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The Milk Trout

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“Some circumstantial evidence is very strong, as when you find a trout in the milk.” - Henry David Thoreau


Maguire Associates and The Chronicle of Higher Education have partnered on four occasions to study governance and other issues among presidents, trustees, faculty, and most recently, admissions and enrollment officers. We have learned many interesting things about how leadership and management work at colleges and universities.

In our earlier research, we were somewhat surprised to learn that presidents are even more preoccupied with financial and enrollment issues when defining their success than their more conservative governing boards. However, the most satisfied presidents have a more integrated view of what constitutes "success."  They engage in generative thinking, strategic planning, and other "big picture" work, which connect seamlessly with improving financial and enrollment management. The less satisfied presidents are more focused on out-of-balance budgets and declining enrollment, often to the exclusion of long-range planning.

Chief admissions and enrollment officers behave in a way quite similar to their presidents. The most satisfied leaders in our latest lengthy survey of 461 top officials throughout the United States are those who engage in strategic planning most frequently, while doing moderate amounts of work in lower level enrollment activities such as high school visits and campus interviews.

There is also a strong correlation between admission and enrollment leaders' job satisfaction and their belief that they are being served well by the IT department. This is no accident, since control of and confidence in the flow and integration of reliable data are what allow for optimal strategic planning and generative thinking. 

Those institutions which make the most use of volunteer community constituencies - notably faculty, students, and alumni - are also more likely to use technology effectively. On average, they have more resources to dedicate to enrollment functions (larger budgets, higher tuitions, and endowments) and show higher selectivity and enrollment success. These institutions are BOTH high touch and high tech - which is the most desirable approach for an enrollment management operation.

Overall, perhaps the single most surprising outcome of our research - Thoreau’s “trout in the milk,” if you will - was the apparent decline over the last 10 to 20 years in the use of alumni volunteers. Those senior admissions and enrollment officers with more than 20 years experience have made much more frequent use of alumni in the recruitment and yield-enhancement functions than those with fewer than 5 years experience. Those younger and newer to the field have possibly relied more on technology, with extraordinary advancements in the use of the web (identified throughout our research), while their senior counterparts have had less opportunity (as well as probable inclination) to make use of the newest electronic technology. Again, the ideal situation, prevalent at the most successful institutions, is a combination of high touch and high tech. 


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Jack Maguire
Chairman and Founder of Maguire Associates


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