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Lleadership typically consists of a cabinet, or a group of senior leaders on campus (at the Vice Presidential level or above) who are tasked with running a college or university together with the president or chancellor of the school. Whether it involves issues of finance, student related issues (e.g., meals, counselling, athletics) or managing enrolment from a numbers perspective, everyone typically works in tandem to implement the schools mission, vision, and goals. One major area of leadership that exists on college campuses in the United States is called Enrolment Management.  Enrolment management is a term used to refer to a division within the college or university that is tasked with generating student interest in the school, marketing to prospective students, developing plans of action to deal with enrolment loss, and determining viable ways to leverage scholarship dollars to enrol the highest number of students possible. Offices that fall under the enrolment management umbrella often include admissions, registration, and financial aid.

While much inquiry exists on how college presidents and senior administration lead on their campuses, there is a noticeable absence of research related to how leaders in enrolment management (EM) lead and how their leadership style impacts their subordinates particularly in a time of rapidly changing dynamics in higher education in the USA.  

Higher education challenges related to enrolment

Challenges to higher education organizations today are numerous, often instantaneous, and enormously unpredictable. From recruitment of prospective students to funding issues, all colleges have to address sustainability at their institution.   In order to keep ahead of these issues, it is essential that higher education have mechanisms in place which serve to evaluate leadership on college campuses. Given these ongoing challenges (budgetary, politically, and economically) to higher education, the EM leader is often placed in the difficult position of being everything to everyone. It is not unusual to find EM leaders charged by their superiors with increasing student population on campus, expanding revenue, decreasing the amount of discounts (i.e. scholarships) that they give to students, and providing access to individuals across a wide socioeconomic spectrum. Accomplished individually these mandates can be achieved, but when attempted jointly, this often results in an unattainable situation where the leader cannot always be successful. Hossler and Kalsbeek (2013) note that simultaneous pursuit of all institutional recruitment goals requires a delicate balancing act that involves mutual trade-offs that often result in enrolment goals that are in conflict and mutually incompatible.  

The challenges to the EM leader are abundant, but these issues, coupled with the fact that institutions of higher education are demanding that new employees, especially at senior levels arrive in their roles exceptionally well qualified are stretching the abilities of even the most seasoned professional. The reality is that SEM leaders must arrive at a new job and immediately have an innate ability to be a visionary, motivate staff, rapidly increase enrolment, empower employees, and inspire others. This makes a skilled individual in these senior roles imperative.

Enrolment Leaders and Subordinates defined

In the USA, EM leaders are viewed holistically at their institutions as the highest level authority for enrolling students to the school. The success or failure of recruiting a viable and high academically achieving class ultimately rests with the EM leader. Enrolment Management leaders typically are charged with determining strategic high level governance of recruitment, where those who serve as their subordinates implement their directives.  EM managers are fully responsible for setting strategic direction, laying out a visionary agenda, promoting change in the office. Each of these types of leadership skills are necessary to attract and matriculate students to their campus. The EM manager is typically accountable for reading data associated with enrolment patterns by location (city, state) and determining if resources (money) are worth allocating to that area where the subordinate is responsible for traveling to those locations and recruiting the students. EM Mangers examine the number of applicants to the school, amount of acceptances, and determine the yield (or the number of students) that originate in one particular area of the country and link that back to how much money spent in one location or another. Additionally, EM managers determine the best use of limited financial aid support (scholarships) for students.

Enrolment Managers are typically those individuals who serve in the Vice President, Associate Vice President, Assistant Vice President or Director level and oversee an organization that includes Associate Directors, Assistant Directors, and Admissions Counsellors. Some Enrolment Managers also supervise a Director in the financial aid office.

Conversely, followers (also called subordinates or direct reports) to EM leaders are typically responsible for implementing the directives provided by the EM leader. On a hierarchal organization chart, admissions staff (entry level to five years in the profession) are often responsible for traveling approximately ten to twenty weeks a year to high schools (students who are about to apply to college) or attend college fairs to meet with prospective students and their parents. Followers with five years or more work experience are typically at the Assistant or Associate Director level and are responsible for supervising a limited number of staff (i.e. clerical staff that process applications into files) and are accountable for both limited travel to high schools and assessing the numbers (on a lower level) by city or state.

