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Cross-Training Enrollment Staff to Avoid the Employment Cliff


In my last blog, Creating an Environment for Success, I shared strategies that enrollment leaders should employ to effectively manage their teams while meeting the challenges brought by declining student enrollment. As staffing and talent issues continue to plague colleges and universities across the country, I wanted to revisit this topic.

Things are only going to get more challenging. Why? Because while we have all been talking about the student “demographic cliff,” there has been less discussion of the accompanying employment cliff. Many industries are already facing this worker shortage (think of every “supply chain shortage” story you have read about in the last year or so). It is only a matter of time until the higher education sector begins to feel the pinch of too few—or too few qualified, ready, and able—candidates for open positions.

Cross-training enrollment staff in a campus conference room
Cross-training enrollment staff not only address employment shortages, it transforms how the team works with students and other staff.

The need for holistic enrollment training

This makes the cross-training of enrollment staff across student types, levels, and modalities more important than ever. Multiple specialized units (graduate, undergraduate, online, accelerated, adult, etc.) will need to give way to holistically trained enrollment staff who can work across silos to achieve institutional goals. From an HR perspective, it’s the only sustainable path forward as we confront the aftermath of fewer graduates from our institutions.

Authentic onboarding, training, and ongoing professional development are also essential in retaining talent, particularly when we have fewer positions approved and fewer people interested in (or qualified for) those positions. These limits will necessitate having staff that can “wear multiple hats.” Cross training and succession planning are no longer ideal procedures, but absolute necessities. They are also tools that you can use to keep your employees engaged in and excited about their work.

The transformative power of enrollment cross-training

Cross-training enrollment teams also transforms the fabric of the institution and brings valuable new knowledge to bear on the work being done with students and families. Here are a few real examples:

  • An admission counselor engaging with the first-year student who expresses an interest in being a future transfer student. If that admissions counselor only understands the FTFT student experience and requirements, the institution has lost an opportunity to build a relationship as well as effectively counsel an aspiring learner.
  • An online program recruiter is assigned follow up with a prospect that ends up having mistakenly selected the wrong option and is actually interested in classroom study. If that person’s goals are for online program recruitment, she may seek to convert the prospect to an online program.
  • An admissions counselor is engaging with a family about their son’s upcoming college experience. The parent indicates that she has always wanted to finish her own studies. If the counselor is prepared to talk with BOTH parent and child, the institutions could enroll two students—not one.

3 practical takeaways for cross-training enrollment staff

Take this a step further and consider all of the areas of intersectionality: can your undergraduate admissions staff speak confidently about the requirements of your graduate programs? Do your front-line recruiters understand the systems and reports that drive application review and transcript evaluation?

Here are some additional recommendations on practical ways to incorporate cross-training within your organization:

1. Prioritize

It should be acknowledged that cross-training requires a commitment to investing the time and resources necessary, as well as accepting the reality that these activities will detract from other priorities in the short term. Because of this, leadership must accept the temporary impact to productivity as a tradeoff for a more sophisticated operation in the long term. Leaders must frame these conversations in that light when speaking with campus constituents and other institutional stakeholders.

2. Operationalize

Cross training is time-consuming, so it is important to incorporate it into your regular processes to ensure that it’s not a one-and-done event. For example, you may employ a job shadowing exercise as part of the annual employee reviews or set aside an hour a week for employees to cross train in other departments (having admissions counselors help during the opening of school rush in financial aid, or having financial aid staff at recruitment events are simple examples). Additionally, including components of cross-training in the onboarding process for all new hires and creating a regular all staff training schedule that actively engages ancillary units as both trainers and trainees are also options that have worked well for our partners

3. Give opportunities for feedback

Deploy pre- and post-training surveys to staff to gauge their level of baseline knowledge and to assess learning outcomes after training has occurred. Your team will also appreciate having input on the training process and will be more engaged in the activity. Pre- and post-surveys also allow for quick adjustments in content. If you’re focusing on cross-training topics that rarely prove useful in their day to day conversations, the activity loses validity and impact.

Cross-training enrollment staff is crucial to your institutional success and serving your students

Cross-training takes time, but as we continue to do more with less, it’s a crucial component to institutional success and holistic student service. The time it takes to engage in cross training should be viewed as a safeguard against single points of failure and organizational waste due to overspecialization.

I will be leading a panel discussion of institutional leaders currently working on these issues at the RNL National Conference this summer. Register today for this best-in-class national enrollment and marketing conference to dive into a wealth of sessions on traditional undergraduate enrollment, online and graduate enrollment, student success and much more. And my colleagues and I are also happy to discuss strategies for increasing teamwork, efficiency, and ultimately success for your institution and students. Reach out and we will set up a convenient time to talk.

Let’s talk about reaching your enrollment goals

We can help you reach your enrollment goals with any student population—undergraduates, graduate students, online learners, adult students, and more. Contact us today to ask for a complimentary consultation.

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