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    Pathways to Post-Pandemic Enrolment Growth in Higher Education

    Recently, Stefanie Ivan, an enrolment management consultant and Royal Roads associate faculty, and I had an opportunity to facilitate a webinar on “Pathways to Post-Pandemic Enrolment Growth in Higher Education.” This is a follow-up webinar to the one we conducted on post-pandemic higher education enrolment trends (see my earlier blog) in February.

    We asked participants to share their most effective strategic enrolment management (SEM) strategy efforts. We then asked them to describe strategies for enrolling and supporting international, Indigenous, and domestic learners. Lastly, we asked them to say a bit about the learner and student support they provided.

    When asked to provide one word that describes the effectiveness of current SEM strategy efforts, the most frequently mentioned were disconnected, work-in-progress, and growing. Others identified include developing, unsure, hopeful but slow, disjointed, uninformed, innovative, ongoing, challenging, deepening, modest, and uncertain. It appears that the experience with SEM is quite variable with some saying it is stalled while others report it as in progress or growing.

    We then asked about strategies in use to enrol/support specific types of students. Below are some of the comments we heard.

    International Students:

    • Work closely with our key agents and agent relations management; strengthen relational networks
    • Develop a personal connection to the institution and community
    • Targeting markets that connect with Canada’s labour shortage areas
    • Provide incentives that are appealing to international students
    • Optimize admissions processes
    • Utilizing a group effort to recruit international students
    • Develop personal communications
    • Have not returned to accepting international students yet

    Indigenous Students:

    • Focused listening and working with communities to address their concerns and needs; engaging communities through partnerships
    • Developed an Indigenous strategic plan
    • Established an Indigenous scholars’ circle
    • Increasing and deepening supports
    • Going to communities with incentives, application forms, and testing formulas for completion on-site
    • We are not currently recruiting Indigenous students

    Domestic Students:

    • Balancing in-person and online events
    • More first-year transition strategies to help retention and success
    • Target movement in the job market and second-career students
    • Utilize a blended delivery model for full-time and part-time students
    • Work toward understanding what students and employers
    • Reach out to withdrawn student
    • Establish better support services, create more webinars/engagement, partner with community organizations, and follow-up strategies
    • Treat in-country ESL/ELL students as domestic prospects

    Learner and Student Support:

    • Online advising
    • Development of non-academic learning communities
    • Increased/streamlined communications (phone, email, forums, chatbot, extended hours, weekends)
    • 1:1 wellness check-ins
    • Alternative accommodations for learners who need it
    • A strong return to in-person and social and co-curricular activities
    • Entering students into classroom settings right away to determine learning needs

    Here is the Video from the webinar.

    With so much to do to stabilize and grow enrolments during these post-pandemic days, it will be important to be strategic and there is no better way to do this than through adopting and implementing SEM!

    -Clayton Smith

    Canadian Post-secondary Enrolment Trends

    Recently, Stefanie Ivan, an enrolment management consultant and Royal Roads associate faculty, and I had an opportunity to identify enrolment trends facing Canadian higher educational institutions for a series of Royal Roads University webinars. In this blog, I will share what we found.

    Let me describe our methods. First, we reviewed publicly-available data on the web that included provincial data reports as well as those compiled by Higher Education Strategy Associates, Globe and Mail, Statistics Canada, Canadian Undergraduate Survey Consortium, and the Council of Ministers of Education. Second, we collected comments from our social media network and Canadian colleagues. Third, we received input from students currently enrolled in the Royal Roads University Graduate Certificate in Strategic Enrolment Management.

    Here are some of the aggregate enrolment trends we uncovered:

    • College enrolments are continuing to grow, mostly due to continued international student enrolment growth. Some declines were reported in the Maritimes. Also, there is a reduction in demand for trades programming due to low unemployment.
    • University enrolment is mostly stable or recording slight increases/decreases. Some of this is due to part-time student enrolment increases.
    • Students may be shifting away from big urban research universities.
    • A slight increase in inter-provincial mobility was experienced in the Maritimes.
    • Admission conversion rates are becoming less predictable.
    • Completion rates have been impacted in some areas.
    • There is a growing interest in a gap year for direct-entry high school students.

