Planning and assessment: Keys to a successful SEM plan

by Alicia Moore, AACRAO Consultant and Dean of Student and Enrollment Services for Central Oregon Community College

Whether one includes admissions, recruitment, records, financial aid or other areas as part of the enrollment services umbrella, having effective operations is a critical component to successful strategic enrollment management (SEM) work (Bontrager and Green, 2015; Bontrager and Moore, 2009).  To be effective, enrollment management departments needs to engage in active and comprehensive planning and assessment.  To this end, this article highlights key considerations of a robust department (or division) level strategic plan, including a mission statement, goals, learning outcomes, assessment, and action.

Mission Statement

A mission statement represents the department’s purpose and more specifically, the who, what and why of that purpose.  It paints a realistic and long-lasting (10 or more years) picture of the department’s work.  From a pragmatic perspective, it needs to use lay terminology and should be succinct at 25 words or less.

Example:  We support students, from inquiry through graduation, and share with them the information and tools needed to successfully navigate services to achieve their academic goals.

Goals

Goals represent broad, general statements of how a department is going to achieve its mission.  They should clearly reflect departmental responsibilities, be long-lasting (three to five years), and be clear to others outside of the department.  Most importantly, it is more than a “to do” list in which one simply checks off tasks as they are completed.

Example:  Be known to students, staff, faculty and community members as the place to go for accurate and friendly answers to their questions about x-college and its services.  

Learning Outcomes

While learning outcomes are most frequently discussed in the context of the classroom, they also apply to co-curricular supports and services.  Learning outcomes put the student as the subject, identify the intended results of a department’s interaction with a student, and use active verbs to do so (see Bloom’s Taxonomy [Bloom, et al., 1956] as a resource or starting point).  Additionally, it is important to note that learning outcomes must be measureable.

Example:  Students, staff and faculty will be able to articulate that the service they receive meets or exceeds expectations.

Assessment

Ultimately, a comprehensive plan is all about continuous improvement.  While a mission statement, goals, and learning outcomes are the foundation of such a plan, it is not complete until one actually assesses progress towards outcomes and goals. Data analysis can take many forms, but no matter what direction it takes, the data must be:

  • Accessible:  Does the needed data actually exist?
  • Valid:  Does the data measure what it is intended to measure?
  • Effective:  Does the data tell you something more than simply counting the number of applications, number of participants, etc.?

Example:  Data source:  Institutional Student Satisfaction Survey, questions X – X; Frequency:  Every two years. During the past three Student Satisfaction surveys, an average of 86% of students indicated they were “satisfied” or “very satisfied” with customer service provided in person by the department.  At the same time, an increasing percentage of students indicated challenges with navigating parallel information on the college’s website.

Action Plan

Frequently termed “closing the loop”, an action plans summarizes the assessment findings and articulates needed changes, celebrates accomplishments, recommends areas for further review, identifies needed policy or process improvements and the like.

Example:  The department recommends that the college contract with an outside agency to conduct an audit of the college’s enrollment webpages, identify priorities for content changes, and work with appropriate staff to provide more user-friendly information and design.

Parting Pearls of Wisdom

The following recommendations will guide a department towards a successful and worthwhile process:

  • Be inclusive:  Involving staff from across the department (or division) in the planning process is critical to creating a high-level of buy-in, participation, and willingness to honestly engage in continuous improvement.
  • Do not overthink it: Oftentimes, groups can fixate on a specific word or phrase and forget about the larger intended goal. Therefore, work to lead the group away from becoming preoccupied with wordsmithing towards larger, more laudable progress.
  • Just get started:  A department does not need to have a plan that addresses all of its responsibilities from the outset before it moves to the assessment stage.  Instead, pick one or two key areas and move those through the process, adding in others as initial planning and assessment skills build.
  • Brag!:  A department plan is about continuous improvement, so make sure to brag about your accomplishments . . . as well as your challenges (but make sure to have an action plan ready to address those challenges!)

Ultimately, if one follows the above process, a department will have a stronger impact on helping the institution achieve its enrollment management goals through a thoughtful analysis of the systems and processes supporting those goals. Moreover, such work will serve as a model for others committed to intentional and thoughtful continuous improvement.

References

Bloom, B. S., Engelhart, M. D.; Furst, E. J.; Hill, W. H.; Krathwohl, D. R. (1956). Taxonomy of educational objectives: The classification of educational goals. Handbook I: Cognitive domain. New York: David McKay Company.

Bontrager, B., & Moore, A.  (2009). “Implementing SEM at the Community college.” In B. Bontrager and B Clemetsen (Eds.), Applying SEM at the Community College (183-197). Washington, DC: American Association of Collegiate Registrars and Admissions Officers.

(2016). “Strategic Enrollment Planning.”  In Hossler, D., & Bontrager, B. (Eds.), Handbook of Strategic Enrollment Management (531 – 548).  San Francisco, CA:  Jossey-Bass.