It’s live! Access exclusive 2024 live chat benchmark data & see how well your team is performing.

Get the data
Strategic Enrollment Management – A Helpful Starter Guide featured image

Strategic Enrollment Management – A Helpful Starter Guide

At first glance, the latest enrollment figures paint a bleak picture. There are over 1.09 million less students in higher education today than there were 5 years. However, there are notable signs of improvement. Freshmen enrollment grew by 9.2% from spring 2022 to spring 2023, on top of a 10.6% increase the previous year. 

Nonetheless, competition remains incredibly tough. From shifting demographics and fluctuating state funding to the growth of alternative postsecondary education, schools must adopt a systematic approach to recruitment in order to succeed. This is where Strategic Enrollment Management (SEM) comes into play. 

Read on to explore what strategic enrollment management is, how it is helping schools to attract more of the very best students, and how to create a robust plan. 

What is Strategic Enrollment Management (SEM)? 

Strategic Enrollment Management (SEM) is a systematic approach adopted by higher ed institutions to improve recruitment, retention, and graduation rates. Rather than viewing each department’s efforts within separate silos, SEM provides a framework to integrate these areas cohesively.  

The key components of SEM include: 

  • Research and market analysis: Understand the current higher education landscape, identify target demographics, and recognize institutional strengths and weaknesses. 
  • Recruitment strategies: Create campaigns tailored to engage with more potential students and increase applications. 
  • Retention efforts: Develop programs to support students throughout their academic journey, helping them to finish their degree. 
  • Financial aid leveraging: Strategically use financial aid and scholarships to attract and retain the right students. 
  • Continuous assessment: Regularly review and adjust strategies based on data and changing circumstances. 

Benefits of Strategic Enrollment Management 

Implementing a well-thought-out SEM strategy can have profound benefits for higher education institutions. Here are some of the key advantages: 

  • Improved recruitment and retention rates: SEM helps schools to target the right students, ensuring that those who enroll are more likely to persist and graduate. 
  • Financial stability: By ensuring that enrollment numbers are both robust and stable, institutions can better predict their revenue streams and budget accordingly. This financial predictability is crucial, especially in times of declining state support or economic downturns. 
  • Enhanced student experience: SEM goes beyond numbers. It’s about creating an environment where students feel supported, leading to higher satisfaction, better academic outcomes, and stronger alumni connections. 
  • Data-driven decision making: With SEM, decisions are backed by comprehensive research and ongoing assessments. This data-driven approach means institutions can pivot quickly in response to changing circumstances. 
  • Alignment with institutional goals: By aligning enrollment strategies with the broader goals and mission of the institution, schools can ensure that they’re not just growing in numbers, but also in quality and reputation. 

Crafting a Strategic Enrollment Management Plan 

A robust SEM plan is not a one-size-fits-all proposition. It requires careful consideration of an institution’s unique characteristics, goals, and challenges. However, here are the essential steps that every school must take for the basis of an effective SEM plan: 

  • Assessment and research: Begin by understanding your current position. What are your enrollment trends? Which programs are most popular? What are the demographics of your student body? Conduct market research to understand external factors that might affect enrollment. 
  • Set clear goals: Define what success looks like. Is it increased overall enrollment, higher retention rates, a more diverse student body, or perhaps a combination of these? 
  • Develop strategies: Based on your goals, create specific strategies to address them. For example, if you aim to increase the enrollment of international students, your strategy might include building partnerships with schools abroad or offering scholarships specifically for international students. 
  • Allocate resources: Ensure that you have the necessary resources – both in terms of budget and personnel – to implement your strategies. This might mean hiring more admissions counselors, investing in marketing campaigns, or developing new student support services. 
  • Implementation: With strategies in place and resources allocated, it’s time to execute. Remember, SEM is a holistic approach. All departments, from admissions to student services, need to be on board and working in tandem. 
  • Monitor and adjust: Continuously track the success of your strategies. Are you meeting your goals? If not, adjust accordingly. The higher education landscape can change rapidly, so it’s essential to be flexible and responsive.  


Strategic Enrollment Management is a crucial tool in the arsenal of modern higher education institutions. In a world where the stakes are high, and the challenges are many, SEM provides a structured, data-driven, and holistic approach to ensure that colleges and universities can thrive in both the short and long term. 

If you’d like more inspiration on how to improve enrollment at your school, explore this in-depth guide: 

Higher Ed Admissions – Strategies for Increasing Student Enrollment

Higher Ed Admissions – Strategies for Increasing Student Enrollment

Explore the state of higher ed admissions today and how schools can boost applications domestically & internationally.

Read on
Kate Rogerson

About Kate Rogerson

Kate is the Content Marketing Manager at Comm100. She has extensive experience in content creation for technology companies across the world, including the UK, Australia and Canada. She specializes in B2B messaging, branding and soccer trivia.