May 18, 2013
The Future is Now
Robert J. Massa
May 18, 2013
Thirty-nine years ago this month, I earned a masters degree in educational psychology from the University of Rochester and was offered a position in the admissions and financial aid office at Teachers College, Columbia University, where I would simultaneously pursue a doctorate in higher education. As I begin my fortieth year in college administration, doctorate long in hand, and with senior-level experiences at three colleges and one university, I have been witness to—indeed a part of – enormous change and growth in higher education.
During my years as dean of enrollment at Johns Hopkins University in the late 1980s and the 1990s, the Justice Department intervened to end the sharing of unit record financial aid data among “overlap” institutions, unwittingly fueling price wars that would inflate the cost of a college education and increase the price charged to all. But colleges and universities were not simply “victims” of federal intrusion through this and countless regulatory requirements that also increased the cost of delivering education. We paid close attention to the popular rankings – most notably USNews & World Report. We added faculty to keep our student/faculty ratio low, and administrators to recruit more applicants so we could appear more selective, to raise more money while focusing on a high alumni participation level, and to keep our students comfortable and happy with food court choices, suite-style living and the iconic “climbing wall.” In other words, we made our “product” (undergraduate education) more expensive to “produce” and “deliver.”
From 1999-2009, I had the privilege of serving Dickinson College as Vice President for Enrollment and College Relations. We had some “catch-up” work to do there – a newly renovated library, a fitness center, residence hall additions, a global education center, new science buildings, a home for our popular international business program, and a facility for a new Center for Sustainability. The buildings, and the programs and people that filled them, certainly made Dickinson more competitive and its undergraduate programs more in demand – but it also added to the cost of running the college. And of course, Dickinson was not the only college or university spending its way toward excellence. I cannot think of a single college president in the past four decades who was content with being just “ok.” All of us want to get better, and “better” costs.
Today, I serve my son’s alma mater, Lafayette College, as its Vice President for Communications. That’s a bit ironic, isn’t it? Every position I occupied in higher education since 1987 was a position that did not exist before I served in that role. Was there a “vice president for communications” at any college or university when I began my journey in 1974? I doubt it. But today, how we position ourselves in the public eye influences prestige, and prestige influences rankings, and rankings influence applications and selectivity, as well as alumni support. Someone had better be coordinating, in a strategic way, what we say about ourselves. Someone needs to manage communications in a crisis, as we learned all too well after Virginia Tech and Penn State, among others. And so it goes – we spend more money to hire more people to teach our students at “high touch” institutions, more folks to advance the resources of the college or university, and more to deliver services to students. No wonder the National Center for Education Statistics reported that the price for undergraduate tuition, fees, room and board at public institutions rose 42 percent, and at private colleges and universities, 31% from academic years 2001 to 2011 – in inflation adjusted dollars!
All of this makes perfect sense to someone who has been a part of this growth for his entire adult life. But to families of college-age children, the question of value plays a more important role than ever before in college selection. While “college cost” has been an issue for many years, the pitch of the concern has accelerated in the press and in the voices of parents heard by our staff members at college fairs, high school visits and college symposia. Worry about structural issues in our economy, and the resulting un- or under- employment, fuel the public’s angst about increasing college costs and higher student loan debt. College executives and boards are, of course, becoming increasingly concerned about the future, as they should be. ( As an aside, I recently read a New Yorker Magazine cartoon showing two business men talking. One said to the other, “In this economy, it is advisable to start each sentence with, ‘In this economy’…” How true!)
And of course, technology has inflated college costs significantly – just ask the college that finished a multi-year installation of fiber cables throughout the campus, only to find upon completion that it is now obsolete and a wireless network must be installed. Our insatiable appetite for more and better technology is clearly a cost driver today. But just around the corner – actually now at the front door – is on-line education and how that can be blended into traditional pedagogy to enhance quality at a lower price. Will the delivery of “free” content threaten the business model of every college and university? Or will consortia of like-minded college band together to deliver introductory, basic course content more efficiently. Either way, we are poised to see major changes in colleges and universities as we know them today.
It could be, for example, that not every college in a group of similar institutions needs to offer every program – that on-line sharing could compensate for each college needing to hire a specialist in a particular field. But what would this do to the student/faculty ratio, and how would USNews react? This is certainly an issue for college presidents and provosts who are trying to control costs while still being committed to quality.
When concerns about “college costs” were raised in the past, the “affordability” discussion typically focused not on how to reduce the cost, but on how to fund it through increased scholarships and financial aid. We are also taking deliberate steps to “communicate value,” as if a convincing spin of the benefits of a college education can hide the fact that it is so darn expensive. And while both of these strategies are necessary – help students through aid and demonstrate the value of the investment — they are hardly sufficient in addressing the meteoric rise in costs incurred and prices charged. The expense side of the equation must be addressed.
We are about to come to a jumping off point. How can college and universities control the growth in cost using technology and cooperation among like-minded schools (dare I say, “competitors”) to stabilize or perhaps decrease the rate of growth in the price we charge? Who will be strong and confident enough to ignore the impact of these important decisions on the rankings? Who will take a risk and reduce staff efforts to collect more and more applicants, and to discount heavily to impact enrollment choice and quality, again for the rankings? And who will cut back on all but the necessary student support services that address health, safety and academic preparedness? These are tough questions for which – as easy as they are to ask – I have no real answers. But I commend to you a recent publication from the Institute for Public Policy Research in Great Britain entitled An Avalanche is Coming: Higher Education and the Revolution Ahead (http://www.ippr.org/images/media/files/publication/2013/04/avalanche-is-coming_Mar2013_10432.pdf) by Michael Barber, Katelyn Donnelly and Saad Rizvi, with a foreword by Harvard President Emeritus Larry Summers.
Summers summarizes the issue quite succinctly:
The fundamental question in An Avalanche is Coming is whether a university education is a good preparation for working life and citizenship in the 21st century or, more precisely, whether it will continue to be seen as good value, given the remorseless rise in the cost of a university education over recent decades. For students, the question is immediate and challenging given the growing anxiety around the world about youth unemployment, even among college graduates. For policymakers, all kinds of new challenges are raised: how to promote meritocracy; how to regulate a sector that used to be national and is increasingly becoming global; how to ensure universities of the right sort combine with great cities to fuel innovation and economic growth; and how to break the rigid link – at least in people’s perceptions – between cost and quality.
For university leaders, the questions are more profound still. The authors argue that the obvious strategy – steady as she goes – is doomed to fail; the one thing you don’t do in the path of an avalanche is stand still! But what should you do? Does the curriculum need complete overhaul? What are the right models of teaching and learning now that the traditional lecture seems obsolete? Which students should be targeted? What global allowances will be necessary?
The authors of An Avalanche is Coming don’t answer these questions definitively but they most certainly put them on the agenda. Furthermore, Michael Barber’s argument about unbundling (NB: for example, content can be delivered from multiple sources; research can be conducted outside of the academy, community engagement can be offered outside of the university setting) needs to be studied and acted on by university leaders around the world. Those involved in thinking through the prospects for university education in the 21st century will find much to interest and provoke them here.
Just like the authors of “Avalanche,” I have no silver bullet to offer. So much for four decades of my life’s work! But I continue to be convinced that the American system of higher education is strong because it is diverse and it is expensive because we are motivated to become better and better at what we do. What we have done in higher education over the last forty years mirrors what we have experienced in our lives – a world without pay phones, printed street maps, typewriters, board games, record players – even CD players! The world has become a more expensive place in which to live in part because our lives are no longer as simple as they once were ( ok, I admit, the ‘70s aren’t really the good old days, but you get the point!).
But just because higher education has followed the trends in our society and in our economy doesn’t mean that those things that worked well in the 20th century will continue to work well in the 21st. We must begin to make the difficult decisions now, before we are forced to act. As Summers reflects: “…the obvious strategy – steady as she goes – is doomed to fail; the one thing you don’t do in the path of an avalanche is stand still!” The time for bold and creative leadership is upon us.
Robert J. Massa has served as Vice President for Communications at Lafayette College since July, 2009. In the two decades prior to joining his son’s alma mater, he was Dean of Enrollment at Johns Hopkins University and Vice President for Enrollment and College Relations at Dickinson College. Before that, he served in various admissions, financial aid and student services positions at Colgate University and Union College.
December 14, 2012
Dr. Massa is the vice president for communications at Lafayette College in Easton, Pa. He is a former dean of admissions and enrollment at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore and a former vice president for enrollment and college relations at Dickinson College in Carlisle, Pa.
When I speak with high school students and when I read press reports of the angst surrounding college admission, I sigh with an insider’s knowledge. I have worked in and around college admissions for almost 40 years. Parents and students need not be overly nervous about the college admission process unless the student decides to apply to a college for the wrong reason — because it’s “hard to get in,” or because everyone will be impressed.
What constitutes a more appropriate reason to apply?
Applicants may well achieve some degree of serenity by asking themselves — or permitting their families or teachers or friends to ask them — a question that is so obvious yet often overlooked: What is your learning style?
While there are several good inventories online that can help students understand how they learn best (see, for example, www.learning-styles-online.com/), high school students can also fashion such a questionnaire for themselves. What they discover in the process can then inform them as they set about identifying colleges and universities that might best match their learning needs..
Here are some good starter questions to prime that pump:
- How Do You Learn Best?
Are you an independent learner or do you need direction? Do you prefer to work alone or in teams? Who was your favorite teacher and why? Do you feel you learn best in big settings, like lecture halls, or smaller venues, like seminar rooms?
- How Do You Interact With Others?
Are you an initiator or a follower? What causes stress in your life and what results in enjoyment and productivity? Are you open and tolerant of differences, or do you prefer to be with people like you?
- What Are Your General Objectives?
You don’t have to know what you want to major in, or even what you want to do after college. But you should know what you enjoy learning about.
Answers to these three simple questions will help you understand yourself, and represent the first step in selecting the right college application set.
Once you understand yourself, it is important to find out how colleges approach teaching and learning in and out of the classroom.
So how do you cut through the college marketing clutter to discover this important characteristic?
- · Avoid ‘Shortcut Sources’
Never rely exclusively on one source, particularly shortcut sources such as rankings, guidebooks, and popular college review Web sites.
