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Paving the Way for Your Director of Enrollment's Success
Cristy McNay

When you have a breadwinner in the family, a person who brings home the majority of income needed to make ends meet, do you ensure that person has all that they need to get their job done? 

Support might be as simple as coffee to help them get their day going, taking point on errands and childcare, and being there to listen when the day has been difficult or there's an exciting accomplishment to celebrate.

Listening to and empowering your breadwinner to succeed should be a priority for every family, business, organization, and yes, even schools.

Oftentimes, we see a hidden disregard for the knowledge and expertise of the primary source of revenue in our private schools — the admissions office. Your school's director of enrollment is tasked with leading a team to attract, engage, and enroll mission-fit students and families who will supply nearly 70-80% of the revenue a school needs to survive, according to data from the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES).

So where is the disconnect? 

Make no mistake – the effort needed to retain and grow your private school’s enrollment is colossal. Your school depends upon the success of the admissions office and your enrollment director needs your support.

While there are many factors that impact the realization of a strategic enrollment plan, none are as important as the enrollment directors — Kouzes & Posner put it best when they said true leaders “make it possible for others to do good work. They know that those who are expected to produce results must feel a sense of personal power and ownership.” Ensuring that your enrollment director is supported means empowering them with the tools necessary to attain success.

The admissions office gathers and utilizes exponential amounts of hard and anecdotal data as they wade through inquiries, applications, open houses, and other admissions events, all of which should inform the next steps and areas for improvement.

But after reading and writing about many enrollment directors' job descriptions and leadership theory for the past few years, I'm struck by the apparent disregard for the correlation between support for enrollment directors as experts who know what they need to succeed and a school’s primary revenue stream.

Free ebook: The Enrollment Daily Planner

Why are some school leaders not doing all they can to ensure that their enrollment directors succeed?

In my study of three Catholic high schools, I suggested that the degree of empowerment afforded to the enrollment director was directly related to the health of the school’s enrollment.

I looked at several factors, including how successful enrollment management strategies and data were shared with school leaders, how school leadership used such knowledge to inform strategic decisions, and how enrollment directors were empowered by leadership to act as experts and integral transferors of such knowledge.

Based on interviews with school leadership, the school with the most empowered and valued enrollment directors boasted not only healthy enrollment but also waiting lists.

As the head of the successfully enrolled school noted above stated, “It’s one thing to tell people they have the power to make decisions, but have you given them all of the tools they need to make their decisions well?”

On the other hand, the administrators at the other two schools who gave less importance to the role of enrollment directors both suffered from under-enrollment.

In today's competitive private school landscape, the role of an enrollment manager has become critical for a school's success. By giving your enrollment director the support and resources they need, your school can optimize its admissions and enrollment processes, ultimately leading to a thriving institution.


How to support your enrollment director and your school’s enrollment goals

Let’s explore the importance of empowering your director and share some practical tips for helping them succeed in their role. This includes listening to them and ensuring they have what they need, whether that’s a seat at the leadership table, a voice when it comes to sharing expertise, or the best admissions and enrollment software for their office.

Keep Reading: What Your Admissions and Marketing Colleagues Want You to Know

How to create an effective enrollment management team

Is your school and admissions office fully aware of what your enrollment director actually does? In too many schools, the director is viewed as a simple clerk or maybe even a glorified tour guide. In many cases, little recognition is given to the never-ending tasks, responsibilities, and hours that go into making an enrollment strategy successful (assuming there is time to even craft such a plan.)

In reality, they're the strategists behind your school's admissions, retention, and financial aid processes. But their job doesn't stop there – they're also responsible for making data-driven admissions and marketing decisions to ensure your school stays ahead of the curve.

It is never enough to build a great product only to fall short on its promotion. At every turn, the admissions office engages prospective families and reminds them why your school is the best option. They do this by tirelessly analyzing and reanalyzing the data and anecdotes they gather along the way. If you give them everything they need to succeed, including your support, your school will realize enrollment growth.

Listening to your enrollment manager

Make sure you're tuned in to what your director has to say. Encourage open communication by creating a feedback-friendly environment and scheduling regular check-ins and updates. This way, you'll be aware of their needs, concerns, and ideas, fostering a supportive atmosphere for them to lead and succeed.

Keep Reading: What Your Admissions and Marketing Colleagues Want You to Know

Providing a seat at the leadership table

Your enrollment director has valuable insights, so make sure they have a seat at the leadership table with other school leaders. Involve them in strategic planning and decision-making, and promote collaboration with other departments to develop enrollment and marketing strategies for your private school. Recognizing their expertise will make them feel valued and motivated.

Facilitating information-sharing

Encourage cross-department collaboration by creating channels for sharing their expertise. This will help break down silos and ensure that your director's insights are utilized throughout not just the admissions process, but across the school to support student success.

Pro Tip: Don't forget to attend professional development opportunities to stay up-to-date with the latest industry trends!

Investing in the best admissions and enrollment management system

Your director needs the right tools to succeed, so invest in the best admissions and enrollment management software you can find. This will streamline the admissions and application process, enhance data collection and analysis, and help your director work more efficiently. Most of all, with so many of the mundane admissions tasks reduced or eliminated, it will save time for building better relationships with your families.

Providing adequate resources and support

Finally, ensure that your director has a well-staffed and trained team to help them out. Offer ongoing training and development opportunities, and allocate a sufficient budget for enrollment initiatives. Your director will thank you for it!

Key takeaway

In one of my favorite books on Leadership Theory, Kellerman wrote that “leaders who dismiss their followers do so at their own peril.” The time is now for school leaders to realize the role they play in setting the stage for enrollment growth and retention.

While some campuses are closing their doors, others are thriving. I urge school leaders to reach out to the latter institutions and ask about their enrollment management perspectives. I bet you'll find a leadership team that sees their “breadwinner” – aka the enrollment director — as an expert who is empowered to not only meet enrollment goals, but exceed them!

Finalsite Enrollment Tour


With 11 years of experience as a director of enrollment management and advancement in private schools, Cristy brings extensive admissions and enrollment expertise to her role at Finalsite. Her master's thesis focused on stemming enrollment loss in Catholic schools, and her doctoral dissertation focused on internal communication practices at private schools and the capacity afforded to the enrollment manager to positively impact enrollment growth. She lives in Newbury Park, CA and loves spending time with her husband, daughter, and son.

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