Enrollment Management Leadership Starts at the Top: Setting the Tone for Success

Dr. Marylouise Fennell
Principal
Hyatt-Fennell

Dr. Scott D. Miller
President
Virginia Wesleyan College

Enrollment management remains the single most vital area of any college or university with a tuition-driven budget. As institutions revise their marketing strategies, develop retention programs, and upgrade campus facilities, parents and students remain in the consumer driver’s seat. What’s the value for their tuition dollar? What are the “extras” that a campus can offer? Which institutions offer the best financial-aid packages? Will graduates have a job waiting for them after four years of college?

To respond to these concerns and continue to build enrollment, the conventional wisdom is that admissions offices will have to work overtime to attract more students. But beyond enrollment strategies and a plethora of student-friendly communications are comprehensive planning considerations that must be led by the president and his or her team.

Following are some key recommendations:

The president must be the driving force in making recruitment and retention a priority on campus.

In these times, it’s too easy for enrollment issues to be placed on the back burner as fundraising consumes presidential time and energy. It is essential, however, that the president remain equally hands-on in both areas. We know of campus CEO’s who have awakened too late to “red flags” which would have indicated negative enrollment trends.

No other area is more vital to an institution’s ongoing health and viability than recruitment and retention. It is critical, therefore, that enrollment report directly to the president with an open line of communication and access. In this critical area, presidents simply cannot afford to take their eye off the ball for even a short period.

The president must create a corporate culture that supports the enrollment operation.

This includes a president who is highly visible at recruitment events, while taking the lead in the institutional philosophy portrayed in conventional enrollment publications and online. This initiative also includes leveraging facilities to create value. “Tired” classrooms, grounds and facilities create a drag on the entire enrollment management process: enhanced residences, recreation-fitness facilities and dining services serve as an integral part of the student experience, and play a vital role in attracting and retaining students.

As our 2010 book “President to President: Views on Technology in Higher Education” (Council of Independent Colleges/SunGard publications), co-edited with our friend and colleague Jacqueline Powers Dowd emphasizes, institutions must also leverage technology to create a competitive advantage. While expensive, technology offering convenience also levels the playing field for small and mid-sized institutions.

The president must maintain a balance in enrolling student-athletes.

Most liberal arts colleges are members of the NCAA Division III, which emphasizes student-athletes who will succeed academically with their colleges. It is important that the president underscore the importance of athletics while at the same time holding the enrollment office to a standard of recruiting student-athletes who mirror the campus population. Student athletes need to be just that. Recruiting those who do not reflect the institutional profile will inevitably lead to retention problems later, serving neither the athlete nor the institution.

The president must take the lead in setting financial-aid priorities.

We hear many stories of presidents getting into trouble over runaway financial-aid budgets. “Buying” students with steep discounts is a recipe for long-term financial ruin. Contrary to popular opinion, it is possible to attract and retain students, while also improving selectivity, access and affordability. It’s all in the planning.

Sound strategic planning, along with a realistic, forward-looking enrollment plan, can be an effective extension of the president’s vision for his or her institution. Understanding one’s market, the expectations of prospective students, opportunities through synergistic partnerships, and the capacity of facilities in attracting and retaining students, all are essential ingredients for enrollment success. And all must have leadership and follow-through from the top—the president.

 

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Dr. Scott D. Miller is President of Virginia Wesleyan College, Virginia Beach, VA. Previously, he was President of Bethany College, Wesley College, and Lincoln Memorial University. He is Chair of the Board of Directors of Academic Search, Inc.

Dr. Marylouise Fennell, RSM, a former president of Carlow University, is senior counsel for the Council of Independent Colleges (CIC) and principal of Hyatt Fennell, a higher education search firm.

They have collaborated on 13 books, including “President to President: Views on Technology in Higher Education” (Volumes I to III) and “Presidential Perspectives” (Volumes I to X). They edit the popular higher education thought series “President to President” (Sodexo).