- · Drill Down Into the College Web Site
Glean all of the information you can from the main levels of the college’s Web site, but to really discover a college’s personality, drill down to the academic and social departmental level. Learn what the faculty members are doing in their classes and what projects they assign to students. And learn about how students run their own organizations by visiting the actual Web sites of those organizations.
- · Contact the College
After searching the college’s Web site, e-mail some faculty members and students who are doing things that interest you. Also use e-mail to contact your regional (or academic major area) admissions representative and introduce yourself by asking a well-researched question.
- · Follow Along Online
Follow events on campus and what students and prospective students are saying about the college, its programs and its people by reading the student newspaper online and experiencing the college through Facebook.
- · Visit the Campus
Once you have done your homework, visit. Stay overnight, talk with students about their experiences, speak with faculty about what they expect from their students and how they involve students in their work, and of course, speak with your admissions counselor.
The college selection process does not have to be stressful if you focus on what is really important, embarking on a fearless path of self-discovery and a probing assessment of institutional characteristics. Once you have done this well, your application set will not only make sense, but you will find that your choices in April are broader and more acceptable than you would ever have imagined.
November 9, 2012
Every year, almost 10,000 women in Pennsylvania are diagnosed with breast cancer. The PA Breast Cancer Coalition was formed to provide support and education for women with breast cancer. In addition, PBCC is also constantly working towards a cure.
Founded by a group of breast cancer survivors almost 20 years ago, the PA Breast Cancer Coalition holds a variety of events and programs in the service of the cause. One event is the annual Take a Swing Against Breast Cancer Home Derby. This event has raised over $400,000 for women. Another event is the Traveling Photo Exhibit, which is funded by the Pennsylvania Department of Health. This itinerant art project, which travels to each of the 67 counties in Pennsylvania, celebrates and tells the stories of the lives of breast cancer survivors.
Finally, each year in October, PBCC holds an annual conference in Harrisburg, hosting workshops by physicians, surgeons, bio-medical researchers, public health officials, lawyers, and fundraising advocates. The conference affords survivors and newly diagnosed patients alike the opportunity to learn, network, and get involved. The PBCC offers a limited number of travel grants, as well as full and partial Cary Massa Memorial Scholarships for the PA Breast Cancer Coalition Conference. They encourage anyone who needs assistance in paying for attendance to the conference to apply, although priority is given to breast cancer survivors. More information can be found at http://www.pabreastcancer.org/annual_conf/scholarships.
About Robert Massa: Dr. Massa became a passionate advocate for breast cancer charities after losing his wife of 27 years to the disease in 2006.
October 22, 2012
Because it spans a cross-section of complex university activities including student recruitment and retention, academic services, alumni relations, budgeting and physical plant, enrollment management requires thorough planning and a commitment from the highest levels of the university. The strategic enrollment management (SEM) handbook produced by the Educational Policy Institute provides useful guidelines for planning by dividing the process into six phases (see http://www.educationalpolicy.org/publications/default.htm). Executing a properly completed plan should result in a stable enrollment of students who are “right” for the institution and who, in the aggregate, provide the net revenue required to meet budgetary demands.
During the first phase, the contours of a plan are established. These contours help to guide the process towards a formal strategic plan for enrollment management. The second phase consists of molding the plan contours to fit the institution’s framework of core beliefs and value systems. Tactical moves, necessary to make the plan operational, begin in the next phase with an institutional self-assessment through a SWOT analysis. The fourth phase consists of developing a vision that combines the first two phases together and tempers it with the reality developed during the SWOT analysis.
Subsequent phases are concerned with developing operational details. Thus, the fifth phase crystallizes the vision developed during the earlier phases into a set of tasks, and the final phase consists of “operationalizing” those tasks by assigning them to various stakeholders and departments, and by designating budget targets for each task.
All plans must have appropriate benchmarks and assessment methods, and must be revised based on these assessments and the cost to achieve the desired goals. For more information on Strategic Enrollment Management, see http://robertmassa1.wordpress.com/2012/05/31/strategic-enrollment-management-a-review/.
About the author:
Having worked in the field for four decades, Robert J. Massa is an expert on enrollment management practice and techniques.
October 10, 2012
By Robert J. Massa
This week, the Supreme Court will take up the issue of affirmative action in college admissions. It will not be the first time. Time and again, from the original Bakke case in the 1970s to the University of Michigan case in the 2000s, the Supreme Court has held that race may be one factor in college admissions, especially (as in the Michigan case) when an affirmative action policy is narrowly tailored to address past discrimination.
Unquestionably, race continues to be a charged issue in our society. Use it as one factor to determine who is admitted to a college, and tempers flare. Cries of “FOUL” can be heard everywhere. Lawsuits are filed.
The plaintiff in the University of Texas case, herself a Texan, could not qualify for admission based on being in the top 10% of her high school class. Three-quarters of the undergraduates at the University of Texas are admitted that way. Instead, she competed for a spot in the freshman class of 2008 on a “holistic basis” with other students who ranked lower in their high school class. Here, many other factors are considered outside of grades and test scores. Diversity of the student body is likely one goal that is sought through this candidate evaluation.
I have been an administrator at private colleges and universities for almost four decades. Granted, admissions offices at private colleges operate under a somewhat different mandate than those at public institutions. But the principles are similar. We are trying to admit not only the “best class” academically, but one that is vibrant, exciting, diverse and talented. Diverse, of course, means not only skin color, but geographic diversity, diversity of interests and diversity of talents. Basically, we attempt to build a community of individuals who will learn from and with each other. When we are different from one another, our traditional beliefs are challenged, our comfort zone is stretched and our learning is deepened.
Admission to college has never been exclusively about curriculum, grades and test scores. Are these important factors? You bet they are. We surely do not want to admit students whose background ill prepares them for what they will encounter in college. But among those students who can be successful at our institutions are those with special talents (a quarterback or a oboe player), those who bring a different geographic perspective (an east coast college seeking Nebraskans or students from center city Philadelphia), those who are underrepresented in certain fields (women in engineering) and, dare I say it, those who have a family connection. Typically there are no “quotas,” but rather a guiding admissions philosophy that seeks to “sculpt” an interesting and well-qualified class out of qualified applicants.
Affirmative Action can certainly be abused. But when used appropriately, as I believe it is in a vast majority of institutions, Affirmative Action policies can provide opportunities to qualified and highly motivated students who have grown up without access to advantages afforded to others from wealthier families. When we have diversity in all of its forms on the nation’s college campuses, we all benefit.
Robert J. Massa is Vice President for Communications at Lafayette College. Prior to joining Lafayette, Robert Massa spent a decade as Dean of Enrollment at Johns Hopkins University and another ten years as the VP for Enrollment and College Relations at Dickinson College.
August 19, 2012
by Robert J. Massa
(Adapted from a chapter written by the author in College Unranked, Lloyd Thacker, ed., The Education Conservancy, 2004)
I have worked in an around college admissions for almost 40 years at some excellent schools—Colgate University and Union College in New York, Johns Hopkins University in Maryland, and Dickinson and Lafayette Colleges in Pennsylvania.
I also had the parental experience of going through the college admission process with my two children, nine and eleven years ago. Neither of my children took SAT prep courses and neither were uptight about the college admissions process. So why did I not pressure my kids to the max, to strive for the “top of the top,” and to position themselves to the so-called “best” colleges? Because I know that of the 2400 four-year colleges and universities in this country, there are at least 50 schools that would be great places for my children – where they could grow and develop; where they can engage; where, with the help[ of a caring faculty, they can find a voice that will serve them well in their future and where they can do so in an environment that encourages risk without the fear of “blowing it.” And these schools do not necessarily coincide with the top 10 as ranked by US News and World Report. My childfree and their parents were more interested in substance than in status.
By the way, my son taught me the importance of substance early in his college search when a scheduling conflict forced him to make a decision about AP vs regular calculus. His SATs and grades were strong, and even though I knew colleges would prefer to see the AP class, I encouraged him to make his choice based on what he wanted to do. Ultimately, he chose to take the class that conflicted with AP calculus. “Look, Dad,” he said. “If a college isn’t going to admit me because I took regular calculus rather than AP, then I don’t want to go to that college!” Case closed. He was “walking the walk,” and I was pleased.
When I speak with high school students and when I read press reports of the angst surrounding college admission, I sigh with an insider’s knowledge of the process at some pretty selective schools. There is absolutely no reason for parents and students to be nervous about the college admission process unless the student decides to apply to a college for the wrong reason—because its “hard to get in,” or because every one will be impressed. What a terrible way to pursue a higher education, and what a misguided definition of success we have developed as a society! Is it more important to look impressive than to be impressive? Is it more valuable to have a “wow” window sticker than to make the most out of a college experience that actually fits your personality, learning style and educational objectives?
“To be, rather than to seem,” was the family motto of John Dickinson, the 18th century Pennsylvania governor for whom Dickinson College was named. I fear that too many students and parents are concerned about “seeming” rather than “being.” I do not think they even realize this, but their behavior – stressing admission to the “best” colleges, prepping for the all-important SAT, pushing grades, AP classes and activities as a means rather than an end, applying undue pressure to win the “prize – belies the fact.
US News is not the cause of the problem, though their ranking system that has become the quick fix of the admission world is partially to blame. Rather, we as parents reinforce the image of success in our children that results in an obsession with name brands from cars to clothes to colleges. How can we halt this?
Know yourself first
So obvious, yet so often overlooked, self-knowledge is really the first step in the college selection process. While there are several good learning style inventories on line (see one for free at www.learning-styles-online.com/ ), simply asking and answering a few key questions will help get a student started on this essential step.
1. How do you learn best?
Are you an independent learner or do you need direction?
Example: When your history teacher assigns a paper, do you prefer a general topic that lets you explore and go in any direction you want? OR, do you prefer specific instructions such as, “ the introduction must be at least a page long in which you state your thesis, followed by three pages of developing your argument, three pages of defining your thesis, and a one page conclusion?”
*Are you inquisitive or accepting?
Example: If a teacher makes a statement in class, or describes a mathematical formula or proof, do you write it down and move on, OR do you prefer to think about it and question the teacher if it doesn’t make sense to you?
*Do you prefer to work alone or in teams?
Example: Do you find that working with a lab partner, where you can learn from each other (but where you are graded by your joint work) is more productive than studying and memorizing lab notes?
