Enrollment ‘Crisis’ Management: Managing Academic and SEM Cycles & Workflows : Part 8

We all know timing is everything. Some of the first strategic elements an enrollment crisis disrupts are the Academic and SEM Cycles & Workflows. In fact, it is one the biggest challenges an institution faces in an enrollment crisis, to stay focused on performing SEM cyclical activities and developing strategies. Suddenly, a shortfall in enrollments and the concomitant shortfall in revenues can cause shock waves of second guessing, demands to alter the course, change tactics, new leadership, new people, etc. The desire to shake things up in order to appear that decisive action is being taken can be overwhelming. But before acting upon any of these impulses, a little reality orientation is in order.

Step 1: Take a Longer View of the Underlying Issues

Recognize that higher education is in the middle of the most dramatic paradigm shift in its history accommodating the emergence of a global digital learning ecosystem. One result is an explosion of options for learners to acquire sought after learning objectives. Additionally, higher education is experiencing a demographic shift and a demand for greater accountability and higher productivity. Learners are facing economic crises and face significant challenges meeting educational costs as evidenced by the extreme debt burden. At the same time, institutions are facing their own unprecedented economic challenges emanating from the demand for more services, increased regulation, and because of demographics and competition, low growth or declining enrollments. These realities impact virtually every aspect of higher education’s structure and function. In this light, it is advisable to take a systemic view of how enrollments are developed and work within a defined structural framework to develop a closer alignment with learner markets and enhanced educational outcomes. It is a complex task, and for the framework to be affective, it must be inclusive across academic and enrollment management domains. This requires the integration of practices between academic and enrollment management outside the normal culture of most institutions.

Step 2: Understand and Work the ASEM Cycles and Workflows

To borrow Hillary Clinton’s metaphor from her 1996 book, “It takes a village to (raise a child) deliver enrollments.” Specifically, an Academic–Strategic Enrollment Management Village. We focus in this blog post upon understanding the structured cycles and workflows that are behind every enrollment report. Realize that every enrollment report has behind it a three to four year rolling cycle that delivered it.

For example, this post is being published in December 2014. As you read this post you should be in the middle of planning the campaign(s) to be launched in the fall of 2015 to deliver enrollments in fall 2016. This means that the curriculum, as it exists in fall 2014, is responsible for delivering the fall 2016 enrollments. If academic innovations or revitalizations are being developed to influence fall 2016 enrollments, they must be very carefully integrated into the campaign plan being developed now. Rarely do academic, and SEM communities engage in such careful dialog, planning, analysis, and integration.

To give life to the metaphorical village, MGDA launched the Academic Strategic Enrollment Management Initiative in 2014. The initiative began with the Academic SEM series of posts in the MGDA Higher Education Blog. We then began engaging academic and SEM leaders in the community of practice group in LinkedIn. We then turned our focus upon Sustainability by developing Academic SEM Institute (December 2014 and to be repeated in June 2015). Most recently, we announced our 2015 Transformational Institutes Series to provide deeper support and development to our clients.

In order for academic and enrollment management communities to work better together, they must first understand the basic cycles and workflows that culminate in an enrollment report. Such understanding is required at all levels – from the President and Vice Presidents, to the deans, faculty, academic and enrollment staff.

Basic Academic SEM Cycles

So what are the cycles? They follow the flow depicted in Figure 1: Academic/SEM Cycles Overview. Five stages in four highly (but not totally) linear arrays of activities.

The first stage involves the design, development and implementation of the curriculum. This stage is guided by academic and accreditation policies, processes and procedures. Curriculum cannot be offered for enrollment until the criteria are met, and approvals are granted. It is the curriculum that learners enroll in, and the specifics of the curricular requirements form a contract with the learner. This stage is ongoing throughout the year.

The second stage involves developing a campaign to find, attract, and persuade students to enroll in the institution’s curricula. The second stage begins in the fall with a review of the last campaign yield for current fall enrollments. It also utilizes the day to day experience of the current campaign underway (to deliver next fall’s enrollments) as a frame of reference. The primary focus is the development of the campaign to be launched next fall to deliver the following fall’s campaign. In most institutions, these campaigns roll together in a continuum from year to year. We separate them to focus the evaluation, design, development, and implementation on discrete cycles.

Academic/SEM Cycles Overview.

Figure 1: Academic/SEM Cycles Overview.

The third stage involves campaign implementation. Its purpose is to deliver the next annual class of freshmen. The function of the campaign is to identify prospects and systematically nurture them through the process of choosing and enrolling in a curriculum. Campaign implementation begins in August/September and ends usually on enrollment census day the following fall.

The fourth stage involves two distinct pathways. One follows the students through formal retention monitoring and intervention, the other engages the Academic SEM community in formal comprehensive evaluation. The fourth stage Academic SEM is ongoing and interfaces with Institutional Effectiveness, Research, and Assessment activities. The fourth stage Retention path is ongoing and interfaces with academic and student support services.

