50 Losing SEM Strategies

50 Losing SEMThe roots of failing enrollment management strategies can often be detected in the things people say when asked about enrollment. The following are paraphrases (to protect the innocent) of quotes we have collected over the past few years that reflect losing Strategic Enrollment Management strategies. All of these paraphrased quotes come from institutions with declining enrollment scenarios resulting in budgetary reduction ramifications. They were collected from our notes between 2013 and yesterday. They are in no particular order. They are numbered for reference in comments should you decide to. If you have quotes you would like to add, send them along or for the brave – post them in a comment.

  1. “We had some pretty good candidates for our SEM leader but in the end I went with the bubbly, energetic, very positive attitude over the experience because the experienced candidate dwelled too much on the challenges and problems. I think attitude wins over experience.” – President on selection of a VP for Enrollment Management
  2. “I really don’t want to hear about long term anything. It is June 1 and we have a serious budget hole I need fixed by September.  Seriously, you should have gotten the message when I rejected your five year enrollment plan because it did not fix our short term revenue needs.” – President to VP for Enrollment Management June 1st.
  3. “Strategic Enrollment Management approaches are interesting but they are just too complex. We need simple solutions and easy to do fixes that are within our limited budget and resources. Our folks are all busy and they do not have time to learn their way out. Besides, if I train them, they will just leave and make more money somewhere else.” – President
  4. “I have not seen any newspaper ads this year. No wonder we are not making enrollment.” – Board Chair weighing in on enrollment goals
  5. “We have not budgeted for a second year of Online development. It was supposed to be self-sufficient after one year.” – Provost
  6. “I don’t need marketing or Strategic Enrollment anything, just a good PR person that really knows what they are doing and reporting directly to me.” – President
  7. “We spent the last year rewriting all of the correspondence that is used in admissions and have not had time, as a task force, to do anything else.” – Provost in charge of Enrollment Task Force
  8. “We used the money allocated for a Social Media person to fund another road warrior. ” – Director of SEM
  9. “We have a SEM plan, have had for years. Each year we tweak our visitation schedule and our roadshow. Every 3 years we redo our collateral material. We do Social Media, I wouldn’t call it a strategy really. Financial aid reports to another VP, we don’t know what they do really. The web reports to IT so we don’t have a lot of say in it.” – 2014 comments by an Admissions Director
  10. “We go with what has worked for us in the past.” – Director of Admissions
  11. “I cut my marketing and enrollment staff by 1/3 to help with budget cuts as a result of lower enrollment. They should suffer just like the rest since it is their fault.” – President
  12. “Our curriculum isn’t any different, better or worse than anybody else’s. We are different because we care more.” – Provost
  13. “Yes I used bump strategies. I bumped off the Director of Admissions and the VP for Enrollment Management and took over the leadership of our marketing and recruitment staff. I got a fire under them and they will do just fine with a little fear in their hearts.” – President
  14. “We did SEM for a year. It didn’t work, so we are moving forward on branding.” – President
  15. “If everybody just did their job, we would be fine.” – VP Finance
  16. “Academics and curriculum have nothing to do with managing enrollments and recruitment.” – VP Academic Affairs
  17. “I am not investing one more dime until someone shows me a guaranteed method of enrollment growth.” – VP Finance
  18. “Applicants do not care about the curriculum, they care about parties, drugs, where their girlfriend or boyfriend is going, getting away from home, nightlife, dorm rooms, and fun. Don’t tell me its the curriculum, stupid.” – Chair Academic Senate
  19. “I am afraid to change anything, because I can’t be sure what is working and what isn’t. My only hope is to add on and hope it gets better.” – Interim Director for Enrollment Management
  20. “I had no idea we were discounting to that extent.” – President to Board in a Finance Committee meeting
  21. “We do what we know, and we know what we do. Everybody is down so our decline is in line with the market. We just need to get used to being smaller.”- Director of Admissions
  22. “We don’t offer enough financial aid. I need to cover a good deal more of our total cost of attendance with grants and discounts or I just can’t compete.” – Director for Enrollment Management
  23. “I wouldn’t come here. I wouldn’t send my child here.”- An Academic Dean responding to the question “Why should a parent send their child here?”
  24. “I will invest in curriculum when you can prove to me that enrollments are guaranteed and we have the faculty and curriculum already in place.” – President
  25. “We promise the moon and deliver a moon pie.” – Admissions Staff
  26. “The President has to approve all messages, every letter, every paragraph. The VP Finance has to approve every purchase order, even if it is in our budget. We just acquired software to help in our Enrollment Management efforts but ended up getting the one we determine would not meet our needs because IT said they liked it and of course the price. It is August 1 and I am waiting for approvals on virtually everything I need for our Fall campaign. Our CRM system, which will not meet our needs, has been delayed from August and will not be installed until January. How do you think we are doing?” – Outgoing Director for Enrollment Management
  27. “We do OK until we tour our freshman housing.” – Admissions Staff
  28. “Campus tours are tricky, we have to avoid litter, falling plaster, peeling paint, old furniture, antique classrooms, and focus on a small route that has been cosmetically engineered. We have been told that our preferred word for our campus is ‘charming.” I have not one wow place to dwell in.” – Admissions Staff
  29. “I have heard all of the excuses, a lot of competition, need more aid, not enough staff. I believe there are plenty of students waiting to enroll. We are just not very good at getting them here.” – President to the Admissions staff during a ‘Pep Talk’
  30. “I was told we will never directly market programs. There is not enough money to market all of them and selecting some to promote is a powder keg that would blow in a second.” – VP for Enrollment Management
