by Leo Marshall
From The Yield, Winter 2013
Several years ago, as a member of The Enrollment Management Association’s Admission Training Institute (ATI) faculty, I was approached by a somewhat new director of admission, who wanted to know if it was unusual 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 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 can I 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 often heard 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, it has to have the report in front of it, 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 last month’s report? How do we relay to the head of school, who is supposed to be managing the board, that this is a massive waste of time for the admission office and takes it away from its most important function: recruiting, evaluating, and admitting mission-appropriate students and sustaining enrollment and revenue?
How often and when a board of trustees meets, no matter how misguided, is its business. It is a key function of the head of school, however, to protect his/her managers and faculty from the micro-management of his board — and that means determining when and how those managers will report to the board. Mid-year, for example, is typically devoted to determining next year’s budget and tuition pricing, while the end of the year might be the time to review the school’s success in implementing strategic goals set earlier in the year.
In the case of admission, the head, director of admission, and board have established long-range strategic enrollment goals. Those goals take the form of an implementation or action plan.
Thus, the board should expect updates on the action plan, but that only needs to be done three times a year:
1. Early fall when the admission director can give an overview of the previous year, details of current enrollment, financial aid, and trends that might impact the effectiveness of the strategic enrollment plan. Typically, this should be the most extensive admission report.
2. Winter, typically the time a board is preparing next year’s budget and tuition increases. This is when the director must be part of these important decisions and should be prepared to answer the question, “If we go up x percent, how will that affect the market?” (My response is to shrug my shoulders respectfully, “I don’t know, but I know what it will cost you in financial aid.”)
3. Early summer when the board needs to know if its budgeted enrollment projections require adjustment. The director should be careful to provide a cautionary note about possible summer attrition and the prospect of new applicants to the school, particularly if the school is not fully enrolled by the beginning of summer.
In my opinion, beyond these key board meetings there is no need for an admission officer to report to a board regardless of how many times it chooses to meet. Admission reports need to be short and succinct and not full of meaningless statistics intended to impress the board with details it is 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 important, but even that statistic needs to be put into context.
I know of a school that was so excited about a surge in fifth grade applicants that it decided to build a new building and add a 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 why the surge had occurred in the first place.
In the end, it is 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 in the form of a board report. The board’s job is to ask questions and expect reasoned answers. Its mantra should always be “No surprises.” Such a process ultimately results in a sustainable enrollment and, by extension, a healthy school.
Is it Your First Time Presenting to the Board?
Not sure what information they need or want? Here are a few suggestions:
• You are an admission professional; you are up-to-date on trends and best practices. The goal is to instill confidence in the board that you know your job and can do it well.
• Provide basic funnel numbers, including a five-year enrollment history and year-to-date comparisons.
• Illustrate your admission successes and admission challenges. Have you increased applications? Did your new website or online application earn rave reviews? Did your community just lose its major industry resulting in families moving or no longer being able to afford tuition?
• Define your competitive market position – who is the competition? Has this changed? The Enrollment Management Association Shared Tester Reports are a great source of information. Go to your Member Access Page (MAP) to get more than five years of these reports.