Strategic Enrollment Management: Insights and Solutions

Many educational institutions today face the challenge of navigating the complexities of university and college enrollment. From the intricacies of recruitment and admissions to the critical stages of retention and student success, each step requires a strategic approach.

This week on the Holistic Success Show, we welcome Dr. Drew Allen, Senior Lecturer on Education at the Harvard Graduate School of Education and Associate Provost of Institutional Research & Analytics at Harvard University

Prior to joining Harvard, Drew also worked at Georgetown University, New York University, Princeton University and the City University of New York, bringing a wealth of experience from diverse institutions. 

Dr. Allen joined us to discuss the world of strategic enrollment management (SEM).

What is strategic enrollment management?

Strategic enrollment management (SEM) involves the processes and policies an institution employs in recruitment, admission, financial aid, retention, academic and student success, graduation, and alumni engagement. SEM is about viewing enrolment as a broad, interconnected process rather than isolated functions within admissions or financial aid offices. 

This holistic approach ensures every aspect of the enrollment pipeline is considered, from a student’s first contact with the institution to their graduation and beyond.

What are the biggest challenges in SEM?

There are several significant challenges institutions face in strategic enrolment management. One primary concern is the pending enrollment cliff, also known as the demographic cliff, a predicted decline in the number of high school graduates, which varies by region. 

Additionally, there is a growing skepticism about the value of higher education, prompting questions about whether pursuing a degree is the right path for students.

Culturally, institutions struggle with breaking down silos and fostering collaboration between different offices involved in the enrollment process. There’s also the issue of retaining staff in enrolment management roles, which can be demanding. 

Lastly, the phenomenon of summer melt, where students who have been admitted and intend to enroll but ultimately do not show up in the fall, is a significant challenge that affects institutions of all types, including prestigious ones.

How can institutions overcome these challenges?

There are several strategies for overcoming these challenges. To address summer melt, high schools should stay engaged with students after graduation, and colleges should begin engaging students as soon as they are admitted. This can include providing opportunities to interact with current students and faculty, offering online courses over the summer, and maintaining consistent, clear communication.

It is also crucial to use data strategically. By disaggregating data to identify patterns and outliers, institutions can better understand the specific needs and behaviours of different student groups. Focusing on these variations allows institutions to tailor their approaches to better support students.

What role do admissions teams play?

Admissions teams play a crucial role in SEM, but their responsibilities are expanding beyond merely admitting students. 

Increasingly, admissions teams are acting as ambassadors for the student experience, ensuring consistent messaging and engagement from recruitment through graduation. Breaking down data silos within institutions allows admissions data to inform and enhance the entire student journey.

How can institutions support non-traditional students?

Addressing the needs of non-traditional students—those not coming directly from high school—requires a different approach. These students often face unique challenges, and the traditional application process may not be suitable for them. 

Institutions should consider work experience and other competencies when evaluating these applicants. Clear communication and support are essential, as non-traditional students may be less familiar with educational processes and terminology.


Strategic enrolment management is a complex, multifaceted process that requires collaboration, clear communication, and the strategic use of data. By focusing on the student experience and breaking down institutional silos, colleges, and universities can better navigate the challenges of enrolment management. 

Watch the full Holistic Success Show episode