Enrollment management is a common practice in undergraduate admissions. Most campuses practice it to some degree, using more data-informed approaches to recruit undergraduate students, creating strategic enrollment plans, and centralizing their admissions structure. For graduate programs, however, enrollment management is often a foreign concept—especially for the individual departments that are often charged with generating new student enrollment. Many graduate and professional programs still “recruit” students as they always have—hauling in interested students like fishermen casting their nets and checking later to see what they caught.
That approach, however, does not fly in an increasingly competitive graduate and professional higher education market. The market is crowded, and with overall graduate enrollment taking a hit in recent years, graduate and professional programs need to get more strategic, coordinated, and aggressive in enrolling new students.
That is easier said than done. I have worked as a consultant with academic and professional graduate programs for 20 years, and in that time, I have seen five key issues that undermine new graduate student enrollment.
1) Decentralized recruitment. Culturally, graduate recruitment has been mostly decentralized, with the academic affairs and graduate college/school leadership hesitant to micro-manage the recruitment efforts of individual certificate, master’s, and doctoral programs. However, this often results in a recruitment process that lacks focus and organization, leading to a scattered, ineffective graduate recruitment effort.
2) Lack of accountability. In most cases I’ve seen, the chief academic and the chief financial officers have a clear understanding of where they would like to see graduate enrollment metrics in terms of new and continuing students; typically, however, these goals are not cascaded further down than the dean of the respective college/school. This can also be traced to the decentralized nature of graduate recruitment. The result is that no one takes charge, therefore no one is responsible. This also leads to a lack of understanding as to what the new student enrollment goals are for each program.