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EM=C2: A New Formula for Enrollment Management

The original concepts and precepts of Enrollment Management (EM) grew out of a set of ideas and principles that arose some 30 years ago in response to compelling needs of colleges and universities. From the start, EM focused on creating strategic alignment and coherent messaging across the institution and building a high degree of interpersonal collaboration within and across functions, all guided by strong institutional leadership. Over the years, EM has evolved in response to changing realities in the marketplace and forces impinging on higher education. As competition among schools has increased, EM has taken on more and more of the trappings and language of marketing, including the “sales funnel” metaphor and all of the other corporate marketing tools and techniques: market research, modeling, positioning, branding, etc.

Contributing to this preoccupation with gaining competitive advantage is the inordinate influence of US News and other college ranking publications – a development that has entangled college presidents, trustees, enrollment officials and other institutional leaders in a serious double bind. Either they subscribe to the mantra of marketing-at-all-costs – even to the extent of gaming the system to optimize the institution’s ranking – or they risk the erosion of institutional reputation and competitive standing.

As a result, in far too many schools, Enrollment Management has become equated more with short-term strategic advantage at the point of enrollment and less about finding the best fit between school and student to the long-term benefit of each. Not surprisingly, we’ve witnessed a backlash against EM, which many view as a commercial wolf in nonprofit sheep’s clothing that promotes the commoditization of higher education through the deployment of an array of PR tactics.

In our opinion, the problem is not with Enrollment Management per se, but with the fact that EM as currently practiced has not only been co-opted by the rankings pressure but also has failed to keep pace with other dramatic changes affecting institutions of higher education today — particularly the dramatic growth of the Internet and the geometrically exploding number of services, relationships, and decision complexities it has spawned.

Fortunately, this unprecedented explosion of information can be harnessed in the interest of deriving levels of meaning heretofore unimagined. Advances in information technology and the emergence of integrated databases make possible a wealth of new knowledge and insight about the many communities served by the institution.

Adopting a new, more expansive approach to Enrollment Management – one that is lifetime-oriented and institution-wide – in which the discipline is emphasized throughout the institution, is an essential first step in leveraging these new technologies in ways that are more responsive to today’s challenges and opportunities.

The Physics of a Profession

In writing EM=C2: A New Formula for Enrollment Management, we drew upon an array of information sources, including the professional literature, our own several decades’ worth of consulting experience, and the collective, eclectic experience of our Maguire Associates colleagues. In addition, we have benefited from pertinent findings from the four important survey studies that Maguire Associates has conducted over the past few years in partnership with The Chronicle of Higher Education (college and university presidents in 2005, high school teachers and university faculty members in 2006, college and university governing board members and trustees in 2007, and senior level admissions and enrollment management officials in 2008).

Here are just a few provocative points from EM=C2: A New Formula for Enrollment Management:

  • The conventional enrollment “funnel” does not adequately describe this new world of multiple, on-line and on-ground communities.

  • We need to expand our thinking to include the cultivating, nurturing, and leveraging of a Community of Communities (C2) – including communities of influence, as well as communities of students, faculty, alumni, advocates, stewards, donors, etc. EM=C2 is our name for this reformulation of Enrollment Management – a new EM with Community at its core.

  • Inspired by Einstein’s elegant formula, we need to think of EM in terms of the new physics with all of its uncertainty, simultaneity, distributed responsibility, multidimensionality, and “order within chaos.”

  • Introducing a C2 sensibility to the practice of Enrollment Management will require a good deal of structured experimentation and the best thinking of many practitioners, sharing their ideas, successes, and failures in a robust discussion extending over time.

Fulfilling EM's Potential

More than 30 years after Jack Maguire first used the term "Enrollment Management" in print – in a 1976 Boston College Bridge magazine article – we believe that Enrollment Management has only begun to fulfill its potential. The times call for replenishing the EM tool box with new tools and, more importantly, with a higher expectation of Enrollment Management as a professional discipline. But first, institutions of higher education must recognize that direct control of the enrollment process is illusory. Like it or not, the process is already beyond that kind of control.

However, the opportunity exists to assert a far more effective kind of indirect influence – through data-driven insight, values-based inspiration, highly responsive assistance, and flexible facilitation.

We wrote EM=C2: A New Formula for Enrollment Management both because we care deeply about the importance of higher education in expanding the horizons and lifting the lives of people young and old and because, as professional consultants who are honored to assist those charged with fulfilling this noble purpose, we are concerned about assuring the continued efficacy of Enrollment Management as a critical administrative function.

We believe that adopting a C2 approach can help EM practitioners regain the high ground and a new sense of institutional ownership of the terms shaping the current debate over the metrics, the messages and the methods used in marketing higher education to all of its many student and donor communities.

Much more to come in:
EM=C2: A New Formula for Enrollment Management
Publication date: September 25th, 2008

Click here to get an update on how to buy the book when it's released

Watch for the launch of The Community Square – an online community and discussion forum for critical enrollment management issues, ideas, questions, and comments.

Hope to see you in
The Community Square
Opening September 25th, 2008

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