Reflections from the Annual Meeting of AAU Chief Enrollment Managers

Reflections from the Annual Meeting of
AAU Chief Enrollment Managers

Dwayne Benjamin, Vice-Provost, Strategic Enrolment Management

In late January, I travelled to Laguna Beach in Orange County for the annual meeting of Chief Enrollment Manager Officers of the Association of American Universities (AAU). The AAU is a consortium of 71 leading research-intensive universities. Membership is by invitation only and is linked to an institution’s national and global prominence and excellence, as evidenced by metrics that assess the breadth and quality of the institution’s academic research and education programs. U of T, along with McGill, are the only two member universities located outside of the USA.

Against an unusually grey and rainy backdrop (fact: it does rain in Southern California, and when it rains it pours) it was interesting, as a representative of a Canadian university at this table, to hear my U.S. colleagues discuss best practices in strategic enrolment management (SEM): The broad practice from which our portfolio takes its name. SEM is a student-centric and data-informed approach that encompasses all aspects of the student life cycle, from pre-recruitment through graduation, with the goal of supporting student retention and successful outcomes. The mission, in a nutshell, is this: Admit the right students and provide the foundation for their success.

A view of Doheny State Beach near Laguna Beach, Orange County
A view of Doheny State Beach near Laguna Beach, Orange County (it didn’t rain all the time).

While U.S. universities have long integrated SEM into their enrolment practices, from reaching out to student “prospects” at an earlier age and leveraging financial aid packages to attract and retain students, Canadian universities have been slower to adopt a SEM approach. There are many reasons for this, including more developed data collection practices in the United States, and the more sophisticated data analytics that are possible with a wealth of information.

In recent years, as Canadian institutions have faced declining enrolments and increased competition for students, the application of SEM tools has been growing. In our own portfolio, our teams have been promoting these tools to divisions and guiding their use, as they seek to improve yield (the number of students who accept an offer of admission) and mitigate melt (defined as students who accept an offer of admission, but do not show up on campus in September).

These engaging discussions of SEM pervaded the meetings which had sessions devoted to a wide range of more specific hot topics relevant to the member institutions; of which I will share one: the state of admissions in the aftermath of the 2023 US Supreme Court (SCOTUS) ruling which prohibits race-based admissions policies at colleges and universities. As these universities, ranging from prestigious private institutions like Harvard to large public ones like those in the University of California system, take their role in improving social mobility for historically under-represented groups very seriously, they have been forced to adapt admissions processes to comply with the SCOTUS ruling. (Note: Some states, like California and Texas had already prohibited the use of race in admissions decisions). A U of T, we are still early in the game of developing pathways and programs for under-represented groups. While we lack the experience and data of our AAU peers, we have the benefit of public and government support for this mission. 

Association of America Universities logo

Overall, it was incredibly worthwhile to compare notes with colleagues in the AAU: While we learn from their knowledge, they are just as fascinated by our scale and experience (for example, with international students). As the federal government announced its changes to study permits while I was there, I was also able to convey that we all share the experience of dealing with rapidly changing policy landscapes that add variety and challenges to our work.