The year was 2003. I landed my first admissions gig after short, and wildly disappointing, stints in Corporate America and a community-based organization. I was immediately hooked to the pace, the people, and the competition. I was being paid to travel and meet interesting people. I was given a stage and all the coffee I could drink. Life was good.
My professional foundation was based on a simple idea; students and families would select me as much as the institution that I represented. I would make my mark developing new feeder schools, yielding the un-yieldable, and outworking the competition. In retrospect, while noble, this initial philosophy was sophomoric (pun intended). I was looking at the recruitment process in a vacuum; one devoid of vital socioeconomic, academic, and systematic factors that help drive college enrollment and success. Nevertheless, I wanted to be The Admissions Guy, Mr. Fix-It, The Funnel Master, and The Counselor Closer. And at the time, this was a perfectly effective way to begin a successful career in enrollment management.
Well, times they are a changing. A couple months back I sent out a tweet. It was one those “hey, this may or not be a clever thought, let me write it down just in case” throw-away notes.
I learned my belief that the next wave of enrollment management leadership will come directly or indirectly from financial aid side of the house is shared by many. Think about how priorities and resources have shifted on your campus. Large public universities are emphasizing fiscal responsibility, transparency, and compliance more than ever before. Small private colleges are focused on leveraging, long-term viability, and net tuition revenue. This is heavy stuff.
My concern is we are still working in silos. My rock star Admission Counselor is doubling applications in a target high school, why would I take them off the road to send them to a NASFAA Basics workshop? Our new Assistant Director of Financial Aid is managing $50 million in federal and state grants; they don’t need to concern themselves with the admission funnel. Are these valid? Of course! They are also short-sided. I fear we are becoming too one dimensional in enrollment management. We must ask ourselves, at what point do we become so specialized that the human element, so crucial to successful enrollment management, is no longer an asset?
This is not a new idea. One of my go-to articles on this topic – The Next Wave of Enrollment Leaders by Eric Hoover (@erichoov) – helps define what a professional development plan for aspiring EM’ers should look like. I would add that the trends and near tragedies of the last two years have proven that much of this increased emphasis should be placed on financial aid. Ambitious admission professionals should be jumping in with two feet. Don’t stop learning until you have a nightmare about Pell reconciliation. Your new skills will make you better at your current job and a more attractive candidate for your next one.
So, with enrollment trends, I too have evolved. The Admissions Guy in me will never die – all I need is an Open House, a mic, and an absurdly corny opening joke to prove that to my team. But, I have devoted much of the last three years to learning the intricacies of financial aid and it has made me a much more effective and well-rounded Enrollment Manager. I think it will stick too – I had just as much fun implementing my first comprehensive financial aid packaging strategy than I ever did with funnel analysis or territory management development. Never stop learning.