Visit Modern Campus

Enrollment Management and The 60-year Curriculum: An Organization Development Imperative

Organizational development drives improvement and feedback, which in turn can increase collaboration between associates, lower competition barriers between departments, and provide an overall better experience for higher ed institutions.
Organizational development drives improvement and feedback, which in turn can increase collaboration between associates, lower competition barriers between departments, and provide an overall better experience for higher ed institutions.

Enrollment management is at a critical introspection and inflection point, partly influenced by the educational impacts of people living and working longer. Gary Matkin coined the term the 60-year curriculum (60YC) to clearly define the modern era of lifelong learning. More recently, John Richards and Chris Dede concluded that higher education must provide life-wide opportunities for continuous upskilling, as enduring learners traverse across multiple careers from mid-adolescence to retirement and beyond. [2] As longevity continues to become a more prevalent societal force, there will be seismic shifts in the ways and means of curricular development, presentation, delivery and assessment. College and university leaders are faced with mounting uncertainty about their respective enrollment futures.

On one side, strategic enrollment planning for institutions has never been harder. On the other, there have never been more abundant enrollment opportunities for students. Reconciling these symbiotic realities opens up space to reimagine higher education’s purpose and promise. Case in point, the University of Colorado Denver says it aspires to “become known as a university for life.” The university’s 2030 Strategic Plan reads, “The shelf life of new knowledge is getting shorter, people are living longer, and expanded populations of learners are seeking a college education and development that requires new ways to access affordable learning across their lives and careers.” As a scholar-practitioner of higher education administration, I contemplate the effect a 60YC may have on the evolution and strategic enactment of enrollment management.

John (Jack) Maguire said enrollment management should be aligned with “responding to student needs and maintaining a humanistic vision of what fundamentally constitutes a good education.” He argued “[institutions] should explore alternatives that will allow [students] to keep options flexible for as long as possible, […] defending those traditions that contribute to ‘making a life and not merely a living.’” Maguire and his colleagues at Boston College held a firm belief that enrollment management could enable an institution to confront its “uncertain future synergistically,” and that its “future, although precarious, is ultimately controllable.” His guiding mantra was: “To the organized, go the students.” [3] Ironically, enrollment management’s strong structural beginnings ostensibly masked the enactment of organizing that fosters collaboration, empowerment and flexibility.

There is a tension at the heart of enrollment management, where organizational processes must mesh with organizational goals. Enrollment logics are the organizing principles that shape this essential fusion. [4] At the individual level, historic enrollment logics were neither informed by nor reflective of the conditions that diverse students experience before entering postsecondary education—and the learning outcomes they achieve while engaging in that so-called higher education. Early instances of enrollment management were heavily focused on securing and retaining students and less attentive to the curricular and non-curricular aspects of student life. As enrollment management moved into the strategic realm, its expansion was inevitable. Contemporary enrollment logics reflect advancements in strategic planning, functional interdependency and student success—with a keen focus on the combined effect of these developments on institutional enrollment outcomes. [5]

Future enrollment logics should also be informed by the broader construct and practice of organizational development (OD). Grounded in behavioral science, OD is a deliberate organization-wide effort to increase effectiveness and sustain organizational health.

This call for an enrollment management OD imperative has implications with respect to the evolution of various executive-level positions responsible for leading strategic enrollment and student success initiatives at universities and colleges. The knowledge and associated skills that individuals in these positions have demonstrated are necessary but not sufficient. The avant-garde strategic enrollment management (SEM) leader requires a broader range of competencies to address the organizational dilemmas that a 60YC will present.

The OD Competency Framework™ offers insight into five capability areas that are crucial to becoming an OD-informed SEM leader. Rather than explicating the entire framework, unpacking one specialty area under each competency can deepen readers’ understanding of activating the framework in a 60YC enrollment context. Here is an organizational dilemma followed by the five competencies (bolded) and an associated specialty area (italicized):

·   Systems Change Expert | Systems Change Leader

·   Efficient Designer | Data Synthesizer

·   Business Advisor | Results-Oriented Leader

·   Credible Strategist | Credible Influencer

·   Informed Consultant | Equity Advocate

Exemplar: 60YC Organizational Dilemma

Institutions are grappling with managing and making sense of drop-in enrollment behaviors that have long been experienced by Continuing Education and professional studies entities. Conceptualizations of student retention, persistence and time-to-completion rates becomes exceedingly difficult to forecast as stackable- and micro-credentials become more viable and desirable pathways for students to achieve their educational goals.

Time considerations are also significant factors for adult learners who experience competing priorities, conflicting schedules and incongruent influences in their personal, professional and educational spheres. Given these complex factors, OD-informed SEM accentuates a more robust set of essential competencies and actions to ensure the nimbleness that a 60YC will demand of SEM leaders and their respective institutions.

