increase.

In considering the net value of a shared service, a number of important prerequisites must be met. Primary among these is the presence of common, integrated, Web-based information technology systems. As institutions and multi-campus systems contemplate the significant costs associated with the next generation of IT systems development and maintenance, moving to standardized, integrated IT systems platforms will be an increasingly appealing strategy. This in turn will drive increased interest in — and feasibility of — shared enrollment and student services. Beyond the need for standardized, integrated IT systems is the need for a shift in institutional culture: Schools must consider moving away from freestanding, self-contained organizational models toward a more interdependent model in which they rely on alliances with other institutions. Interdependence will be new, challenging, and risk-laden for many institutions, but it may prove an inevitable result of increased pressure by external stakeholders to pursue opportunities for collaboration as a means of cost containment, resource redeployment, and improved student service and satisfaction. Our institutions will require strong, visionary leaders to manage the financial, organizational, technological, and cultural changes implicit in these alliances.

About the Author
Robert Glenn is a management consultant to higher education, government, commercial, and non-profit organizations. Formerly a partner at Booz Allen Hamilton and Unisys, he is currently focused on assisting higher education institutions to contain costs and improve service through IT-enabled business process reengineering. Glenn holds an M.B.A. in operations research from the University of Pittsburgh and a B.S. in mathematics from Purdue University.

This article originally appeared in College & University (Volume 84, No. 3 [2009]), and is being reproduced with the permission of the American Association of Collegiate Registrars and Admissions Officers.

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

Strategic Enrollment Management: Transforming Higher Education

As external forces demand change in the delivery of postsecondary education and institutions seek to take advantage of new opportunities, the potential for achieving higher levels of student and institutional success is vast. New technologies, communication tools, data use, and organizational constructs present key factors in improving the delivery of higher education. Strategic Enrollment Management: Transforming Higher Education brings practitioners up to the present and into new territory by addressing the latest SEM emphases.

Edited by Bob Bontrager, Doris Ingersoll and Ronald Ingersoll, who together bring more than 100 years of collective involvement in the evolution of SEM theory and practice, this book provides a roadmap for the required paradigm shift, building on the solid foundation of prior SEM practice and offering insights to new approaches that will lead to sustainable SEM efforts into the future.

Nineteen chapter contributors share their wealth of expertise on topics ranging from student sucess, financial aid, the use of data and metrics, SEM in the postbaccalaureate context, international initiatives within SEM, constructive conflict, SEM as community, the role of executive leadership in SEM, personnel training, and SEM planning.

Strategic Enrollment Management: Transforming Higher Education was made possible in part by the generous support of EMAS Pro. For order information, please click here or call (301) 490-7651.

The Brave New World of Strategic Enrollment Management

College & University is AACRAO’s educational policy and research journal focusing on emerging concerns, new techniques, and technology in higher education.

Preconference Paper for the 16th Annual Strategic Enrollment Management Conference

This article originally appeared in College & University (Volume 82, No. 2 [2007]), and is being reproduced/distributed with the permission of the American Association of Collegiate Registrars and Admissions Officers.

The practice of strategic enrollment management (SEM) can be likened to navigating a ship through uncharted waters. Dating back to the 1970s, the very concept of enrollment management came into being and has since evolved in the face of a steady progression of daunting challenges requiring repeated course corrections.

A massive demographic downturn in the early 1980s was followed closely by a sea change in the funding hydraulics in higher education, punctuated by a significant drop in public funding. While many institutions regained their enrollment equilibrium in the latter half of the 1990s, in the new millennium we face a fresh set of obstacles that threaten the well-being of not only our institutions, but American society as a whole.

The context in which SEM practitioners operate is changing again in ways that will forever alter how we do business as institutions of higher education. That context is made up of new or newly-evolving challenges related to demographics, economics, and institutional priorities. These issues have gained increased attention as observers contemplate the significant implications for the practice of SEM, institutional outcomes, and the long-term economic and social well-being of the United States. Over the past several years, Kalsbeek (2005), Green (2004), and Whiteside (2003) have provided compelling content on these issues. Observers from outside the SEM profession have weighed in as well, often drawing conclusions that are critical of enrollment management practices. A recent report summarizes these negative perceptions, characterizing enrollment management as institutions “[using] their resources to compete with each other for high-end, high-scoring students instead of providing a chance for college-qualified students from low-income families who cannot attend college without adequate financial support” (Haycock 2006).