*Are you an active or passive learner?
Example: Do you learn more by being engaged in the process, where you have to think and are often “put on the spot” by teachers? OR, do you prefer the teacher to simply tell you what you must know to do well on the exam?
*Do you prefer a structured or an unstructured learning environment?
Example: Do you need the teacher to tell you exactly what to do and when, in order to pace yourself and learn? OR, do you learn best when the teacher gives you a broad overview of what the class objectives are and leaves it to you to figure out how to get there, asking for direction only when you must?
2. How do you interact with others?
*Are you an initiator or a follower?
Example: If you are interested in the martial arts, but your school does not have a club, will you start one by getting support from other students and the school? OR, will you be content to join the wrestling club?
*What causes stress in your life and what results in enjoyment and productivity?
Example: Are you fulfilled when there are not enough hours in the day to do everything you want to do, or does that stress you out?
*Do you prefer to interact in organized groups with a purpose, or informal groups to “hang out?”
Example: Would you rather be with a few friends and figure out what to do together, or do you prefer organized activities?
*Are you open and tolerant of differences, or do you prefer to be with “people like me?”
Example: If you are a “heavy metal” fan, are you likely to go to an orchestra concert just to experience it?
3. What are your general objectives?
*You don’t have to know what you want to major in, or even what you want to do after college. You should, however, know what you enjoy learning about.
Example: Are you more verbal, enjoying more subjective areas such as literature or history, or do you prefer the more “concrete” or quantitative areas of study?
*Who (not what) do you want to be?
Example: Who we are is determined long before we go to college, but we have a chance to further develop that “who” in college. Is service important to you? How about an appreciation for the arts? Do things international excite you? Knowing who you want to become makes it easier to find a college that will fully help you to become that person.
Answers to these three simple questions — how you learn best; how you interact with others; what are your objectives – will help you understand yourself, and represent the first step in selecting the right set of colleges or universities.
Get to know a college’s “personality”
Colleges and universities have “personalities” like we do. Among the typical characteristics:
Small or large / public or private
Residential or commuter / rural, urban, suburban
Teaching or research focus
Undergraduate or graduate student focus
Nurturing or competitive environment
Hands on learning, small seminars and community engagement, or lectures
Diverse or homogeneous population
Big-time athletics or emphasis on varsity “student athlete”
Large fraternity/sorority presence or predominantly “independent” campus
These are obvious enough, but it is legitimate to ask, particularly with so much being sent to students by colleges, “How do I discover a college’s personality?”
1. Use multiple sources
Example: Never rely exclusively on one source, particularly shortcut siources sources such as rankings, guidebooks, word of mouth and college review web sites such as “College Confidential” and “College Prowler.”
2. Counselors and teachers
Example: They can help you develop a list of possible colleges that fit your interests, your style and your academic profile.
3. Use the College’s Website
Example: Among other things, the Web is a marketing tool, so be careful. Glean all of the information you can from the main levels of the college’s website, but to really discover a college’s personality, drill down to the academic and social departmental level. Learn what the English faculty are doing in their classes and what students majoring in public policy do as their projects. See how faculty and students do cutting edge research together. Get a sense of how teachers teach and how students learn. And learn about how students run their own organizations by visiting the actual websites of those organizations.
4. Use email to your advantage
Example: After searching the college’s website, email some faculty and students who are doing things that interest you. Also use email to contact your regional (or academic major area) admissions representative and introduce yourself by asking a well researched question.
5. “Like” the college’s Facebook pages
Example: Follow events on campus and what students and prospective students are saying about the college, its programs and its people. Just like reading the student newspaper on-line, experiencing the college through Facebook can give prospective students a real sense of what it is like to be on campus.
6. Once you have done your homework, VISIT
Example: After you have a reasonably good picture of how the personality and the program of a college or university matches your style and the needs, get yourself to campus. Stay overnight, talk with students about their experiences, speak with faculty about their expectations of their students and how they involve students in their work, and of course, speak with your admissions counselor. If you go to a program sponsored by the admissions office, take some time to speak with students and faculty who are NOT a part of the program. This will help you determine whether what you are seeing from the program the program translates to reality on campus.
7. Be subjective in your assessments
Example: Don’t include or exclude a college from your list because of a good or bad tour guide, because of what your friends say, or because your uncle “never heard of that school.” You must look at the college or university as a whole — looking at all of its resources – to see how it meets your objectives.
8. Choose six to eight “first choices”
Example: One of my good college counseling colleagues advised her students that they should not select a college until a college selects them. It makes little sense, therefore, to rank order your applicant group. Instead, select the colleges to which you will apply knowing you would be thrilled to attend any one of them if you are admitted (and if it is affordable). There is plenty of time to rank order after admission, but if you select your colleges right, you can’t go wrong when the final decision is in your hands.
A final word
Nation-wide, only about half of the students entering a four-year college or university graduate. While the rate is typically much higher at highly selective colleges, it nevertheless tells us that many students select colleges for the wrong reasons. The substance of the experience, and how a particular institution fits student needs, should be of paramount concern. For example, so many students never consider a small liberal arts college (vs. a large university) because even the “best” of these smaller institutions are much less visible than their university counterparts. These schools aren’t for everyone, to be sure, but they would undoubtedly benefit far more students than ever apply.
I did not discuss Early Decision in this essay – that is a topic in an of itself. For comments on ED, see my recent New York Times op ed piece at http://thechoice.blogs.nytimes.com/2010/12/13/the-case-for-early-decision/ . Suffice it to say that if a student does what I have recommended, a number one choice could certainly emerge early. If it does, ED may be appropriate – but only if the student has been thorough in his or her work.
The college selection process does not have to be stressful if students and parents focus on what is really important. In fact, while the “top” universities may be the right match, you are unlikely to know that for sure unless you embark on a fearless path of self-discovery and a probing assessment of institutional characteristics. Once you have done this well, your application set will not only make sense, but you will find that your choices in April are broader and more acceptable than you would ever have imagined.
July 10, 2012
adapted from Lafayette Magazine, Summer 2012
More on Value
Five years before I arrived as the VP for Communications, my son chose to attend Lafayette over another very fine liberal arts college. As a high school student, he was bright, and his academic performance showed it, but he was interested as much in hanging out as in studying. At Lafayette, my son Dan underwent a transformation, helped most especially by his adviser, who invited him to apply to the EXCEL Scholars program, and then by two emeriti professors, in their labs. These great professor-mentors helped Dan develop a passion for solving problems, working with others in cross-disciplinary teams, and writing his observations for publication in professional journals. Dan also experienced choral and a capella music, club volleyball, and admissions work. He landed a job immediately after graduation and embarked on a career and a way of living that makes it easy to see why the value of a Lafayette education is real to me.
But don’t take my word for it. In its College Salary Report this year, PayScale, the Seattle-based compensation data company, places Lafayette fifth in starting median salary among the nation’s liberal arts colleges. And this spring, Bloomberg Businessweek’s in-depth report on the value of a college degree places Lafayette 17th among 1,248 colleges and universities nationally, and 2nd among liberal arts colleges, in net 30-year return on investment. Lafayette’s personalized, “hand-tooled” education that crosses disciplinary boundaries pays handsome dividends. And of course, the value is not only in the salaries our graduates earn, but in the quality of life they enjoy.
A recent national survey commissioned by the Annapolis Group also shows that graduates of liberal arts colleges offer a strong and demonstrable yes to three big questions in the current discussion about higher education: Is it worth the cost? Does the residential learning experience matter? Does a college degree make a difference in the job hunt and career advancement?
As a parent of a graduate and a member of the college administration, I am proud to say that Lafayette and liberal arts colleges nationally continue to position themselves as an excellent value in higher education.
Robert J. Massa
Vice President for Communications
June 15, 2012
by Robert J. Massa
Ten college and university presidents met with Vice President Biden at the White House earlier this month to announce their voluntary endorsement of a uniform financial aid award letter that would provide students with clearer, more transparent and accurate information about how much they will have to pay – now, and in the future — for their college education.
The initiative is an effort to discourage students from financially over-extending themselves, and beginning in the 2013-14 school year students applying to any of these institutions will be given a one-page cost or “shopping sheet” prepared by the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. The sheet will include the full price of a year at college, including an estimate for books and personal expenses. This is nothing revolutionary as far as I’m concerned, as I’ve always worked for colleges that disclosed this information. But what will be of value is the part that breaks out grants from loans and work-study income, and shows students the long-term implications of borrowing by estimating monthly payments after graduation.
This initiative has received a lot of press recently. While its intentions toward financial transparency are good, it’s still, as Neil Armstrong once said, only “one small step.” But it is a step in the right direction.
One can argue that even standardized forms can be confusing, especially those created by government agencies (I know; hard to believe, but true). What’s not included on the standardized form is how much the college has determined a family should pay toward annual costs after analyzing their financial aid application (FAFSA or PROFILE). Therefore, the first item on the form might read:
“Based on the information provided on your application for financial aid, your family contribution for the coming year is $X. This leaves a remaining need of $X, based on the cost of attendance listed below. This letter will outline your options in meeting the remaining need.”
Here’s what else needs to be changed:
1. The form calculates how much a family will pay for one year by subtracting the total grant and scholarship amount from the full cost (including books and personal expense estimates) of attending the institution. This is not quite accurate as loans reduce the amount owed out-of pocket for that year. A better descriptor might be “Price after Grants and Scholarships.”
2. The form lists loans and work-study options. To lessen confusion, it would be more accurate to include ONLY subsidized loans that would be part of a need-based financial aid package. Unsubsidized student loans and parent loans should be listed as “optional.”
3. The “How much you owe after graduation” section should first provide an estimate of the monthly payments a student would make if the full amount of a subsidized student loan is borrowed in each of the four years. Rather than lumping together all loans, federal unsubsidized and private loans should be listed separately as they are discretionary and not used to meet need (unless gaps are built into the financial package). Estimates should be made for those payments, separate from the need-based loans, acknowledging that it is often a family choice to borrow to fund all or part of the expected family contribution.
