The Pulse of Higher Ed

Perspectives on Online and Professional Education
from UPCEA’s Research and Consulting Experts

Four Steps to Help Enrollment Managers Lead in a Challenging Environment

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By Vickie Cook

Many institutions are facing significant financial hurdles and enrollment managers are called upon now more than ever to solve the multiple challenges related to enrollment issues including low numbers, diversification of learners to include the growing number and importance of adult learners, international enrollments, and tension between undergraduate and graduate program enrollments.  Changing our current practices is vital to the future organizational health and rebounding toward fulfilling our mission in the higher education landscape.   

As many as 57% of public 4-year institutions have reported budgetary challenges.  Enrollment challenges create financial barriers for institutional effectiveness. Up to 77% of private, not-for-profit institutions have concerns about significant budget deficits (Boggs, Boroditsky, Krishnan, and Sarakatsannis, 2021).  Public institutions report the same budget deficits occurring at both large and small institutions (Nietzel and Ambrose, 2024). As so many research studies have concluded, we are at a tipping point between a demographic cliff and the economic factors that impact decisions to continue pursuing an undergraduate degree (Grawe, 2023).   

While the needs are great among all institutions, there are opportunities to think about enrollment management with distinctive approaches to assist your institution with moving forward.  We will look at four specific management steps that may assist your team in considering alternatives to your current practices and thus leading your institution toward rebounding growth.   

  1. Build a strategy.  While this may not seem like a new idea, building out or changing the strategic approach to enrollment management is the first step to developing and encouraging new ideas and thoughts.  Most institutions have a Strategic Enrollment Management Plan (SEMP), however, if that plan is not reviewed annually and evaluated for continued positive growth, it is not a true SEMP.  To be effective, the SEMP must be current, relevant, and measurable.  Currency of the plan should be within the most recent 6-month period with specific approaches to the next 6 months clearly identified.  The SEMP cannot be a long-term static document.  It must be a living document that morphs as changes hit the institution, the marketplace, and the industry.

  2. Create Process/Practice Maps.  A business process/practice map can assist your teams in determining where there is need for change.  Just because the map reflects the way your business processes have always been done, does not mean that it should continue to be done in that manner.  But, before changes are made, a true plan should be discussed and agreed upon regarding the current practices.   Continued dialogue would focus on why the practice is utilized, what problem does the process/practice solve, and what technology integration or upgrade could support the part of the process/practice that might be automated.  Automation of regular processes will allow your human resources to focus their attention on student interaction and high-level thinking and performance.  All lower-level processes should be reviewed for automation.  A process map should be created for all vital functions of the enrollment management unit, both large and small.  By creating the appropriate process maps for each vital function, true change can begin to be implemented.

  3. Implement Business Practice/Process Automation.  After the process maps are created, discussion regarding appropriate changes and an identified timeline and responsibilities can be determined.  Part of that implementation will be the creation of an evaluation document.  Three questions should drive the business practice/process automation work:
    1. How might automation play a part in implementing the identified needed changes?  
    2. What evaluation tool will be used and what data will be collected? 
    3. What will success look like?   

 Through careful use of these steps, enrollment managers can test guided changes, assess each component of the process/practice mapping, and evaluate the overall change that has occurred.  By structuring enrollment management processes through interaction between human engagement and technology for automation, enrollment managers can lead their units through the crises we see in today’s challenging environments in higher education.   


If you are interested in engaging with other member institutions around enrollment management, please join the conversation on CORe, consider joining the UPCEA Marketing, Enrollment, and Student Succes (MESS) Network and/or attending the UPCEA MEMS – Marketing, Enrollment Management, Student Success conference in Philadelphia, PA, December 3-5, 2024


Vickie Cook is the Vice Chancellor for Enrollment and Retention Management and a Research Professor of Education at the University of Illinois Springfield, as well as a Strategic Advisor for UPCEA Research and Consulting.  To learn more about UPCEA Research and Consulting, please contact [email protected].  




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