SEM and How to Eat an Elephant

Back on January 24th, I posted a somewhat testy discussion of SEM and said I’d talk more about it. Here we go – and I hope you post a comment and get some discussion going because I think it’s worth talking about.

Don’t forget to check the Wikipedia definition, as that’s the most accessible description and the one I’m using to start with. Here it is in short form:

“Strategic enrollment management is a broader, more dynamic task [than enrollment management] that begins with an understanding of the world around us, anticipates changes, probes institutional mission and goals, modifying them if necessary, and coordinates ‘campus-wide efforts in such areas as marketing, student recruitment and retention, tuition pricing, financial aid, academic and career counseling, and curriculum reform.’”

Does that definition scare you – even a little? I can hear you now saying, “Grant, that’s a huge task!” But perhaps it’s like the answer to that old question, “How do you eat an elephant?” The answer: “One bite at a time.”

Bite one: understand the goal.

The definition does not say anything goal-related, and the goal will change slightly depending on your institution. Generally, the goal of SEM is to help match your institution’s enrolment needs with student’s educational needs so that both can succeed. For most of us, the goal is to increase enrolment while also increasing the quality of admitted students and helping them be successful graduates. For some it will be simply to increase enrolment because your institution’s mandate is to provide education to the masses. For some, who have mandated limits on enrolment, it will be simply to increase quality and “fit” of students.

It would be highly unfortunate if your goal is to increase your institution’s ranking in US World & News (for Americans), or Macleans (for Canadians). That’s only one-sided, and rather selfish of the institution. I know from my work with various institutions that the culture of such schools is not healthy, and I feel for the faculty, staff and students who work and study there.

If you do work at one of these institutions, you can effect change, but you have to be prepared to challenge the one-sided goal and the selfishness when you see it. SEM is about success – and that success won’t really be achieved unless both students and institution succeed.

The first bite: true Strategic Enrolment Management is about the larger goal of mutual success.

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