We talk about the evolving role of the chief enrollment management officer with Mike Reilly, the Executive Director of the American Association of College Registrars and Admissions Officers.


Links from this Episode

American Association of College Registrars and Admissions Officers (AACRAO)

2017 Chief Enrollment Management Officer Career Profile [PDF report]

Transcript

Jarrett Smith:  

Hello everyone and welcome to the Higher Ed Marketing Lab. I’m your host, Jarrett Smith. Each episode, it’s my job to engage with the brightest minds in marketing and higher education to uncover the practical insights you can use to level up your institution’s marketing and enrollment efforts.

In this episode, we’ll be talking about the role of the chief enrollment management officer with Mike Reilly. Mike is the Executive Director of the American Association of College Registrars and Admissions Officers or AACRAO for short. We covered interesting findings from AACRAO’s most recent chief enrollment management officer survey, the evolution of Strategic Enrollment Management or SEM and what he sees as the future of the chief enrollment manager. This was an interesting talk and Mike is certainly an industry veteran who has a very broad and informed perspective. Without further ado, here’s my conversation with Mike Reilly.

Mike, welcome to the show.

Mike Reilly:  

Thank you. Glad to be here.

Jarrett Smith: 

Well, thanks for joining us. I think for those of us who may not already be familiar, could you just give us a quick snapshot of the American Association of College Registrars and Admissions Officers and your role within that organization?

Mike Reilly: 

Sure. We’ve been around a while. We’re actually one of the older higher ed associations in United States. Came about in 1910. Actually, an interesting small meeting in Detroit, and from that meeting AACRAO was formed and NACUBO, the National Association of College and University Business Officers. The two office had been around a long time. Registrars initially added admissions folks in about the 1940s. Today, we have about 11,000 members, 2,800 colleges and universities that are members of primarily admissions officers, registrars and chief enrollment managers. We have a good number of folks that are in international credential evaluation. That’s a bit of an emphasis of ours, and a lot of work around transfer admissions. That’s another emphasis. Do professional development to keep people in line with best practices and a lot of training. Then a little bit of public policy work too. We’re here in D.C. we watch things like FERPA, the Federal Educational Rights and Privacy Act is a big one of ours, but financial aid and other things as well.

Jarrett Smith:  

Good deal. I know that AACRAO recently published a new study on the chief enrollment management officer career profile, which we will be sure to link to in our show notes. Your report makes clear right up front that enrollment management is still a relatively young profession. I think a great place to start would be maybe defining that role of the chief enrollment management officer and giving us a little background on its evolution and I guess broader evolution of Strategic Enrollment Management.

Mike Reilly:  

Yeah, it is a very nascent position in terms of the history of higher ed. Probably even the notion of enrollment management didn’t really begin until the 1970s, started to gel in the ’80s. You saw it expand in the 1990s. We’ve been doing Strategic Enrollment Management conference for about 28 years now so that’s a long time, but that was basically at the beginning. Prior to that, I think there was more of an emphasis on the admissions side, less so on retention and completion. That’s obviously been a political contention over the last couple of years, but as the profession started to mature and campuses were looking at retaining students in addition to just enrolling them for a variety of reasons not missing out on the fact that financially that’s a big impact on the institution. It has matured to a point. Now it’s interesting when we did the survey and by the way, we do these for each of our three primary professions, admissions director, registrar and chief enrollment manager to provide some guidance to those members but also keep track of what the career path is to get there and what the portfolio of responsibilities are for those positions.

This is one where there’s not really even a definition of this. You can’t go out and find this position, search like registrar or admissions director. We see lots of different titles. We also when we did the survey, we gave a description of this position and what we said was it’s responsible for developing and implementing comprehensive Strategic Enrollment Management efforts focused on retention, recruitment and admissions. We said this position often has managerial responsibility and oversight for key enrollment units and enrollment services. We had about half the respondents say, “We don’t have anybody with that responsibility.” That happens much more frequently at community colleges, for profit institutions. The position is much more common in larger both public and not for profit institution. That’s part of the challenge is it’s a role that’s certainly growing but it’s not everywhere. Our survey tells us that we do expect more institutions to adopt these roles and these SEM models, but there’s a lot of them that that infrastructure is just not there.

Jarrett Smith: 

Right, right. I mean, one of the things that struck me in the report was it said, obviously these are generally much more senior people. They’ve been in higher ed for 20 years. They’ve worked at multiple institutions, but if they would consider themselves a chief enrollment management officer, they likely have been in that position for less than five years.

