Leading Internal Communication from Enrollment Management throughout New Academic Program Implementation

May 16, 2019

By Jeffrey P. Levine

More than a dozen years ago, after my first year as director at a 30,000-student college, I presented at our annual fall faculty orientation. Confidently reading a short list from the podium to an auditorium at capacity, I highlighted key strategic enrollment initiatives completed during the previous academic year. A friendly, visibly upset, award-winning female professor stood up and shared, “Your small team accomplishments are fantastic, but you failed to regularly update us—because faculty may choose to help!” At that moment, as a naïve young manager, I vowed that if I ever participated on university cross-departmental teams building on a strong foundation from both student affairs and enrollment management, I would never miss an opportunity to engage key faculty, senior leadership, and academic affairs leadership. Collective successes and momentum should not fly stealthily under the radar. But how would I become an amateur, in-house, championship-caliber public relations department?

Enhancing Internal Communication Using SEM Framework

Fast-forward to a few years ago: Our hero is in another role, helping a top ten–ranked engineering college cross-departmental team implement a new program across multiple system campuses. To aid the team and accomplish goals across departments and throughout the university, I kept asking myself, “How do we get people on the same page?” Utilizing AACRAO-based strategic enrollment management (SEM) planning initiatives as a guide, subject matter experts on our team began implementing an existing academic program at a new campus to address recruitment needs. Remembering faculty feedback in that jam-packed auditorium where I’d learned a valuable lesson, I wanted to let myriads of constituencies know that we were listening, were influential without being the dean, and desired to leave a legacy for the university community.

Among the keys assisting and motivating your internal audience are:

  • Being transparent
  • Building momentum
  • Documenting progress
  • Celebrating collective milestones, and
  • Saying what is next.
  • Transparency

In any university community, there are times you must tell everyone how the sausages are made—even though they really may not wish to know. During new academic program implementation, you can provide key concepts learned from the enrollment management profession, including “establishing clear goals for the number and types of students needed to fulfill the institutional mission” (Bontrager 2004, 12). Setting ambitious yet realistic program implementation goals and clearly telling the story are key ways to reach stakeholders, build trust within your community, and bridge the faculty versus staff divide.

Build Momentum

Energy is key. You can be a great tactician and implement data-driven or -assisted decision making into the team’s work, but the way you motivate others across campus during new academic program implementation can make a trustworthy difference. Jim Collins, in Good to Great, discusses starting with “who” not “what” when trying to accomplish goals (Collins 2001).  Short, weekly communications about key program implementation wins, minor setbacks, and upcoming events gain attention, provide insight, and share snapshot point-in-time data to keep everyone informed. One of the easy ways we were able to show progress to the community was by posting a picture in a university-wide electronic newsletter of the academic program implementation committee wearing hard hats while touring a new academic facility. Another was celebrating with team lunches at which we also provided ice cream and project-related apparel.

Document Progress

Having a record of when teams of people accomplished small, medium, and large projects is good for several reasons, including showing continuous improvement for accreditation purposes, helping the chief financial officer allocate the budget, demonstrating cross-departmental team project implementation, and aiding future projects if the team members change or if there is turnover across the college or university. This may be as simple as letting the group know you received an updated draft of a communication going out to several stakeholders across campus.  Showing revisions with collective input provides a record of being better off than the community was at the beginning of the project.

Celebrate Collective New Program-Specific Milestones

Within enrollment management, we celebrate kick-off events such as the launch of a fall application for admission for the next academic cycle, targeted scholarship and marketing programs to reach goals, and even a strategic enrollment management plan. This meets the SEM planning goal of increasing collaboration among departments across campus to support the enrollment program (Bontrager 2004, 14). Like small celebrations along the way, the enrollment management executive summary provides a forum for sharing new academic program cross-departmental team progress throughout the duration of team goals. At the end of the semester and at the end of an academic year, it can show each piece of the puzzle the team put together. Share things that did not work to show how the team grew throughout its time together.

Say what’s next

Recently, a former colleague and I were discussing why he had moved in order to continue to serve on my team. He said, “You are good about telling us the next thing we are working on.” Effective leaders plan the next weeks leading up to key events and assess progress along the way. This is translated from the SEM planning goal of “increasing process and organizational efficiency” (Bontrager 2004, 12).

