Friday, December 30, 2011

A Christmas gift

So I wrote in my last post about the need to make sure we carefully steward our profession and make sure it gets the recognition that it deserves, particularly when compared to our colleagues in the world of advancement and development.

And then the New York Times announces that Jane Fried, Dean of Admission at Andover, has been named the new head at the Brearley School, a most prestigious Manhattan girls’ school. It is a good thing for Jane and a good thing for all of us that a school of Brearley’s stature found an admissions dean worthy of a headship.

Don’t get me wrong: I have zero desire whatsoever to be a head. Except for one year, my office has always been in close quarters with the head’s office and I’ve always had good relationships with my heads. So between conversation with and observation of the head, I know it’s not a job for me. A wonderful friend and head once told me if it’s not burning in your belly, don’t pursue it. It’s not worth it. But if I wanted to be a head, I would want to know that I wouldn’t be immediately discounted because I was coming up through the ranks of admissions.

As admissions deans and directors, we work with all sorts of students and families, spanning ages, grades, races, backgrounds and circumstances. After all, any family a head must work with, we worked with first. Like a head, we understand the business side of a school. We manage sizeable admissions and financial aid budgets, navigate Board politics, work with outside vendors and contractors, and closely track institutional revenue and understand its role in the overall budget. We juggle demanding schedules, keeping evening and weekend hours, and are more intimate than we’d probably like with human resource law and policy.

And, like no other than the head, we know the entire school community, programme, curriculum, and campus. No other job than head or admissions dean is expected to know pretty much all there is to know about an institution. Can your third grade teacher speak to your AP offerings and results? Can your accounts receivable clerk detail fine motor skills appropriate for kindergarten? Does your English chairperson know how many varsity sports you offer—and in what league(s) you play? Thankfully, they don’t have to know the answers. But you do! And you, your staff, and the head are probably the only ones who do.

So, I give thanks to Jane and to other admissions directors before her who have made the transition to head for forging the path for those who wish to travel it. Admission dean is a great proving ground for a headship and it is gratifying to see a school like Brearley agrees.

Congratulations, Jane. Thanks for the Christmas gift.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

The next generation

What happens if you get hit by a bus this afternoon? Or, more realistically, hit by a Volvo station wagon driven by the parent of a child to whom you denied admission? Is there a member of staff remotely ready to step into the office of the dean or director? If you were to leave tomorrow—via ambulance or of your own choosing after winning the lottery—would there be any internal candidates for your post?

When the Admissions Leadership Council, on which I proudly serve, met this fall in Arizona, we were tasked with thinking about what our industry needs. My thought at the time—and it’s been rattling around my head ever since—is that we are not doing much as an industry to nurture, encourage, and raise the next generation of admissions directors. We do well bringing new hires into the fold and there are some opportunities for directors on the other end, but what about the middle?

For rookies, TABS offers the summer Admission Academy and SSATB has the Admission Training Institute (ATI) just before their annual meeting in September. For those at the director/dean level, SSATB also offers Senior Symposium. There is also the Essex Institute for Enrollment Management and the Crow’s Nest Institute, which are summer programmes aimed at more senior and seasoned professionals.

But what about those in the middle, those at the Assistant/Associate Director level? For them to be successful and able to remain yet move up in our profession, they need their own professional development. If we are not careful to support and treasure those we have, they may get their professional development by changing employers and seeing how things are done outside the gates of your own school and under a different dean.

It is a common cry among admissions directors that our profession needs professionalizing and that we need to demand/earn the respect (and pay!) our colleagues in development and advancement enjoy. One place to start is to take our own middle managers in the office more seriously and do what we can to make sure that we are raising the profile of the profession one assistant director at a time, both within and without our schools. Rather than shrink away, I would imagine they would welcome more responsibility, trust, and opportunity to spread their wings.

It’s a win-win-win. Win #1: you can alleviate someone’s workload (maybe yours!) by entrusting some duties to this person. Win #2: they feel good about being trusted and the opportunities to grow within your operation and may stick around. Win #3: when it’s time for them to move along (into your job or to another school), you have contributed to the next generation of our profession.


Tuesday, December 6, 2011

No (bad) surprises

My last two posts were rather related—the first time I’d done that. And I’m here to tell you that I think this one is now a third in the series. It is not intentional but it is how I’m thinking these days. I must be doing something right, however, as Admissions Quest picked up my blog and highlighted it during the TABS Conference last week in Boston. Thanks, Admissions Quest!

I have been writing about denying admission to candidates—either because they are a bad fit for our schools or because there is far more demand than spaces, and difficult choices have to be made. Saying no is rarely easy and never fun, even when it is the right thing. For my whole career, however, being denied admission is something I have tried not to have come as a total surprise.

Nobody likes bad surprises. Nobody.

Of course, there is a difference between my effort to convey information and feedback that should lead to no surprises and a family’s willingness or openness to hearing said information. Like when we were children, parents sometimes metaphorically cover their ears and wail nahnahnahnahnah (is that how you spell that??) in order to not hear what you are telling them.

There are a number of things we can do. First, while nobody likes to be held to cut-offs, we can certainly publish on our websites or in our materials the range that a typical admitted student might have for a GPA or test score. We can be upfront about the number of applications we expect or have historically received relative to the number of spaces available. We can disclose legacy or sibling policies, the role of athletics in decision-making and even where we place our institutional priorities for enrollment.

We can provide tactful feedback to parents, placement directors or consultants after we have received information or met an applicant that s/he “does not appear to fall within the norms of the typical student” to whom we offer admission. I have gone so far as to contact a family and shared that something I have in front of me indicates that the admissions committee would have a difficult time offering their child admission and give them the opportunity to withdraw from consideration. (And, no, I don’t give a damn about my deny rate that I’m forced to parade in front of those who revel in such petty things. Allowing a family to graciously withdraw and focus their efforts elsewhere is the humane thing to do.)

As I said before, parents can choose to hear none of this. My experience, however, is that they will have heard it, even if only subconsciously at first. I always put some time and space between an unhappy family who has just received a denial letter and when I will respond to their call or email. That time and space typically allows them to calm down, reflect on the admissions process and information they had, and usually (although not always!) admit to themselves that a denial of admission should not have come as a complete surprise to them.