How deans and department heads are taking control of their enrolment destiny

There are two new players in the world of enrolment strategy, and they’re here to stay. These are the faculty dean and the department head.

But why? Is enrolment strategy really part of their job?

It hasn’t always been, at least not to the same extent. But let’s face it. Modern enrolment pressures often don’t affect all parts of an institution in the same way, and that means that the heads of faculties and departments are stepping up to take more ownership over enrolment strategy.

Not that long ago, students might have decided which institution to attend and then choose which program they wanted to study at that school. Now, though, students face mounting pressure to make the right choice when selecting a program, and in many cases, this will lead students to choose their program first and later decide which school has the best reputation in their program area.

Many students consider academic reputation and program offerings to be two of the most crucial factors influencing their decision of where to enroll. And in many cases, we’ve found that the factors that influence students to enroll in an Arts program in a particular school are not the same as those that influence students to enroll in an engineering program--even at the same institution.

This shift in student decision-making means that faculties and departments are being pushed to behave like a school within a school, and many forward-looking leaders across the country are seeing an opportunity in this trend.

Different problems, same solution

Let’s say you’re a dean of a faculty that’s seen concerning trends in enrolment over the past five years. You hear voices from all sides saying that students aren’t enrolling because they’re worried your programs won’t get them a job after graduation. Others are saying that you’re not doing a good enough job of communicating the value of what your faculty offers.

Or let’s say you’re the head of a department that has no shortage of applicants—in fact, you have to turn many applicants away year after year. But what about the makeup of your study body? What goals do you have to make this student body more diverse? What about taking in students with higher high school GPAs? You might not always want to increase the quantity of your enrolments, but the quality of these enrolments is something that can always be improved upon, especially insofar as your student body does or doesn’t reflect the broader goals of your institution as a whole.

In both of the above cases, many deans and department heads might convene an internal group to strategize about how to make their faculty or department more enticing to students. Without research based on real students’ opinions, though, these groups will be doomed to speculate and argue about what students want based on anecdote, personal experience, or (gulp) institutional politics.

So why do many faculties and departments still not invest in this kind of student-centred research?

Over our twenty years in the higher ed sector, we’ve identified one major barrier to institutions taking a more active role in their enrolment destiny. PSE professionals are often living day to day when it comes to the running of their faculty or department, and it’s often unclear whose job it is to stand up and seize control of the situation by commissioning an applicant research study. Is this something the provost is supposed to do? What about the registrar? Maybe the marketing department? We’ve found all of these to be true, but we’ve also noticed a growing trend among forward-thinking department and faculty heads to say "enough is enough" and to request a study of their applicants. Without this kind of reliable research, these department heads are doomed to endure unending speculation and debate about what students do and don’t care about.

Many deans and department heads might not have thought enrolment research would be part of their role when they first signed on for their job. But a growing number are making the most of the opportunity to get ahead of new trends in student decision-making, which can help them ensure the long-term health and sustainability of their faculty or department.

If you are interested in learning more about how Academica Group can help your school with timely and accurate applicant research, please don’t hesitate to contact us at your convenience. Or if you’d prefer to chat over the phone, you can reach us toll-free at 1-866-922-8636 ext. 228.

At Academica Group, we’re proud to work with hundreds of committed, passionate higher ed professionals who want to drive improvement at their institutions. By providing enhanced research capacity and expert guidance, we allow these professionals to work beyond resource limitations and seize more opportunities to positively impact the lives of their students, colleagues, and campus communities.

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