Admission to the Profession

USC program is latest entrant into a growing field of post-graduate degree or certificate programs in enrollment management.

June 12, 2012

The college and university administrators responsible for admitting, enrolling and retaining students across the country are now seeking more education for themselves.

Post-graduate programs in enrollment management, a field which includes admissions, financial aid, retention, and graduation, are becoming more prevalent as the field expands to address demographic and financial changes in higher education.

"This is a rapidly emerging and expanding profession with very few channels of professional development," said Jerry Lucido, executive director of the University of Southern California’s Center for Enrollment Research, Policy, and Practice. "This is a profession that has grown up rapidly in the past 30 years."

Lucido has worked in admissions and enrollment management at Kent State University, the University of Arizona, the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and the University of Southern California, and he earned a doctorate in higher education (no enrollment management degree was available) from the University of Arizona. He will oversee USC’s new online certificate program in leadership in enrollment management online. The program will debut this fall and be administered in three 10-week sessions from October to May.

He said the field of enrollment management has become more data-based, with ways to predict student behavior and likelihood of graduation, making advanced education more popular among administrators who do not feel as prepared as they would like for the evolving aspects of the enrollment management profession.

David Hawkins, director of public policy and research for the National Association for College Admission Counseling, said the field has grown to include analysis in areas such as identifying successful marketing materials and predictive factors in admissions criteria.

According to a survey that is set to be released by the association this summer, senior admissions officers named statistics and data analysis as an important skill for admissions professionals. The survey also found that about 75 percent of senior-level administrators believed it was either very important or moderately important to have an advanced degree to be able to move up in their profession.

“People don’t necessarily enter the workforce thinking, ‘I’m going to be an admissions officer,’” Hawkins said. “People just fall into the admissions profession.”

He said the types of students most interested in post-graduate programs like USC’s online certificate are mid-level administrators who are looking to move up and distinguish themselves from others in the field with diverse backgrounds and only work experience – no advanced degrees or certifications. They are attracted to such programs for the career advancement potential and sense of professionalization they offer.

“The people who are going to be looking for this certificate are potentially everybody – but more specifically, people who feel that from the very beginning of their career that they have never really had a professional stamp or professional seal that they can hold up to say they are a member of this profession,” Hawkins said.

Others in the field agree. Capella University has partnered with Noel-Levitz, a company that advises colleges on enrollment strategy, since October 2006 to offer two programs -- a master’s in higher education administration and a post-master’s certificate in enrollment management – along with a certification in enrollment management from Noel-Levitz.

John Nies, program adviser for the Noel-Levitz online certificate program, said, "There haven’t been these kinds of programs available until very, very recently."

"There has developed over the last 10 to 15 years a real sense within the larger higher education community that enrollment management is a critical specialization."

Students in this program range from recent graduates who are just beginning a career in enrollment management to senior-level administrators who have been in the field without any kind of formal degree or certification, Nies said.

The Capella and Noel-Levitz programs are offered online, as is the new USC certificate program. Lucido said USC’s program offers the convenience of online instruction at lower cost than a traditional master's program (the cost at USC is $10,000).

Capella’s 12-course master’s program costs $1,500 per course, and its six-course post-master’s certificate costs $4,596 per quarter (students can enroll in multiple courses during a quarter).

Vanderbilt University offers a two-year master’s program in higher education administration with an option to concentrate in enrollment management. The program’s tuition for the 2012-13 academic year is $22,770.

Will Doyle, associate professor of higher education and coordinator of the higher education leadership program at Vanderbilt, said its students are typically two or three years out of college, and many of them have been working on campuses as admissions counselors.

He said many students have realized that working in admissions is not just a short-term job anymore – it’s something they’d like to do as a long-term career, but they feel like they need an advanced degree to do so.

The University of Miami offers an online certificate program in enrollment management and an on-campus master’s in higher education administration with an option to concentrate in enrollment management. Walden University offers an online master’s program in higher education with an option to specialize in enrollment management and institutional marketing.

Hawkins said a master’s program such as those offered at Vanderbilt and Miami is different from a certificate program in that it builds mastery of the conceptual and theoretical concepts of enrollment management.

“When you present a certificate in enrollment management, you’re simply showing that you have mastered some basic and maybe more practical components of the enrollment management profession,” he said.

Hawkins said it is too early to tell how new certificate programs such as USC’s will be received, as enrollment management is an evolving field and not yet rigidly defined by academic criteria. “Only time can tell whether the program itself will become established and recognized by the senior practitioners in the field.”


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