"Make your mark."
It’s a goal shared by most rising enrollment leaders—but most need a little help to do it.
I know because I was once an enrollment up-and-comer—20 years ago, when I was just starting my climb through the ranks of Northern Arizona University’s (NAU) Division of Enrollment Management and Student Affairs.
Over those decades, I learned a lot about how to build a strong enrollment program and professional career. And just as more experienced enrollment leaders mentored me then, I want to share with you some pointers to jump-start your critical job now:
1. Dive in to data. There is a ton of information you can collect and use, and you should! Pursue data beyond the basic enrollment funnel. Figure out how yield, indices of student interest, housing, FAFSA, and demographics interrelate and can inform your enrollment program.
Challenge yourself to become a pro at translating complex data into concise insight. In this world of big data, be sure you are adept at consolidating it to inform your practices.
2. Master your money. This is often one of the hardest facets of your job, but you have to understand the nuances of your budget. Remember that head count, discount rate, financial awards, and net tuition revenue must all be taken into account, not only in the admission offices but in all offices across your institution.
Make sure you know how your actions in enrollment interact with and inform other areas of campus, particularly budgeting. For example, if you recruit students you can retain, the university wins: a downstream retention of just five students could provide a new tenure line.
3. Assess your internal image with an environmental scan. Know how your enrollment program is perceived across the campus because, as the front door to your university, you must tell its story well and consistently, both internally and externally. At NAU, we sent a survey—what we called an environmental scan—to our 55 full-time staff members every six months for several years in addition to seeking feedback from external stakeholders.
Responses enabled us to analyze gaps and confront those departments that disliked or even resented recruiting events. Remember that changing a culture requires time and patience.
This is not a “one-and-done” event. Repeat your surveys and reflective discussions as needed to align your department with your enrollment goals.
4. Run toward risk—wisely. Traditions and systems can be tough to change. Many departments revert to “the way we’ve always done it” even when that way is no longer working. I urge rising enrollment leaders to adopt a positive “let’s just give this new strategy a try” mantra.
Assure those who are uncomfortable with change—and there will be many—that “if the new way does not work, we always have the old way.”
5. Command your own professional development. You must saturate yourself in your industry. Dedicate 45 minutes every morning to studying your competitors’ websites, The Chronicle of Higher Education, or, for a smart, consolidated update, the EAB Daily Briefing. Join professional organizations and attend local, state, and national conferences. Put names with faces at internal and external meetings, and strive to connect with people across the profession to demonstrate your engagement and build a support network.
6. Work yourself out of a job. Although this may sound counterintuitive, I believe it is essential to constantly teach your talents to your supporting team. You must mentor others. Challenge them to develop their skills and stretch their wings.
Know that your office would run perfectly well without you because you have cultivated a truly able team. Doing this will distinguish you as a leader rather than merely a manager.