It may be the last task you want to take on this summer, but it could be the best use of your energies for your institution. For the purposes of this article, we are not talking about embarking on a prolonged process involving institutional leadership in long-term strategic enrollment planning – although this certainly has its merits and our endorsement. This is about Enrollment Managers and Deans/Directors of Admission committing to paper what is in their heads about how they expect to enroll the upcoming class.

In our 30+ years of consulting with colleges, universities, and secondary schools we have been consistently surprised at the number of institutions we have encountered that do not regularly produce a report that consolidates admission-related trend data with a summary of analyzed recruitment initiatives and serves as the basis for the next cycle’s plan. Can you imagine a company that doesn’t have a sales plan?

Why is a written recruitment and enrollment plan important? A written plan:

  • Offers tangible evidence of the disciplined thinking necessary for achieving optimal enrollment;
  • Conveys an articulated strategy that can be shared with others in the community when seeking their support and participation;
  • Guides the daily efforts of the Admission Office;
  • Educates new staff members (in Admission and elsewhere on campus) about the overall “game plan” for recruitment and enrollment;
  • Anticipates and addresses strategies and suggestions that may emerge from trustees, faculty, and other administrators; and
  • Protects the institution when there is an unexpected departure of leadership in Admission or Enrollment.

The task of writing a plan can be seen as so onerous that it is habitually relegated to the back burner of “to do” lists. When this paralysis sets in, we advise taking one step at a time. Commit to doing something, even if it’s not perfect.

How does one begin? What are the necessary elements for a plan?

  • Accurate, analyzed data. Document trends that convey “where we have been” and demonstrate an understanding of the external environment to show “where we are” to set realistic goals.
  • Clear goals. What are you aiming for in enrollment – by headcount, quality, composition (ethnicity, geography, international and transfer students), discount rate? What have past goals been and have they been achieved?
  • Articulated strategy and defined tactics. The strategy is the what, the tactic is the how. The strategy is the thinking, the argument; tactics are the specific deployment of resources towards those efforts. How will desired goals be reached? Outline expectations from search/direct mail campaigns, athletic coaches, special program recruitment, social media campaigns, and campus events.
  • Engaged community. Specify the way in which the assistance of faculty, alumni, current students and parents will be integrated into the recruitment strategy.

What else?

  • Evaluative metrics. How will you mark progress, identify issues as they arise, and determine the return on investment from recruitment and marketing activities? Record both qualitative (notes from events) and quantitative (yield by cost) indicators to guide future decisions.
  • Envision the year. Plot major initiatives and milestones on a calendar. Identify conflicts and particular pressure points that may require additional resources.
  • Involve the staff. The plan should be an office-wide effort orchestrated by the Dean or Director, but with significant participation from others – leading to a wider distribution of ownership for planning and results.

And finally….

  • Review the plan regularly and make course corrections. What is working especially well? What needs to be adjusted? Capture this in writing, so that this knowledge accumulates over the years.
  • Launch some recruitment “experiments.” Identify new geographic areas and outreach approaches to expand recruitment and enhance enrollment. Carefully monitor and analyze these initiatives – and give them time to succeed.
  • Share the plan with campus stakeholders. Make the plan available to academic, financial, and student affairs leadership as well as colleagues in institutional advancement. Share strategies and seek feedback and support for reaching enrollment goals.

The results you achieve may be different from what you set out to achieve, but the act of planning and revisiting the plan along the way gives your staff a process that guides them and your institution its best chance for success. Make sure the plan is a living document. Having one that sits on the shelf is almost as bad as not having one at all.

Long term benefit: next summer this will be much easier. You can amplify and update what you worked hard to create this summer and your plan will become increasingly more sophisticated with consistent use and attention.