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Strategic Enrollment Management and Workforce Connections

Rather than jumping into serving new and emerging learner demographics, higher ed institutions must take the time to identify the offerings that both students and industry need and build quality, focused curricula around them.

I recently served on a panel at the inaugural New Start Summit, “an invitation-only event for university leadership to network and share best practices around strategic enrollment [management] and workforce connections in higher education.” What strikes me as particularly new about the event is its intentionally limited number of participants, which resulted in an invigorating and intimate space to ignite a robust conversation about the evolution of SEM. What started as a strongly internally focused functional practice with a marketing twist increasingly involves looking outward to employers and impactful partnerships within an organization field that comprises a burgeoning higher education enrollment industry [1].

Over the past decade, many colleges and universities have placed heightened focus on augmenting their enrollment populations by expanding curricular offerings, aligning program and course learning outcomes with more durable skills, and implementing differential tuition structures to address the affordability of higher education. First order gains of associated initiatives include the following.

  • Positioning higher education institutions to attract adult and working students
  • Shoring up student services and learner supports for greater flexibility and personalization
  • Facilitating knowledge attainment and skill development that learners need to be successful in the workforce
  • Meeting labor market demands

Arguably, a second-order effect at play is overzealous ambitions to reposition and restructure perhaps too many colleges and universities to hop on the lifelong learning bandwagon, particularly with respect to offering completely online programs and alternative (albeit stackable) credentials to a degree. Understandably, shifting demographics of U.S. high school graduates and changes in learner mobility resulting from greater sensibility to student markets are driving different approaches to SEM. Let us not forget, however, that higher education has its share of cautionary tales that necessitate an astute understanding of the revenue streams and ethical practices that yield consumer protection and institutional sustainability.

Undoubtedly, many institutions will yield great success serving expanded learner markets (some already have). However, most institutions that jump into the fray will yield modest to little success. The latter may be the case for resource-constrained institutions that fail to identify their programmatic strengths and streamline their offerings before embarking on a journey toward effectively attracting and serving a different student population. The particulars behind the degree of success—or perhaps failure—will differ from institution to institution. It is within the details that SEM leaders come to know and understand if their institutional enrollment aspirations are best achieved by way of partnerships and workforce connections.

On the matter of partnerships, there is a shift occurring. More universities and colleges are relying less on online program management (OPM) providers’ engagement in wholesale services to take academic programs online—and provide wraparound student service and learner support—to a more sustainable partnership model of enrollment enablement that augments and leverages an institution’s strengths. In this regard, partnering suggests there is a symbiotic relationship between one or more entities where the interaction increases the outcome for all participants—i.e., it’s mutually beneficial. To be clear, though, a partnership of this nature neither implies equal nor equitable cost/benefits from the mutualistic exchange. Moreover, partnership reciprocity is temporally constructed, and time is something that many colleges and universities simply do not have on their side.


References [1] Snowden, M. L. (2012). SEM in the Postbaccalaureate Context. Strategic Enrollment Management: Transforming Higher Education, edited by B. Bontrager, D. Ingersoll, and R. Ingersoll, 175-197.