After nearly a decade of mistakes, experimentation and progress, it is very clear that the role of the enrollment manager, especially at a historically Black college or university (HBCU), requires a reservoir of energy, fortitude and patience. In addition, the complexity of the role, which inherently requires specific competencies like managing institutional and external relationships, negotiating priorities and understanding the political landscape, while attempting to be diligent and informative with university constituents about enrollment, is quite a heavy lift.
In a shorter phrase, leading an enrollment management unit at an HBCU is an enormous task. Walter Elliot echoes poignantly: “Perseverance is not a long race; it is many short races, one after the other.” Through trial and error, and ultimately wisdom, I have learned that to be an effective enrollment manager at an HBCU, effective communication, intentional collaboration and strategic coordination are essential to institutional enrollment success.
As indicated by data and trends, most colleges and universities will experience an enrollment decline or stagnation due to the shortage of high school graduates forecast over the next decade. Only specific regions within the nation are expected to anticipate a mass production of high school graduates that will be a minority — non-White, who will become much of the college-age-going prospects. This does not mean that these prospects will go to college or even consider HBCUs as an option. However, this offers a picture of what is to come.
As such, the constricted market will force institutions of all types to truly understand their footprint of distinction or differentiation and carve out a competitive edge very pointedly. For HBCUs, the enrollment manager must be able to articulate the unevenness of the distribution of prospects as well as prepare the campus for the shift in demographics and the inherent needs that come with this change. These changes will require HBCUs to understand what types of actions will be needed, if any at all, because they will have an immense impact on net tuition, yield conversion, persistence, retention and, ultimately, graduation rates.
For that reason, in articulating the needs for resources, the enrollment manager must also ensure that the university as a whole understands the importance of strategic enrollment planning through recruitment data, leveraging and targeting efforts to meet enrollment goals. Even more critical, the enrollment manager must, in concert with academic affairs and student affairs, develop a potent student success/retention infrastructure that is nimble and multidimensional and addresses diversity, gender and racial or ethnic variances. In doing this, the procurement of confidence and trust from the faculty, senior leadership, staff and board of trustees is most crucial.
The following perspectives are recommended to assist in anchoring enrollment stability as the enrollment manager at HBCUs:
The art of weaving institutional priorities, charting pathways to student success and assessing budgetary impact is crucial through this important piece. In fact, it is the crux of enrollment success, as communicating requires the utmost clarity and linearity. Communication at the leadership level is paramount, as all changes begin from the top. Therefore, communication commencing from the enrollment manager must be guided and measured. It is prudent to be comparative, which requires clean data to ensure that while establishing a narrative, direction is being provided that speaks to progress, strategies employed, human capital and impact.
It is important to be aware that not everyone has a knack for data utility or the explication of it. Therefore, the narrative must be scaffolded and unambiguous for different audiences. As information is funneled through admissions, financial aid, the office of the registrar, student affairs or from the faculty, the narrative must be simple and tied to a goa. Assessment of progress in enrollment is everything. Although not everyone will see it as such, the art of delivery and the ability to make enrollment information relevant across the board is the key marker of institutional buy-in of your vision. This will determine if you will be effective or stalemate. Be deliberate and intentional with a clear goal and demonstrate enrollment progress.
Through collaboration, connecting the goals in a simple way to each unit, group and constituent or team member offers you the opportunity to garner institutional support. As indicated in the communication piece, being simple and goal-oriented is critical to being effective. This, however, is not easy because collaboration hinges on a healthy relationship that must be authentic, honest, consistent and reliable. Therefore, with being simple, goal-oriented and having established authentic professional relationships, you are able to then “open the doors” for all to enter, opine, criticize — but, most importantly, feel relevant. Once that is intentionally done, you become a facilitator of strategies, ideas and operational designs. Others begin to see you as authentically connected to a purpose beyond yourself by understanding the role of others in the enrollment scheme.
While designing that scheme, you serve as the lead and teacher alike, because you orchestrate the landscape of enrollment on campus via various perspectives. When this is achieved, a rich dialogue emerges whereby deans understand the difference between strategic recruitment and critical retention efforts to maintain or grow enrollment; professors understand the need to converge traditional with current to ensure the classroom experience is dynamic; the board members understand that enrollment is not only admissions, but see that its portfolio is vast and realize that their knowledge in leading institutional aspirations has to be centered on student success on a global perspective — this will then illustrate your capacity to effect a cultural shift in thinking, planning and actions.
Another salient derivative of this is essentially leading the institution to re-envision itself as a global option instead of a regional or national choice. Through that lens, the institution looks at itself and should be able, through collaboration, to move forward together intentionally. For HBCUs, this is critical to becoming a global choice and maintaining competitive edge, because an institution that knows itself and what it does well inherently carves out a niche. As it evolves, so will its niche markets because enrollment is a dynamic that constantly changes per annum alongside global college-age-going prospects. Intentional collaboration will lead to a strategic enrollment management plan that is led by the enrollment manager but championed by all.
When the average person thinks of HBCUs, one thought is that it is for students of color and no one else. Another perspective is more pejorative: under-resourced, low academic standards, paltry graduation rates, bad customer service and low-slung alumni giving. The ones that are viewed more positively are often segmented and offered limited to intermittent laudation. Therefore, the enrollment manager must strategically unpack this perennial perception. To do so, communication, collaboration and coordination are needed.
The enrollment manager must unearth institutional history, historical data, student success evidence and academic value of the institution as measured internally and externally to help craft the institution’s distinctive footprint to appeal to the 2020 prospective student. Through the enrollment manager, he or she facilitates this enormous work via a collaborative effort with one sole mission: determine what the institution is and what it will become in the future through an enrollment lens. This strategic effort begs for a duality within the enrollment manager: teacher and learner. You teach your team and the institution about industry practice, data analysis and measurement of goals while learning about the institution’s history, its people and its ability to morph into its new- a marketplace for all prospects globally while appreciating the history of its founding. The hardest part of this piece is properly contextualizing the need to move forward by angling tis competitive edge and ascertaining its global value to change the perception of external influencers on the institution – an HBCU.
Messaging, establishing goals and accountability are factors the enrollment manager uses to corporately inform change and measure progress. Messaging, from a collaborative and strategic vantage point, allows everyone to be on the same-page. Establishing goals generates internal drive and inspires healthy challenges that will engender people to regenerate themselves when they feel connected to the bigger picture. Accountability holds you and the institution responsible for its current state of affairs and its future. Hence, there is an implicit and explicit expectation that you plan, consider and effect actions in the best interest of the institution. This includes its employees, students and alums. For that reason, the strategic coordination, which needs intentional collaboration and effective communication, will give birth to a copious strategic enrollment plan that dovetails with the institution’s strategic vision for its next aspired stage.
Whether you sit on the cabinet or report to a cabinet member, your role as the enrollment manager is critical next to the president because your work impacts net tuition, institutional growth and viability. As a result, beyond the technical skills and operational aptitude needed to lead an enrollment unit, you must see yourself as a university officer charged with facilitating a pathway forward to lead the institution to its next enrollment boom. Additionally, as the enrollment manager, managing enrollment is not going to ensure your survival or institutional success. It’s a combination of that with an astute leadership perspective tied to effective communication, intentional collaboration and strategic coordination. Through those three factors, an enrollment manager at an HBCU can flourish and experience institutional enrollment progression through his or her team.
Dwight B. Sanchez is associate vice president for Enrollment Service at the University of the District of Columbia.