Making Your Way to the Leadership Table: The Why and the How

November 14, 2016 Heather Hoerle
Making Your Way to the Leadership Table: The Why and the How

The results of our  2016 State of the Independent School Admission Industry report – much to our frustration -- revealed little change from our 2013 study in the level of influence that admission directors exercise within their schools. Indeed, only 37% of admission directors regularly attend board meetings (3 percentage point increase from 2013); 21% play a key role in setting their school’s financial aid budget (16% in 2013); and 17% play a key role in their school’s annual tuition setting (4 percentage point increase). 


WHY should admission and enrollment professionals have a voice at the leadership table?

-      Tuition revenue brings in an average over 80% of a school’s operating budget.
If your team is responsible for a revenue stream this significant, you should be part of the leadership strategy to set annual and long-term expectations that affect your team’s performance.  You should also regularly interact with the board, given the dramatic changes happening in the independent school enrollment landscape.

-      Enrollment management is the top issue impacting long-term school success.
The market is becoming increasingly competitive, and the intersection between admission and financial aid is complex. Admission and enrollment efforts must become more market focused, and innovation is required to acquire new students for your school. The levers that you can push or pull to ensure enrollment success require you to be part of a team discussion strategy on such important topics as price (tuition-setting), discounting (financial aid and merit aid), market position (marketing strategy), and “product” (your academic/community program and its relative value to families). Without involvement in those areas, you cannot carve out a winning strategy to ensure that your school will meet its stated enrollment goals.

-      Do independent schools get what they pay for?   
One finding in our 2016 State of the Industry research relates to compensation of admission directors and school enrollment success.  We found that the schools successfully meeting their annual enrollment goals were more likely to have well paid admission/enrollment directors included on the school’s management team and involved in strategic work (board meetings, tuition, and financial aid budget setting). By under-resourcing the work of enrollment management, we at The Enrollment Management Association wonder if independent school leaders are undermining their schools' enrollment success.


HOW do you make your way to the leadership table?

It is very important for admission directors to earn their seats in leadership discussions, and to not assume an entitlement based on position.  If you want to be invited to strategic discussions, you must commit to your own professional growth and embrace the following:   

-      Develop your own leadership skills and the skills of your team members.
In our report, marketing (58%), predictive modeling and forecasting (56%), and data-driven decisions (55%) are the three areas of skill development admission directors are most interested in developing. Many admission directors have not been trained in the art of budgeting and financial planning, yet these are essential leadership skills required to improve your performance.  Therefore, we believe that all admission directors should commit to participating in opportunities to strengthen finance and budgeting skills, while also making time to keep up with national marketplace trends. (The Enrollment Management Association offers many free webinars on these topics and our magazine, The Yield, offers resources to support your education.) 

-      Maximize opportunities to interact with the board. Know your facts, figures, and trends.
Practice makes perfect.  If you are invited to present to the board, ensure that you practice in advance and anticipate their questions.  Be ready to discuss difficult questions.  Do your homework!  (In general, know that anecdote doesn’t win the confidence of leaders; trustees will expect data and quantified information before they make big decisions relating to enrollment.)  As Perkiomen School’s Carol Dougherty wrote in a recent Yield article “It is key to be able to recite enrollment numbers, the funnel numbers that are important to your school, the yield ratios, revenue, and financial aid figures. The ability to quickly respond with the numeric facts will boost the board’s confidence in you… Use the professional resources provided by The Enrollment Management Association and NAIS to support [and verify] your work. Know the trends that affected your current enrollment.”

-      Strengthen your relationship with the business office.
Another The Yield article (“The Power of Partnership: Building Influence and Leadership with Your School’s Business Officer,”) makes the case for the business and enrollment office partnerships... so how do you align with your CFO to build compelling data useful to the head and board? Start by taking time to understand the wide range of responsibilities of your business leader -- and likewise educate him or her about the full enrollment management process that you manage. Build shared goals each year, where the two of you can conduct research to better understand key performance indicators for your school’s health and well-being.  Nearly all business leaders/CFOs are strong on data analysis and they can help you find ways to quantify emerging trends in your work.

-      Finally, advocate for yourself and your team.
Make the case in discussions with your school head to be included in board meetings, tuition setting discussions, and financial aid budgeting. Given the increasingly higher stakes surrounding enrollment, you must work closely with your head of school and your CFO to address the board’s interests.  Only then will you be able to jointly develop a winning strategy for enrollment success.

The Enrollment Management Association is your partner in building a wider understanding of all the necessary work that is needed to ensure enrollment success. We will continue to advocate for the importance of professionalizing admission and enrollment work inside our schools, so that school leaders place increased value on your office and your insights.  In turn, you must commit to working hard to “earn your seat” at the table.

About the Author

Heather Hoerle

Executive Director & Chief Executive Officer

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