For an institution of higher learning to grow, it requires having the “right” students. Enrolment management is an essential tool used by many universities to choose their students, transition them, and retain them as well as enhancing their outcomes. According to Bontrager (2004), enrolment management essentially refers to an organizational concept and a systematic set of activities designed to enable colleges and universities have more influence over their student recruitment and retention. It links several administrative units to realize the objectives of the institution. Close links have been established between the top enrolment managers and the financial administrators. This relationship ensures that the required resources can easily be secured. According to Hazelkorn (2015), enrolment management also considers the growing significance of the university rankings. The managers ensure that all the metrics used for such classification are optimally captured in the enrolments.
Various features characterize effective enrolment management leadership. One of them is its connective and collaborative nature. According to Bischoff (2007), if their mission has to be fulfilled, enrolment managers have to bring together all the decision makers across the institution. Some of the key offices that are actively concerned with student recruitment and retention are the office of the provost, chief financial officers, the academic advisors, the admission office and the departmental heads. However, enrolment management more often negotiates between the chief financial officer and the university head. In most of the cases the preferences of the two offices don’t match. The provost usually advocates for the adoption of growth strategies at whatever cost. On their side, the financial officers will be very cautious of the use of the university resources. It is the responsibility of the enrolment managers to bring the needed harmony.
Another feature of effective enrolment management leadership is the high value attached to data. Efficient administration in student recruitment and retention must be data-driven (Mooring, 2016). Some critical information relates to student applications, recruitment, and retention. The administrators should be in a position to tell what in the data that matters. More particularly, the analysis of these details will help in marketing the institution, recruiting and retaining the students. In many instances, the enrolment managers are required to coordinate with the people in charge of student support services and the academic advisors (Lobasso, 2005). The flow of information across these critical players in the student lifecycle is paramount. The enrolment management should, therefore, be able to share relevant details with such functional units. More importantly, this data should be presented clearly in such a manner that people can understand. The data should be translated to make the implications clear for individuals, departments, divisions and the broader institution. Enrolment managers are likely to become more data-centric that they fail to convert the same to meaningful information to the other departments. However, as much as they are data smart, they should always concentrate on giving understandable information.
A deep understanding of the contemporary interconnections across the student lifecycle also characterizes an effective enrolment management leadership. According to Douglas et al. (2015), a student lifecycle starts when he or she makes an inquiry. After this first stage, what follows is the application process, admission and then registration. Other vital parts of the lifecycle are coursework, exams, progression, and graduation. Being an alumnus is usually the last stage of the cycle. Good leadership in enrolment management will thus seek to comprehend the links between these stages and address them appropriately. The knowledge of their effect on the administrative decisions is also essential. For example, it would be vital to understand what aspect of the student lifecycle would influence a lot of spending on marketing.
The enrolment managers are better placed to know the student experience than any other staff in the university. Additionally, they usually have the full knowledge of the market forces, the nature of the market and the type of competition (Bontrager, 2004). The enrolment management leadership will thus be instrumental in providing useful information to other divisions in the university. In most of the higher learning institutions, there exist career services, student support services, curriculum development and financial aid programmes among other functional units. It is the role of the enrolment managers to understand how the various departments interrelate and how their operations affect the student.
Strategies and best practices in enrolment management
Generally, enrolment managers need to adopt specific policies to achieve their goals. There are a universal set of practices which, when implemented, will lead to significant growth of the institution. The first thing should be identifying and securing the appropriate and sufficient resources to meet the end goal. Recruiting and retaining a student comes with some costs. It is thus paramount that these costs should be identified and met. This exercise calls for the managers to work hand in hand with the other offices in the university. The various offices include the finance office and the procurement department (Gottheil, 2015). The institution’s research unit may also be involved in the development of various systems.
Concerning resources, one may also be required to know what it takes to face the competition in the market, the financial gain, and cost of the student body. To be better placed than the competitors, there need to be effective marketing strategies (Gottheil, 2015). One of the crucial requirements in institutional marketing is communication networks. The use of print, emails, websites and social media may be essential tools of communication. The university should make sure that all these platforms are available and accessible to the users. Generally, information sharing is key at all the stages of enrolment including inquiry, application, and admission. Effective communication systems should facilitate two-way passing of information. This way, the recruited students and the prospective students will be in a position to inquire from the institutions and give feedback appropriately (Kerby, 2015). The institution will be able to pass relevant news and material on its side. These systems are very critical in institutional marketing.