Mike Reilly: 

That’s right. There’s a few insights about this that I thought were interesting. I mean obviously there’s a lot of information to this but, but one of the most intriguing ones to me is if you look at the previous role that that individual played and how he or she stepped up to the chief enrollment management officer, almost half the people that entered their first position did so from a different position on their own campus. In about a third of the cases it was the admissions director. The administration showed confidence in you, moved you up to that level. About 25% of the folks who were in those roles, current roles, moved from another chief enrollment manager position somewhere else. They already got to that level, but only about one in five went from say a director level at one institution to be the chief enrollment management officer at another institution. It’s a narrow path. Either people know you and your skillset on campus or they’ve seen you as a experienced chief enrollment manager and you move to this role. You don’t move diagonally and that’s one of our challenges is we’ll never meet the demand that’s going to be out there for these if you’re simply relying on chief enrollment managers moving between institutions.

Jarrett Smith: 

Right, right. Yeah, that’s such an interesting point. One of the things that came out of this that really struck me was just how complex this role is. I wonder if we could, which obviously plays into the demand for the role and also the lack of supply in that role. I wonder if you could talk a little bit about that kind of broad portfolio of responsibilities that the chief enrollment manager has.

Mike Reilly: 

Primarily, if you see a very traditional model, this individual has oversighted the admissions office, the registrar’s office and financial aid. I mean, that’s the big trio of units on a campus that you think of as enrollment management. In many cases you’ll also see somebody involved with some research or institutional research, that’s a common addition. Sometimes this role might have advising under it, but not as often. Sometimes you might see this position responsible for orientation, often orientation may be over new student life or housing unit. Typically, it’s admissions, registrar and financial aid. Now, one of the things that the survey showed again, looking again with the previous, what you served in previously, again about one in three came out of admissions. Only 5% were formerly registrars. Only about 6% were formally financial aid directors and yet those individuals report to the chief enrollment manager

I’ve always thought, sometimes registrar [inaudible 00:09:24] and say, “Why do you concede the chief enrollment manager position to the admissions guy when you have, you’re a third of the units there? So what’s going on that we’re not getting registrars moving up to that role? We’re not getting financial aid directors?” Well, it’s primarily that the emphasis has so much been on admissions and recruitment, that side of the equation. I mean, that’s why you see the admissions folks and the registrars may not have skills in that. The financial aid folks a little bit limited because they’ll do financial aid packaging and scholarships et cetera but don’t necessarily know the demographics, et cetera. That’s one of the future challenges is to make sure that folks coming out of those professions are equally prepared to be considered chief enrollment managers.

Jarrett Smith: 

You talking a little bit about the challenge of finding the right people for this role. I wondered how your organization is thinking about grooming that next generation of enrollment managers. How are you guys currently approaching this? What’s your thinking on that?

Mike Reilly: 

Yeah, I mean there’s a couple of ways. I mean, one is that we have established a set of what we call core competencies and proficiencies. We have proficiencies for each of those three professions, admissions, registrar, chief enrollment management. Then we have core competencies that are superimposed irrespective of your position. Things like strong communication, commitment to diversity, understanding of technology, change management, those kinds of things. We now have this set of competencies that we can aim our professional development at, and that’s what we’re starting to do. We certainly do it through the Strategic Enrollment Management conferences I mentioned, that’s actually coming up in a few weeks here in D.C. draws about 900 people, real team focused.

I think at this conference we have about 40 institutions coming who have at least four members of a team. One institution sending 12 people because they’re using the full team model where they have a registrar, faculty, institutional research, advising, student affairs, which is if everybody could do that, that would be great. The other thing is we do have a little bit … It’s not a credential, but we have an endorsement that’s the Strategic Enrollment Management endorsement program, which is an opportunity for somebody to do some more deep dive coursework mentoring projects. We provide you with this endorsement which we hope will start to carry some cache to be able, for example, for a registrar, one institution that demonstrate that she’s capable to be the chief enrollment manager at another institution.

Jarrett Smith: 

Mike, obviously we know in higher ed, access, equity and diversity are hugely important. How does this role line up with that?

