Strategy in the face of crisis

by Jody Gordon, Senior Consultant, AACRAO Consulting

When engaging in Strategic Enrollment Management (SEM) planning, we strive for 20/20 vision by utilizing an assessment-rich approach.

Then a major disruption, such as a pandemic, requires us to pivot, stabilize our enrollment, and maintain a positive overall student experience. We keep enrollment goals, but the targets, strategies, and tactics may have to shift or be reprioritized in order to ensure student success and overall enrollment health.

This is carried out by collecting a variety of data and assessing the impact the crisis has had on our ability to achieve our enrollment goals and making the necessary adjustments.  But it's critical we remain grounded our core vision and mission.

Hindsight is 20/20

We look to past enrollment patterns in order to determine future enrollment. We survey our past, current and future students in order to understand more about their overall learning experience and expectations with an eye to improvement. And we determine our key enrollment (or performance) indicators in advance of launching any strategies and tactics in order to measure the overall success of our plan in the future.

SEM planning is, therefore, an iterative process right from the start. There is a constant loop of data and data analysis to understand the past in order to influence the future. As my colleague David Kropp at Cleveland State Community College  so aptly said, “You cannot connect all the dots until you collect all the dots."

Data-informed, evidence-rich assessment is critical to determining our desired future and ensuring we are achieving our goals. Data sources can be both internal and external to our institution and include:

  • Economic trend data
  • Federal and State/Provincial data
  • Facilities campus planning data
  • Financial forecasting data
  • Student engagement surveys
  • Enrollment trend data segmented by a various demographic

Assessment helps establish enrollment goals with targets to represent the desired future for our institution. 

Action driven by vision

Once we've done our research, we can determine next steps through a variety of strategies and tactics. These include:

Step 1:  Collect and analyze data for the purpose of identifying strengths, opportunities, aspirations and results (SOAR)

Step 2: Prioritize critical areas to address

Step 3: Develop goals that align with the institution’s strategic plan and the SOAR analysis

Step 4: Develop targets within those goals

Step 5: Develop strategies and tactics to achieve those goals

Step 6: Implement action plans to carry out those tactics

Step 7:  Measure, assess and reassess in order to make necessary adjustments to our strategies and tactics.

As Søren Kierkegaard said, “Life can only be understood backwards; but it must be lived forwards.” 

Data analysis is hindsight by allowing us to understand the past in order to more strategically inform the future.  But it can also be predictive allowing us to better influence our desired future. 

Overall student success, during a pandemic and otherwise, is dependent on our ability to be informed and our willingness to change, adjust and tweak future action.  To support student success, we must become assessment-wealthy in all that we do.  In a time of so many uncertainties, grounding our decisions in evidence is more important than ever.