When I was an over-confident youngster destined for greatness, never in my wildest dreams did I imagine my bedside reading would include a title like SEM in Canada: Promoting student and institutional success in Canadian colleges and universities. And yet, here I am, transfixed by chapters on “Evidence-based Decision Making” and “Branding: The Promise, The Process and The Pay Off”. I know many of you think I’m joking – and my image would be best preserved if I let you continue thinking I’m more interesting than I really am – but the truth is I’m being quite honest. This 350-page book on the nuts and bolts of getting students in the door and successfully out the other end – otherwise known as Strategic Enrolment Management – is actually pretty engaging. It might not be the next Girl With the Dragon Tatoo but it’s accessible, cogent and instructive. If your job – or your next job – has anything to do with helping students get to the right program, in the right school for them, with the right supports to help them be successful, and understanding how all of the pieces fit together, you will learn something in these pages.
SEM in Canada was edited by Susan Gottheil of the University of Manitoba and Clayton Smith of the University of Windsor, two people with extensive experience in helping institutions align their processes to meet their enrolment goals. Almost 30 different Canadian higher education professionals have contributed their time and expertise giving the book both breadth and credibility. Smith and Gottheil lead the way with an overview of the SEM model which, put simply, means lining up your institution’s resources, infrastructure, staffing and data to support its academic goals. Sounds easy but it’s not. True SEM requires cohesion between multiple departments in a large institution — marketing, recruitment, admissions, financial aid, student affairs, teaching and learning, institutional research and registration. It requires constant monitoring with accurate and timely data, and vigilance in constantly tweaking and prodding to get the system to work. Behind each component is a complex array of choices and strategies: how can merit-based financial aid shape enrolment? How can we identify and retain students at risk of failure? The book is peppered with case studies that illustrate precisely how some institutions have used these levers to meet their goals — whether that be internationalizing their campus, or transforming from college to university.
Strategic Enrolment Management is not without its critics. The approach emerged from the US so is automatically treated with suspicion. But like most American higher education innovations, they translate quite well with a few adaptations to the Canadian context. Critics also charge that SEM proponents overly commodify higher education and manipulate the admissions process to create conditions of exclusivity. But SEM can also be employed to diversify, to recruit and retain students from underrepresented groups, to enhance access and retention, and to ensure students’ expectations are met. And this book focuses on the more socially responsible, egalitarian (dare I say “Canadian”) approach to SEM while recognizing that there is a competitive element to higher education in Canada and there are resource implications to every student gained and lost.
Having done one thorough read, I now keep SEM in Canada nearby for reference. It seems to come in handy on a pretty regular basis. A warning: SEM in Canada is not cheap or easy to find. It is published by AACRAO (the American Association of Collegiate Registrars and Admissions Officers) and can be ordered online for $77 for non-members.