Enrollment Management in Higher Education

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During the last decades of the twentieth century, the concept of enrollment management emerged as a new organizational structure within two- and four-year colleges and universities. The term enrollment management refers to the ability of institutions of higher education to exert more systematic influence over the number and characteristics of new students, as well as influence the persistence of students to continue their enrollment from the time of their matriculation to their graduation. The emergence of enrollment management as a new administrative structure within institutions of higher education originated in North America, but it has also been employed in Europe, Africa, and Asia.

This phenomenon can be explained by shifting public-policy priorities in many countries that are the result governments reducing their subsidies for institutions of higher education, and for students earning a postsecondary degree. Increasingly, attending college is being viewed primarily as a private benefit to individuals rather than as a public benefit to society. Colleges and universities are being asked to fund more of their own budgets through tuition revenues, and students are borrowing increasing amounts of money to pay the rising costs of higher education. As a result of these trends, more and more students have come to view postsecondary education as a consumptive decision, and the increased competition for (and reliance upon) student dollars has caused governmental agencies, university governing boards, and university administrators to pay considerable attention to developing more effective student enrollment strategies.

Defining Enrollment Management

Don Hossler, John P. Bean, and colleagues defined enrollment management as "an organizational concept and a systematic set of activities designed to enable educational institutions to exert more influence over their student enrollments. Organized by strategic planning and supported by institutional research, enrollment management activities concern student college choice, transition to college, student attrition and retention, and student outcomes. These processes are studied to guide institutional practices in the areas of new student recruitment and financial aid, student support services, curriculum development, and other academic areas that affect enrollments, student persistence, and student outcomes from college" (p. 5). Enrollment management is an open-systems and synergistic organizational approach that fosters an organizational atmosphere that makes reporting relationships among student-service units more transparent. It also fosters an environment where offices and divisions work collaboratively to enhance the quality of the student experience, thus facilitating the strategic management of enrollments.

Enrollment management can be viewed as a synergistic organizational concept that can be used to link several administrative functions within a college or university in order to optimize institutional enrollment goals. Examples of this approach can be found among the financial strategies of many college campuses, where important linkages have emerged between senior enrollment managers and chief financial administrators. Both private and public colleges use some of their tuition income to fund campus-based scholarships for students. Tuition revenue accounts for millions of dollars, and campus-based financial aid has become a large expenditure at most four-year institutions. Enrollment management efforts have therefore become closely linked to budgeting and campus financial planning. Successful enrollment management strategies and practices must also take into account the growing importance of college and university rankings. For many institutions of higher education, enrollment management has come to involve a combination of student enrollment strategy, budgeting strategy, and institutional positioning strategy.

Key Offices and Tasks in Enrollment Management

A university's office of institutional research should play a major role in successful enrollment management efforts. The more enrollment management professionals know about the characteristics, attitudes, and values of prospective students, the better able they are to design effective recruitment and orientation programs. Persistence studies conducted by institutional researchers can inform strategies to enhance the success of first-year students, and institutional research professionals can examine the impact of various forms of student financial assistance upon matriculation decisions and the academic success. A strong institutional function is a critical element of a sound enrollment management effort.

The office of admissions plays a key role in enrollment management efforts. The first order of business for enrollment managers is to ensure that their university has broad marketing efforts in place to make the institution visible and sufficiently attractive, so that desirable prospective students are motivated to seriously consider them. These marketing efforts should be segmented to appeal to different types of students, emphasizing different strengths of the institution. Once prospective students have expressed interest, campuses need to provide the right information at the right time in order to be perceived as a good match, and thereby attract applications.

The office of financial aid has a dual purpose. The first purpose is that of providing federal, state, and campus-based need-based financial aid to enable students to attend the institution of their choice. The second purpose is the growing use of campus-based financial aid to reward academic merit and other special talents to enable colleges and universities to attract a desired number of students with the academic ability and other special talents they are seeking. Historically, institutions of higher education relied primarily upon endowed gifts to fund campus-based scholarships. Toward the close of the twentieth century, however, more and more institutions began using part of the tuition students pay to fund scholarships. This practice is often described as tuition discounting.

