Andrew Drinkwater

Often when we think of data professionals in higher education, we think of institutional research and analysis, and IT. Here I’ll talk about why starting my career as an enrollment services analyst helped me hone my data craft. I’ll be ever grateful for the opportunity for my first analyst role in enrollment services at SFU – thanks Pat, Kate Ross, Rella Ng, and Yusuf Varachia.

With the ARUCC (Association of Registrars of the Universities and Colleges of Canada) conference fast approaching, I thought it would be nice to share some of those lessons learned.

By the time I started working in the registrar’s office in 2014, I had been working in advising, recruitment, and academic program management for about 8 years. If I was honest, I’d been trying to turn my jobs into data jobs since discovering Tableau in 2007. And while data skills were super helpful in a fast growing and rapidly changing program and faculty, I wasn’t able to deeply specialize while still leading recruitment initiatives and so on.

Only a few weeks prior to applying for my role as an enrollment services analyst, I had a pivotal conversation with my former boss. She told me I was good at my job, but that she saw my potential and passion for working with data. She’d make introductions to people in healthcare decision support or in education – people who could help me see understand the opportunity to learn, grow, and contribute to the mission. This was among the best career advice I’d ever received, and I credit it widely with helping me discover analytics (thanks, Genevieve!).

So how did working in enrollment services help me become a better analyst?

  1. Deep involvement in the business operations of the university or college. I got to work hands-on fashion with admissions, enrollment, financial aid, recruitment, payments, student affairs, many others. I even got to work with the fitness centre to help them understand the usage patterns in their swipe card data. As a result, SFU offered late evening fitness classes for the first time, and they were so popular they sold out.
  2. Joining student-focused events to understand why your job matters. For example, SFU runs an excellent convocation event, and all staff – even us data pros – were encouraged to volunteer at the event. Convocation remains my favourite time of year.
  3. There are both mentor and mentee opportunities. For example, I worked closely with a professional who used to run recruitment and now focused on assessment. Working with him was one of the highlights of my career – I helped him build new skills with tools like Tableau quickly, and he helped me understand what the data actually meant (Thanks Paul!).
  4. Contribute directly to improving the student experience. In my era, that meant helping to identify students so we could target interventions to help them find their path and be successful.
  5. Build new capabilities for wide groups of people. I can’t tell you how proud I am that the admissions directors I worked with shifted from relying only on experience, to asking me what the data said, to being able to understand the data on their own, to intentionally using it as their first resource with questions, to becoming active partners in developing new data solutions to truly meet the needs of their teams. Yusuf became one of the champions of using data to help find opportunities for underrepresented students and data-informed planning.

When I later moved into Planning and Institutional Research at UBC, this deep knowledge helped me build new capabilities into admissions and enrollment planning, in part because I really understood the business areas we needed to partner with.

Are you both an enrollment management and data professional? Would you add or change this list?