Field Notes: SEM for Health Sciences

"Field Notes" is an occasional Connect column covering practical and philosophical issues facing admissions and registrar professionals. The columns are authored by various AACRAO members. If you have an idea for a column and would like to contribute, please send an email to the editor at 

By  Bianca M. Thompson-Owen, Assistant Dean for Enrollment Management, Rutgers School of Health Related Professions


Colleges and universities have historically been dependent on tuition-based revenue; as such, they must remain vigilant of every external and internal influence that may impact their institution’s financial stability (Hossler & Hoezee, 2001). Therefore, developing strategies aimed at recruiting and retaining students has always existed as a top priority on a collegiate level (Hossler & Hoezee, 2001). The same strategic approach applies to health sciences schools. Health sciences schools are, by their nature, career-specific: students enter college with an expectation of gainful employment after they graduate.   

Although there is a growing demand for health care workers, a reduction in federal and state funding can have a major impact on student enrollment. According to a 2015 report by the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities, 47 states are still are still spending less per student than they did before the start of the recession (Mitchell, 2015). Since state support provides up to 53 of the revenue that is used to support instruction, the consequences for health care education at public colleges has forced many colleges to raise their tuition and make cuts or reductions in staffing, services and course offerings (Mitchell, 2015). To contend with these challenges, universities have sought new models that portend to improve enrollment and retention, despite external austerity.

Creating an effective SEM plan 

In the late 1980’s the American Association of Collegiate Registrars and Admissions Officers (AACRAO) created a new strategy called Strategic Enrollment Management (SEM) aimed at providing best practices for higher education professionals (Hossler & Bontrager, 2015).  These best practices provided a guide to integrate activities and services from various administrative departments including admissions, financial services, registration, and student services, under one umbrella to increase student success and retention (Hossler & Bontrager, 2015).

Although many enrollment management administrators use a compilation of best practices, the conceptual framework of these practices can form SEM and provide a sustainable foundation for college administrators (Hossler & Hoezee, 2001).

To build an effective SEM plan, college administrators must employ institutional research on student attrition and retention, student outcomes, and curriculum management (Hossler & Hoezee, 2001). SEM coordinates the efforts between recruitment, admissions, registration, financial services, and student affairs (Bontrager, 2004). Integrating these functions helps to create and transform the student experience, resulting in higher retention rates (Bontrager, 2004). Implementing SEM varies according to the needs of the university, although the growing demand to produce more academic scholars is leading some colleges to employ increasingly creative solutions to increase enrollment (Bontrager, 2004).

SEM provides enrollment management professionals with the ability to explore challenges that are faced by students (Kalsbeek & Hossler, 2008).  When these challenges go undetected, colleges and universities are often faced with low retention rates and unsatisfied students. Studies have long shown that students who are satisfied with their institution are more likely to remain as matriculated students and graduate college (Kalsbeek & Hossler, 2008). 

Three models for SEM

There is ample literature on the various ways to implement an enrollment management initiative. These initiatives have been proven to successful increase retention and build a climate of financial resources sustainability (Hossler & Bean, 1990). Below are three typical models for higher education institutions.
1.      The enrollment management facilitator or coordinator
The enrollment facilitator is responsible for enrollment and retention activities. A midlevel director, such as a senior member of admissions or financial aid, generally fills this role. This person coordinates enrollment management aspects like admissions offers, financial aid, and enrollment. A typical weakness of this role is that the organizer model provides no formal mechanism for incorporating enrollment concerns into the agenda of senior-level administrators or the board of directors (Bontrager, 2004)  Thus, enrollment management officers who continue to operate in silos will be unable to develop sustainable enrollment management strategies (Bontrager, 2004).
2.      The enrollment management matrix
In this model, a senior level director, for example, the vice president for student affairs coordinates the exercises of the enrollment management grid. In this model, financial aid or student retention are not formally reassigned to another vice president. Instead, the leaders of these departments retain their current reporting structure, but are also part of an enrollment administration matrix or framework (Bontrager, 2004).
3.      The enrollment management division
The most interconnected, authoritative model is the enrollment administration division (Bontrager, 2004). In this structure, a vice president or partner is given oversight over most, if not all, aspects of student enrollments. This model requires elevated amounts of senior level executive support. The university president or a senior VP needs to solidly advocate and support this model. One critical point of preference for this model is that an enrollment administration vice president can convey enrollment-related concerns straight to the president and the board of trustees. (Hossler, 1984).

Nursing school SEM: A case study

A research study conducted Demarest, Harris, and Vance (1989) analyzed the importance of SEM planning for sustainability of nursing programs.  The goals of the study were to increase enrollment, recruit non-traditional students, and to enhance the retention rates of the nursing programs (Demarest et al., 1989).  One of the most significant findings highlighted the significance of collaboration and planning among nursing administrators, nursing faculty, and the college community (Demarest et al., 1989).  As nursing and health sciences colleges diversify their curriculum options to meet the health care shortage, it is critical that SEM is forecasted, prepared, and reflected for the individual program offerings (Demarest et al., 1989). 

SEM solutions

SEM is gaining steam among graduate schools and some professional schools. Limited research and theories exists on strategic enrollment management for health sciences focused institutions.  With the growing demand of health care workers, higher educational institutions need SEM strategies that will not only retain students but support the collaboration of faculty and administrators to sustain health sciences majors.




Bontrager, B. (2004). Strategic enrollment management: Core strategies and best practices. College and University, 79(4). 9-15.

Demarest, D., Harris, A., & Vance, C. (1989). Enrollment management. Nurse Educator, 14(6). 22-26.

Hardinger, K., Garavalia, L., Graham, M.R., Marken, P.A., Russell, M.B., Nelson, L.A. & Stahnke, A. (2015). Enrollment management strategies in the professional pharmacy program: A focus on progress and retention.  Currents in Pharmacy Teaching and Learning 7. 199-206.

Hossler, D., Bontrager, B. & Associates (2015).  Handbook of Strategic Enrollment Management.  Jossey-Bass Higher and Adult Education.

Hossler, D., & Hoezee, L. (2001). Conceptual and theoretical thinking about enrollment management. In J. Black (Ed.), The Strategic enrollment management revolution (pp. 57-72). Washington, DC: American Association of Collegiate Registrars and Admissions Officers

Mitchell, M. & Leachman, M. (2015).  Years of cuts threaten to put college out of reach for more students. Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.  1-26.