Strategic Enrollment Management

By Michael Davila


Those who have been in the educational consulting business over time have seen significant changes in the world of higher education.  We have witnessed an education industry that continues to grapple with balancing important competing internal and external pressures as college administrators work to fulfill an important mission: educating people.


Several thousand years ago, Sun Tzu said something like this: "Know thy self and know your enemy, and in a hundred battles you will not know defeat."  While colleges and universities are certainly not our enemies, it does make some sense to understand the processes and systems that they employ as they recruit, enroll, and retain students. 


Enter Strategic Enrollment Management (SEM).  This is defined as being "An institution-wide responsibility and the central focus of the institution's overall strategic plan".  SEM focuses on what is best for students and how to ensure their success while addressing all aspects of the institution's mission. Just like overall strategic planning, strategic enrollment management starts with the institution's mission.


So, SEM is a strategic use of resources to better the institution's business.  It is a philosophy and an organizational construct, and it has been around since the mid-1970s when student enrollments were at a low point.  Today, an enrollment manager at a college must understand budgets, marketing, student services, admissions, financial aid, career development, advanced statistical modeling, external demographics, financial aid leveraging, alumni relations, institutional profiles, assessments, and other important tactical concerns.  


As consultants, we see SEM at work through the eyes and experiences of our students.   Students are recruited by colleges earlier and earlier: potential applicants are tracked through multiple admissions' "funnels" as they transition toward college; students and parents apply together as a team for financial aid.  The student and family make choices about attendance based on perceived value both on an educational and financial front.  


How can we make this process better for our parents and students?  A few points can go a long way:Students must be realistic and aware of how their college choices affect both their future and in some cases their family's financial future.  

  • Parents must be realistic about what they can afford to spend each year on college.
  • Consultants must be aware of their client's relative price sensitivity; we should understand their EFC and what it means at the colleges that we help our students select.
  • How the student is positioned within an applicant pool makes a big difference on admissions chances and funding possibilities. Discount rate, enrollment yield, average amounts of merit money given, net price calculators, need based aid percentages can provide hints as to where extra funding may be.

Many colleges track consumer behavior of their students and make decisions accordingly.  Helping families understand, in other words, the system of enrollment management can help them make smart choices along their road to college.


Michael Davila, Managing Partner
College Inroads
Phone: 512.337.3894


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August 2013
Volume 6, Issue 8 
National College Advocacy Group