Understanding Enrollment: Guiding Board Members

By Don Hossler and Jerome Lucido April 20, 2020 May 11th, 2021 Blog Post

Opinions expressed in AGB blogs are those of the authors and not necessarily those of the institutions that employ them or of AGB.

AGB asked the authors of a new book to provide insight into some important aspects of enrollment management. Here are their observations.

  1. In light of the COVID-19 pandemic, what is the most critical question for boards to ask regarding enrollment management?
    There are three critical questions boards should be asking:
    • To what extent are current students at risk of not returning and newly admitted students not enrolling?
    • What are our plans to address concerns regarding the enrollment of returning and new students and how confident are you that they will work? Insist upon data to assure board members that these plans are realistic.
    • What is our business plan if our enrollment revenue drops precipitously?
  2. What is the role of the board in ensuring that its institution has a sustainable and effective enrollment strategy? What data and metrics do the board need to do this well?
    Except for the most selective schools, no enrollment officer can ensure that there is a sustainable strategy in place. It is essential that board members remain informed skeptics. Don’t ask for aspirational goals; instead, request a realistic and sound set of analyses.
    Board members should ask the enrollment organization to provide information on anticipated enrollments for in-state and out-of-state students, by gender, race, and financial need—based upon enrollment deposits, housing deposits if applicable, orientation reservations/deposits, and students who have registered for the fall. These numbers should be compared with past years on the same dates.
    Phone surveys can be conducted to ascertain students plans, and academic planners should be asked to prepare course delivery contingency plans for online and blended learning for the upcoming fall and spring terms.
  3. How important is market position? How does the COVID-19 pandemic affect the constraints of market position?
    Unless a vaccine is discovered very quickly, market position and endowments are the major factor that will determine the enrollment outcomes. As institutional selectivity and rankings decline, the more enrollment outcomes will be at risk. Again, we reiterate, boards should insist on sound analyses of market position. It is critical not to be trapped into an unrealistic analysis. Aspirational peers are not peers and competitors are most often different from peers. A realistic assessment of market position should inform impact planning and mitigation.
  4. How can boards help shape the enrollment management function?
    Boards should be prepared, based on data, to increase discount rates substantially in order to retain current students and to retain newly admitted students. In some instances, the most important role the board can play is to make decisions in advance as to how the college/university can remain open should enrollments fall precipitously. Unless institutions are in the highest tier of selectivity, boards will need to determine how they can fund an entire year of business with the hopes that 2020-21 will turn out not to be the new normal.
    Board members need to lead the way in expressing a realistic sense of confidence to faculty, administration, and staff. Board members, as well as the president, need to acknowledge uncertainty—and, if possible, provide details about concerns—so that they sound authentic. Board members cannot come across as pollyannaish about the future. They need to talk about the actions the campus is taking, and to make clear that everyone needs to be prepared to pitch in—that their involvement will be needed to get past this challenge. Basically, it is about the so important, and yet hard to define, leadership—the kind of leadership that engenders trust.


Don Hossler, PhD, and Jerome A. Lucido, PhD, are the authors of the newly released publication, Understanding Enrollment Management: A Guide for College and University Board Members.


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