It is also crucial that the enrolment managers pay as much attention to student retention as they do to student recruitment. Many institutions of higher learning prioritize admitting more learners. Once they have them, they put minimal effort to retain them. The universities end up gaining students in large numbers but equally losing them significantly along the way (Fisher, 2015). Raising the student enrolment can be achieved by two means. One of them is by onlyincreasing the student intake. Secondly, one could partly increase the number of the new entrants and then reduce the number of those abandoning their studies. A practical example is a situation where the university wants to improve its student enrolment by 10%. It could take 5% as new students and increase student retention by 5%. This approach is relatively more cost-effective. However, student retention calls for greater attention. The university must see to it that those pursuing various programmes complete their studies. There needs to be a well-established system that helps in identifying those who need assistance so that they can make it to graduation (Bischoff, 2007).
Proper enrolment management strikes a balance between the institutional priorities and the greater good of the society (Gottheil, 2015). The universities are likely to be more inclined to such students like the legacy students, full-pay students, donor students, and athletes among others. These types of students significantly contribute to the growth of the institutions. As an example, the full-pay and donor students are essential sources of revenue. On the other hand, the athletes carry the name of the university high and are thus good ambassadors. To promote a healthy school culture, the institutions will always want to enroll the best-fits. This practice also proves to be economical. However, the enrolment managers have to ensure sustainability in the society as well (Hazelkorn, 2015). Many prospective students have difficulties in accessing higher education. The disabled are among this type of persons that require special consideration. Whereas they may be perceived as a burden by most of the institutions, their inclusion portrays the image of a “university for the people.” Generally, enrolment managers should seek to recruit those who are disadvantaged in various ways. These may include the under-served and the under-represented students.
A critical model of enrolment management is the interdependence model. According to Taylor et al. (2007), an event that depends on two or more causal agents is a result of interdependent agents. The interdependence model can be viewed from three different perspectives. Firstly, this model focuses on the internal aspects of the organization. Different units and functions within an organization have to be dependent on each other to realize the general goals of the organization (Bischoff, 2007). The enrolment managers should not act in isolation. Instead, they are expected to bring everybody on board to come up with sound and informed decisions. One of the tools that can be used to achieve internal interdependence is cross-training. Cross-training equips the staff in enrolment management with fundamental skills from other functional units to enhance collaboration and effectiveness. Communication is also key to achieving this kind of interdependence. The implementation of this model has significantly changed the way the institutions deliver their student services.
The interdependence model also addresses the external dependence of the institution. There exists some form of influence from outside. Many agencies have an interest in what goes on in higher education. The universities will, therefore, seek to address these external forces. Usually, this influence, especially when it comes from political agencies, dictate the way the institutions operate (Lobasso, 2005). They have significantly affected the structure of the institutions’ governance organization. These bodies have both the powers and resources to influence the functioning of the universities. The public institutions are however the most affected by the external influence. The government and its agencies require justification of their operations to maintain the funding from the government. Elite and private institutions are in a way protected from external interference.
The last facet of this model is the competitive interdependence. The resources acquired by the institutions of higher education determine their capability to accomplish their goals. According to Taylor et al. (2007), in some situations, they may also determine the survival of the institution. Student enrolment is a vital source of revenue. The monies paid as tuition fees are used to sustain the running of the institutions. However, universities and colleges depend on the same resource pool. Those institutions that have better enrolment management will have an advantage over the others. This consideration consequently calls for collaboration between the people charged with the responsibility of enrolment of students and their welfare.
Not all university recruits end up completing their studies. Quite a good number of them do not make it to the graduation. Whereas some will drop as early as during the first year, there are those who abandon their studies even in the final year (Taylor et al., 2007). Most of the universities are committed to enhancing student success and therefore put a lot of efforts to retain their students. It is their dream to have a positive impact on the society by equipping students with the best knowledge and skills. Some of the initiatives to improve the retention rate include the provision of career guidance, financial subsidies, and counseling services. Student retention programmes are however also widely implemented as a growth strategy. The tuition revenue grows as the student enrolment increases. The income enables the institutions to develop. There are quite a good number of factors that affect student retention in higher learning. Some of these variables include academic difficulties, social and economic factors, and the making of an uninformed choice of the subject, the programmes or even the university.
A new student may face numerous academic challenges. For example, some students usually find themselves unprepared academically for their programmes (Douglas, 2015). This situation could result when the experience in high school education did not prepare them sufficiently for the rigors of higher education. Such individuals will often encounter transitional challenges. Majority of students have high expectations when they join collegiate life.
