To help continue its quest for total enrollment health and quality improvement, Plattsburgh State has just hired its new Director of Institutional Effectiveness Sara Phillips, PhD., as the newest member of its Strategic Enrollment Management team.
Phillips’ first task in her new position includes tracking increasing and decreasing trends in PSUC’s enrollment and academic programs.
“What’s interesting in higher education is that it’s not like we never had data, but a lot of [colleges] were able to go along without knowing their data really well,” Phillips said. “Now, as an industry, people are becoming more aware of the need for better data and a better understanding of the data.”
Phillips, who was the former Director of Institutional Research Assessment at Cazenovia College, said this is where her and the Office of IE come into play.
“It’s about connecting people with the data points that will tell them the story of what’s happening either with the institution, their department, a particular major or the student body as well,” Phillips said. “Getting people connected to those numbers and getting people to better understand those numbers.”
The Office of IE represents PSUC’s long established research operation, formerly known as Institutional Research.
“What’s new now is that the IE operation has been brought into this project of working to manage enrollment health from a strategic standpoint,” Mark Mastrean, Interim Associate VP for SEM said.
SEM is a discipline in higher education that has been evolving since the 1970’s, according to Mastrean. It is a data-informed approach interested in all the variables that contribute to the enrollment health spectrum of recruitment, retention and post-grad outcomes.
“SEM is interested in everything predisposed,” Matrean said. “It’s interested in students that might be a right fit for the college and knowing everything about them.”
He said this entails not only recruiting the right students, but making sure they’re successful, graduate on time, and become engaged alumni with successful careers.
Mastrean elaborated on the meaning of strategically achieving healthy enrollment.
“Strategy says, ‘What are the specific, important things that we have to do, and what are other things we maybe don’t have time or the resources to do in order to get to a very specific place?’” he said.
Mastrean said colleges who embrace SEM have shifted the focus away from internal operational needs to squarely on the student, or consumer.
“SEM builds in marketing awareness,” he said. “It takes into consideration not only the internal world of the college, but the greater environment that the college has to survive in.”
Mastrean acknowledged that going forward into the future, PSUC cannot survive as a college unless it recruits sufficient numbers of students who are going to be successful here.
“We have to be almost obsessive,” he said, “about knowing who [those students] are; caring about what they care about; helping them in the way they need to be helped, not just imposing things on them with sets of expectations. In this way, it’s not dissimilar to what good teachers always do. They ask questions about, ‘Who’s in my room, what do they need, how do they learn, how can I facilitate their learning? That sort of thing.”
But finding the right students is reliant upon it setting a clear mission with adequately clear values as well as its transparency of what they have available to offer prospective students.
“We always want to make sure we’re not selling our prospective students a bill of goods where we tell them one thing, and they get here and find something different,” Mastrean said.
Phillips, who has been a part of other SEM efforts, said high school graduation rates in New York State are declining, which could cause lower enrollment to state universities like PSUC.
She is interested in seeing how PSUC has been dealing with this such as reaching out to out-of-state and even international students.
“[SEM] is an interesting process as institutions get a better understanding of who their students are and who their students are going to be as well,” Phillips said, “and being more strategic about their approach.”
PSUC outlines their vision in a strategic plan, according to Mastrean. Their last mission, a five year plan, just expired this year.
Mastrean said the SEM teams have been pushing to start a new strategic plan with a crystal-clear mission and vision, but it’s up to the president’s cabinet to decide to start the process.
“Truthfully, it’s probably on hold because we happen to be searching for a new college president right now.”