  31. “Our SEM plan is simple, get more higher ability, low financial need students now. I just can’t convince anybody to go do it.” – CFO half joking
  32. “Our academic story is limp and very hard to get a prospect excited. We sound just like everyone else. In fact, there are folks who are proud of we are just like everyone else. There is not much of a value equation we can talk about except the basic value of an education. We tell students we have small classes, faculty care, we care, our students like us and are glad they came to us. But they basically get that from a lot of institutions.” –  Admissions Staff
  33. “Basically we communicate with prospects three times, by letter, by email and then by letter again. Once they apply, I think we do much better… Social Media? I can’t get budget approval to hire someone.” – Director of Admissions
  34. “Our students mostly come from the surrounding communities. Our region has a lot of institutions and competition is fierce. We have never examined strategically what the geographic recruitment sphere should be. We did try recruiting in California for a year, but it was expensive and didn’t really pay its own way in results.” – Admissions Staff
  35. “Not that we would admit it, but our discount rate is over 45%. We report to the board that it is 35%, but that is because we use clever accounting to disguise certain aid types.” – VP for Enrollment Management
  36. “We do virtually no marketing at all. Our VP Marketing serves the President. They do speeches, event planning for Development, and they do print really well. They are not a great deal of help to us. They write nothing for us. There is no concept of strategic position or where do we measure up with respect to the competition. Planning from Marketing’s perspective is event and development publications, even those cater to our older alums.” – VP for Enrollment Management
  37. “There was a directive handed down that academics should develop some new programs to fix our enrollment shortfall projected next fall. Really, can you imagine, believing that a new program developed in Spring can impact fall enrollments? That’s what we are up against.” – VP for Enrollment Management
  38. “We are so far out of alignment managing our various academic and enrollment cycles, it is a wonder we even function. I tried to get the cabinet to at least fully understand when I arrived last fall but I can’t get anyone to even engage in the conversation at the executive level. Everyone is overwhelmed. We are always in crisis of the minute mode. Everything appears too complex to really understand, so we just run around slapping on Band-Aids and getting through the day.” – VP for Enrollment Management
  39. “Remember, I just got here. We have never done anything strategic. Our strategy has really been a financial one. We sold real estate to cover operating deficits.” – CFO
  40. “We closed our two-year college, presumably to focus on upper division. It was very disruptive and helped create a culture of finger pointing, fear, second guessing, and blame. Very bad academic culture was the only real result. The upper division strategy failed to turn us away from decline. So then we chased quick fixes. When that failed the head hunting began.” – Chair Academic Senate
  41. “I need an implementer not  a strategist to head my Enrollment Management team.” – President
  42. “When I arrived a month ago, I was handed a SEM Plan. Apparently it simply was not implemented. Seems they thought new staff would be hired to enable all the things in the plan to be done. When that didn’t happen the operations just continued as they always had and enrollment continued to decline.” – VP for Enrollment Management
  43. “Our SEM Plan required a modest, bare bones, really, system and training budget which was not funded. Hard to implement new when you can’t get folks up to speed and can’t acquire the basic tools of the trade.” – VP for Enrollment Management
  44. “I spend a lot of time listening to ‘suggestions’ of how to fix our enrollment decline. Things like, ‘have you called them,’ or ‘did you ask them to apply,’ or ‘did you tell them how different we are and how much we care.’ I also am handed an inventory of distracting must do’s, like meetings I have no real need to be in but take many hours out of my week. Then there are the constant drags on momentum. It took me two years to get our Social Media efforts funded, then they were postponed for a year putting us three years behind.” – VP for Enrollment Management
  45. “We go from crisis to crisis and magic fix and short cut to Band-Aid. No sustained focus, no long term effort sustained for enough time to get results. No one understands we work forward looking, multiyear cycles.”  – VP for Enrollment Management
  46. “We tolerate failure and poor performance. Our VP for Enrollment Management has been here forever, has no real plan, reveals shortfalls too late, has a million excuses, resists change or even evaluation of any kind. I surely would not get away with any of it.” – VP Development
  47. “We have a new Leader who is clueless. Came in and stopped everything that was in progress. Occupied the Marketing staff for most of the first 6 months supporting an Inauguration instead of supporting recruitment. Spent a year reorganizing and focusing on a dashboard. Replaced everybody so they are the President’s folks. Fired the Provost, the VP Marketing, the head of Enrollment Management and reallocated budgets to support pet projects. Put out a mandate to increase enrollments, no plan, no analysis just mandate and control. Meanwhile, we have gotten smaller, weaker, and poorer. And this leader was not the Selection Committee’s first or second choice.” – retiring Faculty member
  48. “The culture is tense. Nervous, without a plan, whittled expenses to the bone, kind of tense. The expectation is that there is a sure thing, quick fix trick we can use.  We keep chasing it, wasting time, money, and precious recruitment cycles. We have been doing this for three years and avoided a detailed plan that had promise because it spanned five years. We avoided it because it required a reallocation of resources that we had at the time but politically difficult.” – Academic Dean
  49. “Our enrollment strategy? Blame, fire, repeat.”- Admissions Staff
  50. “We talk about the decline, talk a lot about it. We seem unable to even get a footing upon which to do anything. So we talk. Been talking for a couple years. Now we are talking about downsizing. No one seems to like any idea that is suggested. They are unsure. Risk averse, they ask where is the proof, how can we be sure? I have to go to a meeting now, to talk about holding positions vacant.”- Associate Academic Dean

