Andrew Drinkwater

Sometimes you really need to work as a team. My experience as a data professional in the higher education sphere has spanned academic departments, the dean’s office, the registrar’s office, and institutional research. Working in these different domains, each with their own dataset focuses, I learned how crucial an effective working partnership between academic and central administration is for enrollment planning:

Academic units know what’s happening on the ground – they know where students are choosing to enroll, how waitlists impact students, and which faculty members are on sabbatical, and how curriculum changes may impact these patterns.

Central knows how different units relate to one another – they know that if Business drops their admission average, Arts won’t hit their target. Moreover, they know which areas have seen more applications recently, how student visa processing can impact the applicant pool, and where financial need is the highest.

Answering, “How many students are we going to have?” involves not only predicting the future but defining the parameters in which it is possible. Neither central administration nor academic units can successfully forecast future enrollments without the other.

For example, the following questions typically help inform enrollment planning exercises:

How many students are we likely to retain from last period?

  • What impact will increased retention have in the classroom?

How many classes are scheduled?

  • Which instructors would be willing to take on an extra section?
  • Which classes have Teaching Assistants “waiting in the wings”?

Are there classrooms available?

  • Are the right classrooms for this pedagogy available?

How many new applicants are expected?

  • What is the competitive landscape for each discipline?

What tuition rates will be charged?

  • How are rates impacting students’ ability to be successful?

What intakes are other faculties planning?

  • How do intakes in one faculty impact course enrollment in another faculty?

You may have noticed that the questions that are bolded typically have answers recorded in central record systems, meaning that central administration likely has relatively straightforward access to this information to support enrollment planning.

In contrast, the indented questions can often only be answered through decentralized systems, which may include in the minds of individuals working in departments. These questions are harder to answer from a central perspective and instead rely on collaborating with academic units to gather and interpret the required data.

Central administration can more successfully engage in enrollment planning by partnering with academic units. This means more than a perfunctory check-in with the faculties once a year.- - it is an interactive process, where each group supports the broad goals of the institution and shares information to ensure thorough enrollment planning is possible.

Is enrollment planning a truly collaborative process at your institution? I’d love to hear how it works for you!