This paper will highlight a few of the more prominent enrollment challenges currently faced by colleges and universities, and will conclude with summative comments about the implications of those challenges for the practice of SEM.

Figure 1 shows relatively minor fluctuations in the aggregate numbers of high school graduates over the next ten years. However, the aggregate numbers mask a number of stark realities. The demographics of the next ten years will split institutions regionally into broad groups of haves and have-nots in terms of the number of high school graduates who are eligible to continue on to college.

Figure 1

States in the South and West will see large increases in the number of high school graduates throughout the range of years represented, while New England, the Midwest, and states in the middle region of the country will see much more modest growth (see Figure 2).

In fact, specific sub-regions will experience declines in these numbers, particularly in the latter years of this time period. These regional differences are even more striking from the perspective of the racial/ethnic composition of high school graduates. It has been well documented that the U.S. is becoming more diverse; this is also true for the college-going population, as illustrated in Figure 3.

Figure 2

This chart includes graduates of private high schools, whereas Figure 2 represented only graduates of public high schools.

These demographic shifts are daunting enough, given higher education’s modest gains in bachelor degree completion rates among underrepresented students. There have always been wide gaps in educational attainment among racial/ethnic groups, and they are getting wider. From 1980 to 2000, bachelor’s degree attainment increased for persons aged 25 to 64 in each of the major racial/ethnic groups. However, the increase was significantly greater for White and Asian-American students. In 2000, Whites ages 25 to 64 were twice as likely as African-Americans to have a bachelor’s degree, and almost three times as likely as Hispanics/Latinos (National Center for Public Policy and Higher Education 2005). Those statistics make the demographics alone a sobering prospect. But it doesn’t end there.

Figure 3

The shifting demographics become even more challenging as we consider the confounding economic forces at play in the current environment, namely rising costs, declining state support, and the increasing financial need of students seeking access to higher education. These factors have been reported repeatedly in the higher education literature and will not be reviewed at length here, except to highlight the close relationship between increased diversity among persons of college-going age and family income. Here again, the numbers vary significantly by region.

Figure 4

Figure 4 shows that in the West and South — the same regions that will experience the largest upcoming increases in high school graduates — the percentages of families at lower income levels are the highest. When looking at the data by race/ethnicity, we see African-American and Hispanic incomes lagging far behind other groups (see Figure 5).

Anyone who values diversity and equity will be concerned about these data. But for us as educators, they take on added meaning when considered with the relationship between family income and bachelor’s degree attainment. Data compiled by Mortensen (2005) indicate that persons from the top quartile of family income in the United States are nearly nine times more likely to earn a bachelor’s degree than persons from the lowest quartile. Among the latter group, only about 6 percent earn a bachelor’s degree by age 24.

Figure 5

Institutional Priorities
The demographic and economic trends just described constitute a difficult hand higher education leaders have been dealt as they seek to effectively manage their institutions in an extraordinarily challenging context. Critics of higher education, and of strategic enrollment managers in particular, often fail to grasp the complexity of that context. A superficial analysis of the situation invites some to conclude that SEM and its practitioners are the source of the problem (Haycock 2006). In fact, with its comprehensive approach to enrollment, SEM offers one of the few avenues for achieving the goals of access and equity for students, while maintaining viable financial outcomes for institutions.

If criticisms of higher education and SEM have at times been misguided, those of us within the academy must also account for having been complicit to a certain degree in perpetuating the challenges we face. We have at times been schizophrenic, if not downright duplicitous, by on the one hand pledging our allegiance to access and equity, while on the other hand touting college rankings, institutional profiles, and budget outcomes that in many ways run counter to those same aspirations.
Moreover, we have typically done a poor job in educating our community members on why they should care as much about our institutions’ access programs as our freshmen’s average SAT score, or being clear about the ways SEM practices can be used to promote educational opportunity.