    And here are the student-type enrolment trends we found:

    • Indigenous enrolment and completion rates are lower than rates for non-Indigenous persons. But the Indigenous birthrate is still the fastest among the groups monitored.
    • International student enrolments continue to lead enrolment growth.
    • Attrition rates are still impacted by the pandemic and high school students who did not seem to be prepared for post-secondary studies.
    • The enrolment mix continues to change. Visible minorities, learners with disabilities, and learners with mental health issues are increasing.
    • Students want to be primarily on campus, with some hybrid instruction.
    • Trust building with communities continues to impact some enrolment.

    Here is the Video from the webinar.

    We will be doing a follow-up webinar to explore the enrolment strategies that institutions are using to address these challenges. Feel free to share any strategies your institution is using or hoping to implement in the next year, and we will include them when we present on this topic for our follow-up webinar on Tuesday, March 21st. Here is a link to sign-up if you want to listen in or (hopefully!) participate in our discussion.

    The times are certainly uncertain and changing.

    -Clayton Smith

    Interrogating Race and Racism in Postsecondary Language Classrooms

    Language is power, in the hands of linguistic gatekeepers and the dominant class. From “coloniality of power” (Quijano, 2000) to “coloniality of language” (Veronelli, 2015, p. 113), English has become a “colonial language” (Kachru, 1986, p. 5) and a “language for oppression” (Kachru, 1986, p. 13), replacing the implementation of carrots and sticks in the colonial times in the form of instilling raciolinguistic ideologies of the centre into the periphery. Language is raced and race is languaged (Alim et al., 2016). Racialization, synonymous with racial classification, is a process of “Looking like a Language, Sounding like a Race” (Rosa, 2019). The racialization of language subjugates, subordinates, dehumanizes, and others people of colour.

    Join us as we interrogate race and racism in postsecondary language classrooms in our upcoming IGI-Global book. We will use the perspective of intersectionality between language and race in higher education classrooms, by problematizing raciolinguistic injustice and hierarchy with the monolingual and monocultural norm as a frame a reference, combating racism, linguicism, native speakerism, and neo-racism, as well as calling for changes, emancipation, and pedagogical paradigm shifts so as to teach English for justice and liberation (Huo, 2020). This book will investigate race and racism in postsecondary language classrooms, how race intersects with language, how power impacts and shapes language teaching and learning, and how hegemony and ideology perpetuate linguistic injustice and discrimination against racially minoritized students. It will examine how racism has created institutional, structural, and individual barriers for language learners in higher education, as well as potential strategies to combat racism, linguicism, and neo-racism.

    We ask prospective contributors to submit research-based and data-driven chapters to elicit stories, counter stories, garner racialized experiences and perspectives, and represent resistant voices through multiple research methods, including but not limited to interviewing, observation, discourse analysis, narrative inquiry, ethnography, journaling, focus groups, surveys, and case studies. Here is the Call for Proposals.

    Recommended Topics

    • Race, racialization, and racism
    • Intersectionality between race and language
    • Language and identity
    • Linguicism and linguistic imperialism
    • Monolingualism, native speakerism, and standardization
    • Native-non-native dichotomy
    • Power, hegemony, and hierarch
    • Raciolinguistic ideology
    • Neo-racism (i.e., based on nationalities, ethnicities, and cultures)
    • Accentism
    • Language diversity and linguistic rights
    • Raciolinguistic justice and social justice
    • Discourses and stories in different geographic and language teaching contexts across the globe
    • Narratives and counter-narratives
    • Barriers, challenges, and resistance
    • Lived experiences
    • Multilingualism, plurilngualism, and translanguaging
    • Anti-oppressive and decolonizing language policies
    • Anti-racist and anti-colonial pedagogies and practices
    • Critical pedagogies in global higher education language teaching contexts
    • Ethical internationalization in postsecondary language classrooms

