Boards and Enrollment Management in Schools — An Interview with Dr. William Mott

Mott-211Recently, I had an opportunity to interview Dr. William R. Mott about the role of the school board in enrollment management. Bill is a friend, consultant, author, speaker and expert on the role of boards in the independent and Christian school.

Bill was also a featured speaker at the AISAP Summer Institute in Portland in July. He is the author of two outstanding books on the role of boards, Super Boards and The Board Game. I highly recommend that all school leaders–administrators and board members–should read both of these books and utilize them as resource guides and discussion tools.

Bill, thank you for taking the time to answer these important questions as we consider the role and relationship of the board in the enrollment management effort and process of a school.

What is the board’s role and responsibility in the school’s enrollment management process?

“The governing board of an independent or Christian school is the channel through which passes not only governing and fiduciary responsibilities but also responsibilities for ensuring the school’s success be supporting and encouraging the marketing, communications, and development functions – all of which play a pivotal role in the success of enrollment management. I am not suggesting that board members engage in admission decisions, but can effectively serve as ambassadors for the school and promote and advocate for the school.”
How effective are boards in fulfilling this responsibility and what steps could be taken to improve their performance of this responsibility?

“Some boards are more effective than others. It really gets back to setting expectations with prospective board members. Is it explained that a part of the boards culture is to find appropriate ways to participate in supporting the school’s admissions and marketing efforts. I would suggest that each board member be provided a list of three to five ways they can support enrollment management. The board chair and head of school should set the tone by articulating ways to engage the board.”

How should the head be involved in working with the board in supporting enrollment management?

“The head must recognize that the board should be a strategic component in enrollment. The board’s chair, along with the head should communicate both individually and collectively to discover where each board member and the entire board can help. This should be made clear during the board recruitment and onboarding process.”

Do you see any conflicts with the board being involved in the enrollment management process and influencing admissions decisions? 

“There are certainly possibilities for conflicts to arise. For example, I do not believe the board should be involved in making decisions regarding which students are admitted and which are not. Parents must believe that their children are admitted on the merits of their application – grades, activities, character, etc. Not that a trustee shouldn’t express their support for a candidate. Favoritism is all too frequently a concern for parents and once it is out that a trustee is influencing the admissions process, a level of trust goes missing – and that is often difficult to recover. There is an appropriate role for the board – attempting to manipulate the admissions process is not one of them.”

What is the most effective way a board chair can support and encourage the head and enrollment team recognizing the staff works for/with head not the chair?

“While the board has a fiduciary responsibility and is the school’s governing body, they can still be part of the team that supports such activities as admissions. The board chair, in particular should find ways he or she can be supportive and not intrusive. Here are a few ideas:

– The board chair can demonstrate support by providing a message on the web site indicating gratitude for interest in the school by visiting the web site. Such a message can go with the Head’s message.

– The board chair can be visible and speak at the school’s open house or other admissions events. The message from the chair is a simple but profound one – the head and admissions professionals have the full support of the board of trustees.

– The board chair should include the admissions staff leadership by providing them an opportunity to give a report at each board meeting or ask this leader to be on the admissions or marketing committee if the board has such a committee.”

What are your thoughts about having a standing committee of the board for enrollment management? 

“A standing committee for admissions/enrollment management can be both positive and negative. On the positive side of the ledger having such a committee raises the level of awareness for the whole admissions process. Board members having a better understanding of all that goes into student recruitment and retention will cause them to be more understanding and supportive of the process. Their ability to communicate this to the full board only creates a new level of attentiveness to a central issue for the school. On the negative side, you don’t want this committee to start telling you what kind of cookies to serve at the open house or whatever admissions event you are having. You also don’t want such a committee involved in the process of who is admitted and who is not. Overall a standing committee is good – just make certain the focus stays on process and build their awareness of the challenges and opportunities that are going to have the greatest impact.”

What is the most effective way to engage and communicate with the board regarding enrollment management?

“The most effective way to communicate with the board is for the admissions director to attend and report at each board meeting. If your school has a board committee it stands to reason that the admissions director will be the liaison to the board and therefore attend board meetings. I believe this staff leader should attend board meetings because of the central role they play in the admissions cycle. The head of school is in a position to report on admissions strategy but the admissions director is in the best position to answer questions concerning process with up-to-date data.”

What do enrollment management professionals need to know about the school’s governing board?

“The board makes a range of decisions that impact the school and set policy and strategy that may well impact the admissions/enrollment management process. Having a general understanding of the board’s work including the bylaws would be helpful. Also, it would be very important for the admissions team to understand the kind of decisions the board makes. Of course, the board sets tuition that directly affects the budget. Also, the amount of financial assistance and issues such as diversity influence tuition and financial assistance decisions. Also, the board will set policy or guidelines regarding net tuition revenue. I would encourage the admissions professionals to work with the head of school and have an ongoing dialogue about understanding how the board can be advocates for the admissions team and admissions process.”

If you would like to reach out to Dr. William Mott directly, you can email him at bill@williamrmottphd.com or you can view his website at www.williamrmottphd.com.

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