Strategic Enrollment Management Quarterly

Advancing research in enrollment and student success

Editor's Note

Bob Bontrager, Ph.D.

Welcome to the inaugural issue of SEM Quarterly. This new journal represents an important juncture in the ongoing evolution of strategic enrollment management thought and practice. It is in many ways the culmination of nearly 40 years of developing new approaches to managing enrollments more effectively. In the last half of that period, we have come to see more clearly the strategic aspects of this enterprise, moving beyond managing enrollment variables more intentionally to a fuller understanding of the direct link between influencing student enrollments and the fulfillment of institution-wide missions and strategic plans.

While we continue to be informed by the past, this journal—which we often will refer to by its acronym SEMQ—is about looking forward. In doing so, we will draw upon many exciting, still-emerging dynamics of SEM. They include:

  • Executive-Level Leadership. Over the growing number of years that strategic enrollment management has existed, there has been a slow but increasing incidence of SEM practitioners attaining higher-level positions on campuses. The number of enrollment management titles at the assistant/associate vice president/chancellor and vice president/chancellor levels has been growing steadily over the past 20 years. Just in the last several years, the author is aware of three individuals who previously held enrollment manager positions becoming presidents. This increased presence at the executive level of campus decision making is critical to the future of SEM, as enrollment managers increasingly engage the most-pressing issues facing higher education today and into the future. Our View from the Top addresses executive perspectives.
  • Emerging Thought and Practice. As the SEM profession continues to evolve, SEMQ will be a vehicle for delivering the latest thinking on SEM concepts. Perhaps more importantly, this journal will reach beyond theorizing to highlight the most effective practical applications of SEM, with an emphasis on achieving more positive outcomes in recruitment, retention, and degree attainment. In each issue, the Leading Strategies section will deliver outcomes-oriented content.
  • Internationalization. Global connections are now ubiquitous across higher education generally and strategic enrollment management specifically. To wit, in a September 2012 conversation with American Association of Collegiate Registrars and Admissions Officers (AACRAO) staff, Leonard Engel, executive director of the European Association of International Educators (EAIE), identified SEM as a top priority for that organization. Within that same month, similar sentiments were expressed by Paul Abela, executive director of the Association of Tertiary Education Managers (ATEM) serving Australia/New Zealand/New Guinea, who suggested a joint SEM conference of ATEM, EAIE, and AACRAO. The practice of SEM internationally is far more than a mere replication of what has been done in the United States. By bringing fresh thinking, and also avoiding pitfalls in the ways SEM has been deployed in North America, other countries are developing innovative approaches of use to all enrollment managers. The Global Context portion of SEMQ provides a forum for these ideas to emerge.
  • Institutional Sectors. At the macro level, the concepts of SEM are universal. Regardless of the particular institutional setting, effectively managing enrollments requires detailed goal-setting, student-focused service delivery, careful data analysis, innovative student success programs, and so forth. However, at the micro level, SEM is deployed differently among diverse types of colleges and universities and varied program levels within institutions. Hence, our plan for SEMQ includes content specific to community colleges, graduate and professional schools, smaller private institutions, and other specific sectors of the higher education landscape.
  • Research. It is commonly noted in the literature and professional presentations that SEM is data-driven. Thus, it is noteworthy that rigorous research into the many aspects of SEM is scarce. Practitioners are generally left to wade through expansive, national data sets to obtain intelligence that may only be tangentially related to their institutional circumstances. At the other end of the continuum, campus-specific studies offer valuable data but often lack benchmarking against those of comparable institutions. We seek to bridge that gap with a section titled The Research Agenda, drawing from new material generated by an AACRAO research initiative in partnership with sister higher education organizations.
  • Academic Orientation. Among the current emphases in the SEM movement is an increased emphasis on the connection to academics. In SEMQ, this connection takes on two forms. One is the necessary link of recruitment and retention programs to activities that typically are structured within academic affairs divisions such as academic advising, identification of at-risk students, and program and course capacities. The second connection is to graduate programs in higher education administration delivering content related to or directly addressing SEM content. With SEMQ we intend to create a focal point for delivering content from these programs, offering faculty and students a new outlet for publishing their work.
  • Current Trends. The factors influencing higher education and student enrollments are numerous, varied, and changing rapidly. Issues ranging from affirmative action to funding and cost issues to massive open online courses (MOOCs) crop up and change at a pace that is nearly impossible to keep up with. Monitoring trends, and in some cases stating a specific SEM response, is another of the purposes of this journal in The Buzz.

Joining me in this venture over the coming months will be thought leaders both from within and outside the ranks of enrollment managers. The lead article in this inaugural issue is authored by two of the most prominent players in the SEM movement, Don Hossler and David Kalsbeek. Hossler and Kalsbeek offer a cogent review of the history, current state, and future of SEM, to be further illuminated by other articles in this issue and those to come. Monique Snowden from the Fielding Graduate University addresses enrollment logics and discourses that impact SEM practices, particularly in North American higher education institutions. Her article in this issue will be of broader SEM interest but sets the stage nicely for future articles highlighting leading strategies in the profession.

Two international articles are featured in this inaugural issue. Larissa Chekmareva, in her role at the Kazakhstan Institute of Management and Strategic Planning, is the leader of the SEM movement in Central Asia. Her description of the emergence of SEM in her context offers important insights to inform fledgling SEM initiatives around the world. Clayton Smith plays a comparable leadership role in Canada, as co-founder of the annual Canadian SEM Summit conference. Having practiced SEM in both Canada and the United States, Smith has unique bi-national experience. His perspective is broadened further by several co-authors in an article focused on student success for international students, a topic receiving wide and growing attention.

Smith’s article is followed by the opening piece in our recurring section The Research Agenda, authored by Darin Wohlgemuth. As director of research for enrollment at Iowa State University, Wohlgemuth personifies the data-driven dynamic of SEM. His article on market demand and elasticity as they relate to enrollment is an exemplar of the analysis needed to inform effective SEM programs.

This first SEMQ issue concludes with the first installment under The Buzz. Mike Reilly’s piece is especially appropriate as he speaks from his perspective as the executive director of AACRAO, a role he began on June 1, 2012. His article illuminates the critical role of SEM in higher education and in the future of AACRAO. Whatever the significance of SEMQ as a vehicle for the SEM profession, its most important purpose accrues to you, the reader. Like SEM itself, in this journal we seek to be about more than theorizing. Our express purpose is to bridge the common gap between theory and practice, ultimately delivering content that is academically rigorous while also pointing the way to more robust campus outcomes. Along the way, I will rely on you to provide feedback and your own article submissions as we continue on this journey of SEM, improving access and success for the students we serve in higher education.