    This book is intended for scholars, researchers, faculty, instructors, and professionals in English language teaching, higher education, language education, applied linguistics, sociolinguistics, educational linguistics, anti-racist education, critical multilingual studies, translingual studies, and those who are interested in the research of race, language, and the area of teaching English cross-culturally and translingually in higher education classrooms, such as faculty and instructors, educational developers who design the inclusive, anti-racist, and anti-colonial curriculum, and administrators and policymakers who oversee academic, especially language programs. The book will also be useful for teacher candidates, non-native English-speaking students, undergraduates, and graduate students in TESOL/ESL, second language acquisition, and higher education programs.

    Important Dates

    • March 31, 2023: Proposal Submission Deadline
    • April 14, 2023: Notification of Acceptance
    • May 14, 2023: Full Chapter Submission
    • June 27, 2023: Review Results Returned
    • August 8, 2023: Final Acceptance Notification
    • August 22, 2023: Final Chapter Submission

    If you would like to discuss a potential book chapter idea, contact us at

    -Xiangying Huo (University of Toronto) and Clayton Smith (University of Windsor)


    Alim, S., Rickford, J. R. & Ball, A. F. (Eds.) (2016). Raciolinguistics: How Language Shapes Our Ideas about Race. New York, NY: Oxford University Press.
    Huo, X. Y. (2020). Higher education internationalization and English language instruction: Intersectionality of race and language in Canadian universities. Springer. doi:10.1007/978-3-030-60599-5
    Kachru, B. B. (1986). The alchemy of English: The spread, functions and models of non-native Englishes. Pergamon.
    Quijano, A. (2000). The coloniality of power and social classification. Journal of World-Systems Research 6(2), 342-386.
    Rosa, J. (2019). Looking like a language, sounding like a race: Raciolinguistic ideologies and the learning of Latinidad. Oxford University Press.
    Veronelli, G. A. (2015). Five: The coloniality of language: Race, expressivity, power, and the darker side of modernity. Wagadu: a Journal of Transnational Women’s and Gender Studies, 13, p. 108-134.

    Professor SEM

    My higher education career has been all about Strategic Enrolment Management or SEM. From the beginning to now (and more to come!), I have learned about SEM, implemented SEM, and taught others about SEM. So, from being a practitioner, practitioner-scholar, and now a scholar, SEM has been at the centre of my professional life. Normally, I would not write about such things, but I couldn’t resist. It is my own way of starting off 2023 with a smile and a sense of pride.

    Professor SEM

    Following a six-year run as director of the American Association of Collegiate Registrars and Admissions Officers (AACRAO) SEM Conference, Melanie Gottleib, AACRAO’s executive director, provided me with a special gift during our Toronto conference. It is a hooded sweatshirt with just three words imprinted on it, “AACRAO Professor SEM.” It fit 2022 perfectly with my promotion to professor last summer, being named editor-in-chief of Strategic Enrollment Management Quarterly, and the publication of the AACRAO book, “The Effectiveness of SEM in Canada: Reflections from the Field,” with long-time writing colleague Susan Gottheil. I will cherish it always!

    Before rambling on, let me thank the many colleagues at AACRAO and my home institutions (the University of Maine at Augusta, Tallahassee Community College, State University of New York College of Agriculture and Technology at Cobleskill, and the University of Windsor) who provided me with so much support over the years. Let me also thank the folks at Royal Roads University who allowed me to bring forward an idea we have been talking about in Canada for a long time; namely, the new Graduate Certificate in SEM (a shameless plug!).

    Some of you may be wondering what this SEM thing is all about. Well, let me share a few thoughts.

    While there are many definitions of SEM, the one penned by Hossler and Bean (1990, 5) is commonly embraced by the SEM community:

    [Enrolment] management can be defined as an organizational concept and a set of systematic activities designed to enable educational institutions to exert more influence over their student [enrolments]. Organized by institutional research, [enrolment] management activities concern student college choice, transition to college, student attrition and retention, and student outcomes.

