Whenever I hear colleagues grumble about the amount of data they have that isn’t being used for strategic purposes, I think about Samuel Coleridge’s famous quote from “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner”: “Water, water every where, nor any drop to drink.”

Ten years ago, I was a new director of admissions at the University of Michigan-Flint with an enormous goal: to grow enrollment at a school that had many competitors in the state. I was encouraged because we had strong leadership, a good product, great staff, and a strong infrastructure. We also had a customer relationship management system (CRM) with a bridge to our student information system (Banner). In admissions, we had a CRM manager, a business analyst, and a Banner specialist. This team was supported by a divisional ITS person who was very forward-thinking. In all, the team was small but mighty.

What did each team member do?

  • The analyst purchased and imported names into the CRM, coordinated with the CRM manager on the communication plan, ran a predictive model, ran daily enrollment reports, served as the backup to CRM manager, and more.
  • The CRM manager maintained the CRM system, managed duplicate records, created a communication plan, and informed the director when open rates and other key metrics didn’t hit targets. Two staff members worked with her on daily tasks.
  • The Banner specialist ensured that processing stayed on track so that targeted messages remained appropriate (i.e., “you have been admitted,” “we are missing your transcript,” etc.).

During my seven years as director, enrollment grew over 25 percent with this team structure in place.


After serving at UMF, I moved to Northern Illinois University to assist with another major enrollment challenge. I, of course, was interested in staffing relative to “big data.” As Hossler, Kalsbeek, and Bontrager point out in chapter three of The Handbook of Strategic Enrollment Management; Successful Strategic Enrollment Management Operations, “Enrollment management is fueled by a comprehensive research agenda and a need for ongoing ‘action research’ that is often not adequately met by traditional institutional research units.” (p. 36)

To my surprise, big data positions were very loosely coupled and were shared with one external vendor. My predecessor (the director of admissions), who retired after spending 30 years in the role, had been the “analyst.” CRM duties were shared among three clerical staff and an IT person who worked in testing services, and the SIS (student information system) director was nearing retirement with 30 years of service completed. A retooling was needed.

One phase of the retooling occurred just as I arrived. A CRM manager was hired. This was a new position. A business analyst/associate director of admissions for recruitment was hired. This was also a new position. A SIS specialist was hired. And finally, a graduate assistant was hired in the enrollment management division to assist with high-level reporting (recruitment and retention) and financial aid leveraging. The graduate assistant position was later changed to a full-time staff position.

When the CRM manager was reassigned to another unit, those duties were temporarily given to the analyst in enrollment management. Internal discussions occurred at that time with the new VP for student affairs and enrollment management regarding yet another admissions retooling. My recommendation was to offer compensation to big data staff taking on additional duties, despite belt tightening across campus.

Why compensate? Hossler, Kalsbeek and Bontrager wisely shared in the previously mentioned book and chapter that “SEM is increasingly dependent on information systems and technologies; it is very much a technology intensive process and enterprise and the development and management of student data systems is a pivotal part of any enrollment management effort.” (p. 36)

Fast forward

Fast forward three years, and I’m the new associate provost for enrollment management at the University of Mary Washington. Upon my arrival, of course I looked closely at staffing for big data projects. With a big data team in place, this semester we have accomplished the following:

  • We’ve worked with IT to further streamline the Common Application import, capturing additional data points for UMW to allow further targeted communication through Connect (CRM).
  • From Day One, every offer we sent included its merit award in the offer packet.
  • We increased the number of offers extended prior to the winter break by 55 percent.
  • We developed a comprehensive communication plan incorporating mailings, emails, chats, and communication with parents to targeted audiences at different points in the funnel.

I recently asked a colleague at a large public institution in Michigan about his data management team and he shared that he has:

  • A systems manager for CRM and SIS.
  • A systems coordinator who primarily works with CRM.
  • A data coordinator who works with CRM and SIS.

When asked whether these positions were critical, of course he responded, “Yes!”

He stated, “You need the keepers of the data, but that’s not sufficient. You need someone who can digest that data (business analyst), make sense of it, and use it for actions; strategy development/execution.”

I could not agree more!

References: Hossler, Kalsbeek and Bontrager. The Handbook of Strategic Enrollment Management; Successful Strategic Enrollment Management Operations. San Francisco: Jossey Bass, 2015.

Kimberley Buster-Williams is associate provost for enrollment management at the University of Mary Washington. She is a member of Recruitment and Retention’s editorial board.