Enrollment Management: Creating a Responsive, Student-Centered
R. Babey, PhD
& Enrollment Services Consulting
Colleges & Universities
paper was originally presented at the University of
California, Santa Cruz , July 5, 2001 and updated July
Enrollment Management, more commonly referred to as
SEM, became somewhat of a mantra in higher education
circles over the past 15 years. It has become a mantra
because colleges today face a very different set off
circumstances as they try to maintain or improve their
market edge in recruiting and retaining students. To
meet their enrollment goals in the current higher education
environment many colleges must transform themselves
into institutions with students as the focus of their
existence. They have to do things differently—in some
cases much differently—if they want to maintain or improve
their competitive edge.
enrollment management planning is the critical first
step in addressing the changes that a campus must make
to enhance its institutional quality and to refocus
its attention on students for it to meet its enrollment
targets. The SEM planning process results in action
plans that turn SEM vision and concepts into reality.
To understand the driving forces behind SEM planning,
we first need to look at some of the changes that cause
institutions to rethink the way they do business. The
variables that have changed the higher education landscape
during the past fifteen years are broad in range. The
number and broad range of variables mean that only a
major change in campus culture will ensure a campus
meeting its enrollment targets. Some of the variables
that changed are:
demographics. The pool of students seeking access
to higher education is more diverse than previous
generations of students. Students are more racially
and ethnically diverse. More students come from lower
socioeconomic levels. They are more geographically
dispersed. More students with learning and physical
challenges are applying. We are aware of more students
with different sexual orientations. We have more
academically prepared students but many more who demonstrate
limited academic preparation to do college work.
Many of the latter students come from homes where
English is not the first language. There is an increasing
number of transfer students many of whom bring college
level work from institutions outside the United States.
costs of higher education. As costs rise, students,
and their parents, want to make sure that the institutions
they select meet their needs and wants. They ask
more questions, search out more information, and seek
the best price.
- Increasingly competitive market, particularly for
high quality students.
market forces. Private, for profit universities,
corporate universities, distance education programs
and on-line degrees programs have grown dramatically
during the past ten years. They are eagerly seeking
students whose main option to attend college in the
past was the “traditional” college.
expectations and accountability from internal
and external customers. Students expect colleges
to be student centered and responsive to their needs.
They expect good and convenient service when they
want it, in the manner they want it and they want
the service personalized. Students, and their parents,
want academic and co-curricular programs that are
relevant and timely to them. Governments and
businesses want students to reach their educational
objectives in a timely manner and with knowledge and
skills relevant to today’s market needs.
- Decreases in federal financial aid. Colleges find
themselves using more institutional funds to recruit
the students they want. They must find the most effective
ways to use limited institutional resources. Financial
aid packaging has become an art as well as a science.
Tuition discounting appears to be increasing.
- Change in enrollees. There are growing numbers of students
who want access to college who are different from
the “traditional” college student. There are more
non-traditional students, more re-entry, more adult
learners, and more career-oriented students.
is in this environment of change, sometimes crisis,
that colleges begin the strategic enrollment management
planning process. Guiding the SEM planning process
is the institution’s strategic plan.
Strategic planning is the process of developing
and maintaining a
strategic fit between the institution’s goals
and capabilities and its
changing marketing opportunities. It relies
on developing a clear
institutional mission, supporting goals and objectives,
a sound strategy,
and appropriate implementation (Kotler &
is the plan that is supposed to guide the actions
of a campus to reach it goals. Strategic enrollment
planning that does not adhere to the campus strategic
plan is very likely not to produce the results the campus
wants or expects.
hope to be successful, strategic enrollment management
planning must be a campus-wide initiative that focuses
on the recruitment, admissions, retention, satisfaction
of students’ educational objectives, and positive alumni
and public relations. “It is an institution
wide process with the academic program at its roots
“(Deborah Ford, 2001). A committee of upper administrators,
key faculty, student and staff representatives, and
technical support staff usually leads SEM planning.
Many subcommittees supplement its work. The work of
the SEM planners must have the demonstrated support
of executive leaders if it is to fulfill it function.
is critical that all campus members have the opportunity
to participate in the SEM planning process to insure
their “buy in” to a new campus culture. Everyone connected
to the campus must be committed to SEM planning outcomes.
This is more likely if all had the opportunity to be
involved in the process. An expected outcome of SEM
planning is that every member of the campus consistently
demonstrate the attitudes and behaviors that reflect
a responsive, student-centered culture, a culture that
satisfies students’ expectations within campus resources.
develop a meaningful SEM plan an institution must undertake
an analysis of its environment, markets, and competition
and assess its existing strengths and weakness. It
must develop a clear sense of mission, target markets,
and marketing position (Kotler and Fox, p. 9-10). It
must “research student wants and needs in order to provide programs and services that the match the
institution’s mission and resources with the student’s
expectations” (Kotler and Fox, p.320).
