A new school year is underway, and while some EMA member schools are opening with smaller numbers of students, others have had the biggest enrollment season in their school’s history. No matter what your experience last season, one truth binds all those who lead their school’s enrollment work: you are a key planner and strategist for the long-term health of your institution. In 2012, you are responsible for leading the demographic, cultural, and political goals associated with building and retaining a mission-appropriate student body for your school.
EMA believes is time for independent school heads and trustees to better understand the importance of the role of enrollment management in the life of institutions. Without exceptional admission directors, the very livelihood of institutions is threatened – a fact which has become readily apparent during the recent economic downturn. In 2012, independent schools can no longer rely on charisma and relational skills in their top admission leader ; to do so could spell financial ruin for an institution. In an era of increased competition, regional and local market nuances, financial anxiety, and changing family values, independent schools need accomplished, intelligent leaders guiding the work of student selection and retention. In a typical independent school, tuitions equal between 80 and 90% of operating revenue, so it is also a fact that admission leaders must meet critical business goals to ensure the short- and long-term financial health of their schools.
What does it take to be an exceptional admission leader? How can you grow your skills and profile to be considered a key member of your school’s leadership team? What expectations and accountabilities should be delegated to those who lead their school’s admission and re-enrollment work?
To answer these questions and more, EMA released an opinion piece entitled “The Evolution of the Independent School Admission Professional.” This report offers an overview of the admission profession in 2012, explains how your job is changing (especially in the last decade) and describes why independent school heads and trustees should rethink the construct of enrollment management within the strategic goals for their institutions.
D. Scott Looney, Head of School at The Hawken School (OH) and a former director of admission himself, feels strongly that admission professionals deserve more recognition for the critical role they play—and that this should be reflected in their salaries. “Admission directors should make more than development directors—and they don’t,” Looney says. “Yet in most schools the vast proportion of money comes in to the school through their efforts. They should not be fourth, fifth, or sixth in line in terms of salary. That’s just terrible. But it’s a self-inflicted wound—schools tend to put the ‘hostess with the mostest’ in that role; they put a gatekeeper in an enrollment management role. We need much higher-level thinking in the admission office.”
Indeed, NAIS admission directors are typically paid within middle management ranges of their school’s salary budget – less than academic division leaders, business managers and development directors. While this pay disparity may be linked to experience/education (there are few formal graduate programs focused solely on enrollment management) and gender issues (admission leadership in NAIS schools is made up of 78% women - source: 2011-2012 StatsOnline Survey), there is also an unsettling disconnect between the revenue expectations placed on most admission directors, and their average salary ($80,000, FY 2011,source: NAIS Stats Online Survey.)
Since the release of this report, we’ve heard positive feedback from many colleagues in EMA’s membership. Several admission directors have offered to share their own professional career development plans (master degree programs, skills training seminars) to help others as they seek to build stronger management and business acumen.
We recognize that our community has much to learn from our colleagues in higher education when it comes to lifting enrollment management to a strategic level. At the 2012 Annual Meeting in Chicago, several speakers will be sharing wisdom from their experiences in leading university admission offices. Keynoter Robin Mamlet, Vice President and Partner at Witt/Kieffer Executive Search, will detail her professional experience in enrollment management at Stanford University, Swarthmore and Sarah Lawrence and share perspectives from her role as dean of admission at Lawrenceville School (NJ) with an eye to offering professional growth advice to attendees. James Nondorf, Vice President and Dean of College Admissions and Financial Aid at The University of Chicago, will also be part of the Annual Meeting – thanks to the networking of Groton Director of Admission Ian Gracey. Jim is credited with streamlining admission processes, developing specialized recruitment programs, and achieving significant increases in both applicant pool and yield rates, while drawing from an increasingly diverse demographic group.
We hope to begin a dialogue in our community about the importance of enrollment management as a strategic priority for independent schools, and look forward to ongoing discussions on this very matter. Watch for a companion report to “Evolution” in the year ahead!
I hope to see you in Chicago at our 55th Annual Meeting starting on September 19th.
Until then, enjoy your school’s “opening” and the wonderful rush of energy that comes with a new academic year. This weekend, I will be on campus myself – as a new parent orienting our 10th grade daughter at George School (PA).