I attended my first soap box derby this past weekend and watched a large plywood box on wheels beat a sleek, batmobile-inspired car. As the tank-like car picked up speed and passed the batmobile to crowd cheers, I couldn’t help but see the parallels with Strategic Enrolment Management planning and structure theory in higher education. Each team is given the same chassis and wheel kit, weight guidelines and timelines to build their car, and all compete in the same three categories (fastest car, most creative car, and best dressed pit crew), they were built differently based on what award or achievement they prioritized. Just like in SEM, plans vary across institutions and are influenced by their unique community and context, yet across the sector there are just four types of frameworks which SEM can be built on. Knowing how to best distribute the weight, where to seat the driver, how the steering mechanism impacts agility, and when to prioritize one aspect of functionality over another makes the difference between an efficient and suitable SEM plan, and one that looks good on paper but is difficult to maneuver to achieve your unique goals.
A successful SEM plan is built appropriately for its frame, supported by an effective pit crew, and driven by a communicative driver (or team of drivers). Communication between the driver and the pit crew is essential; one to see what’s coming up and prepare to navigate around challenges (or hit the brakes) and the other to keep the vehicle running smoothly by performing routine maintenance and mid-race repairs. In the most extreme cases of car damage or enrolment planning challenges, a total rebuild of the framework may be necessary.
We’ll be using the Framework names as summarized by Vander Schee1: Committee, Coordinator, Matrix, and Division. I will expand on this, introducing concepts of implicit and explicit SEM, and explore responsibility, accountability, funding, common challenges and breakdowns, and indicators of stability for reach framework. While commonly the frameworks are discussed in terms of the amount of restructuring required to introduce SEM, many institutions have already been doing enrolment management strategically, whether they call it “SEM” or not. Many teams don’t need a new framework or to restructure to implement or improve their SEM plan, so we’ll focus on whether the framework in place is appropriate for the context, rather than if it should change or not. There is no “best” framework, only one best suited to an institutions’ mission, values, and community.
Understanding your framework is key to developing the strategic assignment of responsibility and accountability of SEM activities. This series will help you better understand the kinds of SEM frameworks that exist, the challenges with those frameworks and knowing when to restructure, high-functioning SEM teams and resilient frameworks, and how SEM frameworks and enrollment target setting processes interact.
If your institution is new to SEM, or engages multiple units in enrolment management, this series is for you, too. Identifying or establishing a clear framework is part of creating a resilient plan and selecting a well-suited team for implementing strategic activities. If you’re here, you’re likely already doing some of the work of SEM. Your institution might have what I call an “implicit SEM framework”.
Implicit SEM frameworks exist at institutions where SEM is not explicitly funded, no roles or committees are primarily or in part assigned “strategic enrolment management” duties. But the ideals of SEM are already present: cross-unit collaboration and communication, established feedback loops between administration and operations, task forces with both academic and administrative members, and commitment to aligning activities at every level towards the mission and values of the institution. Implicit frameworks are commonly either the Committee or Coordinator type, as the others require explicit leadership and reporting structures for SEM activity.
In the next post, I’ll describe the frameworks and how collaborative decision-making between academics and administrative is organized under each.
Data and analytics are a core part of SEM success within these contexts. Plaid builds solutions that help institutions actively plan for future student populations, understand student success and areas where improvements can be made, and support a diverse student population.
1 Vander Schee, Brian A. Organizational Models for Enrollment Management at Small Colleges. College and University; 2007.