    Doing the opening at the AACRAO 2022 SEM Conference in Toronto

    Subsequent writers have incorporated these words into their SEM definition: concepts and processes, institutional mission, and students’ educational goals (Bontrager, 2004); comprehensive process and academic contest (Dolence, 1993); comprehensive and coordinated process, and integration (Kerlin, 2008). The fundamental premise of SEM is that we must look at our enrolment health and sustainability throughout the entire student experience. Today, SEM has evolved to being a strategic component of institutional planning, resulting in:

    • Instructional programs and services designed with intentionality, purpose, integration of effort, service efficiency, and positive interventions with students
    • Integrated cross-campus collaborations and partnerships between faculty, administrators, and staff
    • Use of assessment information-driven decision making
    • Understanding how campus cultures impact enrolment management efforts
    • Importance of shared leadership at multiple levels

    Let’s simplify. The Cheshire cat in Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland says, “If you don’t know where you are going, any road will take you there.” Yogi Berra, of New York Yankees fame, adds “If you don’t know where you are going, you might wind up someplace else.” And today, we have got some great places to go!

    The SEM coach with his AACRAO SEM 2022 College of New Caledonia colleagues

    With my glass is half full approach, I can see some magical destinations. The first one is all about social justice. When we started doing SEM in the late 1970s, higher education was still a place where only some could go. Today, the door is open for many more, but not all. We need to put our collective heads together to ensure that our doors, both at the front end and at completion, are open to all who wish to continue their education. This includes Indigenous and racialized students, low-income and rural students, first-generation learners, and so many more. Second, we need to find ways to mature SEM into what many of us hoped it would become; namely, a managerial and educational framework. We are pretty much there with the former but have more distance to go to achieve the latter. SEM could be and should be a contributor to both of these goals.

    Let me end with a passage from “The Effectiveness of SEM in Canada: Reflections from the Field” (2022, 53) that captures a possible future direction that the SEM community can traverse in the years ahead.

    As the changing economy, politics, and student demographics have hit our institutions, it is ironic that we have been reluctant to explore difficult decisions and be truly strategic. Over the past few years, we have seen institutions of all types respond to these shifting pressures in similar ways–looking to international markets to replace domestic students, trying to rebrand and evolved into a different type of institution (changing from two-year to a four-year college, or an undergraduate into a graduate research institution), focusing on student retention. Can we use the SEM toolbox in new and innovative ways? We hope that the insights provided by SEM professionals across Canada will help higher education colleagues in institutions coast-to-coast build strategic plans that support students and institutions.

    -Clayton Smith


    Bontrager , B. ( 2008 ). A definition and context for current SEM practice. In B. Bontrager (Ed.), SEM and institutional success: Integrating enrollment, finance, and student access. Association of Collegiate Registrars and Admissions Officers.

    Dolence, M. G. (1993). Strategic enrollment management: A primer for campus administrators. American Association of Collegiate Registrars and Admissions Officers and Datatel.

    Hossler, D., & Bean, J. P. (1990). The strategic management of college enrollments. Jossey-Bass.

    Kerlin, C. (2008). Community college roadmap for the enrollment management journey. College and University, 83(4), 11.

    University Degree v. University Education

    In this blog, I share thoughts written by Shaun Smith, a recent University of Windsor graduate, on the differences between a university degree and a university education. It is inciteful and will likely result in some important reflections being made on the university student experience.

    -Clayton Smith

    Six years ago I sat in a large classroom surrounded by other recently-graduated high school students entering my program and listened to one presenter after another speak a variation of the same thing, “I wish I’d gotten involved sooner.” These presenters themselves were older students, about to leave university and go on either into the workforce or further education, and at the time, I couldn’t fully comprehend what exactly it was that they were attempting to say. One completed undergraduate degree later, when I was working with incoming high school students myself, I found myself telling them the same thing I had been told when I was in their position.

    What these presenters by and large were saying as a collective was that they felt as though they had missed out on certain aspects of university life early in their time on campus. That their hesitation to reach back when the opportunities reached out had cost them in various personal, academic, and professional ways. It was only later, in their third or fourth years, did they fully take advantage of these opportunities. 

