Enrollment First: How Empowering Enrollment Management Can Drive Innovation

Higher ed has an efficiency problem—one that spirals out to impact all segments of administration. But it starts with enrollment management.  

On this episode of the Illumination podcast, host Amrit Ahluwalia sits down with Alicia Harvey-Smith, President and CEO of Pittsburgh Technical College. The two discuss why enrollment management is so often overlooked and why Harvey-Smith continues to push for innovation in higher ed.  

Harvey-Smith’s new book, Higher Education on the Brink: Reimagining Strategic Enrollment Management in Colleges and Universities, was released in February. The book features key insights into how modern institution can transform their enrollment management processes, goal and strategies.  

Enrollment management, she says, is often viewed by higher ed leaders as supplementary, when it should be viewed as a core element of strategic planning. Not only does enrollment management guide sustainability for the organization, Harvey-Smith says, but it also drives retention, graduation, and the culture within the school.  

“I see it as comprehensive in nature and nicely integrated as a part of our thinking for strategic planning,” Harvey-Smith says. “There are a number of lessons that, in my opinion, kind of came out of the book that I hope readers will carry with them.”  

The need for change in higher ed has never been greater, she says, adding that many modern institutions may need to completely review how they run. 

Higher Education on the Brink breaks down how such a review could be possible by segmenting the process into separate chapters.  

“The book opens with the state of higher ed, and a lot of that talks about our current state as a result of the pandemic,” Harvey-Smith says. “As we look forward, there are chapters that dive into looking at strategic enrollment through a new lens.” 

Faculty at PTC is looking for a new way to approach strategic enrollment to be more all-encompassing—and in doing so, understanding what can be done in the enrollment process to assist with revenue diversification.  

Harvey-Smith says empowering enrollment management teams is one of the most important things a school can do to drive meaningful change. 

“I believe that enrollment, like retention, certainly should be the accountability of a wide-cross section of the institution,” Harvey-Smith says. “We hear people say that retention is everyone’s business; well I think enrollment is everyone’s business too.” 

Ensuring that the right people are working in the right areas is crucial for success. By having the right people, ideas can be driven further than they would normally and strategies can play out more effectively. By making enrollment strategies a priority, and realigning resources for better use, there will be a snowball effect of more opportunities to improve efficiency in enrollment management.  

“In higher ed, we want to make sure we’re making decisions that can have the most impact,” Harvey-Smith says. 

The change comes from the top, from the leaders of institutions who may struggle with what not to do. Those who want to do it all will quickly find that isn’t an option and focus or emphasis cannot be stretched thin. 

Harvey-Smith uses call centers as an example for how things need to run efficiently or they fail quickly.  

The conversion rate to other departments, how much contact there is between those departments, and ways that a student can be contacted by the institution.  

Tools like Modern Campus Signal Vine enable schools to connect digitally with students though their phones. Finding new ways to deliver the same message is crucial for a higher ed institution these days.  

“It’s about engaging students and speaking to them in a manner that works for them,” Harvey-Smith said. “Students are critical to the work we do, of course, so how do we connect with both them and their families in ways where they’ll hear us?” 

It’s that drive for change that led Harvey-Smith to work in higher ed, specifically for community and technical colleges, where she believes the greatest opportunities for transformation lie. 

These transformations exist not only in student’s lives, but in their families and their communities as well. That change and development hooked her early and she has been trying to replicate it ever since. It is challenging, but it is because of that transformation that leaders have to adapt to changes, such as changing demographics.

For example, Harvey-Smith has observed that there are fewer 18-24-year-olds attending college. High school graduates are not attending as soon as the next September rolls around. Older students who already have job experience are trending upward to fill in gaps in their education. Understanding how to communicate with the new demographic of students is critical.  

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Scaling Non-Degree Education Enrollment Growth

Last updated: April 29, 2022


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