Leaders in Enrollment Advancing Diversity (LEAD)

ASCEND Leadership Development Program

Photograph from the 2023 SEM Conference in Seattle, WA of the 2023 - 2024 ASCEND Cohort.

Launched in 2019 as part of AACRAO's LEAD initiative, the ASCEND Leadership Development Program accelerates mid-career higher education professionals from historically excluded backgrounds into strategic executive roles. The ASCEND Leadership Development Program is an intensive, 9-month hybrid executive leadership program that offers immersive cohort-based learning, coaching, and career development. The ASCEND Leadership Development Program empowers leaders across AACRAO proficiency areas and beyond to understand and leverage their strengths to drive equity and inclusion, spur innovation, and dismantle barriers to reshape the future of the learner experience.

AACRAO ASCEND Leadership Development Program Benefits 

Accepted participants receive the following benefits:

  • Clifton Strengths Assessment for Managers 
  • Professional coaching from a seasoned Strategic Enrollment Management (SEM) leader who has had significant AACRAO engagement experience, 
  • AACRAO Essentials of Strategic Enrollment Management online course. This Essentials course is a part of the AACRAO Strategic Enrollment Management Endorsement Program (SEM-EP). Registrants who complete the course automatically qualify for a $500 SEM-EP fee discount and will have already completed one-fourth of the Endorsement Program. 
  • Monthly Virtual Education Sessions + AACRAO Micro-course Badges (SEM-focused)
  • Complimentary registration to the 2024 Strategic Enrollment Management Conference in Boston, MA (participant is responsible for travel, lodging, and meals) + Full-day Leadership Pre-Conference from 8 am - 4 pm, 
  • Complimentary registration to the 2025 AACRAO Annual Meeting in Seattle, WA (participant is responsible for travel, lodging, and meals), 
  • Access to a network of ASCEND Alumni and further engagement and development with AACRAO at the state, regional and national level
  • In total, the AACRAO ASCEND program represents a $6500 value for participants.


Our institutions are facing challenges ahead: negative public perceptions of higher education, ongoing budget shortfalls, free speech and race relations crises, spiraling student debt, increasing regulatory restrictions, and the approaching student enrollment cliff in 2025. Recruiting and retaining talented and diverse campus leaders will be a crucial factor in institutional success.

Why Now?

Recent data from the 2019 CUPA-HR association survey on Administrators in Higher Education give us troubling benchmarks. Results indicate 85% of those who hold the role of Senior Enrollment Management Officer and 89% of those who hold the role of Director of Admissions are white. We know that 22% of the non-white population in the US holds a bachelor degree or better. If the most traditional and obvious path to Senior Enrollment Officer is through the admissions office, the fact that Directors of Admission are currently less diverse than the qualified field means we must act now to ensure our institutions have a strong set of professionals to fill the roles of enrollment leaders in the future.


44% of ASCEND Scholars have transitioned into a senior-level role such as Director, Registrar, or AVP within Records, Admissions, Academic Services, and Recruitment before or within 12 months of program completion. Applicants represent institutions across 20 States, Washington, D.C., the Caribbean, and Canada.

2024-2025 Cohort Program Cost - $1100
SEM 2024 Conference$1670
Online Course: Essentials of SEM$495
Books and Materials$200
Personal Program Coach$1200
Monthly Virtual Education Sessions + AACRAO/SEM Badges
2024 Annual Meeting  Conference (est)*
Total Value     $6485



    Faculty will lead the cohort through a year-long curriculum that incorporates the essential competencies required to take the next step in enrollment management leadership. The curriculum design will incorporate the AACRAO Professional Competencies and Proficiencies and leverage existing professional development opportunities offered by AACRAO.


    Coaches will be assigned to each participant as additional support and guide customized to the individual needs and goals of the participant. Those admitted to the program will participate in monthly cohort meetings plus no less than one hour meeting with their coach.

We invite you to learn more about the ASCEND Leadership Development Program.



Illustration of the changing face of leadership.

Nurturing Diverse Leadership

Aug 4, 2023

Cultivating a focus on community building, coaching, and competency development amongst young diverse leaders.

Red room with round red table surrounded by red office chairs.

To Ascend or not to Ascend

Jan 23, 2023

Learn about one AACRAO member's journey to joining and participating in the AACRAO ASCEND program.

Silhouettes of hikers working together to get to the summit of a hill while the sun rises

ASCEND program announced: Standing by our commitment to nurturers of diversity

Apr 29, 2019

AACRAO seeks faculty and mentors for diverse midlevel enrollment managers.

Important Dates

February 26 - April 12, 2024
Application window

May 31, 2024
Notification of Cohort Acceptance

June 15, 2024
Acceptance Letter & Program Fees Due

July 15, 2024
ASCEND Program Begins

November 3-6, 2024

2024 SEM Conference in Boston, Massachusetts—plan to participate in a full-day pre-conference session for current ASCEND Scholars.

March 30-April 2, 2025
ASCEND Program Concludes at the 2025 AACRAO Conference in Seattle, Washington

Give to the LEAD Fund

AACRAO Events 

Keep growing with upcoming AACRAO events and webinars.

View upcoming events

AACRAO Publications

Stay up to date on enrollment management issues and trends.

View publications

Blue and White Spelman Johnson Logo.

The ASCEND program is sponsored by Spelman Johnson.

AACRAO ASCEND Leadership Development Withdrawal Policy

Participants may withdraw from the ASCEND program before the program starts on Sunday, July 14, 2024, and receive a full refund minus a 10% processing fee. After this date, no refunds will be provided. Transfers/deferments are not allowed. In rare cases, AACRAO may need to withdraw a participant due to lack of progress, unprofessional conduct, three or more unexcused absences, unresponsive to ascend coaches, coordinator, or other staff members, or any other reason that violates AACRAO’s policies and core values. In such cases, the participant will not be eligible for a refund.