The Community Face of SEM: Building relationships for the student journey

By Stanley E. Henderson, Senior Consultant, AACRAO Consulting


The Faces of SEM:  Integration for Impact

The Three Faces of SEM, those contextual emphases essential to enrollment success, also provide our institutions with a framework that facilitates how students navigate their campuses--their Student Journey.  SEM’s Structural Face brings the right combination of offices and staff together with management making allocation of resources.  The Planning Face brings data, the SEM currency, to the strategic identification and pursuit of desired futures.  The Leadership Face ensures that leadership at multiple levels, spreading like arteries through the campus, provides the lifeblood of getting an initiative done. (Smith and Kilgore, 2006, Henderson and Yale, 2008)  “The successful enrollment management program integrates these three components—‘faces’—of SEM into something that is greater than the sum of its parts.” (Henderson, 2012, 102)

As important as these three faces of SEM are, their integration depends on the introduction of a fourth face of SEM, the Community Face.  This Community Face is a quintessentially human one, about building relationships.  “Understanding how to create and then nurture relationships in the campus community—whether with faculty, staff, or students—will help the enrollment manager to structure, plan, and lead…on her campus.  If she also ensures that she is serving not just the external markets of prospective students but also the internal campus community members, she can be assured of success.” (2012, 104)

In this context of relationship building, SEM’s Structural Face should be less about organizational charts and more about creating opportunities for faculty and staff to work for students’ academic success.  The Planning Face now brings an understanding that data are essential for improving service to students and smoothing the pathways of the Student Journey.  And the Leadership Face has a new emphasis on ensuring all collaborate in the student learning enterprise.  Leadership in this context can overcome the traditional “cylinders of excellence” in the academy and create a “community center” for the work of the Student Journey.

The Relationships of SEM: Toolset for Student Success

This concept of community qua relationships is a different way of looking at SEM.  Seeing SEM as data-driven with roots in strategic planning and in the embrace of analytics and predictive modeling may have put too much emphasis on the collective student rather than the individual student.  Moreover, as SEM has evolved, we have increasingly turned to technology to recruit, retain, and communicate with students where the end result should be about relationships.  If handled with sensitivity and a concern for individual student circumstances, data and technology can help build relationships and enhance student success.  However, sometimes students hear a message created by analytics that does not support their success: “You got a C in this gateway course, so you’re going to have to change your major because the data tell us no one with a C in this course can ever graduate with this major.”

Keeping a Community Face in SEM can help to ensure that these increasingly powerful analytical approaches convey a message that says, “This gateway course is so important, and we want to work with you to be sure you do well and keep moving toward your goals.”  What follows in this approach is some version of wrap-around services that bring tutoring, intrusive advising, customized services to the student.

Data will always be the currency of SEM; strategic planning will always be essential to developing the right academic programs and student support services.  Leadership will always need to be present throughout the layers of the institution to advocate for support in building enrollment health.  However, if we look at the Community Face of SEM as a way of integrating its separate elements by bringing them to bear on the success of individual students through partnerships and collaborations, there is even more power in the SEM approach.  

Registration is open for AACRAO SEM 2016, Nov. 6-9 in San Antonio. Register now to discuss Strategies for the Future on your campus.



Henderson, S. E. 2012.  The Community of SEM in Bontrager, B., Ingersoll, D., and Ingersoll, R., eds, Strategic Enrollment Management: Transforming Higher Education (pp. 97-109). Washington, DC: AACRAO.

Henderson, S. E. and Yale, A. 2008.  Enrollment Management 101. Preconference Workshop, AACRAO’s Strategic Enrollment Management Conference (SEM XVIII).  Anaheim, CA.

Smith, C. and Kilgore, W. 2006.  Enrollment Planning: A Workshop on the Development of a SEM Plan.  Washington, DC: AACRAO Consulting.