Mike Reilly:   

Well, it’s one of our ongoing challenges. Again, from our survey, we see that there’s reasonable gender balance in the number of folks that are out in the profession. Although I will note that the larger public and larger private institutions, the chief enrollment managers still tends to be a white male, whereas you see more women in some of the smaller privates and regional comprehensives. We also don’t see the ethnic diversity of this role as it should be, particularly when we look across the broader admissions and registrar professions. It’s obviously something that we need to pay attention to. We’ve got a couple things in mind when we’re beginning to build a program we’re calling lead, which is going to be launched at our upcoming SEM meeting where it’s an opportunity to start profiling women and professionals of color in these roles to serve as mentors and help build a better cadre of folks in the future. But it’s not done as well as we should. I think that’s for AACRAO and it should be for others too, that needs to be a major objective to make sure that the career path to this position is available to everyone.

Jarrett Smith: 

I want to circle back to this idea of the team approach. I know I saw you speak at the Florida AACRAO conference a few months ago. Towards the end of your presentation you talked about, they’re not silos, kind of jokingly, you called them cylinders of excellence, which I’ve used multiple times by the way, because it’s-

Mike Reilly:  

By the way, I give credit to John O’Brien from EDUCAUSE for that. It is a great concept, isn’t it?

Jarrett Smith:

Yeah, it’s awesome. It reminded me of one of the words of wisdom that you all included in the survey. For folks who haven’t already read the survey, they’ve included along with it some kind of free form responses along some themes and they have some great sprinkled throughout the survey sort of analysis. There’s also these kinds of quotes and one of them was from a VP of planning and advancement at a technical college and she said, don’t be afraid to learn how your college or university functions. There’s so much to gain by breaking down silos so that we can all help our students. I wonder if you could talk a little bit about that because it’s always this reoccurring theme, the silos or cylinders of excellence.

Mike Reilly: 

One interesting thing, there’s a process that we encourage campuses to do, just to do a little bit of an illustration of it. When you’re a perspective student applying to a campus, you usually start your communications with the admissions office and they send you the view book and the application. You meet with counselors, et cetera. You may be applying for financial aid and you get communications from them. You start to connect to your academic department and you get some communications from them. You start to think about your residence hall experience and you get communications from them. We always ask people to say, you should compile all of those and just see because the admissions office often loses track of who’s communicating and you see this massive set of uncoordinated emails, for example that goes to the students from all these different units. If you were the student receiving that, you just say, “My God, how am I supposed to make sense of this?”

Jarrett Smith: 

Make it stop.

Mike Reilly: 

That is often a good exercise for people to do to say, you know, we aren’t thinking about this very much from the mindset of the student as she’s beginning to go through the decision and acceptance process. That’s certainly one of them. The other is I think really essential to get the academic and faculty side engaged in the enrollment management process. That’s not often the case. It’s sometimes thought of as a separate entity. Sometimes we don’t think faculty understand the SEM theory, et cetera but they are just such an essential component particularly of retention of students, the strong interactions that they have. But that has to be a part of the equation. I think, the other thing I often tell people is when you have these silos like this, you often force students to try and understand your structure to navigate their way through.

They come to your office. “I’m sorry, we’re not the ones that do that. You need to go see so and so.” Logically you might think that this year, but that’s not how we’re structured. That person, that unit report is over here. Those kinds of things are just really problematic for students as they try, especially students who don’t have higher education in their family experiences. They try to navigate through. That’s why I think it’s really important to break those things down and look at everything through the lens of student success rather than the function that you serve. The transactional function, that’s what really trips people up. We do this transaction not realizing that that’s part of a broader experience that the student is having.

Jarrett Smith: 

That’s a really interesting point. I’d love to talk a little bit about this kind of idea of engaging your faculty. Could you dive a little level deeper into that? How might one approach that at their institution? What are some things that you’ve seen work over the years in terms of actually really getting that buy-in and helping them participate in the enrollment management piece?

Mike Reilly:

I think one way is certainly making sure that they have a seat at the table in your Strategic Enrollment Management committee. I know that sounds like a no brainer, but it often doesn’t happen. Another thing, kind of a separate project that we’ve been working on that we found a really interesting connection with the faculty is this comprehensive learner record project that we’re doing where we’re working with NASPA Student Affairs Association to try and build student records that go beyond simply the transcript that’s made up of your courses and grades. That’s such a limited expression of the learning and experiences you have on campus. What might that look like?

