Defining and Understanding Enrollment Management (EM)

Enrollment Management is not just a fancy name for Admissions. Enrollment Management is a research-based process that leads to the creation of functions and systems that optimize the quantity, quality, and composition of a school’s student body, while generating the net revenue required to run a financially-sustainable school. Schools that adopt an EM mindset will understand students and their parents, from before the point of inquiry through graduation and beyond, and care about them along the way.
— CHRISTINE HAILER BAKER — President and Founder of The Baker Group

Enrollment management is a necessary practice for schools, not a choice.  In order for a school to be sustainable, a school needs to find its financial equilibrium, the point at which current income is equal to or greater than expenses.  A school is sustainable only when the rate of growth in revenue is equal to or exceeds the rate of growth of expenses.  Because all independent schools are highly dependent on current enrollment as the source of the school’s annual income, it is critical that school leaders understand shifts in the education landscape and the increased affordability challenges facing families, and the impact these factors are having on the school’s viability.  It is imperative that school leaders understand the interrelated functions of the school as each impact enrollment, as well as the importance of data to inform decision-making around each enrollment management function. 

As Editor of the NAIS Enrollment Management Handbook, Chris Baker identified the components of Enrollment Management and assembled leaders from independent schools to write about them. This publication brought clarity and importance to the concept of Enrollment Management.  The NAIS Enrollment Management Handbook is an important resource for Heads of School, Board Members and Admission Professionals.

 

 
 

Creating an Enrollment Management Organizational Structure

In order to sustain a healthy school enrollment, schools must incorporate practices that include (i) enrollment leadership from the Head of School and the Director of Admission (or another strategic-minded facilitator), (ii) collaboration of key leaders in the school, and (iii) maximization of data management and research. Incorporation of these practices allow the school to develop research-based long term strategies.

 

The Baker Group’s ½ Dozen™: The 6 Essential & Interconnected Enrollment Management Functions

  1. Admission & Financial Aid

  2. Tuition Setting & Discounting

  3. Student Retention & Match

  4. Marketing, Branding & Communications

  5. Institutional Research

  6. Leveraging Technology

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EM Oversight & Responsibility

While it is essential that an enrollment management mindset is set by the head of school, every school needs a senior administrator to have oversight and responsibility of the EM process and oversee the systems at work. The Head shares a vision for a strategic use of institutional financial resources to achieve the four conventional enrollment goals: quantity of students, quality of students, student body composition, & net-tuition revenue, and a senior administrator must direct and be responsible for day-to-day enrollment management leadership.

 
 
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Increasing net tuition revenue at your school is dependent on a number of factors, with a high-functioning admission and financial aid operation at the top of the list.  While  increasing inquiries, visitors, and applications is important, it is a school’s ability to attract and enroll “best fit” students that will contribute to and sustain the school’s financial health. Unfortunately, running an effective admission and financial aid operation has become more challenging given market changes, and an advanced skill set is now required.  Maintaining a streamlined admission process, leveraging  technology, and managing data and information enable a school to provide high quality customer service while at the same time being affordable, and support enrollment of enough full pay families to meet financial goals.  The Baker Group offers consulting services that include (i) auditing admission operations, (ii) working with team development, (iii) improving data management, metrics and reporting capabilities, and (iv) identifying and setting goals. The outcome of these services are essential to a school’s development of an effective Action Plan.

 

 
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In order for a school to be sustainable, financial leaders need to find the school’s financial equilibrium, the point at which current income is equal to or greater than expenses. A school is sustainable only when the rate of growth in revenue is equal to or exceeds the rate of growth of expenses. It is important for schools to use their resources effectively and efficiently to enroll students who are best aligned with the school’s mission. The Baker Group assists schools in clarifying school composition priorities, as well as accessibility and affordability practices — these elements are essential to building sustainable enrollment that is mission-aligned.

 
 

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Enrolling and re-enrolling the “best fit” student for a school is dependent on clarity of mission and best alignment with the student profile.  A high student retention rate is a measure of a school’s effectiveness in delivering and communicating the school’s value, providing ongoing connectedness throughout a student’s time at the school, and making the right admission match.  A school’s attrition rate, or the extent to which eligible students elect or are asked not to return, is one of the best measures of a school’s value to its families. Regardless of a school’s attrition rate, retention of students should never be taken for granted.  Every school needs an intentional approach to clarifying the best match in enrollment and  retention of students. The Baker Group provides school composition planning consulting, satisfaction surveys including attrition research, exercises in determining your school’s “Best Fit”, and application review formulas to clarify priorities in the admission process.


 
 
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Because recruiting students to independent schools has never been so intense, schools need to adopt strategy-based, comprehensive marketing plans with a clear narrative about the value of the school’s education and experience. Independent schools can no longer rest on their reputations and what used to be a natural pipeline for students. Increased tuitions, demographic shifts, and the proliferation of less expensive educational options has led to the need for schools to take an aggressive approach to reaching their most viable markets for mission-aligned students. The Baker Group will help a school get started in understanding its current market, and in identifying key questions that need to be addressed. With an understanding of its current market and the key questions, The Baker Group can help a school develop and articulate its message, and suggest the most effective ways to bring the message to the school’s most viable markets.    

 

 
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All schools are vulnerable in a highly-charged education marketplace, and must combine admission and enrollment data management with constituent research and school knowledge, because less expensive, quality options are available to families at an increasing rate. With research at the center of discussions and decision-making, schools are better equipped to anticipate and respond to change in a strategic way. The Baker Group’s institutional research services include data and constituent survey management (surveys are of persistors and non-persistors), as well as environmental and demographic scanning and trend analysis.

 

 
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In order to have a highly effective enrollment management system, it is essential that schools access and use the latest technology to support their understanding and enhance their admission process.  Whether it’s streamlining admission and enrollment functions, creating data management efficiencies, adopting a Customer Relationship Management System (CRM) that helps your school stay connected to students and families throughout the admission and enrollment cycle, or engaging with a thoughtful social media campaign, all communication and data capacity must be aligned with updated and user-friendly approaches to technology.

 

 
 
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Chris Baker is the real deal when it comes to enrollment management expertise. She has literally written the book on enrollment management (for NAIS) and has advised scores of schools seeking to build long-term enrollment strategy. Chris’ consultant insights are informed by her investment in the industry, as evinced by her well-known annual admission directors’ training programs designed to ensure that practitioners learn to apply Enrollment Management skills to build successful strategies for their institutions.
— HEATHER HOERLE — Executive Director and CEO Enrollment Management Association (EMA, formerly SSATB)