Application: OD-Informed SEM

Remember SEM is an institution-wide process that embraces virtually every aspect of an institution’s function and culture. [6] That means OD-informed SEM is highly relevant. Key actions for each following OD specialty have been condensed and slightly modified to reflect a streamlined presentation of framework components situated in a higher education milieu.

System Change Leader

SEM leaders must identify systemic issues and engage the four pillars of change management in an enrollment context: people, process, systems and data. Key actions that evince the leader’s competency as a system change leader include:

  • Working comfortably within a whole system and advising on inclusive enrollment strategies for organizational change, transformation and alignment
  • Making decisions and acting when there is not enough enrollment-related information and swiftly shifting direction comfortably while handling risk and uncertainty
  • Establishing enrollment-related structures and processes to plan and manage the effective implementation and impact evaluation of change

Data Synthesizer

SEM leaders must demonstrate data-centric proficiency and agility across an evolved higher education industry in which competing on analytics is increasingly becoming prevalent. Key actions that evince the leader’s competency as a data synthesizer include:

  • Understanding and applying basic enrollment-related data gathering methodologies, including both qualitative and quantitative techniques
  • Analyzing enrollment performance, identifying the root causes of a system’s current level of effectiveness and proposing tailored solutions at all levels of the system
  • Integrating and translating salient enrollment data and information into insights that create clarity and commitment.

Results-Oriented Leader

SEM leaders must establish and achieve enrollment performance goals that align with student and institutional success measures. Key actions that evince the leader’s competency as a results-oriented leader include:

  • Setting and monitoring strong enrollment-related goals—maintaining focus on achieving those goals even, and especially, in the face of obstacles.
  • Using enrollment and student success metrics to make evidence-based cases for organizational interventions and solutions
  • Understanding and applying the principles of exemplary student service and providing responsive solutions to address learner needs

Credible Influencer

SEM leaders must effectively manage enrollment performance realities for student enrollment circumstances, believing a keen focus on the latter can yield better results with the former. Key actions that evince the leader’s competency as a credible influencer include:

  • Relating to students, understanding their needs and possessing the knowledge to translate their enrollment choices into terms that can be agreed upon and committed to by students and faculty
  • Demonstrating assertiveness, courage and resilience when advocating for students and communicating about critical and possibly contentious issues that impact student success
  • Structuring dialogue to maximize the possibilities of achieving balanced outcomes that are student-centered, faculty- and staff-informed, and institutionally sound.

Equity Advocate

SEM leaders must be lifelong learners, avid supporters and committed participants with respect to leading and enacting equity-advancing enrollment plans, policies, procedures, processes and practices. Key actions that evince the leader’s competency as an equity advocate include:

  • Working to promote and facilitate equity, voice, empowerment and fair treatment for students, faculty and staff—especially those who are marginalized.
  • Seeking out and engaging diverse constituents who hold and convey divergent perspectives—and supporting others in doing so as well.
  • Creating an inclusive environment for people of all identities to feel valued, respected and able to contribute and thrive.

At the beginning of this piece, I said that as a scholar-practitioner of higher education administration, I am contemplating the effect that a 60YC may have on the evolution and strategic enactment of enrollment management. There is much to think about and discuss there, starting with understanding the historical and contextual foundation of SEM. Too often we reflect on and talk about our roots as if they are dead. The proverbial tree is still growing; thus our roots are very much alive. SEM is a construct, practice and profession with paradoxically entangled and fragmented roots that continue to shift, splinter and flourish.

I encourage higher education leaders, particularly those leading SEM to strongly consider a more generative approach toward standing up and leaning into the promise of a 60YC. Be agile. Embrace experimentation. Innovate with intentionality. And lastly, engage kaleidoscope thinking and improvised actions.


[1] Gratton, L., & Scott, A. J. (2016). The 100-year life: Living and working in an age of longevity. Bloomsbury Publishing.

[2] Dede, C. J., & Richards, J. (Eds.). (2020). The 60-year curriculum: New models for lifelong learning in the digital economy. Routledge.

[3] Maguire, J. (1976, Fall). To the Organized Go the Students. Bridge Magazine, XXXIX, 16-20. Boston, MA: Boston College.

[4] Snowden, M. L. (2013). Enrollment Logics and Discourses: Toward Developing an Enrollment Knowledge Framework. Strategic Enrollment Management Quarterly, 1(1), 26-51.

[5] Snowden, M. L. (2020). Beyond the brink of the looming enrollment crisis: What enrollment logics are guiding your institution’s decisions and actions? College and University Journal, 95(4).

[6] Dolence, M. G. (1993). Strategic enrollment management: A primer for campus administrators. Washington, DC: American Association of Collegiate Registrars and Admissions Officers.

Author Perspective: