Gauging your SEM readiness

by Clayton Smith, Ed.D., Associate Professor, University of Windsor, Director of the AACRAO Strategic Enrollment Management Conference, and Senior Consultant, AACRAO Consulting

One of the hottest topics in higher education today is strategic enrollment management (SEM).

Leaders at nearly every college or university are talking about how to implement SEM, write a SEM plan, or otherwise benefit from SEM’s incredible potential for meeting the enrollment challenges so many of us face.

A key question is: How do we lead or support SEM on our campuses?

As a starting point, let me suggest you gauge your institution’s SEM readiness. To gauge is to estimate the relative position of something to something else (Merriam-Webster Dictionary, 2017). This involves finding where your institution is on some measurement of SEM readiness.

Let’s begin by suggesting that you estimate your institution’s SEM readiness by taking the AACRAO Assessing Institutional Readiness for SEM self-audit and then finding your location on the SEM Transition Model (adapted from Dolence, 1993). (The audit is available for download at the bottom of the article, and will be printed in the upcoming revised edition of the SEM primer.)

The self-audit asks you to rank where your institution is (from poor to excellent) on these factors:

  • Clarity of institutional mission
  • Clarity of unit/program within institutional mission
  • Alignment of institutional mission and enrollment goals
  • Marketing and institutional reputation management
  • Tracking of admissions, recruitment and registration yields
  • Specific enrollment targets based on program size/capacity, academic program, learning modality, recruitment markets, academic preparation/student quality, student persistence, and graduation/completion rates
  • Understanding of student success for your programs
  • Use of financial aid to support SEM goals
  • Leadership, participation and buy-in from top-level administrators, academic colleges/faculties and departments, student service units, academic support programs, and information technology
  • Institutional research, including amount of relevant data available and use of data in campus decision-making
  • Use of student satisfaction or engagement surveys
  • Institutional culture of partnership and collaboration
  • Strategic allocation of funds to support SEM goals

Once you have done the self-audit, place your institution on the SEM Transition Model at one of its five stages: denial, nominal, structural, tactical, and strategic.

Denial: At the denial stage, enrollment is down and a committee has been formed to discuss options.

Nominal: Enrollment is down in the nominal stage. The institution has, however, implemented some ad hoc or short-term strategies.

Structural: Institutions at the structural stage experience variability in their enrollment. They have normally put in place limited restructuring and are continuing with short-term strategies. They have minimal enrollment management expertise or they are not listening to available expertise.

Tactical: At the tactical stage, institutions are building to optimum enrollment. They have undertaken substantive restructuring and strategic planning based on reliable data and targeted funding.

Strategic: Optimum enrollment is achieved at the strategic stage. Institutions have a stable organizational structure and funding, top-level enrollment management leadership, consistent planning, and an assessment cycle.

With the results from the self-audit and knowledge of where your institution is located on the SEM Transition Model, you should have a good sense of your institution’s readiness for SEM.

Increase your institution’s SEM readiness with these resources:

And plan to attend the next AACRAO SEM Conference in Phoenix, Arizona, on October 29-November 1, 2017.


Definition of gauge. (2017). In Retrieved from

Dolence, M. G. (1993). Strategic enrollment management: A primer for campus administrators. Washington, DC: American Association of Collegiate Registrars and Admissions Officers.

Click here to download the document