New York—A while back, Frank Ashley was sitting in a meeting with other College Board trustees when a colleague told him to look around the room. “Almost everyone here,” the trustee said, “has gray hair, or no hair.”
The same is true of a generation of admissions leaders who have defined their profession during a time of great change. Many of the old lions are retiring, and the next wave of deans and enrollment chiefs is rising fast.
Who they are, what they believe, and how they operate is a growing concern among members of this evolving field. This is why Mr. Ashley, vice chancellor for academic affairs at Texas A&M University, said colleges must develop mentoring programs for early- and mid-career admissions professionals: “It’s our responsibility to do this. It should be part of our job description.”
Vern Granger seconded that. As director of undergraduate admissions and dean of enrollment services at the University of Tennessee, Mr. Granger believes he has an obligation to help his staff learn about the profession. He encourages them to read everything they can find about admissions, to learn how to use statistical models to meet enrollment goals, and to identify and overcome their weakness. Admissions deans, he said, must give their employees the time to pursue the advanced degrees that will help them move up.
Today’s emerging leaders are sandwiched between two very different generations. There are the old-school deans, who predate college rankings and the college-marketing boom, and then there are the 20-somethings who are tech-savvy and convinced that they can do their bosses’ jobs tomorrow, said Angel Perez, interim vice president for admission and financial aid at Pitzer College.
Meanwhile, the demands of the job are growing. To illustrate that, Mr. Perez shared his schedule for next Thursday. In the morning, he will attend a meeting about admissions data. Next comes a meeting about financial-aid programs meeting, then a meeting with a reporter, then a public-relations meeting, then lunch with a student, then a meeting with the IT staff, then a budget meeting, and, finally, dinner with donors.
“Somewhere in there I’m going to go the bathroom, I promise,” Mr. Perez said.
Some younger admissions officers might look at a senior-level position and worry about the sacrifices it demands. So Mr. Perez encouraged admissions officers to interview their bosses about their jobs to get a better sense of how they balance work with the rest of life.
Among the lessons Mr. Perez has learned: delegating is crucial. “If you are a one-man show, you’re going to burn out and you’re definitely not going to make it,” he said. “When you hire a staff and put together a team, you shouldn’t be the smartest person in the room.”
No matter how prepared you think you are to become a dean or director, you are probably underestimating the challenges of the job. ”The first year you’ll have no idea what you’re doing,” said Suzi Nam, director of admissions at Swarthmore College. “Every day is like a new adventure. Hopefully that’s very exciting to you, but it’s also very unsettling.”
In the old days, admissions officials often stayed at the same college for their entire careers. Now, they are more mobile, moving to two, three, four, or more colleges before retiring. Ms. Nam encouraged her colleagues to always anticipate their next move, whether it’s to another institution or to different job on their campuses. She urged women, especially, not to pigeonhole themselves.
Don’t know much about admissions data? Become an expert in admissions data, then. “There are always doors that are open as long you’re relevant on campus,” Ms. Nam said.
Despite the job’s many pressures, its rewards are many, everyone agreed. There’s nothing like watching a student you know accept a diploma, Mr. Ashley said: “Especially that kid you gave a shot to, the kid everyone said was not going to make it.”