How Enrollment Management is Shifting in the Modern Admissions Office

In Brief:

  • In recent years, institutions have realized that the work of creating and executing strategic enrollment plans, and the work of creating and executing the admissions process are actually separate processes with separate goals. In many cases, they’re even separate roles.

  • The targeted objectives for enrollment management is data-driven planning and decision-making, a focus on inquiry management and lead nurturing, and strategic about student retention.

Blog Post


For many years, the gold standard in institutions’ admissions offices was to have a well-defined and universal tier of admissions professionals. Most universities, no matter whether they were independent, faith-based, or otherwise affiliated, followed this same model. The director of admissions oversaw all admissions and enrollment responsibilities, with other employees (like an admissions assistant or admissions counselor) contributing to the overall function of the office. The goals tended to be universal as well – first priority: hit student enrollment goals. Second objective: perpetuate a thorough and organized admissions and enrollment process.

But times have changed. In recent years, institutions have realized that the work of creating and executing strategic enrollment plans, and the work of creating and executing the admissions process are actually separate processes with separate goals. In many cases, they’re even separate roles.

Why are institutions hiring separately for enrollment management and admissions roles now? What is the advantage to doing so?

Enrollment management

The defining of enrollment management as a separate role is borne from several key factors. Some reasons are university specific – like pressure to increase the number of enrolled students. Others are industry specific – such as the influx of data around the local economy, demographics, educational options, and how those relate to the institutions’ admissions funnel.

When enrollment management is separated from admissions, it has targeted objectives:

  1. Data-driven planning and decision-making
  2. Inquiry management and lead nurturing
  3. Student retention

Let’s explore each of these in more detail.

Focusing on data

Data-driven planning and decision-making is the hardest and most critical step for an enrollment management professional to take. Moving to a data model requires a massive undertaking around trend and competitor analysis, local market analysis, and university community data trends. But, as if that weren’t enough, it also means holistically changing the culture of an institution to one that moves in accordance with key metrics.

Many institutions find themselves laden with assumptions or extrapolations instead of data, presenting a natural challenge to an enrollment management professional. For example, if your data shows that retention is an issue and exit survey information with families points to financial difficulties as a key factor, this is an incredibly important metric to parse and discuss. It’s difficult to do so though, if an institutions’s culture negates data with anecdotal or assumptive comments.

“Well, we haven’t had anyone complain about tuition for years,” says one.

“That’s true, and I think we should keep looking for more information,” says another.

All of a sudden, the director of enrollment management finds themselves at an impasse. That’s why changing the culture of an institution to a data-and-metrics-first institution is so vital – not only for enrollment management, but for the health and wellness of every office, department, and classroom in the school.

Data about the university’s local community is highly critical to an enrollment management role. Identifying target families or groups, and developing data points and trends around those groups is a smart way to focus a university’s marketing and recruiting efforts. Evaluating the role of price and financial aid in the institutions enrollment and retention trends allows administrators to make smarter decisions about marketing and school positioning, whether on the website or during a school tour.

Finding and managing inquiries

Inquiry management and lead nurturing used to fall squarely to the director of admissions, but in a institution that has both admissions and enrollment management directors, the responsibilities of inquiry management and lead nurturing are often divided among them. Given the overall focus on data that surrounds enrollment management, it only makes sense to extend it to inquiry management and lead nurturing as well. This phase of the enrollment and admissions process is the most precarious for institutions, as families are most likely to drop contact with the institution prior to having submitted an application. The ideal process brings together the metrics-driven actions of inquiry management (initiated by the enrollment management professional) and the communication and human parts of the admissions office.

The way this looks in execution obviously varies by institution, but for example, the enrollment management team has identified a significant portion of local families who have not been marketed to. Based on demographics and trends data, they believe these families would respond well to messaging about competitive academics. The institution develops a targeted Facebook/Instagram ad to run for two weeks, runs the ad, and receives 23 inquiries as a result. Of those 23 inquiries, they determine eight of the families are top priority contacts. The admissions team works in tandem with the enrollment management team to prepare a lead nurturing stream (comprised of emails, phone calls, and university visit requests) to bring at least eight of the 23 families on campus within a month’s time. Once a family applies and enrolls, the enrollment management team conducts an entrance interview or survey to establish a data baseline to evaluate later for retention, trends, and other important metrics.

Factors that affect retention

Student retention is the responsibility of every administrator, faculty, and staff member within an institution. But retention should be of particular interest to the enrollment management role. Why?

According to Don Hossler, a senior scholar at the University of Southern California, “The factors that influence enrollment are seldom responsive to quick turnaround strategies. […] Careful and realistic long-term planning to achieve recruitment and retention goals is key.”

In other words, the things that affect enrollment also affect retention. Because the two are linked so closely, it’s vital that the enrollment management team takes special care in knowing the retention influencers, trends, and metrics over the short and long-term at their institution.

The new era of enrollment and admissions responsibilities being separate but tied together is here.

Originally published by our sister company, FACTS.

Author: Nelnet Campus Commerce

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