Create better enrollment outcomes by breaking down department barriers

The best organizational structures are firm but flexible, promote open systems of communication and prioritize goals of the institution that are supported by enrollment.
Kelley Lips
Kelley Lips
Kelley Lips, Ed.D is assistant vice provost and dean of enrollment services at Oxford College of Emory University.

Enrollment management is a crucial aspect of higher education that helps institutions attract and retain students, ensure financial stability, and promote sustainability. Unfortunately, many departments that provide student services often work in isolation, leading to ineffective strategies and missed opportunities. Institutions that embrace a holistic and collaborative approach that integrates the efforts of multiple departments are more likely to benefit from improved work culture, better enrollment outcomes, and higher student success rates.

At its core, the goal of enrollment management is to achieve a student-centered environment that supports academic success and personal growth while ensuring the recruitment, enrollment and graduation of students. More frequently, enrollment management systems are starting to encompass pieces of retention and student success or elements of campus life like orientation and career counseling, each of which plays a critical role and depend on each other to achieve success. However, the lack of collaboration between these departments can result in a disjointed student experience, leading to lower retention rates and ultimately undermining the financial health of the institution. However, when silos are removed, communication improves and interdependence between subunits forms. With a shared vision in mind, the sharing of complex knowledge related to strategic enrollment management can occur.

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When different departments of an institution can unite their visions, break down silos and form a cohesive overall strategy, it creates a more positive work culture. In decentralized models of enrollment management where many students services report to different divisions within the institutions, what often results is isolation that can lack open systems of communication, create silos and weaken morale. But when enrollment management is seen as a shared responsibility, staff are more likely to feel a sense of ownership and pride in their work. Rather than working in isolation, staff are more likely to work collaboratively, communicating with one another, sharing data and ultimately helping to improve the student experience. When strong relationships exist between offices within an enrollment management division and there is a high degree of communication, it is likely to lead to efficient sharing of complex knowledge related to strategic enrollment management.

A positive work culture also encourages innovation. Staff members are more likely to take risks and think outside the box when they are part of a supportive team. For example, look at institutions that have moved orientation of new students to reside under enrollment management. Previously, this function may have been the responsibility of student affairs or campus life; however, under a new combined model when new student orientation is viewed as an extension of enrollment, there is more of an integrated handoff between students moving from being an admitted student to arriving on campus and enrolling.

This type of centralization of realigning more student services to report under the enrollment management requires significant support from institutional leaders, most importantly the president. It is not uncommon for the chief enrollment officer to report to the provost, or even the chief financial or business officer. However, having an organizational structure that allows for a direct report from enrollment management to the president signals the level of importance that enrollment plays within an institution’s strategies, as well as overall mission and vision. As a result of that direct line, a clear vision can emerge with goals that support it rather than multiple visions and competing priorities that push enrollment management to the periphery.

Prioritizing cohesion and shared goals within the organizational structure of enrollment management also has greater potential for data collection and implementation. Cohesive enrollment management divisions often have technology infrastructure with the capacity for a more interconnected process rather than disparate efforts. More importantly, it allows for the possibility of a more informed use of that collected data to influence the recruitment and admission operation in a strategic way.

Regardless of institutional type, size, or structure, enrollment management is an essential part of the operation. Institutional leadership, strategy and campus culture should be reflective of the organizational structure of that department. Those institutions that strategically consider their organization structure to best foster collaboration and break down siloes will fare better not only in reaching their goals for enrollment, student success and financial stability but also in creating a positive, innovative work environment for their employees. The best organizational structures are firm but flexible, promote open systems of communication and prioritize goals of the institution that are supported by enrollment.


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