Without Mission: Impossible

May 24, 2018 Sara Gillis

While interviewing for my first admission job three years ago (and just one year out of college), I remember naively pondering a series of questions: is the field of “admission” one that can challenge me for years to come and one in which I can build a lifelong career? Of course as anyone in the profession could have told me, it did not take me too many days on the job to realize that my predetermined notion of this work as fairly straightforward and easy to master was entirely wrong. My first two years were nothing short of a whirlwind, which – truthfully – was just the kind of work I was looking for. But, it was not until I had completed the first few weeks of the CERPP program that I realized just how complex, multifaceted, and impactful the work that we do in enrollment management truly is. For me, the suggestion by my director of admission to “check out” the CERPP program could not have come at a better time, and I am forever grateful for the way in which it has opened my eyes to the many dimensions of this profession.

Simply put, when asked to describe what my big “aha” moment has been during this certificate program, my mind spiders off into a hundred different directions – should I talk about the importance of managing retention, the immense power of data, or about the growth and necessity of enrollment management as a legitimized profession requiring a certain level of expertise? While there are many directions in which I could take this prompt, perhaps the most powerful and holistic takeaway that I will bring from my work in the CERPP program is the importance of truly and intentionally aligning your enrollment management operation with your greater institutional mission and utilizing your mission as the guiding anchor for all institutional decision making.

This revelation came out of our work with admission models just a few weeks into the program, yet has become a common thread throughout the remaining weeks of the program and particularly in our work with case studies this spring. In fact, in each case study I’ve been assigned, my first question to myself when addressing its unique challenges always seems to be: “Is there alignment among the key leaders and practices within this institution under a common mission, and if not, what can this institution be doing to better align itself with its overall mission?” It may sound obvious to some, but the emphasis on institutional alignment under a common mission and vision appears to be perhaps the most critical element of a successful enrollment management operation and of a successful institution at large.

In order to ensure that your internal enrollment management practices align with your institutional mission and vision, one of the program’s required readings by Janet Ward emphasizes that “enrollment management is as much an art as it is a science.” She emphasizes that creating a guiding enrollment plan that reflects your mission and serves as a roadmap for where you have been, where you are, and where you plan to go is an essential step in the work of enrollment management. Such a plan should take into account the steps required to generate alignment among all departments and leaders influencing the life of a student within the institution and, “while the head of school’s sponsorship is the first crucial part in articulating a vision, its fulfillment relies on it becoming part of the cultural fabric.” Throughout the CERPP program, the importance of this internal mission-focused alignment has become evident when considering many other topics within this course, including the development of the financial aid-specific strategy and mission, the garnering of institutional support among faculty, and the effective management of retention, among others.

Yet, what has also become clear during this program is that internal alignment around the institutional mission goes hand in hand with the development and authenticity of your external brand. Janet Ward reminds us: “The [institutional] vision must become a part of the branding strategy, which builds consistency and momentum across messages.” Throughout the CERPP course and in my work at my institution in parallel, I have grown to believe that if you truly align with this mission and intentionally practice it internally and institution-wide, then it will naturally resound externally and become central to your external-facing admission processes and messaging. For example, in my work in conjunction with this course, I have come to realize that I rarely ever get through an entire conversation with a prospective family without talking about our mission statement, as I believe wholeheartedly in our mission and in the importance of its resonance in our search for best-fit students who will want to live out that mission during their time on campus.    

Thus, I am now continuously asking myself: “What are we doing as an admission office and, more importantly, as an institution to actively reflect and align with our mission throughout the various touchpoints of a student’s journey – both before they are accepted and through their time as an alumnus of the school?” I am incredibly grateful to the CERPP program and its faculty for emphasizing the importance of institutional alignment under the guidance of the institution’s mission statement, and I am certain that it will serve me well in my foundation as an enrollment manager both in my current role and in the years to come. 

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