College and university presidents are likely to be charged with securing new leadership in the enrollment management division at least once during their tenures.

What exactly should Presidents be looking for in Chief Enrollment Officers or Vice Presidents for Enrollment Management?  What are the right questions to ask?  How should experience be evaluated? 

These are important questions to answer to hire effective leaders who supervise recruitment and financial aid operations.

 Appropriate Experience

Obviously, a candidate with experience in admissions is preferable. If your chief enrollment officer is also charged with retention responsibilities, then a record of success in this area is valuable. One skill set, often over-looked, is an understanding of financial aid. While your enrollment leader need not have a direct background as a financial aid officer, a basic understanding of financial aid, discount rates and tracking mechanisms for institutional aid programs is helpful. Significant experience in admissions and retention is less helpful without a workable knowledge of financial aid.


Having worked in an Admission Office or Financial Aid Office or even having served as chief enrollment officer at another college or university or multiple institutions is insufficient.

Presidents should also make a point of reviewing the outcomes at previous schools:

  • Were the candidates able to grow the application pool?
  • What percentage of admission applicants completed the admission process?
  • Was the yield near or above national norms? Did enrollment remain steady?
  • If your institution requires growth in enrollment, do the candidates have a record of increasing enrollment?

This information is available by reviewing the trends at the candidate’s previous institution(s) on the Integrated Postsecondary Education Data Systems (IPEDS).  I am surprised by the number of presidents and search committees never bothering to check the outcomes for candidates on IPEDS. You can also evaluate financial aid outcomes on this site.

If your enrollment position includes retention, IPEDS is another great source. On this site you can see retention trends and graduation rates. See if your candidates have a track record of acceptable retention and graduation rates.

Experience is good. Demonstrated improvements in outcomes at previous institutions is better.

Mission Fit

Experience and a track record of success are paramount. You must, however, keep your institutional mission in mind when selecting the right candidate.

It is generally better to choose leaders who have shown a commitment to your mission. A candidate from an elite college or university may not be the best fit at a college with essentially open admission standards. Candidates from schools that are not ethnically diverse may not be the right choice at a school where most enrollees are students of color.

Mission fit is particularly critical for Christian colleges and universities.

Data-Driven Decision Making

The very best enrollment managers are focused on data. Data-driven decision-making is vital.

During the interview process, ask candidates to describe the content of their weekly admission, financial aid, and retention reports. Which numbers and what trends do they evaluate weekly? Ask the candidates to provide two or three example of how data informed a new policy, strategy, or tactic.


You will want to select an enrollment leader with whom you can work. The individual will need to have the kind of personality that will work well with not only the president, but the other cabinet members. You should ensure that the candidates meet with each member of the cabinet or leadership team.

Your chief enrollment officer is likely to have the greatest impact on recruitment, retention, your discount rate, and net tuition revenue. It is important to be prepared for the interview process and conduct some research in advance.


  • John Dysart

    John W. Dysart is President of The Dysart Group.  He has held leadership positions and provided consulting services in higher education for more than thirty years. Mr. Dysart has consulted with more than 170 colleges and has been able to increase new student enrollments by as much as 70%, reduce or stabilize discount rates and increase retention rates by as much as 7% in a single cycle. Considered a national expert in enrollment management, John Dysart has conducted seminars and made dozens of presentations for 18 higher education professional organizations and has written articles for several higher education publications.

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