New Answers to Old Questions

I just celebrated my three-year anniversary as a Vice President for Enrollment Management (thank you, thank you). I have had ups, I have had downs. I have had my fair share of fun and a handful of memorable feuds (en-garde!). Above all else, I have learned a lot. Sure, it has been a steep and accelerated learning curve but I had higher education pegged for just that very early in my career. It has been an exciting, worthwhile ride that I don’t want to stop any time soon.

Maybe it was the anniversary, or yet another snow day in New Jersey, but I started thinking about what I would have done differently if given the chance. For the answer, I kept harkening back to my Boy Scout (okay, Cub Scout… wait, did I make it to Webelo?) days – Be Prepared.

My biggest adjustment was in assessment and, even more specifically, budget justification. In this age of assessment it is more important than ever to own it; own your shop, own your data, and know how to move the needle when needed. I started thinking about how I could relay these thoughts to new or aspiring Enrollment Managers in a relatively concise manner. This is what I came up with.

I will take New Answers to Old EM Questions for $1,000, Alex (Williams):

Question: How effective and efficient is your recruitment strategy?

What it means to you: What is the cost of recruiting a single student?

What is the ratio of new students enrolled to full-time recruitment staff?

An Enrollment Management operation is extremely complex; hiring and training, travel, advertising, printing, social media, postage, name buys, and systems development and maintenance are just some of your responsibilities. What isn’t complex is your charge: recruit and retain the right students for your college or university.

One way to assess your operation is to compare your input and output against other institutions. The 2013 Cost of Recruiting an Undergraduate Student Report from Noel Levitz is a great resource for formulas and invaluable benchmarking data. If you think you would be more effective with more recruitment staff, have the numbers to back it up. Once you are comfortable with the big picture; break costs and ratios out by specific student populations like in-state, out-of-state, international, freshmen, transfers, and any subset in between.

Question: What are your retention and graduation rates?

What it means to you: What are your retention and graduation rates? (See what I did there?)

Are your retention and graduation rates appropriate?

Quoting and explaining retention and graduation rates is one of the more straightforward jobs of an Enrollment Manager. (Note: As to not derail my current stream of consciousness, I will save my speech about how retention and graduation rates are currently calculated for another time. Writing that post will require a fireplace, a smoking jacket, and a glass of fine sherry.) The rule of thumb here is to assume whoever you are speaking with knows your retention and graduation rates and you are being tested against College Navigator figures. Straight and to the point.

On the other hand, predicting expected retention and graduation rates based on the types of students institutions enroll rather than national averages is both a novel idea and brilliantly higher ed. The Higher Education Research Institute (HERI) has produced a nice study that allows schools to compare actual and predicted retention and graduation rates. Essentially, the strategy applied by HERI expands the traditional set-list of variables used to project college success by adding more personal characteristics and indicators. For instance, were you the first college choice for a student? Do they intend to graduate from your institution? Do they have to work full-time while in school? Pretty important stuff.

Question: Who are your competitors?

What it means to you: Who do you compete with directly?

Who do you aspire to be like?

The Admission Office can most likely tell you where most of your accepted, declined offer students will be enrolling this fall. You also have the National Student Clearinghouse to determine where your withdrawn sophomores ended up. While this is great information, it only tells half the story. Create peer and aspirant lists to help determine who you are and where you want to go. Several institutions, like Coastal Carolina University and University of West Florida, have made this information public but most use these lists for internal, strategic planning purposes.

I suppose there are varying levels of aspiration. Big picture aspirations may include things like academic profile, programs offered, number of full-time faculty, facilities, and endowment but I tend to think smaller. Who is successfully recruiting regionally on a local budget? Who is incorporating free design and content improvements to their website? Who is leveraging institutional and gift aid most effectively? Am I laying the theme on thick enough?

Well, we reached an abrupt end to a relatively concise post so let's keep the chatter going. What are some other vital questions or topics for up-and-coming Enrollment Management professionals? Own it.