Delivering outcomes through SEM processes


By Wayne Sigler, Ed.D., Senior Consultant, AACRAO Consulting

Sigler’s extensive admissions and enrollment management experience include very successful leadership of the admissions programs at two public flagships (University of Maryland, College Park and the University of Minnesota-Twin Cities).

Strategic Enrollment Management (SEM): “A concept and process that enables the fulfillment of institutional mission and students’ educational goals.” 1

Process is one of the vital ways that the outcomes of SEM are achieved.

Process:  “A series of actions that produce something or that lead to a particular result.”

Golfers often talk about “driving for show and putting for dough.” SEM managers sometimes regard process as boring and tedious, like putting, instead of the more dramatic action of driving for long distance. However, just as really good golfers understand that effective putting can contribute to a great score, top-flight SEM managers understand that designing and implementing effective and efficient processes can contribute to achievement of outstanding SEM outcomes.

Role of SEM processes in delivering outcomes

SEM is primarily strategic in nature. The development of a SEM plan is guided by the institution’s overall strategic plan. A SEM plan is the link that aligns tactical day-to-day operations with the mission and goals of the institution’s strategic plan. Process implements the tactical plan through actual operations.

Some processes are as simple as adding a class to a student’s schedule. Other processes, such as recruiting an incoming class, are extremely complex.

Improving process efficiency and effectiveness

Continually improving process efficiency and effectiveness is a major component of a best practices SEM program because of the need to be good stewards of institutional resources and demonstrate a specific and measureable return on investment. Also, of major importance, continued process improvement, even in small steps, can significantly facilitate the implementation of SEM strategies and tactics.

At the least, effective and efficient processes can calm the treacherous waters of user dissatisfaction resulting from following or utilizing the process. No small feat, in itself! Consider the considerable problems prospective and enrolled students and their parents often face in understanding an institution’s tuition bill or financial aid award statement. This can affect a prospective student’s choice of institution, impede retention and graduation, cause student and parent frustration, promote negative word-of-mouth “advertising,” and lead to a multitude of calls, visits and emails to already busy student services offices.

At their best, effective and efficient processes can facilitate the achievement of institutional enrollment-related goals. Consider the institution’s website.  It is arguably the most important tool prospective students use to search for colleges and universities. If the institution’s website is easy to navigate and contains the information the prospective student is seeking, the institution can take advantage of the opportunity to present its value propositions and the competitive advantages it offers students. Ineffective websites, on the other hand, will often result in prospective students bypassing an institution in their college search. 

Process design and execution are major determinants of success

Paradigm: “A theory or a group of ideas about how something should be done, made or thought about.” 

It is important to remember that process is not an outcome but a means to achieve desired outcomes. Many very capable, hard working and well-intentioned managers mistake processes, activity and working hard as “products.” It’s not that the managers with a process paradigm don’t produce results, rather it’s that their results are often not what their primary stakeholders value or expect. Consistently looking out the window of process instead of the window of outcomes will result in a failure to fully meet stakeholder expectations almost every time.

The key to developing successful processes is to adopt a stakeholder-focused results-oriented paradigm. By understanding who the various stakeholders are, what results they value and expect, and being able to demonstrate the consistent delivery of those outcomes, helps ensure the success of the organizational unit and its practitioners.

Best practice SEM is data-informed. How stakeholders determine if a process is successful should be identified, but equally important, it should be defined with metrics in order to know if the process is on target for success.  Brief, well-designed surveys should be frequently launched to assess satisfaction with a process and to track progress over time.  It’s wise to take heed of the marketing adage:  “If all else fails, ask the customer.”

For an in-depth discussion about SEM solutions on your campus, explore AACRAO Consulting.

And check out AACRAO's publication Managing for Outcomes: Shifting from Process-Centric to Results-Oriented Operations.


1 Bontrager, Bob, Enrollment Management: An Introduction to concepts and structures. College and University. 79 (3) 2004.