SEM Planning Depends on Preparation

July 11, 2022
  • AACRAO Consulting
  • SEM Assessment
  • SEM Planning
Person carefully preparing business tasks.

By Christine Kerlin, Senior Consultant 

The process of SEM planning and the development and follow-through of a SEM plan at community colleges is often the work of a representative SEM Committee. That committee usually gets to work with a sense of urgency, a desire to speedily remedy deficits and organize the college’s efforts to improve enrollment and student success. Meetings can get long as everyone discusses their opinions and ideas. 

Caution! Before plunging in, setting up a “Discovery” agenda as the first order of business can provide a needed foundation of facts and information to guide the identification of primary enrollment issues and effective SEM strategies. If your college is starting SEM work, or refreshing SEM work that has lagged, consider following these four “Discovery” steps first.

Conduct an Environmental Scan

As the most important first step of SEM planning, an Environmental Scan provides information about the strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, challenges, and issues that will help the SEM Committee assess and prioritize the most salient goals and strategies toward addressing enrollment goals. We are often vulnerable to opinions and gut impulses; the Scan provides facts and realities. If your institution has recently produced an Environmental Scan, review it. Is it helpful in assessing enrollment impacts? If not, you may need to pursue additional data. For an overview of Environmental Scanning for the purpose of enrollment management take a look at AACRAO’s on-demand learning modules

Inventory current programs and initiatives

Many colleges are already doing good work through their programs and services. However, good work often happens in silos. An inventory could reveal opportunities to better affect enrollment and student success outcomes. SEM does not always require us to invent new initiatives; sometimes we just need better collaboration and strategic coordination of our current programs. Learn Who is doing What, How, and When. 

List the college’s current communications activities and plans

Frequently, the effectiveness of the College’s communications with prospective and current students comes under scrutiny: the quality of technology, the delivery modes, timing, the content, and the coordination.  Prepare for these concerns by outlining what the college is currently doing, and who the stakeholders are.

Map the student’s journey through the application, enrollment and re-enrollment processes

SEM discussions often focus on where the college loses students and on the pain points in enrollment processes. Some SEM Committee members may not be familiar with how the college sets up enrollment processes, the practices and the policies.  Early research and a demonstration of how students navigate our various business processes builds a shared understanding.

Discovery steps can take place concurrently, perhaps best accomplished by smaller SEM Teams working on their specific

Block Quote from Jody Gordan referencing the need to gather information before making connections.

Discovery task and coordinated by the SEM Chair or Co-Chairs. The results provide a foundation of information that enables the SEM Committee to 1) focus more quickly on the key issues that need to be addressed, and 2) have some clarity as to what the institutional resources are that can be involved and/or employed in SEM strategies.

Are these the only steps in Discovery?  Of the four suggested above, the Environmental Scan is the most crucial. The others are borne out of experience in successful SEM planning in many different environments.  Perhaps your colleges’ situation will suggest other Discovery avenues to you that would be helpful.  

How long would Discovery take? This can certainly depend on the resources of the college, the emphasis placed on timely execution of the tasks, and, frankly, leadership.  Perhaps two to four months. However, as this article suggests, this is work that should be done anyway in the SEM planning process.  First pursuing Discovery as the foundation for the most substantive SEM discussions and decisions will make those discussions and decisions much more satisfying and effective.

Learn more about AACRAO's Consulting services for SEM Planning and Development.