Finally, although the above suggestions would give families a clearer understanding of their total financial obligation, they are simply tweaks of a disclosure statement that is fundamentally a good one. If we really want to address the issue of student debt, however, we need to start with addressing the always-increasing price tag of a four-year degree. This will require a “giant leap” that can occur only when colleges take control of their own rising costs. Some costs, such as heath care and energy, are out of the colleges’ control. But others, such as pinpointing programs and services to discontinue before adding new ones, must be tackled. Campus politics often work against this, but consumer pocketbooks will force the issue.
For many, it will be a “giant leap” of faith into a brave new world.
Robert Massa is vice president for communications at Lafayette College in Easton, PA. The views expressed in this article are those of the author and not necessarily those of the College.
June 6, 2012
by Robert J. Massa
Five years before I would join the Lafayette College staff, my son Dan chose Lafayette over a larger university. It changed his life.
As a high school student, my son was arguably bright but more interested in “hanging out” than studying. At a college of 2400 students where professors work only with undergraduates, he was transformed, first by his advisor, and then by two research professors in their laboratories. These great professor-mentors took my son and developed a curiosity in him to solve problems, to work with others in cross-disciplinary teams and to write his observations in a publishable format. He not only landed a job immediately after graduation, but he embarked on a career and a way of living that was worth every penny I paid, and then some! Add to that his experience in choral and a capella music, his experience on the men’s volleyball club team, and his work for the admissions office and it is easy to see why the value of a Lafayette education is real to me.
But don’t take my word for it. PayScale, the Seattle-based compensation data company, placed my son’s small college fifth in the nation among liberal arts colleges for starting salaries. Using PayScale data, Bloomberg Business Week placed it17th among 1,248 colleges and universities nationally, and 2nd among liberal arts colleges, in net 30-year return on investment. This is a powerful endorsement for a small college that offers a personalized, “hand-tooled” education that crosses disciplinary boundaries. It pays handsome dividends, not only in the salaries graduates earn, but in the quality of life they enjoy.
Most of my career was devoted to college admissions and financial aid. Although I understood price concerns, it always frustrated me when parents and prospective students tried to “bargain” for a better financial deal: “X College gave me this much; what are you going to do?” I began to wonder, particularly in the later years, if anyone really cares about value.
Price, of course, is only one component of value, but other factors include program strength, faculty commitment, alumni accomplishments, mentoring, facilities, campus life opportunities and peers. Education is an investment in one’s future – long term gains outpace short term “losses,” i.e. a higher annual price tag for college. This may be lost on a generation of students and parents understandably concerned about the up-front financial outlay. What does this suggest for the future?
Small colleges must collaborate with other colleges, universities and the private sector to increase value and control costs. We must explore the possibilities of using technology in collaboration with others to deliver some content in cost-effective ways without compromising our mission and purpose. But at the end of the day, parents will be willing to pay, according to their ability, only for what they perceive will be added value over a less expensive alternative for their children’s future.
My job is to convey value through stories about people and their successes while at college and after graduation. We must always be concerned, however, about cost and the impact it has on the price we must charge and on our ability to provide access to excellence. There are challenging times ahead. Colleges that position themselves well will meet those challenges with considerable success.
Robert J. Massa is vice president for communications at Lafayette College inEaston, PA.
May 31, 2012
by Robert J. Massa
In July of 1974, I began my career in what I thought was college admission and financial aid. Later that year, up the coast from New York, Frank Campanella and Jack Maguire of Boston College began talking internally about “enrollment management” as a means to secure and sustain student enrollments, thereby helping to assure a steady income flow to the institution and to enhance the quality of students and of their experience at the college and beyond. It was to be a way of looking at enrollments in a broader context than that of admissions alone (Henderson, 2001). And it turned out to be a process of integrating existing functions that often worked at cross purposes rather than synergistically. Whether “enrollment management” changed the nature of college admissions, student life and alumni affairs, or whether the environment that was thrust upon us in the eighties and nineties did that with “enrollment management” as a strategic response, is less important than the fact that student recruitment and retention would be changed forever.
Campanella and Maguire were, as the popular commercial goes, “ahead of the curve.” Enrollments were surging at American colleges and universities in the seventies, and the demand for higher education resulted in a significant investment in building and expanding colleges and universities in the independent and public sectors. There seemed to be little need, particularly at some of the nation’s oldest institutions, to be concerned about issues other than the “gatekeeper” function. But some schools were beginning to notice or at least predict changing pressures. I recall, fondly now, an article I wrote for a 1978 edition of the Colgate Scene (my employer’s alumni magazine) predicting that demand for higher education would drop off once our total price tag exceeded $10,000! That we were thinking this way back then demonstrates, in retrospect, that the seeds of enrollment management were planted even though, at that point, I had not even heard the term.
Although the number of high school graduates declined 15% from 1976 to1986 (Powell, 1987), predictions of vast enrollment declines in the 1980s never materialized, in part because of increases in college participation rates. Still, organizing for enrollment management was not the typical institutional response during the early part of the eighties. Rather, colleges and universities began to shift their missions and established “cash-cow” continuing education programs that would help to fund their primary enterprise. By 1992, the US Department of Education had revised upward its college enrollment projections for the next 10 years (Chronicle of Higher Education, 1/22/92), though increases were projected to be modest for the first half of that period. Interestingly, it was at about this time that enrollment management began to gain in popularity. The devil, of course, was in the details. Increases in the number of high school graduates would occur regionally – primarily in the south and the west – and also within certain minority groups. Coincidentally, the same issue of the Chronicle reported on the results of the annual freshman survey out of the Higher Education research Institute at UCLA. The headline read: “More Freshmen Say They Are Choosing Colleges Based on Cost.” Sound familiar?
Other environmental factors contributed to the rise of enrollment management. Few would have predicted upon the publication in 1983 of the first college rankings by US News & World Report that ten (and now 20) years later, colleges would be positioning themselves strategically to fare well in this annual popularity context. And the application declines that many independent colleges experienced in the early nineties served to jump-start new ways of looking at student recruitment. Colleges began to realize that it was much less expensive to retain a student than to recruit one (never mind one rose in the rankings with a higher graduation rate) and that positive and successful educational and social experiences in college translated to more satisfied alumni.
What is Enrollment Management?
Definitions of enrollment management abound in the literature, but none is more comprehensive than that forwarded in 1990 by Hossler and Bean in their book, The Strategic Management of College Enrollments. Enrollment management is:
an organizational concept and a set of activities designed to enable colleges and universities to exert more influence over their enrollments. Organized by strategic planning and supported by institutional research, enrollment management activities concern student college choice, student retention and student outcomes. These processes are studied to guide campus practices in the areas of new student recruitment and financial aid, student support services, curriculum development and other academic areas that affect enrollments, student persistence and student outcomes from college.
Of course, today we understand that enrollment management is more than an organizational concept – it is also a process, through whatever structure makes sense to a particular institution, that enables disparate departments to work together synergistically toward the improvement of services that, in turn, allows for the strategic management of enrollments. It is active and purposeful – not only allowing institutions to “exert more influence over their enrollments,” as Hossler and Bean correctly state, but also to manage the process of recruiting the right students at the right cost, retaining them with programs and services that meet their needs while enrolled, and connecting them to the institution forever as alumni. Strategic enrollment management is, in the purest sense of the phrase, a “cradle to grave” process.
Organizing for Enrollment Management
Much has been written about effective structures for carrying out enrollment management. Hosler and Bean (1990) describe Kemerer, Baldridge and Green’s discussion on this topic. Generally, enrollment management can be structured in at least four ways:
1 The EM Committee, where faculty, students and select administrators gather on a weekly basis to share information and analyze trends that inform institutional planning. This form could be led by a faculty member, an admissions officer or a student affairs administrator. Advantages include educating all members about marketing and student retention. Disadvantages include a lack of authority and continuity.
2 The EM Coordinator, who is charged with overseeing recruitment and retention activities but without line responsibility for the component parts of enrollment management. In this model, a mid-level administrator is charged with the task of bringing academic and student life programs into the equation of strategic thinking about enrollments – a tall task for anyone, let alone a mid-level manager.
3 The EM Matix, that usually tasks a senior level administrator with bringing together the directors of departments such as admissions, financial aid, advising, registrar, research and student life to analyze enrollment and retention trends, set goals and discuss strategies to achieve them. In this model, department heads retain their traditional reporting lines. It can be an effective tool for identifying and accomplishing institutional objectives because it has support from the top levels of the administration. But it can also be ineffective if senior administrators to which the component departments report do not agree on a set of common principals (for example, viewing financial aid as a “budget” not be exceeded vs. a tool to maximize net tuition revenue).
4 The EM Division, headed by a VP for enrollment management responsible for all of the component parts. While this model carries with it the most institutional support, it is indeed rare that this VP will have all the necessary departments within his or her jurisdiction. The academic affairs division may, for example, have authority over records, registration and advising. The student affairs division may have jurisdiction over housing policy and support services. The athletic director, who influences the recruitment of student athletes and thus plays a significant role in the marketing of the institution and on its graduation rates, may report directly to the president or provost. On the whole, however, the divisional approach can be the most effective (albeit the most costly) in that the head of that division is “at the table” with senior staff when decisions are made that will influence enrollments, revenue and outcomes.
There is no “best” organization for enrollment management. Much depends on institutional preferences and climate. But it is clear that for enrollment management to work – that is for institutional objectives to be achieved – assessment, planning and institution-wide budgeting must be integrated. In an unpublished paper entitled, “The Enrollment Management Organization,” Jonas and Popovics (1999) forward a “fifth” type of organization that essentially combines the structure of the EM Division with the synergy of the EM Matrix. In the “EMO,” the EM division shares enrollment management responsibilities with those in other divisions, particularly academic and student affairs. This, in many ways, can compensate for the fact that the VP for Enrollment Management rarely has all of the core components for effective enrollment management within the division. It can address the typical recruitment, marketing, retention and advising functions while also involving other administrative officers who can impact graduation rates, student outcomes and alumni involvement. All this said, at the end of the day, the best enrollment management organization is the one that works for your institution.