SEM plan must establish clear and realistic enrollment goals—goals that are achievable and measurable--and
that everyone internalizes and supports. The SEM plan
must be data driven (Peter S. Bryant, July 2000). It
must develop a marketing mix of product, price, place
and promotional materials that make the institution
attractive to prospects it wants to recruit, enroll
be attractive to prospects, an educational institution
must provide a sound and
appropriate educational program [product], at a price
students and their families are willing and able to
pay (with assistance if necessary) [price], in a reasonably
attractive place [place]...[and] to communicate to prospective
students in a timely, interesting, and accurate manner
[promotion].” (Kotler and Fox, p.330)
SEM plan must include direction for programs and services
that will aid in the retention of students. “Retention
is defined as the maintenance and enhancement of a student’s
satisfactory progress toward his/her educational objective
until it is attained” (Dolence, p. 17, 1996). Economically
speaking, retaining students uses fewer campus resources
than recruiting a new student to replace one who leaves.
plan must provide for programs and services that promote
academic success and personal growth. Programs and
services that promote academic success help students
meet their educational objectives. Personal growth
services and programs help connect students to the campus,
help them develop relationships, and give them a sense
of belonging. Examples of these services and
programs are: new student orientation, academic advising:
learning communities; freshmen seminars; tutoring; learning
support; writing and mathematical centers; language
labs; computing labs; career planning and placement;
social and cultural organizations; counseling and psychological
services; health services; community service/volunteerism;
leadership development; recreational activities; and
SEM plan must address two other factors that are critical
to retention: (1) ability of students to have outside
the class contact with faculty members and (2) the on-going
assessment of the campus environment to determine that
students continue to be satisfied.
strategic enrollment management plan is visionary.
It is transformative. It is broad in scope. It is
a framework to guide future actions. It reflects institutional
commitment to change. Its development is a long term
process usually three or more years.
outcomes of a strategic enrollment management plan are
to enhance institutional quality and to create a culture
of a responsive, student-centered institution embraced
by all members of the community. A quality and responsive
institution creates a high level of satisfaction among
its prospective and continuing students as well as among
its many other publics. Satisfied students tend to
enroll, remain at the institution and are supportive
alumni. Concrete actions that implement the vision
and concepts of the SEM plan are the true outcomes of
the plan. What actions will a college implement to
demonstrate that its culture is now a responsive, student-centered
responsive faculty will:
academic programs and courses that students want and
need and schedule classes to enable students to complete
degree programs in a timely manner.
a mix of instructional delivery methods., e.g., traditional
courses taught by a faculty member in a space on campus,
internet or web courses or a combination of traditional
and internet courses to provide flexibility for the
differing needs of students.
faculty to teach to different learning styles so all
students have a the opportunity to succeed.
faculty to create interactive classes that foster
active student learning and team work.
faculty to demonstrate they are truly interested in
a student’s well being and that they care about students.
the heart of SEM is a faculty who is committed to teaching
academic programs that meet student needs and wants
and who care about students. Students are attracted
to a campus because of its academic programs and its
faculty. A caring faculty generates student satisfaction
and the likelihood that the student will remain on the
campus. The most positive words a student can say about
an institution are that the professors care.
A SEM action plan is also responsive to the delivery
of student services. A responsive, student-centered
its organizational structure and develop a new one
that is more responsive to students. The integration
of the functions of the primary student service units
(Admissions, Registrar, Financial Aid/Student Accounts,
and Advising) is such realignment.
new roles that reflect this integration. Cross train
staff to be generalists who can answer most
students’ questions involving anyone of the units
eliminating the need for students to go from office
to office. Create cross-trained specialists who
help students if their questions or situations are
too complex or time consuming for the generalist to
student services in one area of the campus commonly
referred to as one- stop shopping centers. Enhance
the physical appearance of the center to make it inviting
for students and staff.
policies and procedures to streamline bureaucracy
by eliminating the unnecessary and simplifying the
it easy for a customer to complain.
assessment processes to measure effectiveness of programs
clear, easily understood communications.
communication across campus.
responsive institution will provide different types
and points of access to services based on student need.
It will adopt new and appropriate technology tools
to meet today’s students’ “just in time, want it now”
way of thinking. Students, including prospective students,
expect to be able to access information and accomplish most things themselves 24 hours a day, seven days
a week and they want it personalized. (Providing different
points of access to service, however, enables a student
to talk to a staff member when the need arises. ) The
“my page” or portal web site is becoming more commonplace.
Creating web sites by process or type of student, e.g.,
new student services web site, continuing student services
web site, is another responsive approach.
reality we are talking about a “virtual student
center”. From such a center, the student can:
for admissions and check admissions status
for financial aid and check status
for housing and check status
the college catalog
the class schedule for current and future terms
for classes; elect grading options, add and drop courses
on line academic advising
a degree audit including capability to “model” degree
grades; review transcript
charges; pay bills
Career Services; set up interviews
available internships, jobs
academic and campus event calendars
SEM plan calls for concrete action on the part of leaders
to create an environment that motivates and satisfies
staff (and faculty) to be student centered and to strive
for excellence in all they do. A satisfied staff begets
satisfied students. Creating such an environment is
a key responsibility of leadership. Leaders should
create an environment that:
staff fairly and respectfully.
staff for their work and makes them feel that they
are working for a worthwhile organization.
mistakes and uses them as learning moments.
staff with the training needed to be effective in
staff the tools they need to give high quality,
effective, efficient, and satisfying service.
the “golden” rule, “treat others as you wish to be
Black, “Creating a Student-Centered Culture”, 2001.)
key leadership responsibility is hiring new staff with
students in mind (Kolter and Fox, p.26).
final point, SEM is not static. There is continual
evaluation of the environment, evaluation of strategies
and making appropriate changes to the SEM plan and action
plans. What is “best practice” today is standard practice
tomorrow. A new mantra might be, “Don’t stop thinking
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