Insights for a Changing Economy:
Volume 3 – Bulletin #3

The Five Dysfunctions of Enrollment Management

Part 1: Introduction

We are often asked, “What are the most pressing problems in the practice of enrollment management today?” The question is only natural since we’ve worked so closely with hundreds of colleges and universities for nearly 30 years now.

This subject has been recently considered by Maguire Associates President & CEO, Kathy Dawley, in a framework of “five dysfunctions of enrollment management” that offers a clear and intentionally provocative critique of current practices. In this issue, we present an overview of the five dysfunctions. Subsequent issues of Insights will explore each dysfunction in greater detail and ask for your candid feedback.

Kathy says, “As enrollment practitioners we have—with good reason—abandoned the limited notion of “admissions” in favor of a much more sophisticated, multi-faceted conception of enrollment management. In doing so, however, we and our institutions may have unwittingly adopted a set of dysfunctional habits of mind that have blinded us to opportunities to leverage our effectiveness.” In other words, we are working harder than ever, but not necessarily working smarter.

What are our biggest gripes?

  1. The absence of sustainable, cross-functional partnerships. This concept involves leveraging the contributions of communities that support our campuses and educational missions—alumni, faculty, parents, students, and staff. All of these groups impact the full lifecycle of enrollment management, from prospective students through lifelong alumni and supporters. There is a compelling need to encourage and create more acts of collaboration within our institutions, with less concern for protecting silos.  While there are many brilliant examples of cross-functional partnerships in higher education today, we need more and we need them to work better and be more sustainable over time.

  2. Fear of letting go. Not all recruitment strategies or tactics work indefinitely. We see far too many admission offices running at a frenetic and unsustainable pace because they keep adding initiatives and activities without letting others go. Careful analysis of return on investment is critical in determining what recruitment strategies work and what strategies can be abandoned.   We need to build courage and confidence, take more risks, and be far more efficient with precious institutional resources.

  3. The lack of commitment to proof. No one college or university can be all things to all students and families. Institutions need and want to be true to their unique character and missions and seek out those who most want what their institution offers—what it really is. One only needs to evaluate the plethora of generic search mailings that pile up in prospective student mailboxes each spring to know that institutions do not take a particularly brave or gutsy posture about offering proof about what they are—and what they do and do not do well. Across higher education, we seem stuck on the lure of consensus and certainty, saying too little in favor of waiting for perfect information.

  4. Avoidance of accountability for student retention. At the core of enrollment management is the notion that enrollment is a continuing process. Institutions must proactively “re-enroll” students year to year, and also after they graduate. This is best accomplished by being relevant at each and every stage of the educational process. In other words, institutions should strive to admit inadequacies, not over-promise at the beginning of the relationship, and proactively address problems as they arise.

  5. Inattention to the consequences of tradeoffs in stewarding net revenue. This, we believe, is the most serious dysfunction. Most institutions have the tools and talents to manage and maximize net revenue, even in difficult times. But what stands in the way of progress is the short-term mindset of “What’s in it for me?” that permeates the thinking of individual institutional leaders. The chief academic officer wants a higher SAT/ACT profile. The chief financial officer wants to balance the budget. The chief enrollment management officer wants to hit a target headcount. The head of student life doesn’t want to cram residence halls. The president feels pressure from legacy donors. And the board of trustees is intent on lowering the discount rate. We know this sounds familiar to many readers, and we are often left with a “mission impossible” scenario that says, “Do it all!”

Please stay tuned to our Insights series this spring as we tackle each of these dysfunctions, starting with the first one, “The absence of sustainable, cross-functional partnerships,”  in our next issue.


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