Tom Green, Ph.D.
This edition of SEM Quarterly is released at a time of great anticipation, as well as anxiety, in enrollment management. We are hopeful that fall 2021 enrollments will be healthy across all institutional types and settings, but this is mixed with the uncertainty of the long-haul effects of COVID-19 on higher education. How can we help those students who are most vulnerable get into postsecondary programs? What about the thousands who did not enroll in fall 2020; can we help them make a delayed entry? It appears that the most selective universities in the ecosystem are overloaded with applications. Why did that happen? Many research questions arise from our recent experiences, and there will be many more to come.
We are so fortunate in this edition to have five outstanding research articles for your edification and enjoyment. The first could not be more appropriate for the time in which we find ourselves. Tara Sprehe provides some very solid information on what has already been happening, especially in the hardest-hit community college sector, and what may lie ahead. Her linkage to practical steps and to the SEM foundations is the type of guidance and information that so many need right now. It is widely applicable across institutional types, sizes, and control.
The future of enrollment management will likely include some reliance on machine learning. The talented team from CSU Channel Islands – Dang, Reyes Reilly, Soltys, and Soltys – provide a deep dive into how this can be applied to the independent variable in all our careers, whether or not the student will enroll. Using machine learning techniques and a “confusion matrix” approach, they have shown how the prediction can become more accurate. They clearly note that this is a step toward even greater accuracy in the future. It is certainly an area of emerging technology and practice that deserves our attention.
As the pool of prospective high school graduates continues to contract or stay flat, and competition to enroll those students continues to intensify, enrollment managers continually seek an advantage or strong tools to help match the right students to the institution’s offerings. Perhaps no greater resource is our own faculty, notes Dr. Lee Furbeck. Getting greater buy-in to enrollment initiatives is one of the greatest frustrations among enrollment managers. Dr. Furbeck’s well-written and strongly researched article provides a clear roadmap for ways that enrollment managers can collaborate with faculty to improve the institutional match and value faculty time in the process.
While the lead story of 2020 may have been the pandemic, issues of equity arose strongly and continue to be front and center today. Most of the conversations in higher education centered on equity in undergraduate admissions, especially as standardized tests were unavailable for many applicants. There was a groundswell of “holistic” approaches to applicant review, which ironically opened up additional possibilities that these approaches increased bias. Not nearly enough has been researched at the undergraduate level, let alone how these approaches impact graduate admissions. Researcher Alyssa Orlando presents a very strong and well-written appraisal of the long-standing use of holistic approaches in graduate admissions. It is essential reading for all enrollment managers, as the research she presents could easily apply to undergraduate methods that have been hastily applied in the past year. We also need to consider the laissez-faire relationship we have had with graduate admissions decisions to challenge whether those departmental approaches are in need of greater transparency and attention to stronger approaches that eliminate bias from admissions decisions.
The final article of this issue is a wonderful case study contribution from two strong researchers and practitioners at Wichita State University, Gina Crabtree and Dr. David Wright. We know that SEM is based upon the strong use of data to inform decision-making and drive enrollment discussions. In their roles at WSU, they not only had deep knowledge of the institution’s data but served as co-chairs of the SEM planning process. Should we be surprised that the result is one of the model SEM plans developed by a research university in the United States? Terms like partnership and collaboration are overused in many settings, but this is a rare example that may actually undersell these relationships at Wichita State.
Happy reading and best wishes for great success in all your enrollment endeavors.