The Brave New World of SEM
With acknowledgement to Aldus Huxley, those of us in the SEM profession find ourselves in a “brave new world” in terms of the challenges we face and our approaches to plying our trade. To thrive in the current context will require that we exhibit a certain kind of bravery, leading our institutions in directions that run counter to prevailing wisdom or conventional enrollment practices. While the opportunities to engage in this type of leadership are many, enrollment managers will do well to begin with the areas described below.

Achieving clarity on enrollment goals and institutional priorities
One of the most difficult challenges in developing an institutional SEM plan is establishing clear goals for the number or “mix” of students the institution wants. This is not necessarily surprising. Conversations on enrollment goals will inevitably lead to discussions of institutional mission and priorities. A focus on aggregate numbers will evolve into detailed analyses of the “mix” of students that best fulfills the institution’s mission. A single goal for overall enrollment becomes multiple goals for undergraduates, graduates, residents, nonresidents, first-year students, transfer students, students of color, retention and graduation rates, and any number of other student subgroups depending on an institution’s unique circumstances.

Among the many discussions that take place on campus, prominence needs to be given to prioritizing — for example, should we be providing access or should we be enrolling high-ability students? This is not an either/or proposition in which the decision is made to enroll all of one group of students
and deny admission to another. Rather, it is critical that the institution understand the trade-offs where they exist, and be honest with itself in the enrollment decisions it is making. These are not easy conversations, which prompts many institutions to avoid having them.

When comprehensive enrollment goals do not exist, it is incumbent on enrollment managers to lead their institutions in establishing them. The beginning point is to create a table listing current enrollments of recommended categories of students, with targets for each category over the next five to ten years, and reviewing the numbers with campus decision-making groups. An active response is virtually guaranteed, providing the impetus for the kind of campus-wide conversations required to develop the ultimate list of enrollment goals.

Redefining academic ability, potential, success

Students and institutions have long been evaluated in terms of high school grade point averages and standardized test scores. Other criteria are often used in making admission decisions and scholarship selections. However, when touting the academic ability of students or the student profile of an institution, high school GPAs and standardized test scores are most often cited. This practice persists despite the widely-acknowledged limitations of these means of measuring students’ academic ability, potential, and success.

A number of studies have looked at the relative value of high school GPAs and test scores in predicting academic performance in college. Findings from these studies have been consistent, indicating that high school grades are slightly more effective as a predictor than test scores alone, but that the addition of test scores produces a modest improvement in predictive value (Zwick 2004). In one such study, high school GPA was found to account for 15 percent of students’ first-year college grade point average, with 13 percent of variability accounted for by combined math and verbal SAT score. The combination of GPA, SAT math, and SAT verbal scores increased the predictive value to 23 percent. The same study found significant differences between racial/ethnic groups in terms of the relationships among high school GPAs and SAT scores, and college GPAs. Predictive values were generally higher for Asian American and White students, and lower for Black, Hispanic, and Native American students (Zwick 2004, p. 114).

Looking specifically at standardized tests, Sedlacek (2004) notes that these instruments are poor predictors of first-year college GPA for “anyone who has not had a White, middle-class, Euro-centric, heterosexual, male experience in the United States” (p. 6). Thus, the extent to which test scores continue to be used to evaluate students and as an indicator of institutional prestige is perplexing.

Sedlacek advocates the implementation of an assessment model based on noncognitive variables, that is, “variables relating to adjustment, motivation, and student perceptions, rather than relying solely on the traditional verbal and quantitative [measures]” (p. 7). Educators have long sought to evaluate such variables by looking at high school coursework, extracurricular involvement, leadership activities, and essays. However, standards in each of these areas tend to be set locally by individual institutions, often leading to the same systematic bias such measures seek to avoid. Sedlacek’s approach, based on 30 years of testing and development, has been shown to mitigate the systematic bias associated with many admission and scholarship selection processes. Moreover, it provides information that can be used to promote students’ academic achievement throughout their college
careers, and improve retention rates.

