ENROLLMENT OR Enrolment: Strategic Enrollment Management in the United States and Canada

By Smith, Clayton; Gottheil, Susan | College and University, Fall 2008 | Go to article overview

ENROLLMENT OR Enrolment: Strategic Enrollment Management in the United States and Canada


Smith, Clayton, Gottheil, Susan, College and University


Since the early 1990s, Canadian registrars, admissions officers and student affairs professionals have traveled to U.S.-based conferences in search of the holy grail of enrollment management, finding it at the AACRAO Annual Meeting, AACRAO Strategic Enrollment Management (SEM) Conference, and other meetings sponsored by Noel-Levitz, SEM Works, the National Resource Center for the First-Year Experience and the National Association of Student Personnel Administrators, among others. The general idea was that Canadians needed to learn from Americans about enrollment management, and there was not a national set of practices within Canada to support the development of a growing set of enrollment management professionals. Building on their 2006 SEM Source article on the same topic, the authors reveal similarities and differences in the way SEM is practiced in Canada and the United States.

Shaping enrollment through a focused approach to student recruitment and retention is now acknowledged by many Canadian educators as an essential part of the higher education landscape. Yet some see strategic enrollment management (SEM) as primarily an outcome of the American experience and thus not easily transposed into the Canadian context. It is our view that although SEM'S emergence in Canada has been more recent, many of the issues facing Canadian colleges and universities are similar to those in American institutions. As our profession reaches maturity, there are clearly lessons we can learn from each other - pitfalls to be avoided and innovations to be adopted on both sides of the border.

The difference in approaches to SEM in the two countries is a result of the differing social, political, and economic contexts in which it developed. Although Canada and the United States share some of the same heritage, the American break with England in the late 17003 changed forever its cultural focus from being linked to Europe to charting its own course. Canada, on the other hand, remains well connected to both the United Kingdom and other parts of the world, through membership in the Commonwealth and la Francophonie. Canada's national commitment to bilingualism, multiculturalism and universal health care are examples of a different social and value system than its neighbor to the south. This difference has affected the way both postsecondary educational systems operate in the list century.

With more than 3,500 colleges and universities, the U.S. postsecondary education system is heterogeneous in terms of academic focus, degrees offered, size of enrollments and students served. It is oriented toward providing a holistic student experience where student life is an important part of the college experience. It also operates within the context of decreasing state support of public institutions, increased accountability, increasing tuition levels, significant differences in regional student demand and continuing growth in the not-for-profit institutional sector. This has led to SEM becoming a mainstay at most institutions.

Canada, on the other hand, has many fewer institutions (approximately 9 5 universities and 1 3 5 colleges) and a relatively small quality gap between top-ranked institutions and those ranked lower, which results in most institutions being considered of "good quality." Until recently there has been less concern for student development and the broader campus experience in Canada than in the United States. Although participation in postsecondary education has continued to increase in Canada, there is an increasing reliance on tuition income and increased public accountability fin the form of key performance indicators and national newspaper and magazine rankings), which has resulted in increased competition among institutions. Although many enrollment practitioners have turned to American colleagues and consultants for "best practices" and ideas for new tactics and strategies, many Canadians remain uncomfortable with SEM'S market orientation. …

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