Leadership is a critical component to success in many work settings.  Organizations need strong leaders to be successful in influencing the office in a positive direction.  Enrolment management operations in institutions of higher education are no exception. Today’s enrolment leader must “be continuously scanning the enrolment landscape, seeking new approaches and proactively recommending strategic responses to new trends” (Miller & Fennell, 2012, p. 1). For the EM leader, “it is imperative that he or she be an active institutional spokesperson, a team builder and an accomplished motivator all while holding the staff accountable” (Miller & Fennel, 2012, pg 1).

The essence of this study, therefore, is to better understand and make meaning of how senior enrolment management leaders in higher education express their leadership approaches and how their direct reports interpret and make meaning of the particular style of the leader. By utilizing a conceptual framework developed by Kouzes and Posner, this study will serve to better define how leaders

• Model the way in the office;

• Lead by example;

• Inspire a shared vision;

• Build trust,

• Challenge the status quo and;

• Appreciate people (Kouzes & Posner, 2006)  

1.2 Rationale of the Study

Enrolment in higher education, while never steady, has always been fairly predictable.  Historically, enrolment management leaders could always depend on the utilization of mathematics such as metrics and longitudinal data to help predict enrolment for the following year’s class.  However, current economic, political, and leadership related issues are beginning to alter that entire equation.  The concept of change as a central concept in higher education has begun to pervade the educational enterprise. Issues such as declining state appropriations and enrolment, nationwide economic turmoil, and the need to have seasoned professionals in senior level roles have dictated that colleges and universities seek out unparalleled leadership in individuals that they hire. This is especially true of today’s EM leader who has had to manage enrolment in recession related economic circumstances.  Dawley and Epstein (2009) addressed this type of change by observing that the tranquil conditions that universities have traditionally enjoyed over the past several decades, has been interrupted by the recent economic conditions in the United States. The job of an enrolment management professional in recent years has grown to become much more multifaceted and complex.  With very few research studies that have directly examined the role of leadership exhibited by these EM leaders and their impacts on direct reports, this type of study appears to be even more critical today than at any time since.

The majority of leadership literature is often focused on governance at the executive, dean, or chair level in academe. However, with a lack of scholarly research within the enrolment management ranks, this study will fill a noticeable gap.

Since the start of the recession in the USA (approx. 2007), colleges and universities have been scrambling to assess fiscal resources in light of a difficult economic environment. Additionally, colleges and universities are consistently reviewing financial sustainability.  In many ways, higher education tends to emulate the general business sector in that they too are attempting to achieve revenue sustainability while placing competent individuals in positions of leadership.

By undertaking a study on enrolment management leadership, I seek to establish clear strategies that can be implemented that could better inform leader behaviour, decision making, and interaction with subordinates. This study will rely heavily on previous research on leadership in general and apply a conceptual framework (Kouzes and Posner Leadership model) to examine how leaders lead and determine new approaches to one’s governance style that could impact any EM organization in a positive and meaningful way.

1.2.1 Economic change

Current economic, political and leadership related upheavals are beginning to alter the entire equation associated with leadership. Dawley and Epstein (2009) note that normally calm conditions universities have traditionally enjoyed in the past have been interrupted by the recent downward spiralling economic conditions in the United States. In fact, the economic slump we are currently experiencing has been described as the worst financial downturn in the United States since the Great Depression in the 1930s (Willis, 2009).

With diminishing federal and state resources, unfunded mandates descending from state legislatures along with growth in student enrolment, as well as competition from other institutions (private, public, and proprietary), enrolment management leaders are facing a litany of issues that require precision and focused leadership at the senior administrative  level (Lucas, 1996). Major issues, such as effective communication (Halawah, 2005; Kim, 2002), morale problems (Evans, 2001; Humphrey, 2002), poor management (Newton, 2002), and impending retirements in the profession (Boggs, 2003; Shults, 2001), make this study on enrolment management leadership effectiveness all the more critical.

Colleges, large and small, have announced budget cuts (Leonard, 2014), layoffs (Auxter, 2010), salary freezes (Turner, 2012; Zumeta, 2009), capital spending slowdowns, and other initiatives to weather the recession (Goodman, 2009).  Weakening enrolments in higher education are considered second only to declining appropriations as the reasons for colleges’ and universities’ financial problems (Penn, 1999). Garland and Grace (1993) summed this up when they noted that:

Higher education must respond to a society that is becoming more culturally diverse, is strapped with debt at a time when the cost of health care, welfare, criminal jus-tice, and education continues to climb, is restructuring the way in which most tasks are carried out because of the in-creasing capacity of information technologies, and is becoming more violent (p.9).

