Monday, April 1, 2013

The college president as enrollment leader

The following things are true:
  • college presidents are, above all else, responsible to ensure that their institutions earn enough revenue,
  •  more revenue comes to nearly every college from enrollment than from fundraising,
  • college presidents spend more time raising funds than enrolling students.
This last fact is both understandable and confusing.  Understandable because donors expect to be courted by the college's leadership, and because the model for many presidencies are the actions of presidents at well-endowed institutions, and because the possibility of an enormous gift keeps presidents pursuing single donors over long periods of time.  Confusing because over their four years at an institution students pay far more in tuition than most donors ever give, and because nearly all institutions realize more revenue from tuition than from gifts, and because students and their parents also value interaction with college leaders, and because personal interactions are more likely to result in enrollment and revenue.

So, if college presidents were to re-balance their time between enrollment and fundraising, where would that time go?
  1. Establishing a campus enrollment philosophy--During the salad days of the 1990s and 2000s enrollment was philosophically simple: raise tuition annually, and increase financial aid at a rate slightly slower than the rate of tuition increase, and your institution would enroll slightly more students and realize meaningful increases in revenue every year. The size of the increases would be driven largely by expected growth in expenditures.  That philosophy, though still dominant, is under question.  Today, institutions must set tuition and financial aid in a much more challenging context, one where old models may not succeed and new ones have yet to be fully tested.  In this context, a president needs to engage deeply and regularly in setting the enrollment philosophy of an institution.
  2. Lobbying for favorable financial aid policies--With a larger proportion of students relying on federal aid, presidential lobbying needs to focus on ensuring that students can access all sorts of aid, and that regulation of that aid be both rigorous and fair.
  3. Building partnerships--In a future where attracting individual students will be harder and more costly, partnerships with high schools, school districts, religious organizations, civic organizations, employers, foreign governments, and community colleges are ever more important for ensuring enrollment success.  The president, due to her visibility and rank, is the key person to open doors and to seal agreements with these partners.
  4. Hosting prospective students--Most presidents would relish the opportunity to have their dining rooms full of potential donors who were prepared to give over $50,000.  Those people are the parents of prospective freshmen and prospective graduate students.  There are hundreds of them who come to campus every year; a few minutes with the president may be just the thing to seal the deal.
  5. Focusing on retention and graduation rates--Just as presidents are ultimately accountable to donors to ensure that gift agreements are fulfilled, so they are ultimately responsible to students and parents for delivering on the promises made during recruiting--that faculty are available, that courses focus on learning, that students are retained and that they graduate in a timely fashion.