Ensuring the Right ?Fit? with the Chief Enrollment Officer

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Marylouise Fennell,?Principal ,Hyatt-Fennell

Scott D. Miller,?President,?Virginia Wesleyan College

In the last issue of “Enrollment Manager,” we discussed?concluding and assessing the most recent recruitment cycle, and implementing an effective enrollment strategy for the coming year. ?Because turnover in chief enrollment officers often occurs at this time of year, too, it is important not to disrupt momentum.

Solid planning is a key to recruitment continuity, and essential in attracting the right vice president or dean of enrollment. ?Institutional Reviews can establish strategic priorities?including those impacting student recruitment and retention. ?We also believe, however, that a detailed assessment of the program should include identifying the most desirable qualifications for the chief enrollment officer.
To save time and resources, we suggest contracting with a reputable executive search firm with a proven enrollment search history to facilitate the match with the best candidate. Many of our colleagues have utilized John Dysart, President of The Dysart Group, for enrollment assessment. ?His firm typically devotes two weeks to historical data analysis before conducting an onsite visit. ?The data process steers the onsite visit. ?Once completed, the enrollment assessment can be utilized to locate the best executive “fit” for the college or university.

Executive Essentials

Chief enrollment officers should have demonstrated ability in the following areas:

  • A strategic and comprehensive vision of enrollment for undergraduate, graduate, adult- education, and non-traditional students.
  • An understanding of financial-aid policies and practices; compliance with all government, auditing, and accreditation requirements, and focused, results-oriented marketing strategies through aid packaging.? Particularly important are aid disbursement, preparation of summaries and reports, and strategic leverage of financial aid to maximize enrollment within net-revenue parameters.
  • Ability to work with marketing, media, and public-relations staff, as well as outside vendors, to produce a comprehensive and cost-effective marketing plan for enrollment?including tracking and evaluating cost benefits and making adjustments as necessary.
  • Leadership on the President?s Executive Council, providing timely updates, reports on new programs and activities, and discussion on the initiatives and goals of the division as they relate to the college?s strategic plan.
  • Appropriate interaction with the Board of Trustees and applicable Board committees for communication of initiatives, strategies, and progress.

Above all, he or she must be an active institutional spokesperson, a team builder, and an accomplished motivator who holds staff accountable.

?Transformational Vision Begins at the Top

We?ve written before on transformational presidential leadership. In such an environment, the relationship between the college president and the chief enrollment officer is crucial.? Because enrollment is the single most important revenue driver at most colleges and universities, and with competition becoming ever more intense, institutional viability depends on the success of that relationship.

In dozens of consultancies at institutions, we?ve found that all have at least one thing in common:? a proactive president who demonstrates commitment to a culture of recruitment and retention.

Dr. James L. Fisher, noted author and President-emeritus of the Council for Advancement and Support of Education, states, ?A transformational leader can be likened to the captain of a ship; others may steer the ship, but the captain must first chart a clear vision.? ?Presidents should develop such a vision, insist on best enrollment practices, and openly link recruitment and retention to the financial health of the college.

Although vision is vital, attention to detail is equally important.? Weekly reports from the chief enrollment officer should include:

  • An overall report that includes, but is not limited to, contacts, inquiries, applications, completed applications, acceptances, and?confirmations;
  • Individual reports for counselors and call-center personnel that include volume of contacts and conversions, and
  • Financial aid reports including, but not limited to, pre-awards, awards, and acceptances.

The effective president always has command of this information.

?Presidential expectations for the chief enrollment officer include setting realistic goals; energetic development of website and e-marketing (including social media), and strategic use of print media, direct mail, and the college?s first-year program.? Further, he or she must understand the vital role of research in analyzing trends in the volatile world of admissions and financial aid, the value of student orientation, and the necessity of retention and advising.

Finally, the effective chief enrollment officer must operate from a bottom-line perspective, focusing on the objectives of each component reporting to this area. ?When the president and the chief enrollment officer work together to combine big-picture and detail-oriented factors, successful outcomes are much more likely.


Dr. Scott D. Miller is President of Virginia Wesleyan College. 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 in Pittsburgh, PA, 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 IX). They edit the popular higher education on line thought series ?Presidential Perspectives? (Aramark Higher Education), now in its 10th year (www.presidentialperspectives.org).

?Both serve as consultants to college presidents and boards.

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