Why Admission Reports are Important for Chief Academic Officers

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John W. Dysart
The Dysart Group, Inc.

More and more chief academic officers are asking to be included on the distribution list of weekly admission and financial aid reports. Others, who may have been on the distribution list for years, are now actually looking at the reports! Academic Vice Presidents, Deans and Provosts are beginning to understand that their operations are directly affected by the outcomes for the enrollment management division.

Chief academic officers are charged with many important responsibilities at small colleges and universities. Providing appropriate leadership on faculty selection and retention, curriculum development, student progression, section counts and institutional planning are sufficient to keep anyone busy for sixty hours per week. Despite the already significant demands on time and resources, I propose that chief academic officers must become more knowledgeable with regard to recruitment and financial aid. Staying on top of admission reports and institutional aid expenditures is important to inform academic decision making.

The number and type of new students recruited each year is essential for academic, administrative decision making. Whether your institution is poised to grow enrollment, remain stable or downsize, the direction influences academic planning. Chief academic officers can keep an eye on overall recruitment trends by watching just a few comparative numbers. Monitor the number of inquiries (prospects), applications, acceptances and deposits throughout the cycle. Tendencies in these four numbers are likely to indicate trends in new student enrollment. If the numbers are down, you may need to plan for retrenchment. If the numbers are up, you may need to think about additional faculty or at least increased course offerings.

These same numbers are vital to watch for academic quality. The key number here is the application count. Generally, the larger the applicant pool, the more selective a college or university can be. An institution seeking to improve academic quality is unlikely to do so unless it is able to significantly increase the number of applications. Declines in application counts may make maintaining current levels of academic preparation more difficult.

Specific academic quality can be monitored by looking at the high school grade point average, test score and class rank averages for both accepted and deposited admission applicants. Comparing these numbers throughout the cycle with the same numbers from previous years can be instructive. Levels of academic preparation can be useful to assist in predicting longer term retention outcomes, but are immediately relevant for faculty. Better knowledge regarding basic academic preparation can enable faculty to prepare instruction methods, remedial needs or high ability opportunities to meet the profile of the incoming class.

Diversity is important at many colleges and universities. Such trends can easily be seen in comparative format throughout the cycle. Monitor the numbers regarding ethnicity or gender in the inquiry pool, as well as the application, accepted and deposited pools.

More detailed reporting can assist in the evaluation of current program offerings. Pay close attention to the comparative recruitment numbers of underrepresented majors. If you have certain majors where enrollments are declining, you may want to find out from your colleagues in enrollment management what specific initiatives are being undertaken to address declines in particular academic areas. Perhaps there are opportunities for more direct participation in the recruitment process from faculty in departments where enrollments are on the decline.

I often work with chief academic officers, aid officers and faculty who are considering program expansion or the addition of new majors or minors and am continually surprised by how often such decisions are made without consultation from the experts on the recruitment side. Your colleagues in enrollment can help you identify national, regional or local demographic trends with regard to student interest in particular disciplines. You certainly do not want to add programs when there is no evidence to support student interest.

As you monitor recruitment numbers each year, consider offering some faculty presentations to representatives in the Admission Office each cycle. Faculty are uniquely qualifiedto assist admission counselors in better understanding the laudable attributes of your academic offerings. How are your institutional or departmental approaches to teaching methods competitive? How has technology been? incorporated into the curriculum? Are your faculty publishing interesting research or being recognized by peers? This type of information is not always effectively relayed to the people directly involved in describing the academic product to prospective students and their parents. Keeping an eye on institutional aid expenditures can also be useful. Every dollar spent in unfunded financial aid comes right out of the operating budget. Careful stewardship of scarce institutional resources is imperative. It is okay to ask questions and increase your understanding of how your college or university spends institutional financial aid funds.

It can also be interesting to occasionally ask for information on the ability of your students to pay. If your student population is primarily from low income families, you should know about it. While there may be little you wish to do or are able to do to change the economic strength of the students enrolled at your institution, knowledge of ability to pay is still important. Financial pressures are very real for students and can impact academic performance without proactive support.

It is not suggested that chief academic officers interfere or attempt to micromanage admission and financial aid operations. It is important, however, that academic leaders become more interested and knowledgeable on recruitment and financial aid trends in order to facilitate their own planning and decision making.

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