However, there is some who feel a mismatch between what they are being taught in class and their dream careers. A person who senses a disconnect between the coursework and their perceived future life will not show the same degree of commitment like the one who is in a position to establish the relevant relationship between their current learning and their future. According to Douglas (2015), to ensure that such persons don’t drop their studies, it’s crucial that the tutors increase the relevance of what they teach them. Other students may possess a weak academic knowledge and have poor study skills which may be vital in their particular area of study. They will struggle to grasp the concepts taught in class. Eventually, the students will have poor academic performance. If not carefully handled, these students will be discouraged and opt to quit.
Secondly, there is the other category who drop their studies due to wrong choices. One may have chosen to pursue a particular course only to realize later that their passion was not in that area. According to Fisher, (2015), in a situation where changing the subject is difficult, they will prefer to abandon their studies altogether. Some of them may not even consider inter-subject transfers. This trend is particularly common when one loses interest in the subjects or programmes in the late years of their study. Other students drop their studies following a wrong choice of the university. There are many considerations before a student joins an institution. For instance, an athlete may enter a university expecting an excellent experience in sporting. When their expectations are not met, they are likely not to stay any longer in the campus. Wrong choices of subjects, programmes or college may result from the imperfect information before recruitment and inefficient consideration of the educational and career objectives.
Social and economic issues are other factors that influence student retention. According to Taylor et al. (2007), these factors include health, financial, work and family issues. Students who contract chronic or terminal diseases in the course of their studies are more likely to lose interest in continuing with learning. Such diseases like cancer make the victims lose hope in life. When a person gets such a disease, they will not see the importance of education in their life. After all, according to them, their stay in this world is limited. Financial strain is yet another common cause of school dropout. Over the years, the tuition fees have risen by a significant margin due to the continued reduction of government funding (Mooring, 2016). Students from low-income families face a lot of challenges trying to meet their financial obligations. The financial difficulties can be worsened by chronic diseases which lead to most of the finances going for medical care. Other personal problems may be the difficulty in fitting into the new system or even making friends. Universities have developed a keen interest in student support services to address these issues. One of the methods adopted by the universities is the development of orientation programmes that address these issues extensively.
The role of technology in enrolment management leadership
Technology is the advancement and use of electronic devices as well as other high tech equipment in the production, management, and progression of knowledge into the future. In particular, information technology has become an integral part of every business. Many organizations, including institutions of higher learning, have incorporated technology into their processes. Unfortunately, most of the enrolment management processes in these universities are manual (Bontrager, 2004). Information technology is essential in the various aspects of enrolment management including communication, data management, information systems, and customer relationship management.
Efficient Communication is paramount for any organization. For many of them, email has been the primary means of communication. However, over the last few decades, the world of technology has witnessed the development of many other communication tools. Live chat systems, online meeting tools and video-conferencing are some of the available platforms for online engagement (Bontrager, 2004)). Voice-over-internet protocol calls and smart-phones are other high tech tools used nowadays. The interaction between the students and the university is undoubtedly vital for the growth of the institution. However, physical interaction is usually limited. These tools should, therefore, be used to enhance a more fulfilling engagement.
Data management is beneficial in student recruitment and retention. Enrolment management should be data-driven. According to Bischoff (2007), where manual systems are used, recruitment staffs have to review volumes of paper files, printed transcripts, and letters of recommendations. The filing system thus becomes difficult to manage. There is a need for a technology that provides a digital platform to minimize the paperwork while still maintaining workflows. Digital storage of information is therefore crucial. Software that can manipulate data accordingly for analysis is vital. Many organizations store their documents in digital form in servers and storage devices. Digital storage enables instant access regardless of the location. On top of this advantage, it allows the keeping of tremendous amount of data while reducing the need for space which is required in manual storage.
Another critical application of technology is in management information systems. Data storage is only beneficial when the data can be used productively. Progressive institutions will use the same as part of their strategic planning process. Management information systems (MISs) enable universities and colleges to track their efficiency (Bischoff, 2007). The information can be useful in monitoring of profitability over a specified period, maximizing return on investment and identifying areas that need to be improved. Effective management information systems enhance immediate reaction when the enrolment levels are lower than projected.
Technology in enrolment management should also take into consideration the customer relationship management and marketing (Lobasso, 2005). Institutions of higher learning are using IT to design and develop their customer relationships. Systems that enhance close interaction between the university and the prospective students are critical. This undertaking will create a platform for the institution to brand itself in the market. On the other hand, the interested persons will be able to access relevant information and make inquiries. When a customer relationship management (CRM) system is used, the universities are in a position to offer a pleasant experience to their students.