Core Enrollment Management Competencies
Enrollment management is a profession, and professionals need an appropriate skill set to lead and manage. Enrollment mangers must therefore learn and develop core competencies in order to successfully manage institutional enrollments at every stage. These include:
1 A knowledge of institutional and national enrollment trends
2 Effective leadership and an understanding of motivation strategies and collaborative decision making
3 An ability to design and lead a strategic enrollment management plan effort institution-wide, including the role of assessment and evaluation
4 An ability to build and/or use enrollment projection models at each stage of the enrollment process (suspect to prospect; prospect to applicant; applicant to accept; accept to enroll; enroll to graduation)
5 A knowledge of the relationship between price and enrollment
6 An ability to conduct and implement a marketing plan
7 A service orientation
8 Data analysis and interpretation skills
9 Knowledge of research design and statistics
10 An understanding of the relationship between research and data to marketing and modeling
11 Knowledge of management theory
12 An ability to understand how technology can impact enrollments at every stage – recruitment, retention and alumni relationships.
13 An understanding of student characteristics, values and demographic trends
14 A knowledge of student development theory and practice, critical to retention issues.
15 A knowledge of academic advising, and patterns of student course-taking to prepare for a career or graduate school, also important to retention.
Rarely will all of these competencies be present in one person. The successful enrollment manager, therefore, will learn how to surround him or herself with staff and faculty whose collective talents will be brought to bear on these competencies. As a result, leadership and “coaching,” become important talents. The enrollment manager will know how to link various campus functions together as they impact and influence enrollment, net revenue, student experiences, institutional image and alumni support.
Characteristics of Successful Enrollment Management
It is critical to understand the basic purposes of enrollment management before defining what makes it “successful.” Enrollment management is concerned with the number and quality of the student body, the net revenue to the institution, student experiences that lead to graduation and outcomes, and the image and “position” of the institution in the minds of various publics, including prospective students and parents, high school teachers and administrators, current students and parents, alumni and the media. It is influenced by institutional mission, the type and quality of academic programs, the student life environment, the ways in which students are recruited, how the institution is priced and how financial aid is used and, even for independent colleges, the impact of public policies.
In order to be successful, enrollment management must be linked with strategic planning. It must be data driven and analytical, though the policies and practices that emerge from enrollment management must always be consistent with institutional mission and vision. Massa (2001) states that institutions must plan early and frequently in order to prosper and that, as a part of the planning process, they must constantly assess their progress. For that assessment to work, colleges must be “nimble enough” to move quickly when the environment changes or when goals have not been met.
Strategic enrollment planning requires strong leadership. Sevier (1998) tells us that “plan leaders” must be committed to listening carefully, thinking critically and acting boldly. They must earn the trust of those who can effect change by articulating a clear institutional direction and by achieving consensus, based on institutional mission, of long- and short-term goals. Beckwith (2000) adds that plan leaders must communicate a “compelling reason” for being. It is this compelling reason – or the attitude that we have no choice but to excel – that motivates staff to achieve.
Planning, of course, is just the beginning. A plan is of little value if it sits on a shelf or if it is not funded to allow its execution. Therefore, in order to be successful, additional characteristics must be in place:
1 Enrollment management needs the healthy involvement of the president and provost providing support and general direction (not micro-management).
2 Departments from across the institution must work together synergistically to refine mission and to develop a distinctive institutional identity.
3 The structure of EM must make sense for the institution in order for it to work.
4 Systems must be developed – technological and human – guided by strategic planning and data.
5 The institution must commit itself to a purposeful research orientation, studying impacts of various college policies on results and then using this information to guide future decisions.
6 Risk-taking must be encouraged at all levels, and creative thinking and “connecting the dots” must be the norm. Rarely is a decision irreversible, and staff must believe that occasional failure will not be punished.
7 High staff morale and commitment, even under pressure, is essential. This stems from staff involvement in planning, implementation and evaluation.
8 Successful EM requires a people orientation and a service attitude among all faculty, staff, students and alumni.
9 Leadership in enrollment management must be action oriented; successful leaders will gather information, process it and make decisions based on facts, knowledge and instinct.
10 Enrollment managers must share information in order for it to have value, and they must be accessible to their staffs and to senior management.
11 Successful EM requires the ability to get broad support for institutional goals and objectives and the strategies to achieve them.
Core Components of a SEM Plan
Enrollment planning must be related to institutional mission. The character and quality of the student body and their academic and non-academic experiences and outcomes need to be directly in sync with what the institution is all about. If, for example, your mission is to educate citizens and leaders, then you will want to attract students who can understand the nature of citizenship in a community, and you will need a community that, through its policies and programs, promotes a sense of responsibility. Enrollment planning without regard to institutional character is doomed.
Hossler and Bean (1990) identify two important ways in which enrollment planning impacts overall institutional planning – financial resources (net revenue and ultimately alumni giving) and the quality and character of the student body (impacting student academic and non-academic experiences). Institutional strategic planning and enrollment planning are clearly related. One may be able to build an enrollment plan without an institution-wide plan (more likely in large universities than in small colleges), but one can rarely conduct institutional strategic planning without an enrollment plan.
In his chapter on developing a SEM plan, Massa (2001, pp 153-154) identifies the core components of a SEM plan:
1 Marketing and recruitment – including an analysis of key market areas, institutional position and targeted and segmented recruitment strategies
2 Pricing strategies – including econometric analyses of the demand curve at various rates of discounting and the need-/merit-based financial aid policies
3 Academic programs – articulating “niche” programs, conducting a demand analysis of current programs and identifying competitors’ successful programs
4 Retention – understanding where and why your institution retains and loses students and identifying institutional weaknesses which must be addressed to improve retention
5 Advising – articulating how students are guided through the maze of curricular and career choices and assessing whether outcomes are consistent with plan objectives
6 Academic assistance – identifying student needs for tutoring and the structures to meet demands
7 Co-curricular programs – taking inventory of the planning and support provided to student organizations to engage them in the life of the institution beyond the classroom and assessing the effectiveness of these programs in terms of student satisfaction and lifetime affiliation
8 Data and technology – identifying what trends need to be understood at the institution to better serve students and to meet students’ expectations in a timely fashion
9 Budget—specifying the resources you need to accomplish institutional objectives in each area and identifying funding priorities and sources
In addition, an institution must determine its optimal enrollment. As a response to declining demographics and with an understanding of admission selectivity and student “quality,” several competitive colleges actually decreased the size of their enrollment in the late eighties and early nineties. Accompanied by a decrease in expenses (primarily salaries but also “overhead”) and by financial aid policies including leveraging and an awareness of need on the margins of admission, some of these institutions were actually able to increase net revenue while decreasing class size. Conversely, an institution that has excess capacity may be able to increase enrollments without an increase in the financial aid discount (or the percent of tuition that is allocated to grant aid) and without adding staff or facilities. The SEM plan needs to determine the “tipping point” for optimal institutional enrollment.
Enrollment planning also seeks to determine the characteristics of the enrollment according to institutional goals. These include such items as standardized test scores and GPA (not only appropriate for the academic environment, but also to attract and retain a sufficient number of “appropriate” students), special talents (music, sports, arts), race and ethnicity, and geographic diversity. A complicated but necessary component of the plan must address family/student financial background. An institution committed to enrolling a large percentage of first generation college students, a racially diverse student body, students from rural and inner city backgrounds and international students from third-world countries while also decreasing the discount rate (or the institutional commitment to financial aid) will not be able to achieve all of these goals. The plan must address how enrollment goals will be funded in light of tuition pricing, demand and supply.
Research, research, research
Planning is informed by research, and successful and strategic enrollment management depends on this. A serious enrollment manager will identify as a top priority the integration of student data from prospect to applicant to enrolled to alumni. It is less important today that huge integrated student/alumni system be installed and more critical that data from various departments can be linked and used to study trends and relationships in student attendance patterns and the impact of financial aid on first-time enrollment and retention.
Though not meant as an exhaustive list, data must be collected on students as they:
1 Pass through the admissions “funnel” — geographic origin high school and “market area” (to track market share over time); gender and race (to understand different rates of moving through the funnel); scores, grades, need for aid, grant or scholarship aid awarded (to model the complex relationships among these variables); and legacy or VIP status
2 Enroll and progress to graduation – net tuition revenue, aid per enrolled student and discount rate (to meet financial goals and to understand the impact of price on recruitment and retention); retention rates by class year, race, gender, academic program, academic qualifications, athletic participation, aid status (to help inform decisions about where to target resources and programs); four, five and six year graduation rates by these same variables; and student satisfaction surveys at least twice — at the end of the first year and the final year (analyzed by the same variables to gauge areas of the campus that need attention and to celebrate those areas that are rated highly)
3 Become alumni – immediate post-graduate plans (outcomes data showing where students are going to graduate school or working with starting salaries, by academic major); alumni satisfaction surveys (to keep alumni connected); alumni volunteer trends (admissions representatives or career mentors); alumni giving rates (to help understand how current enrollment goals and academic and social policies could impact future giving)
Understanding internal trends is important as enrollment managers and other senior campus officials use the information gleaned from research and data analysis to make decisions. It is critical, however, that enrollment managers benchmark their data against data available from similar institutions – and not only because of US News & World Report! Benchmarking gives us a clear sense of how our trends over time compare to others and it helps us adjust our goals in light of what we could be achieving. In their chapter on benchmarking tuition and fee decisions in the New Directions for Higher Education series from Jossey-Bass, Loomis Hubbell, Massa and Lapovsky (2002) put it well:
Colleges and universities must make complex trade-offs, balancing their role, mission and values with financial viability. Ambitious goals are admirable, but when they lead to a deficit on the bottom line they require a change of course. Benchmarking against an institution’s past, against a national database, against a select group of peer institutions, and against best in class can provide a clear and informed framework for institutional decisions. (p. 63)
Making Enrollment Management Work
Earlier, we discussed the core competencies of successful enrollment managers and related these to the major components of a SEM plan. While a background in EM theory and a thorough knowledge of research and data analysis are critical, enrollment managers must have the ability to put this all together and to execute multiple strategies simultaneously. There is no one “best” model, but in understanding how to put theory into practice, it is often helpful to review how theory is interpreted through an institution’s experience in making enrollment management work.
Not all enrollment management organizations embrace the “cradle-to-grave” model. But for Dickinson College, after experiencing a 36% decline in admission applications from 1989-96, an actual decline in net tuition, room and board revenue of 6.5% from 1993-99 in spite of a 31.5% increase in gross revenue, a 6 point drop in the one-year retention rate from 1991-96, a 4-year graduation rate in 1995 that was 9 points lower than in 1991, and a declining percentage of alumni participation in the annual fund during those years to a low of 38%, significant change had to take place. With the arrival of a new administration in 1999, a comprehensive enrollment management organization was put in place, encompassing the traditional EM areas as well as institutional research, athletics, student life, alumni affairs and communications. The goal was to integrate these functions to improve the enrollment stream, net revenue, retention and graduation and alumni participation. Four years later, the results are clear.
