SEM: more than recruitment and retention

After 16 months of data collection, analysis and consultation, the U of S has a report detailing how best to reach its enrolment targets and according to the project leader, “the hard work is just beginning.”

By Colleen MacPherson

David Hannah, associate vice-president of student affairs, presented highlights of the Strategic Enrolment Management (SEM) report to University Council Nov. 21, including its 10 recommendations for achieving a 7.2 per cent increase over 2010/11 figures in the number of students attending the U of S by 2015/16. That increase represents 1,548 students, 609 of them undergraduates and 939 graduate students.

In addition to pure number increases, Hannah said, "we're looking at what type of students they are, where they're from, who these people are." A number of specific student groups— international, Aboriginal and others—garner particular attention to ensure the diversity of the student population.

Hannah said the need to rethink enrolment management stems from a number of current realities including declining numbers of high school graduates in Saskatchewan. "Gone are the days when we could open the gate, students would pour in and then we'd close the gate when we were full," he said. Saskatchewan students remain a high priority but competition from other institutions at home and across the country requires expanding recognition that enrolment is more than recruitment and retention; it now includes factors like how the U of S positions itself relative to other universities, financial-aid policies, program offerings and delivery methods, and even timetabling practices.

Other drivers for enrolment management are the specific enrolment goals set for each U of S college, and a broad and diverse set of recruitment, enrolment and retention activities, he said.

"We want to make those processes more consistent, more timely and more responsive across campus."

Because the "big push" is increasing grad student enrolment, Hannah said number one on the SEM report's list of top 10 priorities calls for improved administrative processes for those students, processes that are "better than our U15 peers." The report recommends streamlining and co-ordinating everything from admissions procedures and scholarship administration to communications and grade conversion practices.

Strategic allocation of graduate- level scholarship funding is critical to success, said Hannah, but changes can only be made after the university reviews the current situation.

"There's a pretty close relationship between funding and meeting our graduate enrolment targets (but) we have to find out if we're getting the best bang for our buck out of the funding we have now before any significant new investment is made. We have to know what the right mix is in terms of number, size and types of scholarships and stipends and how we measure up against the competition."

Hannah added that a review of existing student financial aid resources, policies and practices is currently underway, fulfilling one of the innovation in academic programs and services commitments in the university's third integrated plan.

The SEM report also calls for a customer relationship management system to co-ordinate communications with students, track student interactions with the university and evaluate the effectiveness of recruitment activities.

Hannah said such systems "can be as big as a bread box or as big as a house" so further work needs to be done on pinpointing needs and determining whether its current student information system can be adapted to do the job.

Other considerations in meeting enrolment targets require a basic understanding of "what students want to take" and how those classes are delivered. Hannah said current figures show the largest growth among undergraduates is in those taking online and off-campus courses as well as those enrolling in spring and summer sessions but there is room for more students on the main campus.

"There's only a physical limit here if you think we need to run all of our classes in one-hour blocks Monday to Friday from 9 am to 5 pm from September to April."

The remaining recommendations in the SEM report include a call for role clarification for those working in administrative units, colleges and department with respect to co-ordinating recruitment activities and resources; an expanded centralized student experience function building on the existing Student Central; and an early alert system to identify students who are just beginning to experience difficulties at university.

Many of the recommendations can be addressed with little or no investment, he said. "It will require discussion and consultation, different parts of the organization talking to each other about how we can best accommodate increased enrolment. We need to look at all the pieces and how they fit together."

Referring back to his comment that enrolment management is more than recruitment and retention, Hannah said meeting the 2015/16 targets will require "changing mental models but I'm optimistic we're going to make great strides by working in a strategic and more co-ordinated way."

As for next steps, Hannah said a subgroup of the SEM steering committee has made suggestions to the provost about which position or unit within the university should be charged with moving each of the report's recommendations forward.

"Each one will have to do the homework, and determine what's the best solution for us, and what the price tag might be. Then we'll work through the university's standard decision- making processes.

"This process is relatively short term in its focus," he continued. "There are likely to be discussions soon about what we want to look like as an institution in terms of enrolment 10, 15 or 20 years out" and he expects work will begin on a new enrolment foundational document as early as next year.

"We've learned a lot about ourselves and about our key student groups through this process but getting the report done is not the end of this. It's the beginning."

The Strategic Enrolment Management report can be found on the third integrated plan website.