We have found that the campuses that engage really creative faculty in that are coming up with some of the neatest ideas. Things like being able to focus on learning outcomes and competencies in lieu of just grades. Things like showing how undergraduate research, which is very connected to faculty can impact student retention. I mean, it’s one of the five high impact practices. Engaging them more readily on things like study abroad, not just having the experience but assessing what the student learned when he or she came back from that experience. That’s a great way to get the enrollment units connected with faculty because then you’re talking about how might those experiences and the records of that flow into a new student record, particularly in a digital format that the student can then share with anyone they like, employer potential graduate school, posting out on their LinkedIn account. That’s another way. Bring them in with their expertise and have them drive some of the things that you have the capacity to change. I think that’s a good way to get started.

Jarrett Smith:

That’s a really, really interesting approach. I want to talk a little bit about data for a second. This was something that came up in some of the open comments from the folks you surveyed. I imagine as someone like yourself that’s been thoughtful on this topic for quite some time and has been in the industry for quite some time overall, you’ve definitely seen the impact and transformation that this focus on data has brought to enrollment management. I know that one of the respondents said, “If you don’t love data, at least learn to like it a lot.” Then they kind of went on that. It was a great quote and then, “Data is the key to the current landscape and enrollment management. You need to be able to translate that into a story that leads to strategic action for your campus.” If you could comment on that.

Mike Reilly:

I think one of the big shifts that’s taken place, we’ve always had a lot of data. I mean it’s not that data is necessarily a new concept, but the way enrollment managers had typically been doing it was looking at data in retrospective. You analyze the profile of your class that came in, you looked at the enrollment patterns of the past term and actively trying to learn from that and apply it forward to be predicting things. If you notice, one of the biggest shifts that’s taken place in higher ed over the last few years are these predictive analytic approaches. Using data actually you build your models off of retrospective data, but what you’re trying to do is anticipate, predict change practice and not simply be reactive to something that you saw in your class. I think that’s the big change. It’s a challenge for institutions. There’s a number of companies that are out there that can help schools with it. I’ll tell you, it’s not inexpensive to bring some of these groups in the campus.

I think that’s one of our challenges, particularly for smaller campuses, for community colleges, how do you get equivalent types of tools and abilities to do predictive analytics without necessarily having to go with a huge third party provider? Again, don’t get me wrong. Those are excellent, but it’s just not available to everyone. I think that’s what’s going to be shifting a lot in the profession is using data strategically to anticipate rather than simply looking at data in the rear view mirror.

Jarrett Smith:

Right. That’s a great segue. I would love to hear your thoughts on looking out over the next couple of years and where you see the trends developing. What do you see in store for this position?

Mike Reilly:

Well, one thing that I do see is I think we will start to see a shift in the number of folks who come from different roles than just admissions. Full disclosure, I was an admissions guy. I moved up to be an associate vice president for enrollment management. I’m part of the more traditional model, but we know that registrars and financial aid people, for example, have a much better understanding of current student dynamics. I mean, the registrar sees the enrollment pattern, sees the grades, sees the course selection, see who stops in, stops out. The financial aid director knows when a student is having financial troubles and is having to struggle to make things work. They need to be a bigger part of this position. I think that’s what’s going to involve, particularly as retention and completion have become equally as important as enrolling the student body. That’s one change. I think the other is what we just talked a little bit about is getting a better handle on this notion of really understanding your students and being able to anticipate and build career paths and degree paths that are based on a real understanding of what works for students.

You don’t just continue to roll out the catalog and the courses in the same fashion. That I think is going to change. I think the other thing that we’re really excited about is this profession starting to really get a lot of traction at the community college level? That’s one where in many cases the person who had these kinds of responsibilities was often the registrar or admissions director. In fact, in many campuses that’s the same person, you are both the director of admissions and the registrar at your community college, but there’s no enrollment manager. They were often focused on access because that was their primary role, but as you start to see that students aren’t necessarily completing like they hope, they may not be transferring. I think the SEM theories will start to build there. You’ll start to see more chief enrollment managers. That’s pretty exciting. We have some good folks helping advise us as we build this professional development sequence of events to help them be successful.

Jarrett Smith:

Well, Mike, this has been a really illuminating conversation. If folks want to connect with you or find out more about what your organization has to offer, where would you like to direct them?

Mike Reilly: 

Well, certainly visit our website, www.aacrao.org. Within that you can certainly find me, but you also see that there’s a lot of resources that we have on the website. These research reports, white papers from case studies about Strategic Enrollment Management on campuses and certainly lots of conferences and webinars and things to try and build your skillset or learn more.

Jarrett Smith: 

Good deal. Well, thank you so much for your time today, Mike.

Mike Reilly:   

Thanks so much. Enjoyed it.

Jarrett Smith:    

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