With these new realities, it is critical that colleges and universities nationwide have solid leadership in place able to both weather any crisis (economically or socially) and continue to motivate others during this period of profound uncertainty. Given these pressing issues, exemplary and principled leadership is as important now as at any other time in our history. With serious economic conditions threating the stability and landscape of higher education institutions in the USA, it is essential that leaders in enrolment management have the professional acumen to provide unambiguous and principled leadership within their organizations. From the senior leader to administrative front line staff, enrolment management supervisors need to possess skills that serve to motivate and inspire staff to achieve within the organization.

1.2.2 Transformational Leadership

The job of an enrolment management professional in recent years has grown to become exceptionally multifaceted and complex.  Leadership often is viewed as an all-encompassing endeavour that requires a professional to be engaged daily with everyone in the organization while simultaneously making those same people happy and keeping them motivated.  Kouzes and Posner (2002) described leadership as the “relationship between those who aspire to lead, and those who choose to follow” (p.20). But how does a leader engage with the organization, inspire others, and work closely with direct reports in a way to be both motivational and persuasive?  It is this work between enrolment management leaders and direct reports that is so critical in maintaining employee morale and remaining competitive in a marketplace that is constantly evolving and extraordinary fluid.  Some believe that leadership, especially in crisis situations, makes it impossible for individuals to emerge from these complex situations unscathed (Boin &‘t Hart, 2003; Boin & t’Hart, Stern, & Sundelius, 2005; Rowsell & Berry, 1993).  However, many other scholars still feel that it is possible to lead groups of disparate individuals in an effort to unify (Dewan & Myatt, 2012), teach (Northouse, 2012), mentor (Martin & Sifers, 2012), instil trust (Zhu, Newman, Miao, & Hooke, 2013), and motivate (Goleman, Welch, & Welch, 2012), even in times of relative calm or economic upheaval. Dessler (1995) goes further by stating that, “good leadership is more important than it has ever been before, because it is the leader who must initiate change, and provide a unifying vision” (p. 365) not necessarily or exclusively through hierarchical leadership, but one in which motivation (Earley, 1994; Sheppard, 1993), assessment of staff through measurable outcomes (Rummler & Brache, 1995), reward systems for employees (Tohidi, 2011), and many other descriptors begin to describe leadership.

Kouzes and Posner (2004) note that transformational leaders, “clarify their personal values and then express those values in their own style and voice" (p.19). Despite the significant impact of strong leaders on our higher education institutions, today’s colleges and universities still are entrenched in a crisis of acknowledgement related to the transformational role that leaders make in organizations. Notwithstanding all of the research on the transformational role of leaders in a higher education setting (e.g. Kirby, Paradise, & King, 1992; Astin & Astin, 2000; Roueche, Baker, & Rose, 1989; Zacher &  Johnson, 2014), colleges and universities get caught up in the idea of change as an operative word and occasionally fail to understand the true role of its leader. Whether it is academic or administrative personnel, the “leader is the main character in defining the educational achievement of the university, and the performance of subdivisions affects the university reputations” (Mahdinezhad, Suandi, Silong, & Omar, 2013, p.29).

Perhaps this identity crisis is more of a situation where the “system” (or the higher education institution) has problems both selecting and developing its leaders? Middlehurst (2013) notes that challenging the status quo in organizations may be helpful. In fact, Middlehurst (2013) stated that challenging the status quo is one of the five fundamental practices of exemplary leadership that Kouzes and Posner advocate for. However, what is exposed in theory, is often much more difficult to carry out in practice. Consider that Diamond (2006) notes that “the search process for most leadership and faculty positions tend to place greater weight on preserving the status quo than on selecting candidates who are perceived as agents of change” (para. 16) and motivators of many. Randall (2012) stated that in order to have truly effective change, several factors must play a role including:

1) The leader being willing to identify the challenge;

2) Recognize that change is difficult;

3) Frame the issues and focus attention;

4) Secure ownership and;

5) Manage stakeholder conflict and stress.

So consumed with fulfilling a prescribed list of job responsibilities and attributes, higher education professionals and enrolment management specialists often forget to remember that it is the people in the organization that need to be motivated (Ankli & Palliam, 2012; Tohidi & Jabbari, 2012) and excited (Aggarwal & D’Souza, 2012) to accomplish all the tasks that the leader is seeking to accomplish.

