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Enrollment Management Grows Up

Enrollment managers share their current approaches.
University Business, May 2006

If it's true that enrollment management (EM) was born on the East Coast sometime in the early to mid-1970s (Boston College lays the strongest claim), then the process would be "30-something" today. EM has certainly evolved and, if it is to remain relevant, should continue to evolve as institutional needs change and as institutions themselves change.

As Dennis O'Brien, former president of the University of Rochester (N.Y.), said in his inaugural address more than 20 years ago, "Institutions find their inner meaning from the leading forces which produce their present form." Our challenges and opportunities, internal and external, shape how we need to organize to meet our goals. Certainly by definition that means for EM there can be no perfect model or ideal organizational structure. Rather, it is a function of time and place, strengths and weaknesses, goals and ambitions, mission and vision unique to each institution-public/private, four-year/two-year, for-profit/not-for-profit, undergraduate/graduate/professional, liberal arts/pre-professional, etc.

Enrollment management was a logical response for higher education when suddenly the marketplace changed from seller to buyer and admissions directors transitioned from gatekeepers to salesmen. Simply stated, it was all in the numbers.

The unprecedented growth that higher education had realized since World War II was coming to a predictable end. Demographic forecasts were dire. The quality of American education took on national significance with the U.S. Department of Education's "A Nation at Risk" report, and costs-real or perceived-were reaching prohibitive levels at a time when traditional support from federal and state resources was staying flat at best, decreasing at worst.

If that wasn't enough to call previous business models and practices into question, the emergence of the for-profit sector as legitimate and worthy competitors forced many senior officers and governing board members to rethink how well they were positioned to handle a dynamic environment with unpredictable, and even unforeseen, changes. Although higher education had exhibited quite healthy skepticism for new management models (note the rapid death of Total Quality Management in higher education), enrollment management nonetheless became a common response to these megachanges.

Today, enrollment management has further mutated and evolved into an industry bellwether.

So what then is enrollment management? It is a process that brings together often disparate functions having to do with recruiting, funding, tracking, retaining, and replacing students as they move toward, within, and away from institutions. Goals often accompany enrollment management initiatives to detail the focus and intended outcomes or deliverables. The most generic goals would include:

The Organization for Enrollment Management: to organize departments that relate to the management of enrollments in such a way that the coordination of staff, flow of information, and the integration of decisions can most easily be facilitated

Student Information Systems and Research: to create an integrated student database and the capacity to use systems, including the web, for coordinated research, planning, recruitment, and communication

Admissions Marketing: to develop an admissions marketing program in order to attract appropriate students in sufficient numbers

Pricing and Financial Aid Strategies: to implement pricing and financial aid strategies that will optimize the institution's ability to generate net tuition revenue and attract and retain the desired academic, racial/ethnic, and social/economic mix of students

Demand Analysis and Institutional Response: to develop a capability to anticipate immediate and long-term student demand and methods of improving the institution's ability to respond to these interests

Retention and Transfer Students: to formalize an institutional retention program in order to identify reasons for attrition, to minimize it to whatever extent desirable, and to enroll qualified transfer students as replacements

These goals were sufficient for the first order questions, which confronted enrollment-related units such as Admissions, Financial Aid, and the Registrar. In the '90s, however, institutions began to expand the portfolio of enrollment management in various ways to address new challenges. The purpose, meanwhile, remained the same-to more efficiently and effectively meet and exceed enrollment targets, especially net tuition revenue.

So today, as a 30-something, enrollment management means different things at different schools, and that is precisely how it should be. There is no one-size-fits-all, cookie-cutter approach. In truth, there can't be if it is to continue to serve American higher education, whose trademark is its diversity of mission, purpose, size, and control.

For example, during a 12-year period in the '80s and '90s, the University of Rochester employed one of the most far-reaching (some would say unorthodox) enrollment management models that was in truth an external relations division focused first on building and retaining student demand, and second on re-engaging alumni and donors in the life of the institution. The set of administrative units involved in the Rochester model included Admissions, Financial Aid, Registrar, Institutional Research, Student Work and Career Development, Alumni Affairs, and Fundraising. For that particular time and place in the university's long, rich history, it was appropriate.

The following are five examples of institutional perspectives on enrollment management's organization, mission, purpose, and effectiveness, as seen through the eyes of chief enrollment officers. The institutions have very different missions and personalities: a large research university, a national liberal arts college, one of the largest Catholic urban institutions in the United States, a small regional system campus, and finally, a comprehensive state university. These are their stories.

To repeat, there is no better or best model. In addition, a particular model's lifetime at an institution is finite. There are, however, themes and aspects of enrollment management that are common, as can be seen from these five examples.

First, and foremost, is the need for linkages, shared goals, improved communication, and synergy as opposed to isolation. Unit objectives need to be tied directly to enterprise-wide goals, rather than functioning as stand-alone systems.

"There is no one-size-fits-all, cookie-cutter approach to enrollment management, with higher education's trademark of diversity of mission, purpose, size, and control."

