The Enrollment Management Association's Future: A Conversation with Heather Hoerle

The Enrollment Management Association's Future: A Conversation with Heather Hoerle

From Memberanda, Spring 2011 

Heather Hoerle began her independent school career working in the admission office of the George School in Newtown, PA, and later at her alma mater, Westtown School in Westtown, PA. Memberanda sat down with Heather, The Enrollment Management Association’s incoming Executive Director, to discuss her career, her perspectives on independent schools, and the future of The Enrollment Management Association.

What do you want the The Enrollment Management Association community to know right now?

I want every segment of our constituency to know that we are – and will be – here for them. The Enrollment Management Association was founded by admission professionals to focus on their issues and concerns. Though initially driven by the need for a common test, the organization has focused from its inception on enhancing the all aspects of the admission process for school administrators and families alike. During Regan Kenyon’s tenure, The Enrollment Management Association gained independence, grew its membership, and expanded its vision of support for independent school admission. I intend to continue and build upon that legacy of success in the future and will announce initial goals for the organization after visiting with members this spring and summer, at the fall Annual Meeting.

How do you intend to do that?

Something Jim Scott, President of Punahou School (HI) said during the January Board of Directors' meeting resonated powerfully with me, and has framed my initial thinking about The Enrollment Management Association with three concepts for the organization. At this point in its history The Enrollment Management Association must focus on 1. Transition, 2. Continuity, and 3. Renewal as we work to build a shared, collective vision for our future. I believe we need to move forward beginning with an open dialogue with our membership (hence my Listening Tour, Hear for You), so that people can be heard and help shape our direction. We need to continue to provide those services that our constituency depends upon, and stay mindful of what works at The Enrollment Management Association. And we need to develop new practices based on new leadership, while looking at some of the big ideas of the last few years and renewing our commitment to (or refreshing our thinking about) them.

You’re a boarding school graduate - what do you remember about the SSAT?

As my father was heading to Vietnam to phase out the last war camps, my parents decided to send me to boarding school. Through a whirlwind process, I completed an application, was tested, and thankfully admitted to Westtown School (PA) during the summer of 1974. I remember very little about the admission process, except one loud discussion between my mom and the admission officer over the phone. My SSAT results, apparently, hadn't revealed a strong applicant. My agitated mother was arguing with J. Kirk Russell, Westtown's admission director, about my class placements; her retort to one of his questions is seared into memory: "But Heather has a high IQ and excellent grades!" And thus began my experience with standardized testing!

Why did you seek to lead this organization?

The answer is simple. The SSAT was part of my introduction to a life-altering educational experience. As such, The Enrollment Management Association plays a necessary role in a process that can be transformative in children's lives. To lead an institution that plays such a critical role in matching students and schools is an honor. I believe passionately in the power of education (and especially independent private schools) to open minds and create better human beings. I have seen - through my own experiences as a student, admission officer, teacher, trustee, and parent - that our community regularly transforms children, helping them to become thoughtful contributors in this interconnected, global society.

How did your experience at NAIS prepare you for the job ahead?

As the Vice President for Member Relations at NAIS, I was responsible for the association's major revenue lines, including membership/subscriptions, corporate and foundation relations, and the NAIS Annual Conference. Over the years that I worked for NAIS President Pat Bassett, I was handed major challenges because of my ability to be strategic, work quickly towards new opportunities, and develop exciting programs/projects which benefit NAIS and its members.

Two years ago, I was part of the project team which managed the SSS "divorce" from ETS and subsequent independent operational build-out. I know all about the challenges and sometimes unhappy compromises of building online software tools to serve families and schools.

How will you serve the admission community?

Though I haven't been on the admission circuit since the 1990s, I am still seen by many in our community as an enrollment and marketing expert, having led this division at NAIS for nearly a decade. I believe fervently that admission professionals must be part of the strategic leadership team within their institutions. They build their school's culture; they serve as key managers of institutional change; and their voices need to be part of leadership's decision making, especially in these fast-moving times. Expect me to be an ardent advocate for admission professionals as leaders! And also expect The Enrollment Management Association to develop increased tools and resources to support institutional leaders in managing their enrollment and marketing challenges.

What can the staff at The Enrollment Management Association expect from you?

I am highly oriented towards working with others to set strategic vision and to improve processes to better serve customers. I am, in fact, drawn to ongoing innovation in the workplace and enjoy generative focus within the workplace and the board room. My leadership style is direct. I firmly believe in balancing hard work and regular, frank feedback with humor in the workplace, towards the end of achieving a focused and productive staff with shared goals and well-understood expectations. There are so many opportunities before The Enrollment Management Association that the biggest challenge will be to select which ones will be most useful to our members - and then get busy in developing and delivering them to admission officers, families and students!