Applications for admission were at an all-time high in 2003, jumping 35% since 1999. Net tuition, fees, room and board (TFRB) revenue was up almost 50% during the same period. While improvements in one-year retention (2 points) and four-year graduation rates (3 points) were modest, these typically take longer to achieve. The number of entering freshmen met the budgeted target each year, and minority enrollment doubled. Alumni participation, due to the efforts of a new development staff with assistance from the communications and alumni affairs team, increased 5 points to its highest level in history. With all of this, the quality of the incoming class as measured by SATs increased almost 80 points.
Of course, with success comes even greater expectations. The scope of this enrollment management organization is broad, and that presents coordination and communication challenges daily. To make certain that the staff in financial aid understands the experiences of those in residential life, to assure that the admissions office knows what actually happens in the classroom and on weekends, and to have the student affairs staff understand the impact of student experiences on alumni satisfaction, and their participation in fund raising and in recruiting students for the college, the senior directors in each department meet twice per month around important, shared issues, and the professional staff meets together twice a semester. In addition, planning sessions are held twice a year. This helps to keep all informed and tuned in to the “systems thinking” that needs to occur to maximize success. Concrete goals are formulated and staff are evaluated on their ability to achieve them. And risk-taking is encouraged, even if goals are not met in the short term.
Before the enrollment management team could function as a coordinated unit, the college had to undertake a strategic plan. It had inherited in 1999 more than 1200 pages of planning documents from the 80’s and 90’s that had seen varying degrees of implementation. Those were reviewed thoroughly by a college-wide task force that understood the need to move quickly. The task force also went back to the college’s roots, examining the charter carefully and identifying the founding principles of the college from 1783. Within six months, the mission, vision, environmental analysis and strategic objectives were identified. The enrollment management division had the tools it needed to operationalize the vision, moving the college forward, positioning the college to the public (especially prospective students), establishing programs to enhance retention and graduation, and reconnecting alumni. Once the community agreed on the college’s identity and its purpose for being, once it was able to identify its distinctive elements of the liberal arts, once it understood its mission clearly, then it was able to embark on an integrated marketing campaign that sought to attract the students for whom the college was the right fit, to provide them with the experiences they expected while enrolled, and to keep them connected as alumni to help the college in the future by sharing this vision.
Marketing: In order for marketing to work for a college, it must be integrated. Sevier (1998) claims that most of marketing as it functions today in higher education is “promotion.” Rarely does it go beyond addressing marketing from a “single perspective: public relations, recruiting, recruiting or fund raising. It is not integrated marketing.” He continues, asserting that a marketing plan must be consistent with the institution’s mission and vision. This is key, because it requires the institution to characterize itself in a way that is consistent with reality – otherwise, the students attracted will not remain to graduate and those who do will be disconnected alumni.
In accordance with Sevier’s theory, Dickinson formed a marketing and communications committee that evaluated all of its current publications. It engaged an independent higher education consulting firm – Neustadt Creative Marketing in Baltimore – to assess its current position and evaluate its strengths and weaknesses. And it used the results of the consultant’s study to reshape its admissions publications, its communication with current students and alumni, its internal marketing (which was non-existent), its development pieces and its alumni magazine. The college also understood that the way the campus looked conveyed its position. Colorful banners, sporting a bold, newly designed logo, appeared all over campus. Red Adirondack chairs were placed randomly on the academic quad to promote conversation and reflective moments, posters highlighting successful alumni were strategically placed in the student union, and messages that engaged the student body and alumni were regularly sent, either by email or posted on the college’s Web site. A professional web manager was hired to coordinate the web presentation with the college’s position and its publications. Admissions publications were completely overhauled to concretely demonstrate what was “Distinctively Dickinson.” A new media relations staff was hired to promote college experts to the community, the nation and the world, aggressively positioning key administrators and faculty to comment in the national and international spheres on issues that mattered.
Marketing Theory and Practice: Much of the traditional marketing literature is wonderful for background, but I would commend Bob Sevier’s work at Stamats to every enrollment manager. A thoughtful and insightful professional, he knows how to convey, in understandable language, what we need to do to be effective and thorough. In his most recent article in University Business, Sevier (2003) lists twelve keys to successful integrated marketing execution. I will not explain them fully here, but simply will list them with some editorial comments and recommend that you read the piece, which helps to integrate theory with practice:
1 Recognize that planning is an organized attitude
2 Match your definition of marketing with your campus climate
3 Increase the effectiveness of your integrated marketing efforts by tying them to a burning platform (e.g. an issue or event that has captured the attention of the campus)
4 Make sure that all of the institution’s marketing efforts – and resources—are coordinated under one plan
5 Make sure your plan is supported by a realistic budget (this is critical – otherwise, you will not achieve your goals. I would add to make certain that strategies you identify in the plan are assigned to a staff member and that someone has responsibility for both implementation and evaluation).
6 Focus on the needs of your most important audience, your customer (and we must define our customers broadly to include our stakeholders – faculty and staff in addition to students)
7 Develop a market-centric organization (all marketing functions under one VP)
8 Don’t just collect data; be willing to share it widely and use it to inform decisions
9 Go for the well-conceived goal (don’t be unrealistic, though you should be ambitious!)
10 Be willing to treat some customers differently from other customers, based on their ability to return value (a tough one for those who think consistency of policy application is the fairest way)
11 Establish clear criteria for evaluating how well you are executing your plan (every goal should have measurable outcome criteria)
12 Celebrate the wins (staff appreciate this and, although some may think it “corny” to take a “victory lap around the campus, for example, this energizes and motivates staff to keep on track toward even more ambitious goals).
Do not underestimate the power of integrated marketing. Understanding your institutional “story” and communicating it effectively to all constituencies, will give your institution an advantage over your competition, most of whom do not realize the power of a consistent and accurate message across the entire institution. At Dickinson, staff across the EM division from admissions to athletics to media relations to alumni affairs understand the power of consistent thematic communication. And so do the faculty and the senior management team. EM staff are constantly reminded in training workshops on image and branding that they must “connect the dots” – they must see relationships between and among various institutional, student, faculty and alumni accomplishments and must organize these for public consumption in a way that supports the college’s position. This is what has made the difference at Dickinson.
The Audience: The most well conceived integrated marketing will not achieve institutional objectives unless it is targeted. Dickinson knew it had to increase its applications in order to enhance diversity, geographic representation, the academic quality of the student body and their willingness to pay for the value added in the college’s program and environment. With the message in place, new publications designed and written to attract the type of student the college needed, a defined and distinctive position and an integration of this throughout the college, the EM staff set about the task of identifying students that would “fit,” and more of them. Among the strategies employed:
1 Studying student search trends and eliminating candidates with marginal records while increasing geographically and racially diverse candidates
2 Identifying key market areas and increasing travel, programs and communication in these areas
3 Developing relationships with college counselors in key areas by volunteering to speak on selective college admission to junior and seniors and their parents, and by also inviting these counselors to campus for specialized programs at our expense
4 Communicating constantly, though not excessively, with prospects who fit our profile, using mass print, web messages and personal messages from current students, alumni, parents, faculty and staff to “hot prospects” in their regions
5 Evaluating the promotion and content of on-campus visit programs and structuring the content to demonstrate Dickinson’s distinctiveness rather than simply “telling” students and parents about the college
6 Conducting thorough training of all volunteers on- and off-campus to assure, to the maximum degree possible, a consistency of message and an accuracy of factual information
7 Initiating strategic partnerships with urban foundations and organizations to help get more underrepresented students in the pipeline, and doing the same with regional community colleges to bolster transfer applicants
8 Opening secondary and tertiary markets with targeted and repeated visits and counselor contacts
9 Communicating with teachers who wrote recommendation letters for enrolled students and asking them to nominate similar students
10 Employing a media relations strategy in Philadelphia, Baltimore and Washington, DC (three relatively “local” regional areas within two hours from campus) to get Dickinson more exposure through responding quickly to media requests for experts and by writing op-ed pieces on major higher education issues. National press coverage in the New York Times, CNN, the Wall Street Journal and in local papers throughout the country through the wire services was also pursued successfully
11 Reducing non-need based aid and targeting it to the top 10% of our pool
This list is not exhaustive, and there is little that is new or unique. But executing all of this simultaneously, and evaluating the results as each year concluded, helped Dickinson to achieve the dramatic results stated earlier, chiefly by allowing us to significantly increase applications from qualified students nationally (which gave us enormous flexibility in the selection of candidates) and then executing yield strategies to impact their enrollment decision. Note also that this approach to student recruitment is indeed integrated – throughout the college, to prospective students and their parents and to the public at large through the media.
Pricing and Aid Strategies: I inherited a tuition discount rate in 1999 at Dickinson of 52%, meaning that only $.48 of each dollar charged in tuition went back to running the college. This was an intolerable position, and one that would clearly bankrupt the institution within a matter of years. Within one year, my staff had reduced the tuition discount rate to 37%, and within four years to 32%, with a TFRB discount of 25%. At the same time, the average SATs of the entering class increased by almost 80 points, the percentage of underrepresented students in the class doubled, and the size of the entering class, which had fluctuated for years, stabilized at the targeted number, thereby significantly boosting net revenue (a low discount rate with low enrollment does little to help the institution financially). The key to making this happen was three-fold:
- Understanding the demand and value position of your institution to students of various academic backgrounds, geographic locations and academic interests
- Basing a portion of the admission decision at the margin of qualifications on a simple question – “Is the admission of this student worth the investment in financial aid that the college will need to make?”
