Consider Your Director of Financial Aid for the Position of Vice President for Enrollment Management

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John W. Dysart
The Dysart Group

Turnover is a given in higher education and these days there are more likely to be openings in enrollment management. Demographic challenges, competition and the decline in net revenue have forced many enrollment leaders to reconsider their career tracks and have many presidents seeking a change.

You can always take the traditional route of doing a national search for a new vice president for enrollment management. Candidates will surface and the bulk of them will apply with backgrounds and experience in admissions. There are limitations to taking the traditional route.

Just because someone has experience in admissions does not meet that their work at other institutions was successful. I am often amazed that candidates with decades of experience land new leadership roles when they have never proven to be effective in previous admission positions.

Even when candidates with significant experience in admissions have been successful, it does not mean that their experience is going to translate to your institution. Just because someone has consistently met enrollment objectives at a tier one public university, or a nationally known private college, does not mean that they have the kind of background necessary to lead a recruitment and retention effort at a small, rural college serving large numbers of at-risk students.

If you do not have an heir apparent currently working at your college or university, consider your Director of Financial Aid.

Your Director of Financial Aid brings institution-specific experience to the table. You will not need to spend time acclimating the individual to your campus culture and the individual will already be familiar with the students you serve.

Let’s face it. Financial aid is critical to enrollment management and it is time to bring leaders to the table who have a detailed knowledge of the intricacies of financial aid. So often, admission professionals with little knowledge about financial aid are placed in enrollment leadership roles. We should not overlook currently employed talent with a detailed, front-line knowledge of the importance of aid in both recruitment and retention.

The skill set for an effective Director of Financial Aid is exactly that needed for a Vice President for Enrollment Management:

• Attention to Detail

Financial aid professionals pay great attention to details in order to ensure compliance with often complex federal and state regulations related to financial aid administration.

• Data-Driven

Enrollment management is a data-driven enterprise and financial aid professionals are used to data-driven decision making. Your Director of Financial Aid may have been the driving force behind your financial aid award policy or leveraging formula to improve yield and retention while maximizing revenue.

• Broad Constituent Groups

Successful enrollment managers must be capable of working with a variety of other offices and concerned parties. Your Director of Financial Aid has likely worked with colleagues in the Admission Office, Registrar’s Office and Student Services. Managing endowed funds has likely exposed them to relationships with personnel in development and alums. Enforcing standards of satisfactory academic progress often involves working with faculty and other academic administrators.

• Recruitment is Easier than Financial Aid

Finally, an effective leader in enrollment must understand admission and financial aid. Of the two, financial aid is harder to learn.

Next time you have an opening for the leadership position in enrollment management, you may not need to conduct a regional or national search, hire a search firm or consider only internal candidates from your Admission Office. You night locate the perfect candidate down the hall in the Financial Aid Office.

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