Marguerite J. Dennis provides International Strategic Educational Planning through MJDennis Consulting. Her area of expertise is marketing higher education programs and developing strategic international plans for colleges and universities in the United States and around the world.

She served as a higher education administrator for more than 30 years, first at St. John’s University in New York, then at Georgetown University in Washington, D.C., and finally at Suffolk University in Boston. You can learn more at http://mjdennisconsulting.com and contact her at margueritedennis@gmail.com.

In the September 1989 issue of Change magazine, Richard Chait, executive director of The National Center for Postsecondary Governance and Finance at the University of Maryland, describes the following memorandum:

To: The Dean of Enrollment Management

From: The President (or Faculty Senate)

Welcome aboard. Please recruit more and better students from a smaller and weaker pool of prospects without increased costs, more financial aid, or drastic program changes. Would like to see results reflected in next year’s class. Best wishes.

Let’s fast forward to 2014 and read the following memo:

To: The President, Provost, Faculty Senate, Chief Financial Officer, Directors of Admission, Financial Aid, Retention, Student Services, Technology, Career Counseling and Alumni Affairs

From: The Dean of Enrollment Management

Welcome to a new academic year. Please give me a holistic administrative structure that will allow me to recruit students based on outcomes and return on educational investment. Please provide information on the success of our students from first to second year and the percentage of students who graduate in four years with manageable debt. Would like to include the employment statistics of recent graduates and alumni in next year’s marketing plan. Best wishes.

If it seems reasonable to hold enrollment managers solely responsible for meeting enrollment and tuition goals, let’s consider the following:

According to the Federal Reserve, inflation-adjusted median family income declined by 7.6 percent between 2007 and 2010, and median net worth declined by 39 percent.

At the same time that family income, net worth and disposable income declined, fees at private universities increased by 28 percent and fees at public institutions increased by 27 percent.

At the same time as tuition and fees increased, federal and state support for higher education decreased.

Next came the Great Recession with the loss of millions of jobs. College graduates, like many older workers, found it increasingly difficult to obtain employment. Finally came the spate of editorials and opinion articles questioning the value of a college education.

Clayton Christensen, author of The Innovative University, wrote that 50 percent of current colleges and universities will either close or merge by 2020. Susan Fitzgerald of Moody’s predicted a “death spiral” of college closings.

A 2011 Pew Research Center report said that 57 percent of Americans felt that a college education was not good value.

Against this background and economic reality, it is both unreasonable and unrealistic to expect enrollment managers alone to “bring in a class” every year. The higher education environment is much more complicated today than it was nearly 35 years ago when Jack Maguire first coined the term enrollment management. I would suggest that the “perfect storm” in higher education cannot be fully addressed even by the most sophisticated traditional strategic enrollment management plans.

The economy has changed, the American psyche has changed — maybe forever — about the value of a college education, and the students of tomorrow have changed.

The students of tomorrow:

  • Will be older, minority (the new majority) and female.
  • Will attend school closer to home.
  • May opt for technical and or vocational two-year degrees or certificates.
  • Will attend college part-time.
  • Will attend college year-round.
  • Will attend many institutions and have transcripts from more than one institution.
  • Will enroll in schools with competency-based options and service-learning programs.
  • Will select school based, in part, on job placement.
  • Will take courses online and in the classroom.
  • Will attend classes in the evening and on the weekend.
  • Will participate in one or more internship programs.
  • Will manage their financial aid after enrollment and graduate with manageable debt based on first-year starting salaries.
  • Will establish a relationship with the staffs of the career counseling center and alumni office.

Can any single administrator meet the needs of the students of tomorrow? As a former enrollment manager, I realize that political structures, entrenched interests and rigid administrative silos make it impossible at times to move the dial. When enrollment goals are not met, the fault is usually laid at the enrollment manager’s doorstep.

In a recent publication, What Presidents Think: A 2013 Survey of Four-Year College Presidents by Jeffrey Selingo, 25 percent of the presidents surveyed reported that they deal daily with enrollment issues, an increase from 13 percent in 2005. However, that is still a minority, and many enrollment managers would welcome intervention from their president or provost.

Only presidents or provosts can create a yearlong calendar of classes, increase online learning, create a hybrid curriculum, offer new courses and certificate programs, authorize a four-year career counseling program, and mandate employment statistics be shared with the enrollment management staff. Only a president or provost can be certain that strong academic advising and advisors help first-year students return for the second year.

Only presidents can create a climate that allows enrollment managers, directors of admission and financial aid, student service deans, retention directors, technology staff, and staff from the career counseling and alumni affairs offices to be at the same table when marketing and recruitment plans are drafted for the next admission cycle. And only presidents or provosts have the authority to hold the entire team responsible for future enrollment, retention and graduation.

In 1850, Francis Wayland, president of Brown University, wrote the following: “Our colleges are not filled because we do not furnish the education desired by the people. We have produced an article for which demand is diminishing. We sell it at less than cost, and the deficiency is made up by charity. We give it away, and the demand still diminishes.”

Based on President Wayland’s quote, perhaps it is safe to assume that some of the problems higher education is experiencing today are not unique.

The concept of managing enrollment today from a single office and person should shift to campuswide involvement, with several offices all contributing to enrolling and graduating students. And managing the entire enterprise should be the president or provost.