By John Lawlor
The sidebar conversations that go on every year at NACAC had a different tone and tenor this past week at the NACAC national conference I attended in Salt Lake City. The “you-don’t-say” comments (those that people normally feel are better kept to themselves) usually pop up more frequently during yield season in the spring, but much more consternation and concern was expressed now by so many experienced admissions professionals. If there were a universal thematic to so many conversations, it would be a growing frustration with the lack of empathetic understanding within the campus community and at the board level about the reality of the marketplace challenges that all offices of admissions and enrollment management face in their efforts to recruit students. So many people are living in the past, but perhaps even worse, thinking in the past. That was then, this is now.
More successful colleges and leaders today recognize “it takes a village” to persuade students and parents about the investment value of a college education, particularly in today’s highly price-sensitive marketplace. But of course, there are still many members of the campus community who are embracing the narrow perspective of “that’s not my job”—and with their siloed mentality are actively burning out competent admissions professionals, when they instead should be fostering synergistic cooperation. College admissions and enrollment management professionals devote countless hours cultivating relationships with individuals and schools to help achieve tuition revenue (which, for most colleges and universities, is the primary source of revenue). Many are also road warriors and don’t work just eight-hour days, let alone just five days a week. The financial benefits of the intellectual capital of these competent professionals make them a worthwhile investment, but their employment is too often framed in the context of a line-item expense rather than as intellectual capital. Despite an institution’s dependence on these market-smart professionals who constantly strive to help provide the primary sources of revenues for the entire organization, colleges and universities are often content with diminished returns from staff turnover and its accompanying results. That was then, this is now.
And then there is the campus “bubble” atmospheric, which fosters an even more siloed perspective about the reality of the marketplace today. We have always argued the necessity for college leaders to gather authentic market intelligence to make more informed decisions about the future. Campus leaders who simply rely on a bunch of hunches create unnecessary obstacles for enrollment management professionals in their quest to achieve success for the entire campus community. Based on lots of patterned information that was shared with me, there’s a limit to how much commitment and persistence enrollment management professionals can maintain within an atmosphere that lacks an adequate appreciation of their work. The campus community must recognize the inherent value of enrollment management professionals to the entire institution. Now is the time.