The Toughest Job in Campus Administration? Why good enrollment managers are so hard to find.

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Author: Aaron Basko
Date: Feb. 4, 2022
From: The Chronicle of Higher Education(Vol. 68, Issue 11)
Publisher: Chronicle of Higher Education, Inc.
Document Type: Article
Length: 1,837 words
Lexile Measure: 1110L

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ENROLLMENT MANAGEMENT is no easy business. Consider this comment I heard recently from someone with decades in the profession: "At the last national conference I attended, I was sitting around with a group of senior people. As we were swapping stories and lies, we suddenly realized that every one of us had been fired by at least one institution. This job is not for the faint of heart."

Most colleges live or die on tuition revenue. Their financial strategy is still circa 1960: Raise tuition a bit, and enroll a few more students. But that strategy has come under increased pressure. Even before the disruptions of Covid, the whole field was bracing for the "demographic cliff" set to strike in the middle of this decade. Given that students have more choices than ever, thanks to online and for-profit education, public sentiment has turned against a four-year degree as the only path to a good future. No wonder that, beginning around 2018, surveys of college presidents noted enrollment as the top "up at night" issue.

Onto this stage walks the enrollment manager--a misunderstood figure who falls somewhere between the jolly, bow-tie-wearing dean of admission and the number-crunching institutional researcher. Your job as enrollment manager is not just to enroll more students than last year, but also to make sure they are better in every measurable way and want to pay more for their educational experience. You do so by leading a largely underpaid labor force of inexperienced college graduates, who travel around to events that everyone knows are mostly ineffective.

Today's enrollment manager--typically the job title is "vice president," but that may be preceded by "associate" or "assistant"--needs to be able to:

* Inspire audiences like a professional speaker.

* Negotiate with CFOs on financial-aid policy.

* Mobilize a vast array of professors and coaches.

* Predict future trends.

* Recruit a new class (no matter what PR nightmares the institution might create).

Most of all, enrollment managers must live in denial of the fact that their future largely depends upon the whims of 18-year-olds, who seldom check their email and don't set up their voicemail.

Is it any wonder that good enrollment managers are so hard to find?

Most come to the profession from a background entirely in admissions or in financial aid. Very few sources of formal training are available to enrollment managers, which means we learn by doing. Consequently, we become adept at either technical analysis or leading by instinct, but usually not both. The work is so specialized that almost no one on the campus understands what we really do--yet the sales aspect of the job seems familiar enough that others think they can do it. Innovation is required--yet taking risks can have serious consequences. All of which helps explain why...

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