The subtle art of graduate enrollment management

March 4, 2019
  • AACRAO Annual Meeting
  • AACRAO Consulting
  • Enrollment Management
  • Graduate and Professional Schools
  • Meetings, Workshops, and Trainings
  • Retention
  • SEM Leadership
Headshot of Dennis Livesay

Graduate enrollment management (GEM) is both steeped in traditional strategic enrollment management (SEM) concepts and also distinct from it.

“Many of the dimensions we focus on in GEM are exactly the same as in SEM: how do you identify and connect with students; how do you walk them through the funnel so they apply and yield; once they’re on campus, how do you retain them through graduation; and how do you maintain a connection with them as alumni, as well?” said Dennis Livesay, Dean and Professor in the College of Engineering at Wichita State University (WSU).

“However, there’s a lot of heterogeneity among graduate programs -- you do different things for master’s students in mechanical engineering versus a PhD student in philosophy, for example,” Livesay added. “So when you’re developing a GEM framework, you have to allow different programs to take traditional EM ideas and concepts and customize them to their needs.

Blurring the lines: Curriculum counts
In order to successfully leverage EM principles on his campus, Livesay has developed a unique framework that blurs traditional EM with “things that are decidedly academic,” he said.

That means bringing administrators and faculty together to develop curriculum that better supports both academic goals and students’ professional goals -- “which can be very different more often than we care to admit,” Livesay said.

For example, WSU’s Counseling, Educational Leadership, Educational and School Psychology department had a small Education Specialist degree program -- a post-Master’s degree. With a new chair came a new look at the long-standing program, including roundtable meetings with stakeholders and students, a program redesign, and the development of a clear pathway into the program straight from undergrad.

“Within a year we had quadrupled enrollment in that program, and now we’re talking about hiring faculty and recruiting out of state,” Livesay said. “Normally when you want to increase enrollment, programs ask for increased spending on marketing or assistantships. Here being able to align the curriculum with industry and student needs already has lead to a huge improvement and transformed it into a department worth investing in.”

Alternate/stackable credentials: What keeps a dean up at night
Another factor contributing to the shifting world of GEM is the rise of alternate credentialing. Stackable credentials and competency-based learning are driving an ‘unbundling’ of higher education and creating opportunities to improve student access and better align to professional needs.

“What does credentialing outside of bachelor’s, master’s, doctorate look like?” he asked. “A lot of alternate credentials are competency based, and often tied to industry prep. That’s a brave new world in higher education, and we’re trying to figure out what it looks like.”

Much of the cutting edge education isn’t necessarily happening at higher education institutions, which may completely change the face of career preparation.

“What keeps me up at night isn’t what they’re doing at our peer institutions,” Livesay said. “It’s what they’re doing at Google and Amazon. There are lots of new players with capital coming into this space.”

That isn’t entirely unrelated to GEM strategies, he noted. Many schools are considering whole new degree-like products that were never thought about in past. Wichita State University has developed a variety of alternative credentials and is the first to offer 0.5-1.0 credit competency-based badges for graduate credit, as well as developing a variety of degree programs that use certificates as stackable components of undergraduate and graduate degrees.

The strengths and weaknesses of the blurred model and the role of stackable credentials
At the 2019 AACRAO Annual Meeting, Livesay will share his experience with the blurred model of GEM -- including its strengths and weaknesses, tips for dealing with faculty, as well as advice for building a customizable framework that’s flexible enough to allow for program variation but not so amorphous as to be unwieldy -- at the Graduate and Professional School Luncheon on Monday of the Annual Meeting (April 1).

In addition, Livesay is offering a regular session on Tuesday afternoon of the meeting,  “A Brave New World: Stackable Credentials and Competency-Based Learning.”

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