All of these stages are running simultaneously within annual cycles. The parallel nature of the cycles is the source for significant confusion in understanding why an Academic SEM full sequence of cycles involves three to four years of calendar time. Campus leaders rail against this basic pace and often try to force academic program work in the current fall term and demand it impact the next fall’s enrollment. This naïve understanding of how enrollment building works may lead to weak, impotent curricula, and may distract academic and enrollment staff from building strongly market aligned programs. Hasty and ill focused action can create the illusion that one can just demand a fix, and it happens. Clarification requires a little more detail.

Basic Academic SEM Workflows

Within each cycle there are a number of tasks, processes, and procedures, collectively called workflows. They conspire when aggregated to achieve each cycle’s outcomes and feed the next cycle and other workflows. Figure 2: Academic/SEM Cycles & Workflows, adds, in outline form, the various elements and steps that are included in each of the stages. Note how the workflows attach to the cycles. In reality, the working groups involved in each cycle possess unique organizational cultures driving each cycle and the workflows that comprise them.

Academic/SEM Cycles & Workflows

Figure 2: Academic/SEM Cycles & Workflows

Let’s examine them one at a time. The bullet list below will permit you to cut and paste should you decide to make a deeper example for your institution of the actual processes utilized. Remember these are not intended as exhaustive lists, each institution has its unique array of processes and lexicon.

Curriculum Planning & Development

The curriculum planning and development processes are continuous and derive from academic affairs policies and the master academic plan. Academic annual cycles normally begin in the fall and culminate at the time of graduation. Summers are sometimes used for special intensive curriculum development projects. Classically, the ‘last like term’ is used as a model to set up the curriculum term. For example, last fall is used to set up next fall. Once the last term’s data is imported, modifications are made, and the new term is launched. An institution’s master course list and term schedule model are a very complex web of interrelationships. Room schedules are a delicate dance of preferences, specifications, and demand. Enrollment patterns induce schedule requirements forcing harsh realities, hurt feelings and the inevitable go-a-rounds, work-a-rounds, power plays, and the occasional ‘I moved my class, what are you going to do about it.’

New programs are most often launched based upon faculty interest. While this approach is certainly not bad, it can be significantly enhanced by innovation opportunities emerging from the enrollment market place. The marketplace has grown saturated with hyped program names populated by an ‘a la carte’ course sequence selected from the master course list. It has also become saturated by cloned copies of another institution’s innovation. The current market thrives on new curriculum. New is defined by the content, by where the learning experience leads or by the quality of the learning experience. New doesn’t mean throw out the existing but align it with emerging realities and refresh the focus. Processes involved in curriculum revitalization include:

  • Curriculum Architecture and Academic Program Specifications
  • Historic Recruitment Performance Review
  • Longitudinal Programmatic Enrollment Analysis
  • Strategic Position Analysis
  • Program & Discipline Scanning
  • Program Mix
  • Program Revitalization
  • New Program Development
  • Formal Program Review
  • Prototyping of new and existing programs of study
  • Messaging related to academic programs
  • Program and course approval
  • Course scheduling
  • Facility scheduling
  • Faculty load management
  • Faculty Development

Campaign Planning & Development

As in the curriculum process, it is common for campaigns to simply assume the structure and steps of the last campaign. For the same basic reasons, it too is very complex and hard to turn on a dime. Changes require time, attention, resources, and above all, a plan. Changes require training, testing, systems, policies, processes and procedures. Campaigns are not just mechanics. There is a great deal of visual design, messaging, persuasion, intuition, teamwork and follow through. Campaign planning and development must be informed by the performance of previous campaigns. Any campaign must also be designed to present the curriculum emanating from the previous workflow in the best possible way to meet enrollment targets. Processes involved in campaign planning and development include:

  • Campaign Model
  • Campaign Project Management
  • Calendar
  • Scheduling
  • Market Segmentation
  • Prospecting
  • Engagement Plan
  • Messaging
  • Channels
  • Collateral Material
  • Conversion
  • Responsiveness
  • Metrics
  • Analytics
  • Campaign Plan
  • Training

Recruitment Campaign

Recruitment activity often assumes the context, structure and initiatives of the last cycle as well. Recruiters stick to what has worked in the past, what they know, slowly they watch and listen and learn. They, above all, encounter the resistance, the competition, lack of interest, and a host of market behaviors we all wish didn’t exist when they don’t go our way. Any change is seen as add on and requires additional resources. These may or may not be forthcoming. Campaigns must be documented and managed as the complex projects that they are. This takes time and overhead. Above all, a recruitment campaign must be adaptable. Processes involved in campaign implementation include:

  • Launch Campaign
  • Manage Campaign
  • Monitor Activities and Metrics
  • Assess Performance (Causal) and Feedback
  • Track Media Analytics
  • Adapt Campaign Plan to Emerging Revelations
  • Innovate around opportunities that arise
  • Focus recruitment teams on market segments
  • Engage Suspects, Prospects, and Applicants
  • Involve prospects and the academic community
  • Conversion Tracking and Analysis
  • Closing the loop with a Deposit
  • Nurture
  • Negotiate

