Promote From Within Or Search For Your Next Enrollment Leader

Leadership matters so much to colleges and universities because they are service organizations whose assets are intangibles. Their programs and services are only as good as the people they hire and retain.

Few senior leadership positions are more critical to an institution’s financial health or well-being than the chief enrollment officer.  Where do we find great enrollment managers and how does the institution carry on the momentum when the manager retires or leaves?

The diagram below attempts to explain the circumstances under which an institution might decide to promote from within or conduct a national search.

Promote From Within Or Search For Your Next Enrollment

Think of a continuum representing the change needed in the institution’s enrollment strategies in order for it to achieve future enrollment goals.  On that continuum, there are two degrees of change:  incremental and non-incremental. 

Incremental change ranges from little or no change (maintaining the status quo) to fine-tuning the current enrollment strategies and systems.  In general, maintaining the status quo or changes that involve fine-tuning the current approach to managing enrollment imply that enrollment goals are being achieved, that the institution is satisfied with the current enrollment program, and that future growth in enrollment is expected to be incremental.  Stay-the-course leadership is what the institution needs.  These conditions are ideal for grooming a successor and promoting from within. 

Non-incremental change ranges from overhauling all or parts of the enrollment program to a total transformation.  If non-incremental changes are needed, either because enrollment has been declining or because future growth requires new and innovative thinking, then the enrollment program is in need of an overhaul or a transformation.  It is unusual for an institution to expect an internal candidate to make big changes in the enrollment program – particularly if the totality of their experience is with this enrollment program.  These conditions more frequently lead to a decision to conduct an external search.

Why don’t colleges and universities engage more often in formal succession planning in enrollment management?  In the corporate world, it is common practice to hand-pick and groom successors for top leadership positions.  The benefits of promoting an internal candidate to fill your enrollment leadership position can be huge: 

  • Promoting from within can contribute to both enrollment and staff stability, as well as to continuity in enrollment planning and strategies. Ideally under the successor, enrollment remains stable and on track, the program retains its talented staff members, and the continuity in leadership promotes continued success, because the successor understands the formula used to succeed in the past.

  • Both the successor and the institution know in advance that there is a good fit. The successor already knows the institution, the culture, the community, and the challenges in the competitive marketplace. The institution already knows the successor’s strengths and weaknesses and accepts her/him.

So, why don’t colleges just promote from within?  The answer is simple.  Most vacancies in the chief enrollment officer position occur when enrollment is declining or failing to achieve goals – not when the program is succeeding.  Promoting an enrollment manager from within makes less sense when the program is failing, than when enrollment is stable or trending upward.

Of course, another reason many institutions automatically mount an external search for a chief enrollment officer is because very few colleges or universities practice succession planning for any of the top leadership positions.  More often, someone is appointed as an interim to hold down the fort while the institution conducts an external search for a permanent appointment.

Those of you with exemplary enrollment programs would be wise to establish succession plans in the event your chief enrollment officer decides to move on.  If the chosen successor is ready to succeed before the sitting chief enrollment officer is ready to leave, he/she can move on and become another college’s chief enrollment officer.  One criterion of an exemplary enrollment program is the enrollment leaders it has groomed and helped to advance in the profession.

Those of you who lose your enrollment manager and lack a suitable internal candidate to promote would be wise to contact Williams & Company to discuss a national search.  That is what we do.

For more information about our executive search services specializing in enrollment management or our enrollment consulting services, please CLICK HERE or contact us at (303) 902-7250 or email 

Executive Search and Enrollment Consulting Services

  • Executive Search Specializing in Enrollment Management - We’ve conducted more than 130 national searches for a variety of top enrollment management positions for 100 different colleges and universities of all sizes, types, and locations. We are especially adept at finding candidates who fit your institution’s needs.

  • Strategic Enrollment Management Program Analysis - Engage us to conduct a comprehensive assessment of the four critical elements of a successful enrollment program – goals, strategies, systems, and structure.

  • Annual Enrollment Planning - If you lack a satisfactory enrollment plan, we can facilitate the development of a comprehensive plan that includes clear enrollment goals and objectives, key strategies, and detailed action plans.

  • Talent Development and Staff Training - Provide your enrollment staff with the training and professional development they need to be effective. We focus on the knowledge, skills, and attitudes necessary for success.

  • Ongoing Enrollment Consulting - A good plan that is not fully and effectively implemented will fail to produce the desired results. Our ongoing monthly consulting service ensures effective plan implementation, monitors progress toward goals, and identifies and resolves problems that might otherwise prevent you from enrolling the class you want.

  • Coaching and Leadership Development - Engage one of our seasoned and highly experienced enrollment professionals to coach and develop your enrollment leader.

  • Strategic Enrollment Planning - If the complexity of your long-term institutional enrollment goals requires significant organizational change and a campuswide commitment to a common vision and transformational strategies, engage our strategic enrollment planning service.

For more information about our executive search and/or enrollment management consulting services,  please CLICK HERE or contact Martha Smiles or Tom Williams.

Tom Williams
(303) 902-7250

Martha Smiles
(802) 497-0151