It has often been said that no one has a “ degree in admission.” However, thanks to The Enrollment Management Association’s partnership with the Center for Enrollment, Research, Policy and Practice (CERPP), independent school admission professionals are now able to earn a certificate in Leadership in Enrollment Management from the University of Southern California. Josh Clark, Director of Admission at Hawaii Preparatory Academy (HI), Leon Hayward, Associate Director of Admission at Avon Old Farms (CT), and Cyndi Lewis, Associate Director of Admission and Financial Aid at The Hockaday School (TX)—members of the pilot group that helped to shape and launch the first-of-its-kind independent school admission program—share their experiences.
What is the most challenging about the work of independent school admission in your particular market?
JC: The factors that contribute to our greatest challenges are also part of our greatest strengths. First, our location means we are able to provide unique opportunities that help graduates stand out when applying to universities. The difficulty is that many prospective boarding families only think of Hawaii as a vacation destination and not as an education destination, so many times we aren’t even put on the list of schools to consider. Second, we have a group of families who can easily afford our tuition, but they are few in number. Ninety-five percent of families with school age children would qualify for financial aid at HPA.
LH: As the major revenue generator for Avon Old Farms School, admission is keenly aware of meeting budget goals, while also finding families that fit Avon’s mission as the best boarding school for boys in America. In an area of the country with a great number of educational opportunities, we continually explore ways to improve our enrollment processes. Thus, even as a mid-size school with a small office of five admission officers, we work hard to ensure our admission process mirrors the positive and personalized experience the students will have throughout their time at Avon.
CL: The challenges of most independent schools are not from within, but rather outside the school. Increased compe- tition, decreased birth rates, and demographic changes have contributed to a constantly-shifting terrain. Ideally, the “modern” admission staff would be equipped with the right tools to manage the swiftly moving trajectory of organization-wide enrollment management (including admission recruitment, retention, financial aid, internal and external communications and marketing, and organizational leadership) and contribute to the creation of a strong community of leaders, learners, and thinkers.
How did the The Enrollment Management Association-USC certificate program prepare you to meet these challenges? What benefits did you gain from learning alongside colleagues in higher education?
JC: I keep seeing people’s titles changing to include enrollment management. When I ask about their responsibilities, I find that not much has changed other than their titles. Enrollment management is supposed to focus on the experience of the student from inquiry through enrollment and re-enrollment and graduation, until the end of their physical life. By having this perspective, I’ve learned how I can better organize myself, my office, and hopefully even influence how the school is organized to ensure the consistency and quality of the experience.
In our primary and secondary admission world, we tend to talk and collaborate a lot; however, it can be difficult to find new information. By connecting to experts in higher education, I not only received new information, but information that’s been applied and tested on a much larger scale—so the ideas are proven. I found that to be immensely helpful.
LH: The program allowed me to step back and look at the enrollment process from start to finish, and I learned how a strong enrollment office operates. The program also lined up nicely with the ebb and flow of our admission cycle and I found the learnings timely and pertinent to my work. The reality is that higher education is well ahead of many independent schools with respect to tying all the pieces of the enrollment process together. Learning about the open system concept in higher education that requires collaboration from all of a school’s administrative offices highlighted what it is to have a true enrollment management system. This has been a great model to guide me as we begin to manage enrollment initiatives, financial aid, retention, and the student experience under one umbrella.
CL: I better understand how the tools and techniques of enrollment management can help recruit, admit, retain, and graduate students in ways that enhance the educational mission of an institution, and understand that success is dependent on collaboration across the institution. Higher education leaders have had to step up efforts to retain students, do a better job of marketing their sticker price, prove their institutional value, break down departmental silos, and message consistently in service to their mission, purpose, and overall strategy. In fact, some of the current trends in independent education management are strikingly similar to trends experienced by higher education over a decade ago. Each higher education cohort member provided invaluable knowledge and insight to our shared challenges and processes.
What are the lessons you learned about yourself as a leader and about your work in schools?
JC: What we do in admission is incredibly important, but many times we do it in isolation. The program helped me understand the need to break down those silos and realize that there are clear goals and objectives related to enrollment management across the entire institution. The enrollment management leader absolutely has to be the head of school—my role is to support and help the head fulfill that critical part of her/his responsibility. It is also important that I help those in my office understand the end game, so they are able to put their work in perspective, prioritizing their own tasks and understanding the importance of collaborating with the rest of the school.
LH: I was able to explore my passion for tying analytics to the human aspect of the enrollment process. I truly enjoy the interview process, meeting families, and helping boys to explore the benefits of an Avon education, but my sweet spot is the blending of the art and science of enrollment. The program has enabled me to bring more data and analytics to our process. Working directly with our Dean for Enrollment and External Affairs, Brendon Welker, I am more confident in my contributions to our discussions around enrollment management with leaders throughout campus.
CL: I have a better understanding of what a “growth mindset” really means—confronting challenges and seeing them as growth opportunities and being able to adapt to the changing environment. One of my favorite lessons was Dr. Kalsbeek’s (Senior Vice President for Enrollment Management and Marketing, DePaul University) cavalry scout metaphor: “You always want to be in a position to anticipate and to respond well to change, taking advantage of opportunities as they come along.” The future of independent schools will continue to bring new challenges. In turn, the field of enrollment management will continue to evolve to overcome those challenges. Understanding this discipline will allow our schools to continue to thrive well into the future.