Several issues affect the enrolment management in higher education. Among them is decentralized recruitment. Traditionally, universities have been having an enrolment system where various departments and faculties recruit students independently (Bontrager, 2004). This kind of a system always leads to a scattered and inefficient enrolment. More often, there is a mismatch between the individual programme objectives and the goals of the institution. When recruitment is done independently by each department, the quality of the recruits is compromised. Usually, this exercise is conducted by low ranking staffs, who may not have good knowledge of the general requirements. For efficiency, the admission of new entrants needs to be centralized. Centralizing the recruitment process makes it easy to harmonize the individual programme goals and the overall goals of the institution. The quality of the new students is also guaranteed because there is a team of experts that is entrusted with the exercise. A common enrolment database and a central communication plan will ensure collaboration and teamwork among the various departments.
Another main problem associated with enrolment management is the lack of marketing and recruitment plan. According to (Mooring, 2016). The enrolment managers need to have a clear guideline on how they will sell the institution to the prospective students and how to recruit them. The scheme can be by the university or by the individual program. Regardless of the level, however, this plan should be competitive enough to bear fruits. It should identify the key strategies to achieve their objectives. Unfortunately, many leaders in enrolment management often ignore the need to have these guiding tools. They enroll students as a tradition not considering the vision and goals of the university. A good scheme should be designed such that the university is in a position to implement its main strategies, communicate their strengths and cultivate their markets.
Another problem facing enrolment management is the presence of a system where no particular person is accountable. Accountability is however very crucial. In most cases, only the senior staffs who are aware of the goals and strategies of the institutions with regard to student enrolment (Hazelkorn, 2015). The top academic officers and the chief financial officers usually have the full knowledge of the student enrolment metrics. The deans of the respective schools may also be aware of these metrics. Unfortunately, the rest of the staffs remain ignorant. The junior officers usually do not understand these objectives and will, therefore, have nothing to guide them in their duties. As a consequence, nobody takes charge, and thus no one carries the responsibility. This problem can be solved by ensuring proper communication within the institutions. Once information-sharing is enhanced, there will be an understanding of the enrolment objectives for each program.
Enrolment management has evolved over the years. Higher education institutions have consequently invested heavily in recruitment and retention programmes. According to Gottheil (2015), the better the enrolment management leadership, the higher the possibility of growth of the institutions. Technology has widely been incorporated in the enrolment programmes. This technology involves the development and use of information systems to enhance information management, handle data and enhance communication. Though universities have done much in marketing themselves and consequent recruitment of students, many of them fail to address the issue of student retention significantly. There is a need for a change of focus where student retention will be seen as an essential part of enrolment management.
Bischoff, P. A. (2007). Strategic enrolment management concepts, structures, and strategies. Douglas College.
Bontrager, B. (2004). Strategic enrollment management: Core strategies and best practices. College and University, 79(4), 9.
Douglas, J. A., Douglas, A., McClelland, R. J., & Davies, J. (2015). Understanding student satisfaction and dissatisfaction: an interpretive study in the UK higher education context. Studies in Higher Education, 40(2), 329-349.
Fisher, J. (2015). Student retention and learning analytics: A snapshot of Australian practices and a framework for advancement. Sydney: Australian Office for Learning and Teaching community colleges.
Gottheil, S. (2015). Walking the walk together: Implementing SEM to enhance the student experience. Strategic Enrollment Management Quarterly, 2(4), 250-258.
Hazelkorn, E. (2015). Effect of Rankings on Student Choice and Institutional Selection. In Access and Expansion Post-Massification (pp. 125-146). Routledge.
Kerby, M. B. (2015). Toward a new predictive model of student retention in higher education: An application of classical sociological theory. Journal of College Student Retention: Research, Theory & Practice, 17(2), 138-161.
LoBasso, T. (2005). An evaluation of enrollment management models of the 28 Florida community Colleges.
Mooring, Q. E. (2016). Recruitment, advising, and retention programs—Challenges and solutions to the international problem of poor nursing student retention: A narrative literature review. Nurse education today, 40, 204-208.
Taylor, J., Brites, R., Correia, F., Farhangmehr, M., Ferreira, B., Machado, M. D. L., & Sa, M. J. (2007). Strategic Enrolment Management: Improving Student Satisfaction and Success in Portugal. Higher Education Management and Policy, 20(1), 120-137.
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