Enrollment Management Principles at Boston College
by robert s. lay, dean of enrollment management
Enrollment management is nothing if it is not action oriented. Enrollment management is not a science; it is the application of planning principles to the building of an effective organizational structure. A successful program sets goals and achievable objectives while continuously evaluating actions and seeking improvements. The following principles have guided enrollment planning at Boston College for over 20 years.
Put Service First
When Dr. Frank Campanella conceived the organizational framework for an enrollment management division at Boston College in 1974, most educational institutions did not give serious attention to integrating the functions of recruitment, financial assistance, research, and retention. Little systematic analysis was done, at that time, to plan for the composition of the student body. Students had been applying in increasing numbers in the preceding two decades, so that it was easy to delegate to the admission office the task of selecting from the ample supply of talented, paying students. Many institutions have since learned bitter lessons because they ignored the demographic, competitive, and fiscal changes that affect their enrollments.
Colleges, more than ever, prosper or decline with the strength of their reputations for delivering on their promises. Great care must be exercised to stay sensitive to student perceptions and to control the subtle messages about the university being conveyed to students, their families, and the general public.
The key to better coordination, and therefore better service, is the development of a team approach to recruiting and retaining students to graduation. Everyone must be involved: support staff, professional staff, present students, families, faculty members, senior administrators, alumni, and friends of the university. Greater involvement by all elements of the campus community helps to project a more accurate and credible image of what the university really is. As a consequence, students who decide to attend bring with them a truer vision of how they may benefit from their education, and they will in turn value more highly what they are able to achieve.
Project a Dynamic, Vital Image
Educational communities are rich and multidimensional, yet the university must communicate a balance of salient benefits to prospective students and their families. Students want to be challenged by academic programs, but they also want a full range of collegiate experiences -- complete with new friends and enriching co-curricular and extra-curricular activities. Parents demand the highest quality for their dollars, and they should be satisfied that the institution is equally serious about realizing its aspirations.
Boston College's Jesuit mission is both credible and attractive because its religious and intellectual traditions cherish a wide range of accomplishments. Alumni establish the record of achievement and with each generation raise the level of expectations for their University. The academic community must respond to this dynamic influence by deepening opportunities for student learning, and by contributing the knowledge to facilitate positive societal change.
Embrace Staff Development to Achieve University Goals
Boston College is well respected for its systematic planning, state-of-the-art research, and operational innovations. The commitment to continuous improvement should be demonstrated by rewarding group performance and by developing fluid project teams. Staff should identify with the University's mission and be able to gauge their contributions.
Enrollment management can and should be a resource for university strategic planning. Enrollment managers should work very closely with academic program planners and with senior administrators. With leadership from the President's Office, staff should be expected to weigh creative, long range responses that address fluctuating college participation rates, increased public/private college competition, shifting student demand for courses and programs, growing governmental regulation, and the like.
Balance Aid and Pricing Policies
To offset reduced federal and state funding, many colleges have had to compromise their strategic plans to help families find their institutions affordable. Some independent colleges find themselves forced to dedicate 40 percent or more of their operating budgets to institutional scholarships and grants. Many state colleges are faced with unpleasant choices that may reduce their ability to offer programs and maintain competitiveness for students.
Boston College must monitor and be prepared to adjust its aid and pricing policies. Key are relationships among disposable family income, attitudes about financial aid and borrowing, and perceptions about the value of a college degree. Only by carefully tracking sensitivities to costs and benefits can the University be certain that it is not either pricing itself beyond the family's ability and willingness to contribute, or pricing itself so low that resources are not adequate to sustain the academic mission.
Hit Enrollment Targets
Net changes have to add up in this equation:
Enrollment Change = First Time Enrollees + New Transfers + Readmits - Graduating Students - Withdrawals
And that's enrollment management! I put it somewhere between motivational psychology and managerial accounting. Decision-making requires good intuition, a sensitivity to the educational community, and realism based upon a careful reading of the numbers. The challenge is to coordinate and stimulate people to work well towards common goals, and to keep the organization aware of the larger environment trends that can quickly overwhelm the unprepared.
The next ten years will hold surprises for all institutions. While there is much uncertainty in the future for colleges and universities, I believe that those who look beyond internal limitations and seek to exploit new opportunities will prosper in the next decade for having faced the challenges with determination and vision.
All Rights Reserved
Robert S. Lay