Reflections on SEM: 3 catalysts for change

December 10, 2018
  • AACRAO Leadership and Governance
  • Change Management
  • Collaborative Decision-Making
  • Competencies
  • Enrollment Management
  • Financial Aid and FAFSA
  • Holistic and Systemic Thinking
  • Meetings, Workshops, and Trainings
  • Retention
  • SEM Conference
  • SEM Leadership
photo taken from the perspective of the Lincoln memorial looking at the reflection pool and Washington monument at sunset

by Tina Falkner, AACRAO President, Director, Office of Student Finance, University of Minnesota - Twin Cities

This year I was able to attend our SEM conference for the first time. As we try to make sure that our limited professional development budget is shared widely throughout the office, it has simply never been financially possible for me to attend.

I am fortunate that I already work in a SEM-like organization, where student success is at the center of our work. The sessions I attended reinforced what I already knew in my heart to be true, including these three major takeaways. SEM is:

  • Student focused. Institutions must think holistically about the student and the student experience.

  • Paradigm-shifting. SEM requires a paradigm shift throughout the campus community.

  • Institution wide. Courageous leadership thinks beyond admissions as more than simply yield or application numbers, but as one part of an institution-wide strategy to address student success throughout the entire life-cycle.

How change can happen
Movement towards these goals can happen along many different routes -- some big-picture shifts, some practical and process-oriented.

For example, change may manifest in the following:

  1. Financial aid reallocation, such as establishing mini completion scholarships to help students finish their degrees.

  2. Shifting the focus from retention to success. Take something as seemingly innocuous as the word retention: “Retention is clinical rather than aspirational; retention restrains us, limits our vision and our capacity for creativity and excellence,” suggested the SEM and Retention session presenters.  It’s important to incorporate retention efforts into a broader conversation and action plan around student success.

  3. Building trust. It takes trust throughout the institution to build bridges between traditionally disparate segments of campus to collaborate on SEM initativies such as (1) removing curricular or procedural impediments, (2) improving student support mechanisms, (3) employing technology to put answers to common student questions at their fingertips 24/7, and (4) tackling student issues from multiple perspectives instead of reflexively saying ‘that’s not my problem.’

I am heartened that over 40 schools sent teams to the meeting to learn together and build common understanding and purposefulness. I can hardly wait to check in with them next year to see what changes they have implemented on their home campuses.


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