Here again, enrollment managers and other institutional leaders are called to exhibit courage in redefining student and institutional success. It is incumbent upon us to focus less on average GPAs and test scores among our incoming students and to spend more time talking about “value added” measures that indicate the extent to which we provide increased access to students we are mission-bound to serve. This is evidence that we helped a more diverse group of students to be academically successful and graduate.

Realigning institutional financial aid programs
Many observers of higher education have decried the shift from need-based to merit aid over the past 30 years (Dynarski 2002; Green 2004). Given the data reviewed in this paper, that shift is indeed troubling. While this trend includes many types of externally-funded aid that are outside institutions’ control, current realities suggest that institutions would do well to reconsider their awarding practices for institutionally-funded merit aid.

In an approach also used by other institutions, Oregon State University in 1998 revised its selection process for institutionally-funded merit scholarships to include a need-based component. In the first stage of its process, Oregon State utilizes an expanded definition of academic merit, in which applicants can compensate for lower high school GPAs and standardized test scores by achieving stronger scores on noncognitive variables. Once the student has been selected for a scholarship based on merit, the amount of the award she or he is given is based on demonstrated financial need. Among students with similar merit rankings, a student from a low-income family might receive a $5,000 award, while a student from a high-income family might be awarded $1,000.

Making this type of change is not as easy as it may sound. Traditional assumptions about the relationship between high school GPAs, standardized test scores, and scholarship awards are potent. And we are, in fact, talking about money. Few issues are as likely to raise the ire of students or their parents as hitting them in their pocketbooks. There will certainly be incidences when students with extraordinarily high GPAs and test scores receive modest scholarship awards, or receive less money than other students with lower quantitative credentials. At that point, even persons who value educational access and equity may well be upset. In the end, institutions need to be clear on their values and resolve to weather the inevitable criticisms that will be leveled at them, which brings us full circle.

The initiatives highlighted in this paper are not to be considered in isolation, but rather constitute the type of comprehensive approach that is inherent to SEM. Implementing effective enrollment initiatives — including noncognitive variables in student evaluations, consideration of financial need in awarding merit scholarship, and many others, will ultimately depend on clarity of enrollment goals that are directly traceable to institutional mission and purpose. To do otherwise is an abrogation of our responsibilities as educators, and will shortchange the potential of our institutions as they seek to navigate the challenging waters that lie ahead.

By Bob Bontrager, Director of AACRAO Consulting and the AACRAO SEM Conference.

Dynarski, S. 2002. Race, income and the impact of merit aid. In Who Should We Help? The Negative Social Consequences of Merit Scholarships, edited by P. Marin. Cambridge, MA: Harvard Civil Rights Project. pp. 73–91.

Green, Thomas. 2004. Financial Aid, Access, and America’s Social Contract with Higher Education. Preconference paper for the SEM Conference. Washington, D.C.: American Association of Collegiate Registrars and Admissions Officers.

Haycock, Kati. 2006. Promise Abandoned: How Policy Choices and Institutional Practices Restrict College Opportunities. Washington, D.C.: The Education Trust.

Kalsbeek, David. 2005. The Challenge of Access: Structures, Strategies, and SEM Antics. Presentation at the AACRAO Strategic Enrollment Management Conference, Chicago, IL, 2005.

Mortensen, Tom. June 2005. Family Income and Higher Education Opportunity, 1970–2003. Oskaloosa, IA: Postsecondary Education Opportunity.

The National Center for Public Policy and Higher Education, Policy Alert, November 2005, page 4.

Whiteside, Richard. 2003. The Winds of Change and Enrollment Management. Presentation at the AACRAO Annual Meeting, Washington, D.C.

Zwick, Rebecca. 2004. Rethinking the SAT: The Future of Standardized Testing in University Admissions. New York, NY: Taylor & Francis Group.

Bob Bontrager is Director of the SEM Conference and Director of AACRAO Consulting Services. He previously served as Director of Partnership Programs at Oregon State University and as Chief Enrollment Officer at Oregon State and at Eastern Mennonite University.