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Should Your Vice President of Enrollment Be a Decision Architect?

At Blue Rock Search, we think the answer is “Yes,” and we’re happy to share why. A recent Fast Company article suggests a new sales-focused use for a term that has existed since the book Nudge was published in 2008. That term is ‘decision architect.’


Today, many customers gain product information and reviews from peer-to-peer sources rather than salespeople; thus, applying the term decision architect to selling reflects the evolution of the sales role. Instead of focusing on presenting benefits, today’s successful sales professionals are experts in structuring paths to navigate complex decisions while helping people align choices with their lives and overall goals.


In many ways, this will sound familiar to anyone in enrollment. Today’s higher education landscape mirrors other sales environments in key ways. Students aren’t just getting their impressions of colleges and universities from direct communications from the institution but also from social media, peers, online reviews, and other sources. Consequently, the role of the vice president of enrollment must evolve in parallel. Instead of using traditional communication, mainly transmitting information, it may be time for these leaders to adopt a ‘decision architect’ mindset, focused on the two-way process of helping students understand the complexities of college decision-making and guiding them to make the right decision.


Decision Architects in the Enrollment Management Landscape

Higher education is experiencing rapid changes, marked by declining enrollment, waning budgets, evolving student demographics, shifting priorities, and heightened competition. Enrollment leaders are crucial in navigating these challenges. To effectively address these issues, leaders must evaluate their current strategies and adopt a more innovative approach to position themselves at the forefront of these significant demands.


Decision architecture can help. It’s about providing customers—or, in higher education, prospective students and their families—with expert knowledge to help them make the best decision for them. Many students and families don’t know where to begin or what questions to ask when determining where to apply or enroll, particularly those in demographics without decision-making resources, such as first-generation or low-income students.


In this framework, VPs of enrollment and the enrollment team they oversee serve as conduits for discovery. They consider what is communicated to students and families differently beyond the scope of marketing messages. True decision architects are masters at educating families and students about the process and creating the space for prospects to truly understand the criteria at play. They share opportunities and create dialog space that looks very different from an interview or campus tour. When these elements are curated effectively, the decision process can more easily be swayed in one’s favor. This model can help students ask the right questions, apply behavioral insights to influence their choices, help them cut through the chatter to better understand their priorities, and align them with their goals. Most enrollment leaders use predictive analytics to help identify those students most likely to engage and enroll. These same analytics can help students map individual decision paths most likely to lead to success. This kind of strategic planning isn’t just beneficial to students but also institutions and their long-term success. A data-driven, thoughtful, and personalized approach is more likely to succeed in enrolling students, even with a shrinking pool of prospects, and retain them to graduation.


Finding a Decision Architect for VP of Enrollment

What does recruiting a VP of enrollment who is prepared to take a decision architect approach look like? This mindset is typically connected with certain qualifications, including but not limited to analytical skills, adept technological understanding, creativity, flexibility, effective communication skills, high autonomy, and a deep understanding of the nuances of futuristic thinking. Interviews with candidates should include behavioral questions, scenario-based or problem-solving questions, and case studies to help hiring committees evaluate these qualities. Assessments that garner aptitudes in these areas speak for themselves beyond the traditional interview.


Working with a skilled executive recruitment firm like Blue Rock Search delivers more avenues to find your forward-thinking, decision-architecture-capable VP of enrollment. Experienced recruiters leverage their networks and industry insights to identify prospective candidates with the requisite skills, interests, and mindsets—even passive candidates who aren’t actively seeking a new role but would be interested if the right one came along. Your recruiting partner can also help engage all the relevant stakeholders in the process, ensuring your final hire is someone who aligns with the institution’s overall culture and goals.


In today’s challenging higher education landscape, it’s more important than ever for presidents and boards of trustees to rethink the modern enrollment leader’s profile—one ready and willing to take a different approach to meet budget goals and protect the institution’s sustainability. A decision architect mindset, focused on helping people make the best decisions rather than just presenting straightforward information, can be a significant advantage for a vice president of enrollment management. Let the Blue Rock team know if you’re considering prioritizing a decision architecture approach in your next strategic enrollment management search. Our higher education practice is committed to empowering you to identify and secure the ideal leader, one who is capable of steering enrollment success through any challenge.


By Jacquelyn D. Elliott, Ed.D.


About the Author

Dr. Elliott is a Higher Education subject matter expert across multiple functions, including Strategic Enrollment Management, Financial Aid, Institutional Advancement, Student Life and Retention, and Academic Affairs. Dr. Elliott brings to the table a unique understanding of an institution’s need for specialized talent and the candidate’s desire to affect positive change. She has worked with more than 200 schools across the globe in a consulting capacity and has coached countless cabinet-level executives on strategy, job placement, meeting enrollment, net tuition, fundraising goals, and faculty development and training.

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