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Physicist, Startup Founder, Blogger, Dad

Thursday, June 30, 2011

The new gatekeepers

The Chronicle has a nice article on what it takes to run admissions at a selective college. The requirements of communication skills (e.g., to address concerns of multiple stake holders) and ability to develop "data-informed strategies" apply to almost all high level leadership positions these days, whether in finance, business or academia. Perhaps we'll eventually see a squeezing out of High V, Low M types as leaders. (Fat chance!)

I suspect these numerate admissions deans know many things that can't be discussed in public ;-)

For how SAT scores predict college performance, see here and here.

For a description of Harvard's "holistic admissions" policies (adopted in the 1950s), which have become a model for other elite schools, see here. Then dean of admissions Wilbur Bender may not have been very quantitative, but he had excellent intuition about How the World Works. (See also here.)

'Numerical and Verbal'

A profession that once relied on anecdotes and descriptive data now runs on complex statistical analyses and market research. Knowing how to decipher enrollment outcomes is a given; knowing how to forecast the future is a must. Which students are most likely to apply, submit deposits, and matriculate? At what cost to the college? How likely will they be to graduate? Such questions echo in the modern enrollment office, which is often supported by one or more institutional researchers, as well as consulting firms that sell recruitment strategies in various flavors.

Search the job listings for top-level admissions and enrollment openings, and you will find that many colleges seek a "data-driven" leader, someone who will develop "data-informed" strategies. This past winter, for instance, Pomona College, in California, began a national search to replace Bruce J. Poch, who had stepped down after 23 years as vice president and dean of admissions. Among the qualifications listed in the job advertisement: "an ability to analyze and use data to guide decision-making and measure results."

David W. Oxtoby, Pomona's president, led the college's search committee. The modern admissions dean, he says, must have a "technical, quantitative facility," the ability to delve into the relationship between a student's SAT score and her subsequent performance in college, or why some kinds of students are more likely to enroll than others. Moreover, Pomona had decided to merge its admissions and financial-aid offices (a change many colleges have made already). So the new dean would need to speak the language of costs.

That's not to say anyone wanted to hire an accountant. Numbers, Mr. Oxtoby says, have not diminished the importance of communication skills. Pomona's search committee sought someone who could articulate the value of a liberal-arts education, and relate to faculty members. The "ideal" candidate, the job listing said, would also know how to talk to the news media; today's admissions leaders are also public-relations specialists with loud microphones.

"The job is numerical and verbal," Mr. Oxtoby says. "It's still all about relationships. You still need a sense of that person on the other end of the admissions process. If you lose that, you just become another technocrat, and you've lost the reason why you're doing this job."

Pomona interviewed a dozen candidates before hiring Seth Allen, dean of admission and financial aid at Grinnell College, in Iowa. Soon to occupy one of the premier jobs in admissions, Mr. Allen, 43, represents the next generation of enrollment chiefs. They've ascended during an era of high competition, learning how to market their colleges and massage the metrics that define success in admissions.

Although idealism may inform their work, they are clear-eyed realists. They are not introverts, for they must collaborate constantly with faculty members and other campus offices. They are diplomats who must manage competing desires: those of administrators who want to enroll more first-generation and low-income applicants, professors who want more students with high SAT scores, trustees who want to lower the tuition-discount rate. "Twenty years ago," Mr. Allen says, "there were not as many wants."

Drawn to statistics at an early age, Mr. Allen earned a bachelor's degree in economics at the Johns Hopkins University in 1990. He first worked as an admissions counselor for his alma mater, a cutting-edge laboratory in the then-burgeoning science of enrollment management. Mr. Allen learned how predictive modeling could project net tuition revenue, how many biology majors would enroll, and a hundred other outcomes.

6 comments:

MtMoru said...

"...but he had excellent intuition about How the World Works"
 
Since when is "the world" the US?
 
The decisions of such people determine how "the world" works.

How "the world" works is not how the world works.

MtMoru said...

"...but he had excellent intuition about How the World Works"
 
Since when is "the world" the US?
 
The decisions of such people determine how "the world" works.

How "the world" works is not how the world works.

MtMoru said...

"...but he had excellent intuition about How the World Works"
 
Since when is "the world" the US?
 
The decisions of such people determine how "the world" works.

essle web said...

What an excellent post you have posted .I liked it .Tahnks

Steve said...

I met this Bruce Poch (who is mentioned in the article) a couple of years ago, and he was very different from all the nice young ladies and nice young gay guys you normally meet from Admissions. He was clearly The Brains Behind the Operation. 

I also once spoke on the phone to Poch's boss, David Oxtoby, now the president of Pomona college. Around 1990 in Chicago, I lived in a six-flat that had "The Oxtoby, 1923" carved over the front door. One day I started wondering who or what an Oxtoby was. So, I looked in the Chicago phone book (remember phone books) and there was only one Oxtoby: David Oxtoby, Hyde Park. So, I called the number and a man with superb diction, like a college president's speaking voice, answered. I asked him if his family had built The Oxtoby. He said no, but he kindly gave me a full etymology of the name Oxtoby (it means oxen-go-by, kind of like "Oxford" is where the oxen forded the river). 

I wasn't surprised to read in the newspaper years later that the man with distinguished diction had been appointed president of a very good liberal arts college.

Marco Lalo said...

dfdf

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