March 26 2015

By Tim Fuller, Senior Vice President / Owner.

The role of the chief enrollment officer has always been critical, but perhaps no more so than it is today.  In our work on college campuses we find a variety of organizational charts, reporting lines, and a constant need to clarify the role of the chief enrollment officer.  We often organize the role of the chief enrollment officer into four distinct categories of duties; leader, relationship broker, analyst, and strategist.  

Leader – a combination of leadership and management is key to this role.  A strong enrollment management leader will generate vision, develop enthusiasm, and foster a culture of action and accountability.  A chief enrollment officer spends a great deal of time selecting, training, mentoring, and developing team members by creating clear expectations for their work and then holding them accountable for meeting these expectations.  The role of leader also means representing the enrollment function in key on and off-campus settings. In the leadership role, the chief enrollment officer sets direction for the team, takes responsibility for its successes and failures, and communicates results throughout the recruitment cycle. 

Relationship Broker – if it is true that it takes a campus to recruit (and retain) students, then the chief enrollment officer’s role in building and maintaining strategic relationships with key recruitment partners on campus is also critical.  Engaging faculty in effective ways is particularly important, given what research with admitted students suggests about their influence on student enrollment choices.  Often the best way to engage faculty is to ensure that they understand how they can best help.

Cabinet relationships are often critical, as well.  It is important for the enrollment function to build and maintain a strong level of support from the president, the provost, and other campus leaders to ensure good working relationships and confidence in the enrollment team and plan.

Other critical on-campus groups and functions with whom to build strong relationships include:

  • Athletics – on many campuses the coaching staff is directly involved in recruiting as much as 1/3 or more of the new student population each year.
  • Physical plant – from the careful daily attention to the campus tour route’s appearance to the thoughtful scheduling of project work there is tremendous importance in keeping the physical plant team fully informed as strategic partners in recruitment efforts.
  • Student Life – the handoff from admission to student life and the faculty sets the stage for strong persistence and a smooth start to a college career.  Student Life staff need to be involved at key stages of the recruitment process to begin to build this important bridge.
  • Other key offices and functions – serving students well means that there must also be positive working relationships with financial aid, registrar, student billing, food service, and other student-serving offices on campus.

There are some key off-campus relationships for a chief enrollment officer to cultivate, as well.  At denominational colleges, the weight of the relationship building is often carried by the president but the chief enrollment officer can play a key role as well.  If the college hosts area guidance counselors, then the chief enrollment officer’s presence sets the tone for the importance of occasion.

Analyst - there is both art and science to a successful enrollment operation and thus to a best practice enrollment leader as well.  The science side suggests that an enrollment leader must be informed, if not driven by the numbers. The leader must understand what to ask for, how to get it, when to share it, and how to apply it.  This implies an ability to establish systems and processes, as well as regular reporting patterns that enable the enrollment team and other campus leaders to be fully informed of trends and necessary actions taken in response to or anticipation of events.

Strategist – part of setting the direction for the team described in the Leader section above includes the development of a strategic enrollment plan that will guide the enrollment activities of the campus for the coming year and beyond.  This plan should include elements of forecasting enrollment realistically based on recent and anticipated trends; a research agenda, a budget plan, and a summary of key strategies by category.  While the enrollment leader is responsible for developing the plan and strategies that it includes, strong plans reflect the work of many collaborators to broaden input and increase ownership.  

The research agenda should include gathering and analysis of data as well as a plan for communication of findings and implementation of changes to strategy and practice that emerge.  One key area of research related to budget should be analysis of key strategic initiatives and their return on investment to ensure that allocated resources are being spent to maximum efficiency.

One closing thought; an important priority for every enrollment leader is developing a network of sharp enrollment professionals to serve as a sounding board, a source of good ideas, and a support group during a tough year.  Attending conferences can be a great source of inspiration, good ideas, and networking, and a support network will have lasting benefits. Online message boards and Twitter are real-time ways to connect with other enrollment management professionals. 

Find out more about Tim Fuller, Senior Vice President / Owner, here.

To learn about and register for the Credo Enrollment Institute, a continuing education opportunity for admission and enrollment leaders, click here

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