 HELP! Here are a ideas to help differentiate by using Academic SEM Strategies.

  • Understand academic strategic advantages and how to recognize, develop and showcase them.
  • Understand the dynamics of the emerging global digital learning ecosystem and its impact on the future of education.
  • Develop an academic narrative that differentiates. Ensure your plan delivers a balanced short-term (bump), medium-term (program market revitalization), and long-term strategic position approach. Then live the plan.
  • Invest in increasing the value of your student’s educational experience, and that means curriculum.
  • Recognize that the underlying issues that created such tense market dynamics defy quick marketing, branding, slap together program fixes. Doesn’t mean marketing and branding are not important, they are, but it does mean success requires much more than billboards on freeways, placards on buses, going on-line, and hastily copying others curricular portfolio.
  • Recognize it takes an Academic/SEM Team to achieve a competitive strategic position in the dynamic learners market that is today and tomorrow.
  • Recognize the gift of ‘bump’ strategies that provide a short term increase in enrollments and the precious investment dollars they provide to continue meaningful transformation.
  • There is much more to Academic SEM…

So, what can be done NOW?

  • Starting with mining the mission, and re-conceptualizing your Strategic Plan as ‘Curriculum-Centered’ and the Curriculum as ‘Learner Centered,’ then focus on strategic position. How? Use the Curriculum-Centered Strategic Planning Model (CCSPM) and the SRS Method as reference. This is not a long drawn out effort, it starts with evaluating the existing strategic plan and assets and creating short-term market wins. In the process identify opportunities for program market revitalization and develop a strategic market narrative.
  • Use Academics, Programs of Study, Curricular Elements, Research, and learner experiences to create a compelling narrative that builds competitive strategic position.
  • Use the emerging principles and practices of Academic SEM to enhance your strategic market position by developing a long term, sustainable strategy.
  • Use bump tactics to gain in selected areas in order to fund broader innovation and revitalization and pave the pathway to a strategic market position. Make everything count toward the future.
  • There are numerous ways and methods to begin an Academic SEM approach to sustainability. The following links provide options, information and opportunities.

Evolve to Academic SEM

Learn why all “Strategic” Enrollment Management is “Academic,” attend:

Academic SEM Posters Available

Academic SEM Funnel [MGDA01]


Academic SEM Cycles [MGDA02]