Field Notes: Are your staff professionally competent?

April 19, 2018
  • Admissions and Recruitment
  • Competencies
  • Enrollment Management
  • International Admissions and Credential Evaluation
  • International Education
  • Leadership and Management
  • Operations Management
  • Records and Academic Services
  • SEM Leadership
  • Staffing and Operations
  • Staffing Leadership
  • Transfer and Articulation
  • field notes
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"Field Notes" is a regular Connect column covering practical and philosophical issues facing admissions, enrollment, and registrar professionals. The columns are authored by various AACRAO members. If you have an idea for a column and would like to contribute, please send an email to the editor at

by Nancy Walsh, Director of Admissions Operations,Office of Undergraduate Admissions, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

In case you weren’t aware, AACRAO has provided a valuable Professional Competencies and Proficiencies guide which can be used in a number of ways. Current supervisors can use the guide to determine if staff (particularly those in management positions) are meeting core competencies and proficiencies. The competencies and proficiencies can also be used in a mentoring scenario by supervisors as they begin to groom individuals who demonstrate promise in advancing their careers as well as being used by the employees themselves as self-motivation to show supervisors that they are ready for advancement. AACRAO has identified 11 core competencies that could apply to all AACRAO professions, and then broke down the proficiencies among the various professions – admissions, enrollment management, records & academic services and cross-functional.

Below I will  focus on the admissions proficiencies by recommending practical ways to incorporate them into staff development initiatives on your campus.

Communication Plans

An essential part of the admissions field is the ability to communicate effectively to prospective students. In building communication plans, staff need to recognize who, what, when & how. Who am I trying to communicate to? What am I trying to tell them? When is the best time to convey this information? What mechanism will I use to transmit the message? The majority of admission communication plans would be for recruitment purposes, but campaigns can also built on the operational end. And, of course, a main focus of this competency should be establishing safeguards to prevent erroneous communication from being sent. No campus wants to be the next one with that headline!

Assignment AACRAO: Assign a staff member to build a recruitment communication plan for transfer prospects from your largest community college feeder.  

Speeches & Presentations

This competency is pretty well focused on the recruitment side as well, but this skill is also necessary to move up the ladder on the operational side. Public speaking is certainly not everyone’s favorite task, and many struggle in this area, even to the extent of avoiding it all together which can be harmful to professional growth. The best way to get over the fear is to just do it! Once you have a few presentations under your belt, you typically get more comfortable speaking in front of others and are able to broaden your audience and topic.

Assignment AACRAO: Assign a staff member to give a small presentation to an internal group updating them on a project which he/she is working on.

Emerging Technologies

This competency is a little more centered on the operational side of the house, although still very important to the recruitment folks as well. With our ever-changing landscape, it is critical that admission leaders stay on the cutting edge when it comes to implementing new technologies. While an IT background is not necessary to fulfill this competency, I would encourage all admission leaders to have a broad understanding of technology, and if it’s a tough skill to learn or you aren’t interested, then surround yourself with staff who are comfortable & knowledgeable in it.

Assignment AACRAO: Assign a staff member who is attending a conference to bring back at least three examples of emerging technology, either gained through presentations or by visiting the vendor hall. (The 2018 AACRAO Technology & Transfer Conference, particularly the Innovation Hub, is a great source of relevent information about emerging technologies in higher education.)

Market Analysis

In reading the description for this competency, I think it could also be labeled “data-informed decision making." Admissions managers must have a clear understanding of their campus’ market share – where are the best places to identify prospects and in which areas of the country/world can we realistically recruit students while staying within budget? It would not make sense for my campus to invest travel dollars in certain regions of the United States as we rarely enroll students from those areas and they are not targeted for significant growth in the future. It’s essential to do this type of research as being mindful of budget dollars is a must.

Assignment AACRAO: Have a staff member assigned to a mid-level US region develop a recruitment plan based on a set budget.

Enrollment Goals

This is another competency which encompasses both recruitment and operations. In understanding your campus’ enrollment goals, I generally view this skill as more art than science. Yes, there are a lot of numbers associated with formulating enrollment reports – number of applications, admits, accepts and yield. But, predicting that yield can be an invaluable skill to possess. Over my years in admissions, we have created various yield projection models, but two non-science constants are always present – gut intuition and historical knowledge.

Assignment AACRAO: Assign a staff member to predict enrollment/yield for a small subset of your incoming first year class by using factual data and his/her intuition.

Staffing & Operations

In order to effectively manage the whole admissions unit or a subset of it, supervisors must have a clear vision of the workforce needed to accomplish tasks at certain times of the year. This competency can become critical when new processes or systems are proposed for your admissions office. For example, if a Common Application implementation is on the horizon, managers will likely need to do a full-scale resource analysis to determine how an increased application volume will impact current operations and staffing levels. Having a solid understanding of the current workforce while keeping an eye out for future recruitment and/or operational changes is a critical skill needed by an admissions leader.

Assignment AACRAO: Assign a staff member to analyze the impact of a new process (e.g. self-reported test scores) on staff workload.

Social Media Utilization

Times have changed, huh? Social media would not have been mentioned in job descriptions ten years ago, but they are surely a key piece of the admissions puzzle now, especially for those focused on recruitment and outreach. Understanding the various social media platforms and recognizing when/how to post and respond to messages are now key competencies needed by admissions managers.

Assignment AACRAO: Assign a staff member to monitor one or more social media accounts over the course of a week. He/she would be responsible for posting messages as well as responding appropriately to posts.


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