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Shared Governance and Enrollment Management

SWorking with faculty members can lead to better decisions in enrollment management, John M. Baworowsky writes in a guest post today. Such a partnership can be valuable in designing new programs, marketing the institution, and more, says Mr. Baworowsky, vice president for enrollment management at Dominican University of California.

The concept of shared governance is a cornerstone of our decision-making structure. In 1920 the American Association of University Professors issued a statement calling for shared responsibility between faculty members, administrators, and boards. The organization asserted that higher-education institutions cannot adequately prepare students in an environment where faculty members have no input or control. Consequently, governance, or decision making, is shared between the administration and the faculty with the ultimate goal of producing better outcomes for students.

The most commonly practiced form of shared governance involves senior administrators’ consulting with the faculty senate on major issues. In those forums, faculty members review a proposed policy or plan and give feedback to the administration. I have seen much friction develop between the two groups when consultation with the faculty is rare or even perfunctory. In those cases, faculty members may ask, “why weren’t we consulted sooner?” or “who created this policy?”

I would argue that when it comes to enrollment management, shared governance leads to better decision making. I would like to offer several broad areas where shared governance strengthens decision making: developing new programs, creating marketing materials, understanding retention issues, and reviewing admission standards and data.

On my campus, Dominican University of California, one of the best examples of shared governance occurs when a new academic program is being developed. For a new program to be properly designed and vetted, input from both faculty members and enrollment-management administrators is necessary. Recently, a faculty member proposed a new health-science program because she saw a fit with the institution’s mission, synergy with existing academic programs, and a resulting strengthening of course offerings over all.

The faculty member approached me for help in vetting the proposed program. She wanted us to investigate the size of the student market, the potential for employment after completing the degree, and whether it should be offered as a bachelor’s-master’s combination or a master’s-only program. The faculty member had a clear idea of the curriculum she wanted to offer in the program, but she needed support from professionals outside her academic area to develop a thoughtful and thorough proposal.

The faculty-administration partnership that formed was both genuine and essential. Only by working together could Dominican build a relevant and successful new academic program. The result was a proposal that was well received by Dominican’s Program Development Task Force.

New-program development is an excellent example of shared governance at work in enrollment management. Faculty members and administrators each bring their respective expertise to the table. The enrollment professionals conduct market research by studying U.S. Department of Labor data to determine employment trends in the area and investigating academic-program preferences as expressed by students who register for the SAT or the ACT tests.

With their knowledge and experience the enrollment professionals can conduct a program-market assessment and support a faculty member in writing a case for the proposed program. Faculty members bring their programmatic expertise to the table, developing the curriculum and steering the new program through the various faculty committees that have oversight.

“We need to take into consideration perspectives from multiple disciplines as well as the projected demand in the field,” Ching-Hua Wang, dean of Dominican’s School of Health and Natural Sciences wrote to me, describing the process her faculty member used to prepare the new program-development documentation. “Consequently, it behooves us to have faculty representatives from multiple schools and across disciplines to present their points of view and the representatives from student-enrollment management to present data on student selectivity, demand, and the future needs in society. Plus it is fun to work with people from different fields and divisions. One could always learn from others.”

Sharing decision making with faculty members is also important in the creation of marketing materials. While admission and marketing professionals may have a good sense of the institution over all, it is faculty members who can add color and details to the messaging about their individual departments.

On our campus, recent efforts to develop a new marketing theme and recruitment materials were greatly enhanced by the participation of faculty members in focus groups. We found that many of the statements they made there became excellent fodder for our brochures and bullet points in letters and e-mails. And when the campaign was started campuswide, it had strong faculty support due to the high level of input from the faculty throughout the process.

In the admission-file review process, shared governance leads to better admission decisions. At the graduate level, faculty members should be involved in file review and decision making. At the undergraduate level, they should understand the factors behind student success and actively contribute to improving retention.

Not long ago, I met with faculty members on a Midwestern campus as a consultant. They stated that they did not know how admission decisions were made at their university, nor why some students were academically successful and others were not. Low retention was an issue on their campus. Academic deans and faculty members were eager to help, but were frustrated by a lack of data. We worked to bring faculty members and administrators together in a student-success committee that reviewed retention and student-success data. Once they understood the data and the issues, the deans and faculty members became advocates for enrollment management and more deeply involved in retention activities.

Admission standards and program-capacity limits should be reviewed with faculty members on an annual basis to determine if the standards are congruent with student success. There is always a relationship between admission standards, goals, selectivity, numbers of students, and revenue per program. Standards control the number admitted, and goals dictate the number enrolled and net revenue per program. When fully informed, faculty members appreciate that raising or lowering the enrolled goal per program has an impact on revenue that may affect the program’s budget and students’ success.

The Rev. Theodore M. Hesburgh, the visionary former president of the University of Notre Dame, once wrote in Change magazine that you cannot do it all yourself. He intentionally surrounded himself with people who possessed talents he lacked. Father Hesburgh might have agreed that shared governance allows both faculty members and administrators to surround themselves with people who have talents and knowledge they lack, thereby strengthening decision making.

I’m sure the founders of American higher education were not thinking about enrollment management when the concept of shared governance was developed. But I can’t help but think that embracing this basic principle can have a profoundly positive impact on our enrollment planning and decision making.

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