Orientation programs in the summer and fall bring prospective students (and sometimes their parents) to campus for as little as one or two days and for as long as a week. These programs give students a closer look at an institution, and they also help prospective students to succeed once they decide to attend. Through campus tours, academic advising and registration, and structured academic and social programs, orientation programs help aspiring students to become familiar with the campus culture, the norms, and the values of the faculty and of peers. This is crucial to the anticipatory socialization process and the getting-ready behaviors can facilitate a successful transition to college.

Student retention efforts are an important aspect of enrollment management efforts. Few colleges or universities have formal retention offices. Instead they have retention programs that can be organized by a range of academic and student-life offices. The dean of academic affairs, the dean of student affairs, or an enrollment management division can sponsor academic support programs. A number of institutional interventions are known to exert a positive influence upon student success and persistence during the first year of college. These include enhanced student life and academic initiatives to encourage in-class and out-of-class interaction between first-year students and faculty, staff, and other students; creating more opportunities for students to work on campus; engagement in student activities and events; providing academic and career advising that promotes clear career and academic goals; enacting academic and pedagogical policies and practices that enhance student study habits and promote regular class attendance; a strong orientation program; special support programs for international students and students of color; and family and/or spousal/partner support for degree completion.

Other student-life offices can also be integral to the success of enrollment management offices, including academic advising, academic support and tutoring centers, career planning, student activities, and residence life.

Organizational Models

The literature on enrollment management often addresses different administrative approaches for organizing enrollment management efforts.

The enrollment management coordinator. The enrollment management coordinator is charged with organizing recruitment and retention activities. Usually, a midlevel administrator, such as the dean of admissions or financial aid, is asked to coordinate offices such as admissions, financial aid, and registration and records. An important disadvantage is that the coordinator model provides no formal mechanism for linking enrollment concerns into the decision-making agenda of senior level administrators.

The enrollment management matrix. The enrollment management matrix is a more centralized approach. In the matrix model, an existing senior level administrator, such as the vice president for student affairs, academic affairs, or institutional advancement, directs the activities of the enrollment management matrix. In this model, administrative units such as financial aid or student retention are not formally reassigned to a new vice president. Instead, the administrative heads of these units continue their existing reporting relationships, but they also become part of the enrollment management matrix.

The enrollment management division. The most centralized organizational model is the enrollment management division. In the division model, a vice president or associate vice president is assigned the responsibilities for most or all of the administrative areas that influence student enrollments, housed within one large functional unit. This model requires high levels of administrative support; the president or a senior vice president generally has to become a strong advocate of this model. One important advantage of this model is that an enrollment management vice president can carry enrollment-related concerns directly to the president and the board of trustees.

There is little empirical evidence to indicate that any particular organizational approach is inherently better than another. Most experienced enrollment managers place more emphasis on strong working relationships with other key administrators on campus than on advocating for a specific organizational model. Another recurring theme is the need for a senior campus administrator, such as the president or provost, to provide visible and consistent support for the institution's enrollment management efforts. In colleges and universities of all sizes, support from the top appears to be more important than a specific administrative structure established to manage enrollments.

Given the current pressures on institutions to maximize revenue, and the attention being given to the characteristics of enrolled students, enrollment management is likely to remain an important administrative focus at most colleges and universities.

See also: College Admissions; College Financial Aid; College Recruitment Practices; College Search and Selection; College Student Retention.


Black, James. 2001. Strategic Enrollment Management Revolution. Washington, DC: American Association of Collegiate Registrars and Admission Officers.

Coomes, Michael. 2000. The Role Financial Aid Plays in Enrollment Management. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Gaither, Gerald, ed. 2000. Promising Practices in Recruitment, Remediation, and Retention. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Hossler, Don; Bean, John P.; and Associates. 1990. The Strategic Management of College Enrollments. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Hossler, Don. 1986. Creating Effective Enrollment Management Systems. New York: The College Board.

Tinto, Vincent. 1993. Leaving College: Rethinking the Causes and Cures of Student Attrition, 2nd edition. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Don Hossler