    Despite the advice of the presenters, my time in university began to play out in a very similar way. I was a commuter student, whose first-year mandatory classes were organized by my faculty to be in convenient windows of time (e.g. 8:30 AM-1 PM), which meant that outside of these windows, I perceived there to be little reason why I should remain on campus. Certainly, my fellow students also felt this way, as our faculty building was virtually deserted after 3 PM every day, when the final class had ended. As a true commuter student, I went to campus for class, and left as soon as I could. That pretty accurately describes the first two years of my undergraduate, I even studied at home, or with one or two of my classmates off-campus.

    Said differently, I was in the process of earning a university degree. My grades were good, and I had worked hard enough in my second year that my name showed up on the Dean’s List for the first time. By any academic measure, I was well on track to graduation.

    In third-year, however, something changed. Although I had a reasonably positive and fulfilling social life (primarily off-campus), the decision was made to make more of an effort on campus as well. I had always played intramural sports, but now I found myself hanging out with the people I knew there outside of the gym or soccer pitch, which opened up an entire community to me (who wound up becoming an incredible source of social support for me during the COVID-19 pandemic). I had always done due diligence in my classes, but when a professor asked if any of us were interested in competing in a case competition at another university, this time I thought, “why not?” instead of “that’s not for me.” Instead of leaving campus when my classes were completed, I began to actively look for things to do, which resulted in me doing everything from judging academic debates to participating in mental health initiatives for faculties that were not even my own. I went to buildings on campus I never had before through electives that I found genuinely fascinating, and unlike my first two years, actually made an effort to be a part of those groups instead of dipping upon the conclusion of the class. This, for the first time, actually opened up the entire university to me as opposed to just my own department.

    I could go on, but for the sake of brevity, will instead summarize by saying that this was every day. My university experience went from a primarily class-based academically grounded experience to a socially diverse and entirely unpredictable day-to-day experience with people I perhaps had just met that morning, doing activities that the previous version of myself could not have possibly seen himself participating in.

    Perhaps this sounds stressful. Perhaps it seems as though my academics would suffer, that this spontaneity where I departed my home every morning having no idea how the day would play out could only create harm towards the goal that every student has when they first come to university: the degree.

    The complete opposite was true.    

    Shaun Smith at the University of Maastricht, Netherlands

    I became significantly happier. My grades skyrocketed. I went from being an above-average student to one of the best in my faculty. I made friends from every corner of campus, and because of the international nature of the university, every corner of the world. My professors not only learned my name, but began offering research opportunities and academic-related guidance that had always been there, but I hadn’t previously had the gumption to take advantage of. For the first time, I realized what those senior students had been trying to convey – that there is a significant difference between a university degree and a university education.

    A university degree is something we all know. It’s a piece of paper that signifies that an individual has undergone an accepted curriculum and passed. But that’s all it is.

    University education is something else entirely. Yes, it is everything that happens inside of the classroom, but more importantly, it’s everything that happens outside said classroom.

    When I graduated from university, I had a collection of skills that I had learned there, but the vast majority of them I obtained from the education, not from the degree. The university degree taught me important skills: work ethic, consistency, specialized knowledge, and showing up. The university education taught me everything else.

    When I took part in the “real world” this collection of skills proved invaluable. Interpersonal dynamics in particular have played a strong role, and the social environment of a diverse campus is the perfect place to cultivate such a skill. Of course, there are skills beyond that that has drastically improved everything from my overall adaptability in both professional and personal situations. Everything from my public speaking to my comfortability with challenging my own worldview has its root in my university education.

    If this is still somewhat unclear, refer to the age-old conflict between intelligence and wisdom. If intelligence is the presence of knowledge, and wisdom is the ability to apply it, the university degree is the presence of knowledge in an individual, and the university education is the skills from which one can apply that knowledge most effectively.

