Thursday, September 30, 2010

People People

Writing from SSATB and thinking about all that we’re being asked to do that is “virtual” and “online”. Even the Admissions Leadership Council (which you heard me speak of at today’s luncheon if you’re here in Boston) was debating meeting just once a year, and conducting the rest of our business through tweets, wiki, email, etc. Does anyone else believe this to be counter to the nature of your average admissions director?

We’re “people people”. While it may be exhausting or even frustrating at times, I think most of us would choose standing behind a table at a fair engaging a family in conversation over sitting behind a desk responding to emails. So how do we balance our innate “people-ness” with the manifold growing demands of web-based marketing, online applications, databases, social media and evolving technology? (If your office doesn’t have at least one iPad at this point, you can count yourself behind the curve!)

Fortunately for me, I had the opportunity to hire for it. I’ve got a young, bright, hard-working new staffer who loves all of this. She still needs guidance with messaging, brand and content, but how it gets into the virtual world and into the email inboxes of the right people is entirely on her. As for me, I had to go to the Tech Help Desk last week for assistance to change the batteries in my wireless keyboard.

It makes me wonder if the generation of admissions directors to follow is going to be required to have college degrees somehow related to technology. Has even the admissions profession gotten to the point whereby us liberal artists are no longer welcome? Will the new generation ever go out and meet people and engage them? Will future headmasters when hiring care if their admissions directors are personable, can look you in the eye, have a firm handshake, manage a decent outfit from out of a suitcase or even…gasp…tie a bowtie?

Saturday, September 25, 2010

You can want 92...

In speaking with a colleague from another school last week, he was regaling me with the fact that his Board set an enrollment goal that would have required 92 new students this year, even though the highest they had ever enrolled in one year was 80 new students. And that was in a good economy. 92 is a 15% increase from the best record ever. can want 92 but you aren't getting 92. Now, as you read this, I am sure your blood is coming to a slow simmer with ill thoughts towards this Headmaster and Board. But I would challenge you to turn inward to yourself or at least to our profession. Whom do we allow to set enrollment expectations?

Whether or not you like Southwest Airlines (hello Shannon in Row 6), there is no question as to their success. And how are they successful? They brilliantly manage passenger expectations. We promise you no assigned seats. You get none. We show you no movies. You watch none. We offer you a rewards programme but you'll never get enough points to fly to Paris. I know that. Most everyone who buys a ticket on Southwest has a very clear expectation of what they will and will not get--and Southwest consistently delivers on that expectation, and is therefore one of the most financially successful airlines.

So, how astute are we at educating our Boards and Headmasters about total enrollment versus new student enrollment expectations? We are our school's "chief enrollment officer" and need to take the lead on the differentiation. If not us, then who? The formula shouldn't and can't read: Enrollment Goal - Returning Students = New Student Enrollment Goal. It must instead read,

New Student Enrollment Goal + Returning Students = Enrollment Goal.

But we aren't going to be credible in making this pitch if we don't use historical and data-driven predictions and recommendations, and mitigate those recommendations with current environmental factors such as competition, economy, and demographics. Do you know your five year average attrition and new enrollment rates by tuition? By grade? By gender? By boarding versus day? By domestic versus international? It takes a lot of time and can be built in Excel but the result is a fascinating and fantastic tool to begin the prediction of enrollment for next year if not the next five years. Play with it. Let your Headmaster, admin team and/or Board see how today’s first grade enrollment unveils sixth grade in five years.

Who is setting up the expectations for new student enrollment at your school? At the end of the flight...err day, it is still you who has to manage those expectations. You might want to fasten your seatbelt, stow your tray table, and put your seat in the upright position, and pay attention. If you want to be a Southwest Airlines-caliber admissions professional, then you need to first manage and then subsequently deliver on expectations.

Monday, September 6, 2010

(Un)Happy Labor Day

It wasn’t my intention to start the new school year with a negative post but I spent part of my holiday (Labor Day (aka Labour Day) is the only shared federal holiday between Canada and the U.S.) catching up on some reading, both paper and electronic. In doing so, I came across two short articles that got my attention—and not in a good way. The first from the Wall Street Journal is about a former admissions director who is now making money running a NYC service that helps children prep for the “playdate” common in elementary admissions processes. This article will have to sit with me for a bit although my initial impression is that I’m sad that our industry has driven families to such desperate measures and I’m a bit offended that a former admissions professional has decided to exploit this situation into personal profit, no doubt prostituting her former admissions experience as validity for her expertise and cost. Notice that no sitting admissions directors were quoted in the article.

The second article was sent by a friend asking what I thought as an admissions professional about an Episcopal/Anglican school that reversed its offer of admission upon realizing the applicant’s parents were both women. I had to first decide if I had to get over my embarrassment as a lifelong Anglican or as a 20-year admissions professional. But in the end, to answer my friend’s inquiry, this is the foundation of being an independent school. We are obligated to clearly articulate our programme, whom it best serves, and apply our criteria consistently, transparently, and fairly. This school’s values are obviously such that it can sustain enrolment and remain open not wanting to serve children of same-sex parents. Of course, I think I might feel better about St. Vincent’s if the article noted the school was equally diligent in following Biblical standards by asking prospective employees and donors about their use of contraception, receipt of the sacraments, not doing work on Sunday or expecting others (e.g. store employees, restaurant waiters, etc.) to do so, etc. Picking and choosing what to follow or enforce is neither professionally consistent nor particularly Christian.