The Power of Partnership

THE FOLLOWING BLOG POST IS AN EXCERPT FROM “The Power of partnership: student affairs and enrollment management”ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED IN LEADERSHIP EXCHANGE VOLUME FIFTEEN, ISSUE TWO, SUMMER 2017.


The changing dynamics in college enrollment are creating a new sense of accountability in the academy. Higher education has moved from defining success solely on an individual student’s ability to succeed to one of shared responsibility for student success. Many state and private institutions are more dependent than ever on student enrollment for institutional revenue as student growth in all enrollment sectors declines nationally, especially in the Midwest and on the East Coast. Further, more students from first-generation and lower-income families are starting college, and they often bring challenges that can impact their ability to complete their education. At the same time, lawmakers and governing boards are calling for more accountability around college completion and relevant employment upon graduation, and in many states these components are now linked to state funding.

According to the 2016 Inside Higher Ed Survey of College and University Admissions Directors, during the 2016-2017 academic year roughly 84 percent of all respondents reported they were very or moderately concerned about meeting institutional enrollment goals. Furthermore, only 37 percent of respondents stated they met their student enrollment goals in the prior year, ending May 1, 2016. For many of us, these statistics create a compelling argument for focusing not only on recruitment but on all aspects of student success in higher education. As a result of greater institutional emphasis on enrollment, many divisions of student affairs and enrollment management are combining, or student affairs divisions are renewing emphasis on how programs, services, and initiatives tie into enrollment and student success. For the purpose of this article, “student success” is defined as a holistic experience for students and families that consists of valuable recruitment activities, a positive transition into college, engaging curricular and cocurricular programs, persistence from year to year without interruption, undergraduate graduation, and employment or further graduate education.

New Model of Enrollment Management

Historically, higher education has defined enrollment management as simply recruitment or a collection of independent offices, such as admissions, financial aid, and the registrar. Today, a new perspective on enrollment management is necessary, one that defines enrollment management as the management of all aspects of the student life cycle from the first point of contact to graduation and beyond. The “old model” in which one office recruits students and hands them off once classes begin is no longer operational. The holistic needs of students and families cannot be segmented. Increased collaboration across traditional enrollment and student affairs offices is required to establish a seamless experience and consistent messaging for students. Moreover, students and families expect such collaboration.

Enrollment management and student affairs units that coordinate seamless services can use key data to prepare for, provide, and enhance student services. These units understand the connections from the beginning to the end of the student experience. As students arrive on campuses with greater needs and individualized expectations, administrators must be more cognizant of the available services. “Colleges facing enrollment problems and fighting for the best students have incentive to give their students better services and a better experience. Doing a better job of meeting their needs can pay off with high retention and graduation rates,” writes Lee Gardner in “What a University Can Learn from Wegmans” (The Chronicle of Higher Education, July 24, 2016).