- Searching for those students, working to convert them to applicants, and yielding those for whom my college’s environment and programs would be the best fit
The informed use of predictive modeling, combined with professional “instincts” of the enrollment manager and the staff, can guide our decisions toward achieving these ambitious goals. Using a faculty member in statistics and the talents of the director of institutional research, a model was developed to help us predict the impact of admission decisions on the enrollment – quality, male/female distribution, minority students, geographic representation and net revenue. By adjusting our admission decisions at the margin, all of these factors could be impacted by running “what if” scenarios through the model. While this did not guide us in individual admission decisions, and exceptions were made frequently for a variety of reasons, it did give us a road map to shape the class in terms of quality, distribution and aid. The results were very effective. Minority enrollment was up, geographic distribution was greater, quality increased as did net revenue. Of course, an integrated marketing plan and an understanding of how to communicate the college’s distinctive position was also critical in achieving our net tuition revenue goals.
Dickinson’s results from the freshman survey, administered by the Higher Education Research Institute at UCLA, indicated that an increasing percentage of our freshmen place our college as their first choice—demonstrating that our marketing efforts and our pricing/aid strategies were working.
Pricing, of course, is a related but separate issue from discounting or aid. Most institutions will want to price themselves to cover costs minus aid and other income. In addition, the “list price” at one institution is related to the “list price” at its competitors. A college that is really competing with a peer group may not want to lower its price and risk being disassociated with that group. On the other hand, if a healthy majority of students are benefiting from discounts, a college may wish to reduce its price to increase enrollments (if it has excess capacity) and thereby revenue. This is a risky proposition, because the unintended result could be to move the college out of the competitive sphere it is currently in, and down a notch to another set (which will ultimately influence the quality of the students it attracts). In recent years Muskingum College in Ohio and Bethany College in West Virginia experimented with this paradigm. Visit their Web sites to see how they have done since the change.
Loomis Hubbell, Massa and Lapovsky (2002) tell us that all but a handful of colleges are tuition-dependent. As such, the management of tuition rates and discounting is critical. The simple theory of discounting, they say, is that “by offering a discount to selected students enrollment could be increased to capacity” and revenues could be maximized. Of course, the use of discounting, or financial aid, should also be targeted to influence the enrollment mix (e.g. diversity in all of its dimensions) as well as academic quality. What has happened, of course, is that discounting has become a competitive tool, pitting one school against another. A subject for another paper, discounting gone wild can handcuff a college (as it did at Dickinson in the 1990s) where it either does not have enough revenue to cover expenditures, and/or it reduces expenditures and thereby threatens the quality of the educational experience for students.
Done appropriately and related to institutional mission, discounting can be used as a strategy to manage the composition of the student body while increasing revenue and remaining true to institutional objectives. The setting of price, also, must position the institution with its peers. This is a part of marketing strategy, and while price is not totally unrelated to cost, it is in part determined by the number of enrolled students who pay a majority or all of the price. It is therefore related to market strength and the perception of value we discussed earlier.
Academic and co-curricular programs: Aside from the ability to continue to afford a college (assured by an adequate aid package at the time of admission – which is why the practice of “gapping” is counterproductive since it costs more to recruit a student than to retain a student), there is nothing more important to retaining a student to graduation than delivering on the promise made during admission regarding academic programs and student life experiences. Sevier (2002) tells us that a brand is a promise, and that we must deliver that promise in order to continue to attract students to our institutions and to graduate grateful and committed alumni.
At Dickinson, we talked about how the college helps students to “Engage the World.” We even trademarked the phrase to highlight its position as central to the character of the institution. Aside from using (some may say “over-using”) the phrase on posters in the student union, on our Web site and in some admissions publications, we strive in the senior management team to make certain that directors, staff and faculty understand this “promise” as they make decisions about academic and student life programs that impact students.
Study abroad programs are expensive to run, but Dickinson manages 35 programs in 20 countries on six continents. These are programs in non-tourist cities where students, under the supervision of a Dickinson faculty member, truly experience the culture of another country as they are studying in major universities across the globe. An aggressive program of international internships supports this. So when a faculty member proposes a new program that fulfills this promise, it is likely to be approved even though it may not contribute financially to the college’s bottom line.
“Engaging the world” does not simply mean on foreign soil. Our world consists of our campus, our community and our nation, as well. Volunteer programs are on the rise, for example. During my first year at Dickinson, a part-time volunteer coordinator “managed” a fledgling program – students that year volunteered about 8,000 hours in our community. To fulfill the promise, we hired a full time director to provide opportunities for students. In 2002-3, Dickinson students devoted over 30,000 of community service. Putting dollars behind the promise is essential, and viewing all of this as contributing to long term enrollment and financial stability helps to justify expenditures today.
A student cannot “engage the world” unless he or she is a citizen and a leader. Our student activities programs, and our residential life policies were revised to reflect this. Students set community standards in the residence halls and hold each other accountable. The college “says what it means and means what it says” with regard to student conduct and discipline. Students understand that there are consequences to behavior, and while they may not like it at times, they have come over the last four years to accept it.
Students are also given a great deal of autonomy, under the watchful eyes of the student activities staff, to plan their own programs and to even create new clubs that meet student interest and demand. Last year, for example, a group of students approached me with a well thought-out proposal to start a TV station. The college had the infrastructure to support this and a good relationship with the local cable company for public access. Their proposal was to broadcast an original show each month – “On Second Thought” – that would pit two teams of two students each debating a significant issue such as gay marriages, affirmative action and censorship on the Internet. In addition, they proposed to televise certain lectures given by invited guests on topics of major interest. Engaging the world? You bet. But we had to find a way to afford the equipment, the space to house the equipment and to provide a “set,” and the time of a faculty or staff member to advise the group. We were able to do all three, with the help of an alum and a parent in the “business” and with an understanding on the part of staff not in the EM division that this was indeed important to fulfilling the promise.
At the most basic level, living the promise has to do with how students, parents, alumni and the public are treated on your campus. As with many small liberal arts colleges, part of the promise is “personal attention.” Staff who answer questions at the initial point of contact rather than transferring calls, for example, understand this. Faculty who are willing to spend part of their evenings or weekends helping a student or assisting in recruitment activities understand this as well. Through periodic HR training, and through an effective faculty committee structure where faculty (rather than the EM staff) can communicate this promise to their colleagues, staff and faculty are frequently reminded, often in subtle ways, of the need to fulfill our promise.
Effective enrollment management does not stop here. If part of your promise is quality, it must be reflected in intrusive academic and career advising. This had been weak at Dickinson for some time, and was not fulfilling the promise. Recently, the provost and I teamed up to combine under one roof a new academic advising unit and the career center. Though the directors report to two different senior officers, the synergy created by this union will have a significant impact on students and outcomes. We located this service at the center of the campus (they had been on different ends of the campus before) and hired new directors to make it work. To symbolize the relationship between academic advising and career/graduate school planning, the staff in these two offices will in fact be integrated. There is no “academic advising office” separate from the “career center.” A campus culture that embraced the college’s mission and vision allowed two departments in different divisions to work together to deliver on the promise.
Finally, the characteristics of the campus community are defined not only by the quality of the relationships but also by the physical space. Recall in the marketing section that I spoke of colorful banners sporting the college’s new logo and the red Adirondack chairs placed on campus to promote conversation. In the same vein, the physical appearance of the campus speaks volumes to the promise that this institution cares about the student. A campus with overgrown grass and weeds, cracked sidewalks and tiles, chipping paint, etc. indicates to the visitor and the resident alike that the college simply doesn’t care. The enrollment manager typically does not supervise the director of physical plant, but the campus-wide education necessary for understanding the college’s position, its brand and its promise will pay dividends in many different areas that ultimately impact on our ability to attract and retain students.
Data and Technology: With the current generation tuned into the latest conveniences of technology, enrollment managers must be aware of the recruitment advantages available (without being obvious about it – students do not want to be bombarded with glitz), and they must also understand how the use of technology in registration, course work, and communication can enhance the quality of the educational experience and the connection to the institution.
Dickinson’s computer system to support admissions was, in 1999, more of a records system than a recruitment tool. The EM staff moved quickly to evaluate stand-alone systems and selected one that would allow admission counselors to identify students and communicate with them by region, high school, gender, race, activity (including athletics), SAT score, legacy status, academic area of interest and the need for financial aid. It also provided staff with a powerful tool for data sorting and analysis. One lynch pin to successful enrollment management, therefore, is having the right technological power available to evaluate your market and to target your messages to students in a strategic way.
Recognizing the power of the Web, the college moved from a half-time Web master with only “on-the-job” experience, to a full time director of Web services (who was a registrar at another institution and understood the academic mission of the institution) and an assistant. These positions report through the College Relations unit that is a part of the Enrollment Management Division. They work closely with the director of admissions, with alumni affairs and development, and with the faculty to assure a uniform, accurate, up-to-date and vibrant Web presence that reflects the college’s image and position. They designed a special site for admitted students and their parents, and one for enrolled students as well. One feature on the admitted site allows parents to email parents of enrolled students from their area for feedback on the college, and permits accepted students to do the same with Dickinson students from their area and/or in their intended major.
Chat rooms and the like are becoming increasingly popular with students, and Dickinson has just started experimenting in this area. What is more important, though, is giving students the ability to access their data on the Web – admissions application information, course registration, room registration, making appointments, etc. Students expect that today, and a successful enrollment manager will ask the tough questions of IT and Web staff to make sure the institution is up-to-date in its services.
Johnson (2002) says that communication creates and sustains relationships and that a good communications plan relies on technology to support (though not replace) personal contact with one another. When using print, email, the Web and contact by phone or in person, the most critical element, of course, is consistency of message across all contacts. There also must be a relationship among various contacts. Institutions, for example, have successfully drawn students to the Web through their printed materials and by Web-based email. This is all part of an integrated communications plan that must be supported by technology. At Dickinson, this plan lists in a sequential calendar all communications including those that are web- and email-based, their purpose and their relationship to other forms of communication. An outline of the communication flow helps to identify the purpose of each contact and aids in the evaluation of each program. It also guards against the inevitable “great idea that we have to do now” syndrome, in that it forces staff to look at the impact of an additional piece of communication on the entire program and sequencing of messages.
