Strategic enrollment management

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Strategic enrollment management [SEM] is a crucial element of planning for new growth at a university or college as it concerns both academic program growth and facilities needs. [1] SEM focuses on what is best for students' success while increasing enrollment numbers and stabilizing institutional revenues. A student's success, according to an enrollment manager, is often based on the institution's graduation and retention rates. This means that students are often recruited based on the likelihood of them graduating. While this practice is acceptable for many privately run selective institutions, it is not a common practice of most public institutions such as community colleges.[1] A real strategic enrollment management approach looks at the entire student cycle, from entry through graduation. [2]

According to Thomas Williams [3] enrollment management refers to the traditional task of “setting and meeting the goal of assembling a student body that comprises a predetermined and advantageous mix of students in terms of quality, number, and diversity in all its forms.” strategic enrollment management is a broader, more dynamic task that begins with an understanding of the world around us, anticipates changes, probes institutional mission and goals, modifying them if necessary, and coordinates “campus-wide efforts in such areas as marketing, student recruitment and retention, tuition pricing, financial aid, academic and career counseling, and curriculum reform.”

Often, SEM is understood to be focused on a college or university's traditional undergraduate students, and mobilized to meet the needs of the traditional college student. An additional area of SEM has been developed to apply these principles to the graduate student lifecycle: Graduate Enrollment Management (GEM). SEM focuses on the unique services and facilities needs specific to the adult graduate student.

Some of the components of strategic enrollment management include: [4]

  • Characteristics of the institution and the world around it
  • Institutional mission and priorities
  • Optimal enrollments (number, quality, diversity)
  • Student recruitment
  • Student fees and Financial aid
  • Retention
  • Institutional marketing
  • Career counseling and development
  • Academic advising
  • Curricular and program development
  • Methods of program delivery
  • Quality of campus life and facilities


The Evolution of Strategic Enrollment Management (SEM) resulted from the work of a number of people and organizations since schools started being concerned with this area in the early 1970s. Boston College (through the work of Jack Maguire in 1976)[2] and Northwestern University (through the work of William Ihlanfeldt)[2] began to use research and specific communication strategies to increase enrollment at their schools. The idea of research and using the data to target communication and marketing efforts resulted in positive enrollment numbers and drew several entrepreneurs into the field of managing enrollments. Jack Maguire subsequently created and named the first enrollment management model for recruitment and retention of students.[3]

In 1975, Stuart Weiner and Drs. Ron and Dori Ingersoll formed one of the earliest teams that addressed enrollment issues from the point of view of the total enrollment effort.[4] Gradually, the Ingersolls and others made enrollment efforts more effective by strategically addressing schools, data, academic offerings, and student services—and included retention in the overall effort.

In the late 1970s, the practice of Strategic Enrollment Management (SEM) was born. Since that time, organizations such as Noel-Levitz, Williams and Associates, and the American Association of Collegiate Registrars and Admissions Officers (AACRAO) have continued to refine the concept.

But it wasn’t until 1990 that AACRAO established the term, “Strategic Enrollment Management”, and started the first annual SEM conference,[5] specifically focused on pressing issues and effective practices in Strategic Enrollment Management. Beginning in 2009, AACRAO developed the first SEM Award of Excellence to recognize outstanding achievement and visionary leadership in Strategic Enrollment Management.[6]

Dr. Bob Bontrager, Sr. Director of AACRAO Consulting and SEM Initiatives edited some of the first books on SEM:[7]

  • SEM and Institutional Success: Integrating Enrollment, Finance and Student Access (2008)
  • Applying SEM at the Community College (2009)

In 2012, Dr. Ron Ingersoll and Dr. Dori Ingersoll, with Dr. Bob Bontrager, co-edited the book Strategic Enrollment Management: Transforming Higher Education. This SEM compendium was published for the higher education profession by AACRAO. EMAS Pro then initiated the industry’s first monthly Strategic Enrollment Management webinar series, as a companion to the Strategic Enrollment Management: Transforming Higher Education book.[8] The Ingersolls serve as primary SEMinar session co-presenters.

In recent years, AACRAO has published additional books on SEM that include:

  • SEM in Canada: Promoting Student and Institutional Success in Canadian Colleges and Universities (2011)
  • Strategic Enrollment Management: Transforming Higher Educations (2012)
  • Handbook of Strategic Enrollment Management (2014)
  • SEM Core Concepts: Building Blocks for Institutional and Student Success (2017)


As enrollment moved from a focus on marketing to including the whole institution, the need grew for software that offered better ways to communicate and work with students and parents. In the mid-1980s, the Ingersoll Group and Tom Williams developed the first software to effectively manage the process for students from inquiry to enrollment. This was The Enrollment Management Action System (EMAS™).

Noel-Levitz had developed Dialogue, a Telecounseling software designed for higher education. When Noel-Levitz merged with Williams Crockett, the telecounseling package was merged into EMAS to create EMASPlus—a software system that addressed recruitment.[9]

In 1998, Education Systems Inc. purchased EMAS products to add to software they developed for work with financial aid. At this point, the emphasis was still primarily on marketing and communication efforts. Education Systems, Inc. (doing business as EMAS™ Pro) expanded the original higher-education CRM software into a resource to address the total commitment of schools to manage their enrollment from a strategic point of view.[10] Since then, a number of vendors serving Higher Education have emerged with CRM systems such as Ellucian,, Jenzabar, and Target X.

Student CRM by Data Harvesting is also a growing popular choice for a student recruitment solution for universities and colleges.

Common misconceptions[edit]

According to Bontrager and Kerlin [5], common misconceptions and sometimes barriers to implementing or moving strategic enrollment management forward within an institution are that strategic enrollment management is:

  • a quick fix
  • solely an organizational structure
  • an enhanced admissions and marketing operation
  • a financial drain on the institution
  • an administrative function separate from the academic plan and mission of the institution


  1. ^ Western Carolina University Office of Institutional Research and Planning
  2. ^ Inside Higher Education Enrollment Managers Struggle With Image
  3. ^ Thomas Williams, “Enrollment Strategies to Serve Tomorrow’s Students,” AGB Priorities, 21, spring 2003
  4. ^ South East Missouri State University Strategic Enrollment Management
  5. ^ Bob Bontrager, C. Kerlin, "Strategic Enrollment Management: Core Concepts and Strategies." November 2004. Orlando, FL: American Association of Collegiate Registrars and Admissions Officers


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  3. ^ "Recruitment & Admissions – Higher Ed Services - Education Professionals – The College Board".
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  9. ^ "The History of Ruffalo Noel Levitz".
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