    Even as a student I became aware of all this. The question following my third year was how to maximize this education while I still was in the opportunity-laden university environment. For me, it resulted in my going on a student exchange to Belgium (something that I in my first-year would have been both impressed and terrified by) for my final undergraduate year. To say that it was stepping outside of my comfort zone is the understatement of the century, but it certainly maximized the university education aspect, and I look back on years three and four as the best of my life…so far.

    Fast-forwarding to the current day, as I apply for positions and look to start what I hope is a long and successful professional career, I am often relying on my university education, and my prospective employers are too. No HR or management person has cared one bit what my GPA was, in fact, I’ve never been asked. However, they care very strongly about one’s ability to solve their problems, and very rarely is that solution specialized knowledge. It is instead one’s ability to problem solve complex and ever-evolving challenges and to be able to do so as part of some type of team.

    My university degree prepared me only in part for that. My university education absolutely finished the job.

    -Shaun Smith

    Teaching Through the Screen

    Earlier this week, during the virtual Fierce Education conference titled, Higher Education: Helping Faculty Navigate top Challenges in this New Blending Learning Environment, I had the opportunity to take in a talk presented by Sean Michael Morris, vice-president, academics at Course Hero. In his presentation, “Teaching through the Screen: Engaging Imagination to Engage Students,” Sean spoke about critical pedagogy as a humanizing pedagogy; that our focus should be on “seeking the human behind the screen, the human behind the bureaucracies of education, the human behind behaviorist technologies.” So, put another way, we should not teach to the screen (after all it is just a digital tool!), but look through it to those behind the screen who we are teaching. Only by changing our perception of online learning will we be truly able to engage our students. Wow, what a revelation!

    Sean introduced us to Maxine Green who wrote in 2000 that “Our obligation today is to find ways of enabling the young to find their voices, to open their spaces, to reclaim their histories in all their variety and discontinuity” (Releasing the Imagination, 120). Imagination, as a “practice of freedom,” can inspire us to change the way we reach our learners. With the COVID-19 experience and our two-year pivot to online learning, this is more needed today than ever.

    He then reminded us of what Jesse Stommel said about starting by trusting our students and emphasized that students are producers of knowledge, not just consumers of knowledge. Remembering that the more we know, the less we imagine, can be a powerful learning concept. Engaging students in a learning partnership is empowering for both learners and instructors. In a 2014 interview, Stommel commented:

    Learning is always a risk. It means, quite literally, opening ourselves to new ideas, new ways of thinking. It means challenging to engage the world differently. It means taking a leap, which is always done better from a sturdy foundation. This foundation depends on trust – trust that the ground will not give way beneath us, trust for teachers, and trust for our fellow learners in a learning community.

    -Jesse Stommel

    So, what if we trusted our students as co-learners and used our imagination to see through the screen?

    While this may have been true pre-pandemic, it is even more true now. The days of students coming to us to attend in-person classes in university lecture halls have probably changed. An increasing number of students will probably be seeking online courses, be they synchronous, asynchronous, or blended. They will be the new traditional learners in post-secondary or tertiary learning. We will need to trust them and encourage their learning by “seeking the human behind the screen.”

    I am ready!

    -Clayton Smith

    The Changing Roles of Higher Education

    After nearly two years of teaching exclusively online, I began teaching in person today. A little nervous but pumped regarding the prospect of seeing students in person again.

    This led me to think about what kind of experience students will want in this near-to-the-end pandemic world we are entering. It was then that I came across an article, written by Dana Abdrasheva, Diana Morales, and Emma Sabazlieva, in University World News, an online newsletter, that led off with the title, How Do Students Want Universities to Change in Future?