In addition to the use of technology to recruit students and to provide prospective and enrolled students with necessary services, technology must be used to support research that will guide policy decisions, the creation of new strategies and the evaluation of present efforts. The data, of course, must be integrated at the student record level. Dickinson collects as much data as possible on prospective students (often a challenge) and of course on admitted and enrolled students. Along with demographic and academic data, the college tracks contact responses, the need for aid and the percentage of need met by grant, legacy or “VIP” status, athletic interests and student activity participation and leadership. By doing this, the college is able to model the class prior to final admissions decisions and to make adjustments if enrollment results are projected to fall short of goals. The logistical regression enrollment projection model, designed by a statistics professor and the director of institutional research, is an invaluable tool for staff as they refine the characteristics of the class – diversity (race, gender, geographic), academic and financial. The model will not guide the staff at the individual level – in other words, it will not tell them who to admit based on the likelihood of enrollment. It simply projects the class in the aggregate by adding all of the enrollment probabilities and the proportion of each characteristic that is appropriate to that probability (e.g. if there are 100 admitted minority students, and the addition of their individual enrollment probabilities is .33, the model will predict 33 minority students in the class – but it can not predict who will enroll).
Kimberly Wright Sinha of San Diego State University prepared an unpublished tutorial in developing such a model at the 1999 Association of Institutional Research Forum in Seattle. In it, she lists the following data elements that could, if tested, predict enrollment and aid expenditures or net tuition revenue (Dickinson used most of these elements in the construction of its model):
1 Academic ability – predicted GPA, application type (e.g. early deciusion, regular), application date, HS GPA, test scores, class rank
2 Actions – initial applicant inquiry, multiple contacts, campus visit, applied for aid
3 Interests – department, major or college/division, athletic, activity
4 Demographic – race/ethnicity, gender, citizenship, home country, home state, home zip, resident/commuter flag, high school code, Enrollment Planning Service code (from the College Board)
5 Financial aid – family income, estimated family contribution, institutional grant, loan, work-study, merit funding, request appeal, appeal granted, appeal award amount, appeal denied, other gift aid, athletic scholarships, total gift and grant
The data collected and analyzed by different institutions will depend upon individual needs and what looks to have a significant impact on the enrollment decision. I have found the model at Dickinson to be an essential tool in crafting the class in the right number, distribution, quality and net revenue.
At Dickinson, we divided data elements into six areas in order to understand our students, our competitors and how we accomplished our work:
1 Trends – the admission funnel from suspect to prospect to admit to enrolled — by sex, race, major, feeder school, aid, contact; total enrollment over time by the same variables; job and graduate school placement rates by the same variables plus major
2 College selection – what is important to prospective students; how is our institution seen relative to others; how do applicants and matriculants differ from non-applicants and non-matriculants; where do admitted students enroll if not here
3 Enrollment – student ratings of our institution on factors important to them; program demand changes over time; factors that influence student persistence; what distinguishes completers from non-completers
4 Post enrollment – alumni rating of experiences and preparation for career or graduate/professional school; ratings of graduates by employers; parents ratings of child’s experience and outcomes; differences in ratings among majors
5 External – national demographic trends, supply of high school students in a specific market (resources: http://www.nces.ed.gov/stats.html, Postsecondary Education OPPORTUNITY by Tom Mortenson in Iowa City, Student Poll by the Art and Science Group in Baltimore)
6 Operations – track volume to assess staff, supply, budget and computer needs at various points in the cycle which can be used to justify the support required to achieve institution-wide objectives
This matrix has helped us to understand how our programs, policies and practices affect demand and student experience, and has provided Dickinson with the necessary information to make appropriate adjustments. Of course, survey data on the admissions process and on the perceived “quality of life” on the campus can help enrollment managers assess the impact of programs on student decisions and experiences. The most popular national instruments are the College Board’s Admitted Student Questionnaire; the Higher Education Research Institute’s (UCLA) freshman and senior surveys and their relatively new College Student Survey (the latter measures student satisfaction with quality of life while the freshman survey gives a baseline of student characteristics compared to national norms and the senior survey allows an institution to see differences over the four years, including student post-graduate plans); and the new National Survey of Student Engagement (NSSE), that attempts to give a college information on the degree to which students feel engaged with their education in and out of the classroom. Dickinson has participated in all of the above. We are currently assessing the characteristics of campus “social life” in an effort to understand why only two-thirds of our students are satisfied (compared to a 95% satisfaction rate with the academic program), and to take “corrective action” if that is deemed necessary. This is a strategic retention issue and one that the college is addressing as a result of survey data and analysis.
Finally, other data must be collected to help in the assessment of enrollment management strategies. First year academic performance on an individual level should be compared to academic indicators at the time of admission to determine whether different standards should be applied during the selection process. Data on current academic performance must also be used by academic advisors for early intervention to help students succeed. On the other end, students with high grades should be identified and cultivated for major national and international post-graduate fellowships. Dickinson is beginning to do this with our new academic advising/career center program described earlier.
Budget: All of the ambition in the world, with appropriate planning, will not be achieved unless the institution realizes how much it will cost and provides the necessary resources. I arrived at Dickinson in the midst of a three year deficit, with five more years projected. When I said that we may have to go a little further into deficit in order to come out of it, the president and the chairman of the board did not blink. In fact, we did spend more money than in the past, but the college came out of deficit in three years rather than in five, and, as all now conclude, the investment in staff, equipment, marketing studies and student and alumni program refinement was well worth it.
A budget is a spending plan and a means to help staff fulfill the vision of the strategic plan. Once the college community agreed on the institution-wide strategic objectives, divisions and departments began to assemble strategies to achieve the objectives. Each strategy had attendant tactics that, for the most part, required either additional financial support or a re-direction of resources away from non-strategic initiatives. It is always preferable to seek the latter, but in Dickinson’s case, because it had been under-funded and under-capitalized through most of the 90s, much new financial support was required. The adage “you have to spend money to make money” was not a hard sell considering the college’s deficit position and enrollment weakness in 1999. Obviously, the college could not fund every tactic that could be suggested by the plan, so funding priorities were set at the divisional level and then negotiated among the senior officers of the college.
Earlier, while describing the impact of academic and co-curricular programs on enrollment management, I discussed Dickinson’s top-rated global education program. A strategic objective of the college is to infuse a global perspective throughout the curriculum, acknowledging that the leaders of tomorrow must know and understand a complex world. As a major objective of the college, programs that support this objective should be funded. Those that do not contribute to this, though perhaps worthy in their own right, should have a lower funding priority.
It is easy to identify additional funding needs – everyone could use more money. It is also difficult to identify areas to cut, and these tend to come slowly and over time. Without buy-in to the strategic direction, the vision and the “promise” of the institution, cuts can rarely be made. But trade-offs are indeed necessary in order to sustain a strategic position. At Dickinson, programs in wellness were scaled back in favor of a push in community volunteerism; a program in public speaking was eliminated in favor of a program in journalism to train student reporters (and to save a dying student newspaper); and an expensive program that awarded future teachers $20,000 after 4 years of teaching (and that was unfunded) was first reduced and then eliminated when its marginal impact on admission and retention was revealed.
Enrollment managers must be at the table to help set institutional spending priorities in conjunction with campus-wide objectives. They must help set realistic revenue targets including net tuition, endowment earnings, government appropriations or grants, annual gifts and auxiliary income. Ideally, revenues should be set in the budget before expenditures. Of course, external factors such as the stock market, state budget deficits, federal student aid programs and health insurance premiums for faculty and staff all impact on the process. Dickinson has a planning and budget committee with faculty and student representation that meets weekly throughout the academic year on which all the senior officers (except the president) sit. This promotes an institution-wide understanding and helps to secure buy-in with all constituencies. It consumes a great amount of time, but I am convinced that Dickinson could not have achieved what it did as quickly as it did, while coming out of deficit in three years rather than five, without the support of the entire campus community. The Planning and Budget Committee was a critical link in this success.
Divisional and department budgets must be related to institutional priorities because again, we cannot do everything. For example, if the objective is to be a global campus, what do we fund in admissions– an outreach to DoD schools, American schools abroad and Governor’s schools for international studies in the U.S., or the extensive development of secondary and tertiary markets to increase the geographic distribution of our students. At Dickinson, both were important, but it was clear that we would fund the former before the latter based on the strategic objective.
Enrollment managers must have a thorough knowledge of institutional budgets. They must understand what drives the budget and they must share with their senior colleagues how their competitors fund similar items, particularly staff and programs. With a clear understanding how costs relate to capacity (excess classroom, library, residence hall space) and quantifying the cost of enrolling an additional student on the margin in below- and at-capacity scenarios, enrollment managers can help their institutions see revenue opportunities and secure the resources necessary to achieve their objectives.
Enrollment management had its earliest roots in admissions, but quickly spread to almost all areas of the institution that could possibly impact enrollment. It has evolved into a comprehensive approach to managing institutional priorities. There is really very little at the institution that it does not touch. But enrollment managers cannot supervise the academic program, nor the physical plant nor the fundraising efforts and management of institution’s budget. Whether EM is admissions, aid and registrar, or the most comprehensive “cradle to grave” organization as at Dickinson, it is absolutely necessary that enrollment managers build strategic alliances with other senior managers – communicating the importance of the promise we make to students and alumni and considering the impact on that promise before any decision is made to spend resources, develop new programs or change institutional policies.
Enrollment managers must be coaches in the best sense of the word. They must be able to rally staff in different offices toward common goals, they must hire excellent managers and give them the resources and tools necessary to do their jobs, and they must be careful themselves to see relationships between seemingly unrelated areas to leverage these to the benefit of the institution. They must also share information frequently, with staff and senior managers in order to maximize the chances of success.
Enrollment managers must be data driven but human-relations oriented. They must be compassionate and ethical, but demanding of evidence and pragmatic. They must possess a future orientation in their thinking, while at the same time concerning themselves with how current systems will affect the institution in the next fiscal year.
It should be clear by now that enrollment management is both a conceptual framework and a process that integrates the campus community. While it is complex, it can be broken down into component parts as described in this paper and in the references listed below, and to the extent that it is, EM becomes “manageable.” Results are not achieved overnight, but can only be achieved over time with commitment from the top and throughout the institution. Forming the necessary foundation with trend data analysis from your institution overlaid with competitor data, understanding what “could be” if the institution made some strategic decisions and provided the funds to achieve these, and communicating this effectively to staff, faculty, students, alumni, trustees, senior management and the public at large – these are the building blocks of successful enrollment management.
Robert J. Massa, Vice President for Enrollment and College Relations at Dickinson College from 1999-2009, is now Vice President for Communications at Lafayette College in Easton, PA