Another foundational attribute is the need for an analytical, empirical, data-driven approach to problem solving and decision-making. Intuition, enrollment managers will tell you, is important but not sufficient. The "culture of evidence" is a cornerstone of enrollment management.

Finally, although not referenced specifically, leadership is critical. Enrollment management almost always means change-in structure, reporting lines, communication, goals, etc. The challenges and risks of change should never be underestimated. However, effective leaders like those mentioned here are willing to accept the risks where they see the need for change.

Kathy Kurz and Jim Scannell are partners in the enrollment management consulting firm Scannell & Kurz. They can be reached via their website,

This Catholic institution in Chicago serves many populations-young and old, part-time and full-time, resident and commuter, undergraduate and graduate/professional. David Kalsbeek, vice president for Enrollment Management, says:

"Marketing is the platform or framework for strategically integrating enrollment services like Admissions, Financial Aid, and Records, with Marketing and University Relations, Enrollment and Marketing Research, Career Services, and Employer Relations. By acknowledging that the key to successful enrollment development is working to improve market position and enhance market prominence, we see the strategic value and vision in redefining the scope of a traditional enrollment management organization.

"Defining enrollment as the singular overarching objective of an EM effort is simply too constraining, too shortsighted, too tactical, and insufficiently strategic for an institution such as DePaul, with high tuition dependence and bold ambitions. Certainly, enrollment goals are still aggressively pursued. ... But rather than this being the singular focus of the EM effort as is typically the case, at DePaul it is just one dimension of a broader, bolder perspective and purpose. The defining focus of an EM strategy for these times, simply put, is improving DePaul's competitive market position and enhancing DePaul's market prominence.

"Addressing market position and prominence requires the integrated efforts of a wide array of functions than typically characterizes an EM organization. At DePaul, it includes university-wide marketing, advertising, media relations, internet development, community outreach, alumni communications, and employer relations, along with the more traditional functions of admissions, financial aid, records and registration, community college relations, career services, student employment, and so on."

This large, private, urban institution in Boston is known, among other things, for its longstanding commitment to cooperative education with a concentration on the professions, especially engineering. Philomena Mantella, senior vice president for Enrollment Management and Student Affairs, says:

"True enrollment management requires linking expectations set by universities directly to the quality of the actual student experience. Given that, it is logical to link enrollment management and student service areas structurally. At Northeastern we have organized all traditional enrollment management and student affairs functions [such as Academic and Cultural Enrichment Services, Admissions, Financial Services, and Health/Counseling Services] together as one of the four divisions of the university. President Richard Freeland likes to say that our structure helps us clearly articulate our promises to our students and families and to keep them."

First a public teachers' college in the state system, this institution became one of four State University of New York centers. Wayne Locust, vice provost for Enrollment Management, sees the necessary linkages that define EM as critical:

"Enrollment management is often conceptualized without actually being realized due largely to historical administrative silos. To be successful, institutions must break with the past and reconstitute organizational structures that are expandable and reach beyond Admissions, Financial Aid, and the Registrar.

"Critical offices that also directly impact a student's decision to enroll and/or persist include but are not limited to orientation, academic advising, student accounts, and retention. Furthermore, putting strategic marketing and enrollment policy initiatives into place should include informal relationships with Public Relations, Alumni Relations, Institutional Research, and Student Affairs, among others.

"Deliberate and well-defined, measureable outcomes are highly dependent upon the strategic coordination of relationships, formal or informal, with key offices. These relationships should be clearly articulated by the president and fully supported by senior administration."

This institution is affiliated with the University of Pittsburgh system, one of three public higher education systems in Pennsylvania. Johnstown serves a local population in the western part of the state, mostly in pre-professional programs such as education and business. Jim Gyure, assistant to the president for Enrollment Management and director of Admissions, says:

"The real success of enrollment management plans and issues at UPJ is rooted in the many campus collaborations that produce very practical means of attracting students and promoting their success. Some cooperation follows formal protocol. But a lot requires cross-functional teamwork, and a lot develops along less formal lines. The point has been to keep talking, to keep issues in front of people, to keep distributing data."

A small liberal arts institution located in a historic setting, Gettysburg competes heavily with other like institutions from the Middle Atlantic states and across the country, serving students who desire a traditional liberal arts experience. Barbara Fritze, vice president for Enrollment and Educational Services, says:

"Enrollment management structures must change to reflect the market in which all colleges and universities compete. At Gettysburg College, we are strategic about the ways in which we collaborate to add value to our enrollment and institutional positioning decisions.

"Gettysburg College integrates enrollment and institution-wide marketing and communications. Our comprehensive approach combines into one vice president's portfolio the offices of Admissions, Financial Aid, Institutional Analysis, Intercollegiate Athletics, and Communications and Public Relations.

This integrated approach allows us to use research to inform our marketing and enrollment teams' decisions, to enhance the admissions marketing plans, to expand athletic recruitment, to create sophisticated financial aid models, and to develop institution-wide branding efforts."