Oct 31, 2017

Defining and Explaining Strategic Enrollment Management

Looking for a simple yet thorough explanation of strategic enrollment management?  Look no further.  Here is our easy to understand guide to the systems approach to managing enrollment, revenue, financial aid, and the life cycle of students at your school.  We created this model for use in conference presentations and enrollment management bootcamps for several associations and find it useful as an organizing set of principles. 

Most of us tend to think of the term “admissions” when we describe the active efforts of creating a sustainable enrollment for a school or college.  However, this term – and its definition and core function – are really quite limiting in terms of what is required to build sustainable enrollment at tuition driven independent schools and colleges.  “Admissions” really only describes the process of entry into a school or college, rather that the activity that was needed to create that enrollment interest or sustain the enrollment in the school.  


About 20 years ago, the concept of strategic enrollment management was created at the higher education level, giving birth to a new way of viewing admission work from a systems approach.  About 10 years ago, this system was largely adopted by relatively successful, mature, and forward thinking independent schools as a way to develop an integrated approach to cultivating and sustaining a suitable enrollment body.  The system has seven critical components, each working together as a system to forge a sustainable enrollment platform.  The following is a brief description of each function and how it contributes to the larger ecosystem of strategic enrollment management.  

Recruitment – For tuition-driven schools and colleges, generating suitable demand is the most critical function of sustainable enrollment.  We call this function “demand generation”, which translates into the creation of inquiries, applications, and visits to campus.  Without these elements, the school does not have a suitable enrollment from which to work. 

Admissions – Admission is literally the process of entry into a school or college.  Similar to being admitted to a hospital, it is the process of entry into an organization.  Admissions is typically defined by the systematic gathering of information that contributes to a candidate’s portfolio for consideration for entry.

Financial Aid and Net Revenue – Financial aid is the strategic use of unfunded or funded financial assistance as a method of generating revenue, sustaining enrollment, and creating access.  It takes many forms, from merit to need based, and is used in strategic enrollment management as a tool to create and sustain mission appropriate student enrollment with revenue assumptions.  Most independent schools practicing strategic enrollment management set priorities on financial aid as a system, seeking to accomplish one of three objectives with their expenditures, including 1) filling unused capacity to generate revenue, 2) shape their class with specific types of students, or 3) provide access to underrepresented populations in the community. 

Information Management and Tracking – Sound information management and tracking of strategic enrollment management efforts is the backbone of this system.  This includes using an information system that is shared school wide, tracking students through the “input – throughput – output” lifecycle of the school, and creating insightful reports that inspire responsive activity.  

Marketing Communications – The act of generating and sustaining interest and demand in the market requires effective marketing communications.  This is the area where brand, identity, and communication planning intersect with enrollment management work.  For this reason, most schools utilize more than just the admissions team in their strategic enrollment management program as it requires collaboration across divisions, with shared responsibilities and roles in marketing communications and advancement areas.

Retention – It is often easier to keep a student than recruit a new one.  Retention is the systematic analysis and development of managing students once they are enrolled in the school. It is again a collaborative effort across school divisions, requiring input and insight from academic leaders throughout the organization.  Retention also requires excellent tracking systems so that student and parent behavior indicating potential attrition can be tracked and responded to accordingly. 

Research and Analysis – Finally, strategic enrollment management requires that there is a steady research and analysis function present in team efforts.  Strategic enrollment management deals with the systematic tracking of human behavior, and thus requires a steady review and analysis of activity so that schools and teams are making wise choices in their efforts.

Strategic enrollment management is an integrated system that works together to form a powerful tool of creating the input, sustaining the throughput, and developing the output of school enrollment, all the while managing revenue and capacity assumptions.  And, at the most basic of levels, strategic enrollment management is about removing unnecessary barriers and creating client-centered incentives toward persistence in the input, throughput, and output process. 

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