Applying Business Resources

To continually connect through regular communication, I sought external resources. Utilizing HBR Guide to Managing Up and Across (2013) and Jim Collins’ Good to Great (2001), I was able to continually energize multiple stakeholders by building momentum based on the flywheel effect: creating strong project timelines and creation of shared goals. In addition to Zoom and in-person meetings and multiple presentations to counselors, students, and parents throughout the nation, I developed the new academic program implementation enrollment management executive summary (EMES).  

The EMES was emailed and shared weekly up and across multiple campuses from senior leadership to entry-level staff, succinctly recapping collaboration, praising contributors by name, presenting current data expressing progress, providing a two-bullet-point data analysis, listing multi-channel student CRM communications to aid unified goals, clearly sharing metrics, sharing future important dates and yield events, and soliciting feedback. A forum was created for team and senior leaders with distinct skill sets to make additional contributions.

Weekly enrollment management executive summary (EMES) implementation recommendations for new academic programs include

  • Recapping and reinforcing cross-departmental collaboration,
  • Praising people advancing new program goals,
  • Presenting new academic program-specific enrollment funnel data,
  • Providing a two-bullet-point analysis of the new program data,
  • Listing new program-specific external communications;
  • Providing program specific metrics and results,
  • Listing upcoming dates and events, and
  • Asking for feedback.

Recap and Reinforce Cross-Departmental Collaboration Progress

What is taking place in the university community—among multiple departments—that others should know about? Did the academic side of the house work with student affairs and enrollment management on new, program-specific information sessions at new student orientation? Did the Office of Residence Life share the list of students who applied for on-campus housing but did not pay their admissions deposit with the Office of Admissions so team members could follow up with phone calls? Did a faculty member go above and beyond by meeting with a program advisory board with staff counterparts? Each of these is a bullet point to be highlighted on the summary to the campus community. Showcasing team success can motivate others to elevate their performance in order to have their efforts shared.

Praise people advancing new program goals

An example of effective praise might be:

“Courtney from admissions did a great job planning Tuesday’s on-campus yield event for the College of Engineering. 

Her contributions connected our community with 524 prospective students and family members from thirteen states. 

Please join me in congratulating Courtney.”

This section highlights the good work individuals and offices do during new academic program implementation to strengthen cross-departmental team progress. The goal is to enable senior leadership to associate the names of the people in the report with positivity and success. Highlight the servants involved in servant leadership (Greenleaf 1997). Documenting praise of employees in your and other departments can aid supervisors during evaluations and demonstrate to the human resource office that you recognize the efforts of key contributors.

Present new academic program–specific enrollment funnel data

Present new academic program data in clear, readily understandable amounts. The easiest way for people in the community to make sense of information is via simple charts or data visualization. Absent training in creating Tableau dashboards, the easiest way to present data is to compare the new-academic-program-specific enrollment funnel for new fall first-year students with data from the previous year. Be sure to add columns for change in headcount and percentage change. Present more detail according to audience segments.

Table 1. Sample Fall 2019 New Engineering Program First-Year Funnel

levine-t1

Provide a Two-Bullet-Point Analysis of the New Program Data

An example of a two-bullet data analysis follows:

  • Fall 2019 first-year applications are up 11.69 percent year over year.
  • We have received 169 fewer first-year applications overall, but 486 more have been completed and 132 more have been admitted year over year (+7.8 percent).

This weekly new-program-specific implementation analysis can be cited by the president in a report to the board, by a vice president of enrollment management at a cabinet meeting, a provost when explaining the state of admissions to academic leadership, housing, financial aid, and others during the week, and more. In a concise analysis featuring clearly denoted positive and/or negative trends, community perceptions of the outcomes of the program implementation work can be shaped. This will demonstrate proactive, dynamic collaborative efforts in a format that people who do not work in your area can understand.

List New Program-Specific External Communications

Marketing and enrollment communication departments do not always have the opportunity to showcase key program-specific campaigns and their results. This is an opportunity to provide weekly updates on specific CRM campaigns, referencing communication types and goals.

Sample list of new program-specific external communications:

  • Thank you letters and e-mails are going out Wednesday to all last Friday’s new engineering program open house attendees.
  • Postcards and an e-mail are being sent this week to all new engineering program admitted students who are not yet registered for new student orientation.
  • Personalized missing items letters and e-mails highlighting our February 1 deadline are being sent to all new engineering program freshmen with incomplete files as of January 1.

