Organizational Models for Enrollment Management at Small Colleges

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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.

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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.