Optimization: Aligning technology planning with SEM

December 15, 2019
  • AACRAO Consulting
  • Competencies
  • Enrollment Management
  • Enrollment Technology
  • Technological Knowledge
  • Technology
Team of professionals at table around laptops and coffee cups

by AACRAO Senior Consultant Howard Shanken

In Strategic Enrollment Management (SEM) the institution’s mission and student educational goals drive overall planning. This planning is the basis for developing actionable strategies to reach enrollment goals.  (Sigler, 1)

The selection and implementation of technology, which is a tool used in reaching the SEM objectives, often fails the litmus test of thoughtful planning. This is evidenced in the purchasing of software with an early shelf life, institutional overlapping of products, functionality that does not integrate across departments, and the overall lack of assessment of personnel skillsets needed to support the technology. 

Technology in many ways is only as good as its users. Staff do not always have a background in the use of technology.

AACRAO Senior Consultant, Christine Kerlin, Ed.D. made this observation in 2006 (Kerlin, 2), which holds true today: 

“The enrollment officer at the community college is often seen as the professional with the greatest knowledge of the student information system: he may bear the burden not only of managing and troubleshooting the functionality of the system, but also of taking the lead on any new system implementations or updates.” 

If the goal is to optimize the use of technology, we need to have optimal staff in this regard. Now with everything from digital diplomas to block chain transcripts on the horizon, optimizing means to expand our focus for the future. The Cambridge Advanced Learner’s Dictionary defines optimization, “as the act of making something as good as possible.” The Oxford Dictionary offers an expanded definition as, “the action of making the best or most effective use of a situation or resource.” This may include using what you don’t know you have. Optimization does not mean perfection. It is not absolute. It rather plays an augmenting or supplemental role, most often in incremental ways. 

Optimization planning means involving the community in the dialogue. Keep the focus always on the mission. This is well represented in the MIT Registrar purpose statement

“At the MIT Registrar’s Office, we partner with students, alumni, faculty, and staff to promote excellence through curriculum innovation, community-building, secure and accurate academic information, and a robust and responsive registration infrastructure. We look forward to advancing MIT’s educational mission together.”

This statement sums up that optimization is a journey that needs to be taken together. Making this a collaborative approach is a key element that must be included for institutional success measures that allow for incremental or sometimes hyper-jump growth.  Optimization is not just the technology; it is managing the staffing, policies, and communication pieces that go with it. As stated by Wendy Kilgore and Brent Gage in the Handbook of Strategic Enrollment Management (Kilgore and Gage,3):

“Although technology has created tremendous efficiencies and opportunities for in-depth analysis realizing its potential requires that the implementation and management of systems be thoughtfully managed and developed over time.” 

It is important for comprehensive planning that we expand our conversations about technology. Educause and the New Media Consortium (NMC) have done outstanding work in this arena. The 2017 NMC Horizon Report provides an excellent capture of key issues and trends driving innovation that we too in Enrollment Services must actively engage with and resolve. The broad range of issues includes seven categories of technologies, i.e. consumer technologies, digital strategies, enabling technologies, internet technologies, learning technologies social media, and visualization technologies. These categories provide a broad framework to explore the strategies and tools needed as part of an institution’s planning efforts.  To download the report go to https://library.educause.edu/resources/2017/2/2017-horizon-report

Optimizing technology needs broader and longer-range planning. The solutions of today may be obstacles for the future. We often see in existing student information systems that software customizations result in making product enhancements or integrations more costly. 

Therefore, technology planning aligned with SEM initiatives is essential. 


1. Sigler, W. (2017). SEM Core Concepts: Building Blocks for Institutional and Student Success.  Washington, D.C: American Association of Collegiate Registrars and Admissions Officers.

2. Kerlin, C. (2006). The Registrar’s Guide: Evolving Best Practices in Records and Registration. Washington, D.C: American Association of Collegiate Registrars and Admissions Officers.

3. Kilgore, W., Gage, B. (2015) “The Role of Technology in Supporting SEM” from the Handbook of Strategic Enrollment Management. Hossler, Bontrager. Washington, D.C: American Association of Collegiate Registrars and Admissions Officers.

For more information please visit AACRAO Consulting, email consulting@aacrao.org, or call (202) 355-1056.


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