Some years ago, as a member of SSATB’s Admission Training Institute faculty, I was approached by a somewhat new director of admission who wanted to know if it was a bit out of the norm that the chair of her board of trustees was expecting her to provide him with a weekly admission report. Hers was a K-8 school and I wondered out loud first what anyone could possibly glean from a weekly admission report (“Hey, good news! We have one more kindergarten inquiry than last week!”). But I then asked, “Where is your head in all this? Why is he allowing this kind of micro-management?” She went on to tell me that this particular board chair was also heavily involved in the design of the new viewbook. What could she do, she asked. “Quit,” was my response.
Our harried admission directors have a great deal to do, particularly during the height of the admission season, but I have heard so often about schools (day schools, in particular) with boards of trustees who insist on monthly board meetings - which translates into another admission report. Typically the board meets near the end of the month; and of course, they have to have the report in front of them, which to my thinking means that as soon as one meeting is over our diligent admission director is already preparing the next report. What can she possibly add over the last month’s report? How do we relay to the head of school who is supposed to be managing the board that this massive waste of time for the admission office takes it away from its most important function: recruiting, evaluating, and admitting mission-appropriate students and, therefore, sustaining enrollment and revenue?
There are, I am sure, many more good boards of trustees than bad ones. Regardless, it is a key function of the head of school to protect his offices and faculty from the micro-management of a board. Offices of admission must take their direction from the head, not the board. The head relays strategic enrollment goals which have been established at the board level - hopefully, with the advice of the admission professional - to the office of admission, who then puts together a coherent recruitment implementation plan. The board should expect updates on that plan, but that only needs to be done three times a year:
- Early fall when the admission director can give an overview of the previous year, details of current enrollment, and trends that might impact the effectiveness of the strategic enrollment plan;
- Winter, typically the time a board is preparing next year’s budget and tuition increases;
- Early summer when the board needs to know if its budgeted enrollment projections need adjustment or not.
Beyond these key board meetings there is no need for an admission officer to be reporting to a board, regardless of how many times they choose to meet. Admission reports need to be short and succinct and not full of meaningless statistics intended to impress the board with detail they are not likely to read. Boards need information that will help them make important strategic decisions. They need to know about carefully analyzed trends that might affect enrollment one way or another. An increase of two or three kindergarten applications is not important. A 15% drop in kindergarten applications is, but even that statistic needs to be put into context. I know of one school some years back that was so excited about a surge in fifth grade applicants that it decided to build an entire new building and add a whole new section of students...but it was only a one year surge. Guess what happened the next year? The numbers disappeared. It was up to that director of admission and - as an extension - her head of school to provide a cautionary note about just where that one surge came from.
In the end, it is very much the job of the head of school to provide the kind of leadership that allows the office of admission to do its job by creating reasonable enrollment expectations and relaying those expectations back to the board. The board’s job is to ask questions and expect reasoned answers, but beyond that it needs to allow its office of admission to do the job it is intended to do…fill the school.
Admission and Financial Aid Trends - What Every School Leader Should Know: a presentation by Aimee Gruber (SSATB) and Amy Hammond (SSS by NAIS)