What is your vision for The Enrollment Management Association’s future?

The Enrollment Management Association must move into a 21st century world of assessment by working with test developers to create more value-added data for school professionals and families. I see enormous potential for The Enrollment Management Association's value proposition to be leveraged through partnerships with other institutions. The Enrollment Management Association was founded with a need to provide admission professionals with a service to help their discernment process; today, The Enrollment Management Association is certainly more than a test and I would argue that the organization has the potential to be a home base for all topics related to admission, marketing and enrollment management, as well as a touchstone for every admission director worldwide. But I firmly believe that The Enrollment Management Association cannot go it alone – we need to get closer to other non-profit partners in our marketplace and work with them to build alliances that will better serve our collective members. I expect The Enrollment Management Association's futurewill be more about cooperation and collaboration.

Who in the independent school world has influenced your career?

Early on, TABS' then-Executive Director Rick Cowan was my mentor. TABS used to be called Boarding Schools, and Rick used to joke that I was the Associate Director of B.S. Rick gave me enormous opportunities to grow as a professional at a relatively young age. He sent me out on the public speaking circuit, gave me large research projects, and allowed me to manage the entire marketing and referral system for TABS (back when we didn't have easy online access and snail mail governed our lives). Rick was one of the best speakers EVER, and I learned much as his sidekick.

When I moved with NAIS to Washington, DC, Linda Gibbs, NAIS' then-Vice President, became a major influence. Linda was (and still is) a force to be reckoned with. She was high energy all of the time and modeled a tireless work ethic and the importance of speaking one's mind. She also enjoyed a good laugh and was gifted at putting together advisory groups and brilliant workshop faculties. I learned from Linda about how to build high functioning teams, and she taught me never to be threatened by big thinkers but rather to invite them into your world. As a female in a high position of authority, Linda taught other women how to manage and use power gracefully, firmly, and with integrity.

Finally, NAIS President Pat Bassett taught all staffers about the power of discipline, hard work, innovation, and creativity. Pat has a restless mind, coupled with a perpetually amused and curious demeanor. In all of the years that we worked together, I rarely saw him angry. He used humor to manage a diverse set of staffers and to keep us focused on common goals. I went to see him once, about something of little consequence, and he said laughingly: "Heather, what descent into hell are we going to have this week?" Pat Bassett always used humor to build trust with his leadership team and kept us focused on creative problem solving by modeling what he expected. Pat also showed me the power of allowing your "lead horses to run." As someone who loves big ideas, he schooled the NAIS leadership team in leadership pedagogy and continually challenged them to stay ahead of the curve. Many of the new concepts that I tested at NAIS will be carried to Skillman, so that our leadership team can make our organization even more relevant for member schools, families, and students.

What are the biggest challenges facing independent schools today? How can The Enrollment Management Association help?

We all know that affordability and proving your "value" to families is critical for the years ahead. The Enrollment Management Association has to assist schools with advocating the independent school value proposition and making the journey for families interested in our schools easier and less cumbersome. This means working carefully with other like-minded organizations to create an experience for families that will brand our community as something exceptional and worth the investment.

In order to develop a wider net of families with interest in our schools, The Enrollment Management Association must look to creating new tools and technologies which can assist schools with a real-time understanding of their marketplaces. Schools need to be able to predict marketplace fluctuations, but also know what is happening in their communities in "real time." The Enrollment Management Association should feed this data to our members in ways that are useful for planning and forecasting purposes.

I am very keen to understand "Testing and Assessment of the Future." I believe that The Enrollment Management Association will need to develop a test that not only captures an applicant's skills in verbal and quantitative reasoning, but also captures more about the applicant in terms of learning preferences and EQ. These areas, particularly at the secondary level, will help schools and families make better matches and will also go a long way toward helping students understand and play to their emerging strengths.

What are your goals/expectations for your upcoming Listening Tour?

I know that The Enrollment Management Association has to be more present in the lives of member schools, and this Listening Tour is a beginning to achieve that end. Since my admission focus at NAIS ended about 10 years ago, I am eager to learn more deeply from members about what is working in 2011 and where they need additional services to support their work. I want members to assist in shaping The Enrollment Management Association's leadership agenda and first year goals, so that our work for the months ahead will be based on their needs. I know that it is important to rebuild trust in our organization, and I am very excited to get out on the road to meet the people who hold up our organization and to whom I am responsible.


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