Given the complex higher education environment surrounding fiscal, political, and leadership issues, it is not surprising that the:

chief enrolment officer must be strategic, data-driven, possess strong communication skills, collaborate effectively with internal and external constituencies, be a strong leader and mentor for their staff members, and understand the mission of the institution, among other skills and competencies (Niles, 2012, vi.).

Furthermore, the chief enrolment leader is often called upon to have significant expertise in making a case for campus wide change, promoting campus-wide awareness in recruitment, providing visible leadership, being a champion for development and implementation of strategic enrolment management related plans, and making strong data informed strategic choices (Wallace-Hulecki, 2009).  

The need is so strong for exemplary and transformational leadership among enrolment management leaders that a burgeoning cottage industry of professional search firms seeking deep talent for colleges to select for their job opportunities have proliferated over the past decade. Coupled with the fact that higher education presidents and student affairs leaders have some of the highest turnover rates among all executive leaders, there is an imperative to examine these professionals’ leadership styles (Monks, 2012; Rickard, 1982; Sandeen, 1991).

With these tremendous issues facing enrolment management professionals including: declining state appropriations and enrolment, nationwide economic turmoil, and the need to have seasoned professionals in senior level roles, very few research studies have examined the role of leadership exhibited by these individuals and their impacts on direct reports.

Kouzes and Posner (2012) noted “leadership is a relationship between leader and follower” (p.5). Throughout the literature there has been considerable scrutiny on the role of the senior administrator leader (i.e., president, provost, or executive vice presidents).  However, virtually no analyses have been conducted to assess leadership styles of enrolment management professionals and their role at influencing their direct reports. This study seeks to break new ground on leader-subordinate management at the senior enrolment manager level. By engaging in a qualitative multiple case study, the experiences of leaders in Enrolment management related to leadership style success and its impact on subordinates will be closely examined.

Accordantly, I chose to investigate, within a constructivist perspective, two major areas of unexplored potential predictors of leadership success in higher education enrolment management:

• Senior enrolment management leaders perceptions of their own leadership style and

• Direct report perceptions on their senior enrolment management leaders leadership style

1.2.4 Higher Education Realities  

Given higher education’s lack of decisiveness or resistance to change, where does this place the enrolment management leader on campus? Enrolment management leaders know that in order to be successful they must be effective and nimble fiscal stewards (Wilkinson, Taylor, Peterson, & Machado-Taylor, 2007), motivators of many (Webb, 2007), and expert strategic planners (Berry, 1994).  The success of an enrolment management department is largely dependent on the institutional culture (Tierney, 1988) and support and vision from the senior enrolment management leader. The central role that enrolment management professionals play on campus (Pollack, 2012); from admissions recruiter to financial aid steward professionals in this field, especially at the senior levels of the institution, are invariably linked to the success or failure of the college or university (Kongolo, 2012).  

While private industry and corporations have long searched for new paradigms associated with leadership, only recently has higher education started to embrace the role of the leader as a construct due in large part to the fact quality leadership has been viewed as “eroding in recent years” (Astin & Astin, 2000, p.2).   

Significant social, economic, and political upheaval is happening all around us.  Federal issues related to need based aid, regulation, and reforms are influencing colleges and universities.  Drastic cuts in funding, along with wider social issues associated with access to college, are part of the new reality in which we are living.  Further, Boards of Trustees are pressuring college administrators to increase access to college and enrolment while simultaneously working to strategically keep discounting rates (the rate of discount to the sticker price that the college advertises after scholarships and grants have been applied) low to positively impact the revenue bottom line.  Given the challenges facing higher education and enrolment management, it is surprising how little research has been placed on the role of leadership within enrolment management.  Forces such as external support, cultures of competition among institutions, loss of status quo, rising tuition to attend universities, and political pressure are beginning to influence leadership at higher education institutions and are changing at an exceptional pace (Diamond, 2006; O’Brien, 1994; Senge, 1990). Schein (1992) notes that effective leaders today are those who can effectively manage and change culture within an organizational context.  EM leaders as “change agents” are essential to the success of the college or university and invariably linked to the success of their employees

1.3 Conceptual Framework

The conceptual framework that guided this constructivist multiple case study was the Kouzes and Posner Five Practices of Exemplary Leadership approach. In the late 1990s, Kouzes and Posner developed a widely-accepted theory (Smith & Hughey, 2006) which examined the practices and relationships between leaders and followers and discovered leaders who “demonstrated extraordinary accomplishments within their organization on a long term basis tended to follow certain well-defined practices” (Smith & Hughey, 2006, p. 159).  It was thesssay

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