This time of year is hiring season for independent schools. Here's some counsel for enrollment managers just starting out, and for those who seek to move on to a new school.
- The most essential thing with any new position in enrollment management is to be sure you have a common vision and good chemistry with the Head, CFO, Advancement or Development Director, Marketing/Communications Director, and the Divisional Directors. I’d want to make sure there was congruence among all of them about what I call the 6Ws: Who we are, Who we are NOT, What we stand for, What we will NOT under ANY circumstances stand for, WHY WE MATTER (how are we going to change the world?), and Where we’re headed. If you ask this of each one of them separately, and they are all essentially saying the same thing, that’s good. If not, be careful, as they may start pulling in different directions and the culture will split, making your job impossible. Pride of association that comes with a commonly shared cause is essential. These 6Ws must be communicated consistently over time.
- Make sure that you yourself are aligned with the answers you hear to #1, that you sincerely want to be part of their tribe, and that you share their vision as your own. If those basics aren’t there, you will be at odds with yourself, ineffective, and miserable.
- Get to know the faculty as best you can, because you’ll need to be their cheerleader. Evidence of great teachers and great teaching will make your job immeasurably easier. In addition, they need to know how much you are working on their behalf. Teachers hold the credibility cards in a school. Hold teachers close!
- Take stock of where you are as an enrollment management professional and what is expected in today's highly competitive educational environment. Back in the Cretaceous Era of Admissions, the ability to execute a charm offensive was the primary requirement. It's still important. But charm alone won’t give you the credibility you need to do the job today. Ask yourselve these questions:
Are you a great orchestrator of relationships? Will the Head enable you to use the entire school –current students, teachers, coaches, parents, trustees, and others to create inquiries, shepherd inquiries into visitors, and help you move visitors to enrollment? Or will they see enrollment (and retention) as the sole job of the enrollment manager? If that kind of discretionary power, support, and encouragement isn’t evident, do NOT take the position. You don’t need to sell; you need to facilitate the conversation and relationships among school employees and leaders and those new families the school is trying to attract.
Do you have knowledge of research-based educational practice? The more educational bona fides you have, the more credibility you'll carry.
Can you wield communication skills on multiple levels? Up, down, and across different constituent groups inside and outside the school?
Do you have skills in market research? You and school leaders must continually be listening to how your customers, students and families, are experiencing their journey. Good marketing always begins with listening! The aim is to always improve the product--teaching and learning. You need skills to interpret and apply that research into a measurable enrollment and retention strategy.
5. Finally, remember the "big picture." For enrollment management to function effectively it must encompass all aspects of the student journey, including market research and strategy, educational program, school brand, tuition and financial aid strategy, school culture and community, retention of current students, and student educational outcomes based on alumni research. You’ll need the authority to be involved in these and have your opinions respected.
One of my favorite admission directors, Geordie Mitchell at Buckingham Brown & Nichols School in Boston, reminds us that it's important to know, "Does the office have the resources (staff, budget, and financial aid) to make the school's goals achievable?" That means that for most schools, at least 3% of the operations budget is dedicated to marketing and enrollment--not including salaries. Is the Enrollment Manager involved in the setting of tuition and the financial aid budget? Even better, is the Enrollment Manager a member of the Finance Committee of the Board and/or does he/she attend board meetings?
Geordie continues, "If a school is under-resourced, even the most talented enrollment manager will struggle. Inclusion on the finance committee and/or board reflects that the head of school and board see the position as a key part of the leadership, gives the enrollment manager some say in setting reasonable goals, and ensures that the finance committee and board have the information they need to set two of the three biggest budget drivers in most schools."
Enrollment Management is a terrific job and, like teaching, carries amazing psychic benefits. I've done just about every job available in K-12 schools, and working in admission and enrollment management was my favorite. You can make a difference in the lives of children and their families with a successful match to your school.
Just make sure you're clear-eyed about making the match between you and your new school first!