Campaign Evaluation (The ASEM Community Learns)

Comprehensive campaign evaluation is commonly abbreviated due to a lack of time, clear delineation of cycle boundaries, resistance to change and fear of consequences. It can also be strangled by a lack of process data or evidence granular enough to drive changes. Campaign evaluation is a numbers game. You must have the numbers to play. It is also enhanced by a culture of continuous improvement rather than one of fear. Processes involved in campaign evaluation include:

  • Campaign Post Mortem
  • Messaging Conversion Performance
  • Channel Performance
  • ILA (Institution Last Attended) Performance
  • Geographic Yield Analysis
  • Prospect List Analysis
  • Systems Analysis
  • Team Performance (Recruiter, Support, …)
  • POS (Program of Study) Performance
  • Collateral Material and Resources Performance
  • Feedback to Academics (Formal)
  • Feedback to Student Affairs and Learner Support Services
  • Engage Retention Management System
  • Engage Institutional Effectiveness

Retention Classification System (A Basic Status Tracking Taxonomy)

Retention is a constant activity, perpetually monitored, evaluated and improved. For all of the attention the subject of retention receives, clarity over the dimensions and underlying causes of attrition is poorly understood. Retention may be better renamed ‘Progress Toward Credential Objectives.’ Clearly marking the various stages of progress and tracking student progress significantly improves performance. This requires a formal taxonomy with specific discrete definitions. An example:

Retention Classification System

  1. Persisting – Currently Enrolled Students
    1. Satisfactory Academic Progress
    2. Unsatisfactory Degree Progress
    3. Unsatisfactory Grade-Point-Average
    4. Unsatisfactory Program Progress
  2. Achieved (Graduated with Credential)
  3. Attained
  4. Transferred
    1. Planned
    2. Unplanned
  5. Stopped-out (No-Show)
  6. Dropped-out (Formal Withdrawal)
  7. Dismissed
    1. Academic Disqualification
    2. Administrative Disqualification
    3. Disciplinary Disqualification
    4. Financial Dis-enrollment

Creating a Systems Flow View

So, how does this all work together? If your response was, well, it doesn’t, you would be in the majority.

We all know the fall work plan is overloaded with getting the new academic year started and a new class settled. The fall starts anew, getting the year’s workload underway, adapting to the fall enrollment numbers and corollary budget that it drives. New gives way to preparing for the fall board of trustee’s meeting and engaging the suite of integrated workflows that deliver enrollments. Time is short, too many meetings, and the holidays come out of nowhere and the term ends. Suddenly we realize that it is mid-January, and it is too late to develop a bump strategy for next fall enrollments. Sure we can try a few tricks, but the train has left the station, so to speak, and all that remains is trying to squeeze every bit of yield we can out of a dwindling pool of prospect/applicants.

A focus upon the flow and prioritizing within the workflows is required.

Figure 3: Academic/SEM Cycles Flow Model separates out the Retention and Campaign Evaluation pathways and connects them in a flow and feedback pattern to begin to work through the various interrelationships.

ASEM Cycles Text

Figure 3: Academic/SEM Cycles Flow Model



The schematic view of the workflows outlined in Figure 3 is illustrative. It has not been developed as a comprehensive list but rather as a prompt for compiling a bespoke institutional list. Inevitably compiling a list of workflows responsible for enrollment engages the politics of the organization, especially when the list includes programs of study, curriculum development and academic planning and strategies.

In the end, the totality and comprehensiveness of the family of Academic Strategic Enrollment Management Workflows must come together into one cohesive system with a blended culture and focus upon institutional sustainability.

In order to reflect upon this challenge better, we offer:

Academic/SEM Cycles Framed

Figure 4: Academic/SEM Cycles Framed


In Closing

I hope this brief sketch of the five Academic and SEM Cycles & Workflows provides an insight into the basic weave of complex elements that culminate in an enrollment report. We encourage your input, thoughts, suggestions and comments.

In our continuing effort to support our clients, MGDA is excited to announce our schedule of Transformational Strategies Institutes for 2015.

The transformation of higher education is evolving more rapidly with each annual cycle. While dealing with the annual litany of challenges, remember that a longer more permanent transformation is underway. The paradigm shift to the learning age is powered by a global digital learning ecosystem requiring unprecedented focus on academic and enrollment strategy. The planning horizon is characterized by increased demands for accountability, increased competition, significant learner and institutional economic challenges, and significant differences of opinion on how the future should be approached.

Our Institute series recognizes the need for unprecedented collaboration between academic and enrollment domains guided by new visionary strategic plans that forge a cohesive approach to a future full of uncertainty. We continually develop resources to help the journey into the future, so please check in regularly.

To stay connected and engage with your colleagues, join the ASEM Group in Linked In.

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