Here’s how to start an effective strategic enrollment management plan

Expert Insight

Here’s how to start an effective strategic enrollment management plan

As many community colleges find themselves in a precarious enrollment position, leaders have recognized the importance of strategic enrollment management (SEM) planning as a tool to effectively recruit and retain a shrinking pool of prospective students. Through our research, we’ve identified the key imperatives that colleges must address in order to get SEM planning right. The first imperative is to analyze the forces shaping the enrollment landscape.

Effective community college SEM plans address the most impactful forces

Many factors affecting enrollment are out of college leaders’ control. While what happens in the state house, regional economy, or local high schools often can’t be changed, these shifts can and should be factored into strategy to create informed and effective responses.

In CCEF’s new SEM Plan Framework, we give guidance on how you can analyze the six most impactful forces affecting future enrollments:

More on this topic

This resource is part of the Craft a Future-Oriented Strategic Enrollment Management Plan Roadmap. Access the Roadmap for stepwise guidance with additional tools and research.


key forces affect future enrollments
key forces affect future enrollments

1. Demographics

Economists expect traditional student pipelines to shift drastically in the coming decade, and some regions will be more affected than others. Factor these changes into your enrollment strategies; consider the age and experience of likely future students in your decisions about what programs to offer, which student services will be most in-demand, and which recruitment models will be most effective for this future demographic.

2. Feeder Institutions

Examine your most important feeder institutions, including high schools, employer partners, and other colleges to better understand which strategies need revisiting. For instance, compare historical yield among major student feeders alongside anticipated growth of those feeders, and use this insight to change how you allocate recruitment resources.

3. Public Policy

Public policies, whether they be state funding cuts, performance-based funding, promise programs, et cetera, can have immense implications for college enrollments. For example, colleges impacted by new performance-based funding measures should conduct a program review to ensure the college’s portfolio can meet the funding requirements and, where issues arise, develop strategies and investment plans to improve or sunset underperforming programs.

4. Labor Market

Community college enrollments rise and fall with the economy, and these fluctuations are far from our control. However, state and local agencies often provide insightful data—including industry and occupational projections—that can inform enrollment strategy as it pertains to program review, employer partnerships, and other workforce-linked processes. Use these projections to create programs today that will appeal to tomorrow’s workers or to promote training programs to job seekers located near an employer partner.

5. Competition

Complete SEM plans must consider competitive pressures. Identify your key competitors, their competitive threat, and risk to your market share. From this analysis craft responses to maintain or grow your market share. In practice, a regional public may be expanding their partnerships with local high schools; respond to this new competitive threat with either a change in recruitment tactics to retain your share of traditional students or with a shift in resources toward adult recruitment to combat the traditional student losses from this increased competition.

6. Market Opportunity Cost

Different student segments lead to different costs and ROI. Use the framework to determine which markets (e.g., adult students, recent high school graduates, dual enrollment students) to prioritize for enrollment efforts. Start with low-cost and high-return markets to generate revenue that can be used for markets that require a greater time or financial investment.

The current enrollment challenge demands action and prioritization. SEM plans address these needs, and the first step to crafting an effecting SEM plan is to analyze the forces shaping your enrollment landscape. Use EAB’s SEM Plan Framework along with external data to evaluate these forces and craft effective strategies that put your institution on the path to strong and sustainable enrollment.

Read part two of our insight series on strategic enrollment management

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