Market-centered SEM

Institutional decision-making needs to be made in the context of a school’s external environment—the higher education marketplace—not solely based on the internal hopes, needs and desires of institutional leadership.

For example, a board of trustees may set an agenda to do any or all of the following:

  • Raise student selectivity.
  • Reducing tuition discount.
  • Improve student retention and completion.
  • Increase access and opportunity.
  • Elevate university prestige.

“Market position correlates with and dictates price, student mix, student profile, retention rates and so on,” Kalsbeek said. “It’s not about marketing as a verb—not what we do to market. This is about market as a noun—there’s a structure to the marketplace that can be empirically defined and understood. That’s the springboard to all enrollment and enrollment management.”

Refocusing the conversation

In the Handbook of Strategic Enrollment Management, David Kalsbeek (Senior Vice President for Enrollment Management and Marketing , DePaul University) and Brian Zucker (President and Founder, Human Capital Research Corporation) discuss the above scenario using the fictional “Alpha University.” [Buy the Handbook here.]

In their chapter exploring market position and structure, Kalsbeek and Zucker write, “At a strategic level, Alpha’s institutional goals, and ultimately their outcomes, are deeply seated in the underlying reality of its market position—Alpha’s place in a systemic, stratified and structured marketplace of higher education institutions. Thus, it is the market structure and Alpha’s position in it that frames and, to a great extent, dictates the range of outcomes to which its board committees can realistically aspire.”

With a market-centered perspective, a SEM leader can take the above-articulated goals and help to contextualize and refocus the conversation. For example, comparing the applicant pool to institutions similarly-positioned in the market and looking for opportunities to expand demand, or comparing retention and degree completion rates with what would be predicted from all of the other measures of market position.

Common understanding of the now

A market-centered approach means establishing an empirical, data-driven definition of the institution’s desired position and martialing all plans, process, and resources around stabilizing and improving that position. The institutional leadership must be aware of their competitive place in the hierarchical market. Understanding the market in which the institution is operating means getting all of the decision makers on the same page—so that administrators are not only setting goals for the future together, but also share a common, empirical understanding of where the institution is right now.

“Goal setting independent of an accurate sense of the starting point is just wishful thinking,” Kalsbeek said. “One part of assessing our current reality isn’t just looking at our internal spreadsheets and struggles, but putting all that in a market context and understanding that these things are predictable.”

In the Handbook, Kalsbeek and Zucker underscore the relevance of the common understanding of the starting point. Referring to Peter Senge’s work on organizations, they write: “[F]or systemic change to occur, it is important to also have an accurate understanding of the current reality. [Senge] notes that an accurate and informed understanding of an organization’s current situation provides an essential context and an empowering mooring that brings that shared vision to life through a creative tension.”

Market position can energize

Without the market context, it’s difficult to build goals toward a preferred enrollment future, because the leadership may aspire to achieve objectives that are actually at odds with what an institution can do given their market position. Understanding market dynamics can help create consensus around institutional direction.

“When I talk about this kind of stuff—using empirical approach, bringing data to the table—some people assume it’s dry and static,” Kalsbeek said. “But in fact, understanding market structures brings energy and focus to enrollment management efforts.”

Kalsbeek will be talking in-depth about the unexpectedly energizing world of “Market-Centered Enrollment Management” at AACRAO’s 2016 SEM Conference, November 6-9, in sunny San Antonio. Learn more about the conference and register now!