“The traditional view of enrolment management is about setting
targets and managing demand, and how many offers you make to get the
right number of students,” says Richard Levin, executive director, enrol-
ment services, and university registrar at the University of Toronto. “It’s
Strategic enrolment management, he says, is a long-term process that
attempts to engage students from the time they are prospects to the time
they graduate, with the idea that if the university admits the right stu-
dents and makes sure they succeed, the process is better for everyone.
Strategic enrolment management, or SEM, originated at Boston
College in the 1970s and gradually spread through colleges and universities in the United States; a SEM conference has been held by the
American Association of Collegiate Registrars and Admissions Officers
every year since 1990. The concept was picked up much more recently
in Canada, according to Strategic Enrolment Intelligence, billed as “Canada’s
first book on strategic enrolment management” and published by the
Academica Group in 2010.
Canadians’ interest in SEM reflects the changes in the postsecondary
landscape, including increased competition among institutions and new
provincial mandates for growth. “There are very few facets of enrolment
management that are the same as they were a decade ago,” observes Scott
Duguay, director of enrolment management at Bishop’s University.
Universities today rely more on tuition revenue to pay for teaching
than they did in the early 1990s. Enrolment is a factor in the size of a
university’s operating grant from most provincial governments. And, says
Mr. Duguay, students and their parents have higher expectations. Moreover, universities are competing with each other as they try to attract students beyond the local area. All together, these factors mean that more
attention is being paid to the student experience and student success.
“If there is a thread to all of this, it’s that the landscape is changing
– the internal landscape and the external landscape,” says Asa Kachan, as-
sistant vice-president, enrolment management, and registrar at Dalhousie
University. “Much of what we do is a dance. There’s a science to it – hard
data. The other piece is an art.”
One big change has been in the way universities present themselves
to potential students. Because Dalhousie now competes in many differ-
ent markets, says Ms. Kachan, it sells the “Dalhousie experience” rather
than the academic programs. A positive experience creates good word-
of-mouth, she says, and helps attract and keep students.
“It’s less about a sales pitch and more about
listening to what matters to potential students
and seeing whether there’s a fit.”
To promote the Dalhousie experience, recruiters are trained to listen
more closely to prospective students to learn whether the experience will
work for them. “It’s less about a sales pitch and more about listening to
what matters to them and seeing whether there’s a fit,” says Ms. Kachan.
This is the first stage in building a lasting relationship with a student,
and it’s a crucial part of SEM. Retention is as important as recruitment,
in part because it costs less to keep students than to recruit them. But
it’s also better for students to choose an institution that’s a good fit for
them. There are all sorts of approaches to retention, and many are geared
to keeping students from dropping out during first year, when attrition
rates are highest.
The University of British Columbia made a fairly radical change to its
admissions process last year for its Vancouver campus. UBC now requires
applicants to submit, along with their high-school marks, a personal profile where they answer questions about their personal characteristics
and non-academic strengths. The new broad-based admissions process
is designed to help the university choose students who will engage with
others, show leadership and be able to deal with obstacles. Evaluating
the personal profiles entails an enormous amount of work, says Walter
Sudmant, director of planning and institutional research at UBC. But,
he adds, it’s worth it because marks don’t tell a university all it needs to
know. That may be especially true for a university like UBC that recruits
from a narrow band of high-achieving students.
UBC’s Sauder School of Business has used the broad-based admissions process for more than six years, and early results show it is working.
Pamela Lim, assistant dean and director of undergraduate programs at
Sauder, says the retention rate has grown to 91 percent from 87 percent.
There has been a measurable improvement in student engagement, with
29 percent of students now involved in student government, associated
clubs and conferences. The number of students going on international
exchanges rose dramatically since the introduction of broad-based
admissions, to 34 percent from 15 percent.
Enrolment management is more effective if all the relevant players in
the university are involved. Sometimes structures are changed to encourage that. U of T, for example, melded student recruitment, admissions
and financial aid offices into one unit called enrolment services. It also
put in place a SEM committee made up of registrars and recruitment and
admissions staff from faculties and campuses that admit students directly from high school. The committee identifies and clarifies recruitment