By Philip Wilkinson
On March 12, Rosemaria Martinelli of the Huron Consulting Group and Kate Miller, provost and vice president of academic affairs at the University of Wyoming, presented a joint session at ACE’s 100th Annual Meeting. The session, “How Data, Collaboration, and Partnership Drove Enrollment Gains at Wyoming,” detailed how the University of Wyoming collaborated with Huron to develop a new framework for their student enrollment management on campus.
During the 2016-17 academic year, the university faced what the speakers called “the perfect storm.” First were leadership changes at the institution that saw the appointment of the first women president at the university, President Laurie Nichols, as well Kate Miller as provost. Shortly thereafter, the university learned that they would be losing around $42 million in state appropriations and had an enrollment shortfall of 600 fewer enrollment confirmations from the previous year.
Facing dire circumstances that might cause fear and retreat by others, President Nichols and her leadership team used the time to question who they were as an institution, to crystallize their mission and the campus-wide understanding of that mission, and to make difficult decisions about where they should be dedicating their efforts and resources to better serve their current and future students. Partnering with Huron, the university sought to better assess and understand the challenges facing the institution.
The partnership quickly realized that data collection, use, and governance would be vital to understanding how to better recruit and serve students. The data was also critical to embarking on a strategic and fundamental shift in their student enrollment management. To do so, they conducted an assessment of the current recruitment markets and practices used by the university; created a diagnostic system to find patterns about student retention and success; investigated what resources successful students used and created a student success activity inventory; and created an organizational assessment that sought to match their offerings to what future students would require.
The resulting multi-year plan grew out of a student-centered strategy that seeks to address the entire collegiate student experience. Beginning with recruitment and enrollment all the way through alumni engagement, the strategy emphasizes preparation and learning, connectedness and engagement, affordability and value, and health and wellness. The plan also shifted enrollment management from campus life to a new department under the direction of the office of the provost that more closely tied enrollment management to faculty and academic administrators.
The initial outcomes included enrolled freshman up 9 percent, transfer student enrollment up 12 percent, and an increased fall-to-fall retention rate. Additional results seem to indicate that these numbers are not an anomaly as the university continued to see increased enrollments during the spring 2018 semester in addition to stronger interest shown in the university by potential students. The number of freshman applications for fall 2018 has increased by 28 percent and the number of transfer applications increased by 48 percent.
The University of Wyoming and Huron credit reimagining the use of data on campus in addition to the creation of new data governance structures as essential for supporting the new enrollment management framework. And they believe these to be the foundational steps that will allow the university to thrive in the future and meet additional attainment goals set by the state legislature. The new president and provost have done something quite remarkable: they began their tenure at an institution that was facing severe economic constriction but were able to pivot a near crisis into an opportunity for greater organizational alignment and agreement on mission and identity.