Provide Program-Specific Metrics and Results

In addition to presenting new program–specific campaigns, provide some action items measuring progress for current or recently completed campaigns for the new majors being implemented. This showcases efforts and lets collaborative stakeholders know how challenging it is to convert students from each part of the funnel. It may also prompt interest in boosting results—and thus lead to more resources being allocated to digital marketing and/or scholarship dollars. Be sure to mention new program–specific social media campaigns and results.

Table 2. Sample campaigns and metrics

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List Upcoming Dates and Events

Share who will be on campus; large group tours and where they are from; external admissions counselor recruitment in their assigned territories; important new yield event information; program-specific milestones; and key dates on the university calendar. Add cross-departmental team member birthdays for more personalization. This section can be longer because it showcases new program–specific external recruitment activity leading up to a yield event or the entire listing of associated events for the rest of the semester.

Table 3. Upcoming Dates and Events Listing


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Ask for Feedback

A key component when implementing a new academic program and sending out a related EMES is—at the bottom of the report, before the email signature—to ask for feedback. This communicates receptivity to constructive criticism and provides an opportunity for others to engage, synthesize, consider, and reflect on the summary information. Once the report is sent, few colleagues throughout the community may respond via e-mail, but they will read the report. One of the best pieces of feedback I received was from a College of Engineering department chair who copied all of the faculty in his department on his e-mail, which said, “Way to go!” I have also been asked to clarify points with which some colleagues may be unfamiliar. The larger the audience to whom the information is sent, the greater the transparency of program-implementation initiatives and the flow of accurate weekly information—and the more effective the communication. Multiple presidents, provosts, and vice presidents have been thankful for this information because it was more “human” than a data dashboard. Provide the continual inside story of how the sausage is made.

Successful Connection Results

When utilizing the EMES up to the program launch, you may be wondering about your team’s results. What lessons were learned? Buy-in was created because contributors participated electronically and in person to actively inform stakeholders. Information flowed up, down, and across, creating momentum. Yield events were held, scholarships were awarded, adaptations to new student orientation were made, social media were utilized to generate interest, and students enrolled. Results indicated that after year one, we exceeded new program–specific enrollment goals by 22.0 percent. In the second year, new program–specific goals were exceeded by 29.4 percent, contributing to a two-year overall enrollment increase of 8 percent. As a result, utilization of the new program–specific EMES as one tool in a toolkit for success allowed us to frame team actions to distinctly address positive progress, areas for improvement, and needs for additional cross-departmental team resources.

Alternative EM Internal Communication Toolkit Strategies

Alternative tools when implementing new academic programs include hiring consultants to monitor progress; assigning extraordinarily happy, extroverted staff to be the implementation leads; sending teams to conferences; and actively showing appreciation. Providing food, recognition, and team and individual awards shows that you care. Our president bought a gourmet lunch for our team and dined with us. One thing we did not do was get a framed hand-signed letter from the provost for each member of the cross-departmental new academic program implementation team. It would have been a nice touch and would have provided kudos for a job well done and signaled progress toward addressing strategic planning goals.

One EM goal was to leave a legacy for future new academic program implementation teams. We wanted to create a template to aid future cross-departmental teams. Thinking back to early in my career, presenting in front of all those faculty members, our team progress was shared incrementally throughout the community as the new program crawled, took its first steps, attended its first day of school, and then started running. By creating the EMES and implementing a new tool in a toolkit of solutions, our team enrolled students, exceeded expectations in completing a component of a college dean’s strategic plan implementation, and boosted university net tuition revenue so other institutions can, as well.

References

Collins, J. C., and J. Collins. 2001. Good to Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap...and Others Don't. New York, NY: Random House.

Greenleaf, R. K. 1997. The Servant as Leader. Notre Dame, IN: University of Notre Dame Press.

HBR Guide to Managing Up and Across, 2013. Boston, MA: Harvard Business Review Press.

Bontrager, B. 2004. Enrollment Management: An Introduction to Concepts and Structures. College and University, 79, no. 3, 11-16.

 

Jeffrey P. Levine is Special Advisor to the Vice President of Student Affairs and Director of Enrollment Management at New Jersey City University (NJCU), an 8,500-student, Hispanic-serving institution outside of New York City. Levine previously held leadership roles in Pennsylvania and Texas. He earned a B.A. in American studies from The University of Texas at Austin, a M.Ed. in higher education administration and supervision from the University of Houston, and is a Ph.D. candidate in higher education leadership, management, and policy at Seton Hall University.