Identifying Effective Enrollment Management Leaders
John W. Dysart, President
The Dysart Group
College and university Presidents are likely to be charged with securing new leadership in the enrollment management division at least once during their tenures. What exactly should Presidents be looking for in Chief Enrollment Officers or Vice Presidents for Enrollment Management? What are the right questions to ask? How should experience be evaluated? These are important questions to answer to hire effective leaders supervising recruitment and financial aid operations.
Obviously, a candidate with experience in admissions is preferable. If your chief enrollment officer is also charged with retention responsibilities then a track record in this area is also valuable. One skill set, often over-looked, is an understanding of financial aid. While your enrollment leader need not have a direct background as a financial aid officer, a basic understanding of financial aid, discount rates and the creation and tracking of institutional aid programs is helpful. Even significant experience in admissions and retention is dubious without a workable knowledge of financial aid.
Having worked in an Admission Office or Financial Aid Office or even having served as chief enrollment officer at another college or university or multiple institutions is insufficient. Presidents should also make a point of reviewing the outcomes at previous schools. Were the candidates able to grow the application pool? What percentage of admission applicants completed the admission process? Was the yield near or above national norms? Did enrollment remain steady? If your institution requires growth in enrollment, do the candidates have a record of increasing enrollment?
This information is available by reviewing the trends at the candidate’s previous institution(s) on IPEDS. I am surprised by the number of Presidents and search committees never bothering to check the outcomes for candidates on the Integrated Postsecondary Education Data Systems (https://nces.ed.gov/ipeds). You can also evaluate financial aid outcomes on this site.
If your open leadership position includes retention, IPEDS is another great source. On this site you can see retention trends and graduation rates. If your institution requires material increases in retention, see if your candidates have a track record of acceptable retention and graduation rates.
Experience and a track record of success are paramount. You must, however, keep your institutional mission in mind when selecting the right candidate. It is generally better to choose leaders who have demonstrated a commitment to your mission. A candidate from an elite college or university may not be the best fit at a college with essentially open admission standards. Candidates from schools that are not ethnically diverse may not be the right choice at a school where most enrollees are students of color.
Recruitment strategies, financial aid policies and retention tactics should be designed with specific student characteristics in mind. Retention approaches that have been effective at a tier-one public university may not translate at an open-door community college for example. Recruitment publications designed to appeal to third and fourth generation college students may not work at a college where most students come from families with little or no higher education experience.
This does not mean that candidates must have worked at a similar institution to be effective. It does, however, help.
Data-Driven Decision Making
The very best enrollment managers are focused on data. Data-driven decision making is critical. During the interview process, ask candidates to describe the content of their weekly admission, financial aid and retention reports. Which numbers and what trends do they evaluate weekly? Ask the candidates to provide two or three example of how data informed a new policy, strategy or tactic.
You will want to select an enrollment leader with whom you can work. The individual will need to have the kind of personality that will work well with not only the President, but the other cabinet members. You should ensure that the candidates meet with each member of the cabinet or leadership team.
Your chief enrollment officer is likely to have the greatest impact on recruitment, retention, your discount rate and net tuition revenue. It is important to be prepared for the interview process and conduct some research in advance.