Facets of Strategic Enrolment Management

A number of years ago, I attended a lecture by Yale philsopher Nicholas Wolterstorff where he introduced the idea that each person has a particular view of their world, and to dismiss it or exclude it means we lose and something important that affects us all. Just as a one faceted diamond would be almost worthless, expecting my view of the world to be the only one worth viewing is next to worthless. Equally important is that if one facet is excluded it affects the value of the whole diamond. He explained that it is only when we have a multifaceted view does the richness of life become evident.

I’ve been reading a newly published book, Strategic Enrollment Management: Transforming Higher Education, and early on the author of Chapter 1 proposes that SEM needs different orientations. He argues much like Wolterstorff that having only one orientation can be very limiting.

The authors present 4 orientations that are commonly argued in isolation of each other:

  1. Administrative Orientation: it’s all about efficiency of process while ignoring student success or the mission of the academy.
  2. Student-focused Orientation: it’s all about individual development, and the student is always the centre.
  3. Academic Orientation: faculty run things and students are invited to participate but it is all about curriculum, programs, research and teaching.
  4. Market-centered Orientation: paying attention to market forces to keep the institution nimble, often ignoring the academic or the student needs of the future.

Here is an example of one-dimensional thinking that I heard earlier this semester. I was in a meeting with a faculty member who argued strongly that class schedules shouldn’t matter to students because “they are here to learn! Let them get up early and stay up late – that’s university life – why else are they here?” If they are distracted by other matters, this person said, “then it is time they put on their big-boy or big-girl pants and get on with it.” That’s a classic argument that the academic nature of the institution is the most important.

On the other hand, I’ve also met with administrators who believe we should be adding and dropping degrees and majors every year because we need to keep up the economic needs of society. But really, the underlying message was, “I can sell a new program easier than I can a tired old one.” This is a common argument that the marketing-centered orientation is the most important one.

Here is the wisdom of Transforming Education: we should seek the input of all four orientations when thinking about Strategic Enrolment Management. “Our attention to process must take into account the needs of the student-centered campus while embedding our actions in the academic mission, all the while acting in concert with the market and our institutions position in it” (p. 23).

Of course the trick is figuring out how to do that. In an academic institution, we’re quite good at debating and less good at taking action. My own opinion in the matter is to start by taking small actions. Make small choices with  the inevitable errors (such as over-emphasizing one of the four facets above), then address the error by inviting and including more input from the others when taking the next small action. Small actions over time end up becoming larger actions, so eventually we’ll get somewhere, and hopefully with all facets having some influence towards a more valuable whole.

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