    Dr. Smith speaking to the Ireland International Conference on Education
    Dr. Smith speaking to the Ireland International Conference on Education on the student perspectives on promising practices for teaching culturally and linguistically diverse international students

    This article presented a summary of a UNESCO report, Thinking Higher and Beyond: Perspectives on the Futures of Higher Education to 2050, which presented the views of students from around the world who participated in one of 55 focus group consultations conducted in 2020-21 as part of UNESCO’s Futures of Higher Education project. Some of the themes identified include:

    • Campus experience will be transformed: Campus experiences will be complemented (but not replaced) by integrating technology into teaching and learning.
    • A shift from mobility to engagement: Recognized that “mobility will turn into connectivity” and that travelling to other countries might not be necessary to acquire an international educational degree.
    • Co-creation of learning environments: “New forms of knowledge construction, based on cooperative and collaborative relationships between teachers-students and students-students” will result in more co-creation of learning.
    • Higher education and the labour market: Links between higher education and the job market are of prime importance, with many calling for more “market-ready” preparation.
    • Global processes linked to local communities: Connectivity is seen as the big takeawaywith calls for increased connections between global and local communities.

    The big question is whether we, in higher education, are ready to attend to students’ views on the changing roles of higher education.

    Throughout the pandemic, I can recall conversations with students who lamented about the loss of in-person instruction, while others asked for their courses to remain online. This led me to conclude that it is not one way or another, but looking at what is needed and then delivering the student experience as close to that vision as possible. This does not mean we will return fully in person, but neither does it mean we will stay fully online. We need to do what is best for our students, and in doing that, we will find a higher education experience where the campus experience is transformed, our focus is placed on engagement, we engage with our students as partners in learning, and connect our work with the labour market and global communities.

    These are fascinating times!

    -Clayton Smith

    Beyond COVID: A SEM Perspective

    There has been so much discussion about “getting back to normal” or creating “the new normal” during these pandemic times. What we know is that, with past pandemics, we have seen the upending of critical structures, such as health systems, economic life, socioeconomic class structures, and race relations. (De Witte, 2020). The impacts have included the way our institutions and communities operate, as well as how family members interact with one another. Today, I find myself wondering what the impact will be on post-secondary education and how it will adjust to whatever normal that may emerge following the COVID-19 experience.

    A short time ago, I had the pleasure to convene a webinar panel discussion, Coming Out of COVID, in which four enrollment leaders from the U.S. and Canada shared their views on how post-secondary institutions will approach life after the pandemic. A common thought was the need to develop a sense of urgency on campus so that the pinnacles of SEM can be maintained (institutional wellness, operational efficiency, and student success). Some of what they said also touched on these topics:

    • Communications, communications, and more communications
    • Flexibility
    • Finding the right balance between online and in-person student experiences
    • Supporting the staff who serve at the student touch points
    • Variable impact on different student populations, and that one process may not work for everyone
    • Affordability, with many students left with financial challenges due to the pandemic

    At the recent American Association of Collegiate Registrars and Admissions Officers Strategic Enrollment Management Conference (the first in-person conference I have attended in two years!), we heard from our keynote speakers on this topic. Here are a few highlights:

    Dr. Gregory Fowler
    Jeff Selingo
    Panel of Higher Education leaders
    Higher Education Panel
    Ginger Johnson
    • Dr. Gregory Fowler, president of University of Maryland Global Campus, called on us to “improve end-to-end the student experience.” He challenged us to cultivate human skills, recognize that learning is everywhere, and educational institutions need to support the learning that people need across their lifetime.
    • Jeff Selingo, author of two New York Times bestsellers , College (Un)Bound and There is Life After College, and the new book Who Gets in and Why: A Year Inside College Admissions (which he signed a copy for me!), described the student experience as about learning “how to negotiate relationships.”
    • A higher education panel (Dr. Monica Parrish Trent, Achieving the Dream; Dr. Dhanfu Elson, Commplete College America; Dr. Kevin Pollock, Central Carolina Technical College; and Laura Clark, Virginia Community Colleges) spoke about the importance of supporting learning and student success across all student demographics, with a particular focus on those who start their post-secondary learning in community colleges.
    • Ginger Johnson spoke about “At the Table of SEM,” we need to move from networking to connecting; that by connecting with each other, we can truly transform our learning organizations. Specifically, she called on us to 1) seek alignment as a way to transform our institutions and not just change them, 2) keep things simple by being productive while being “seen, valued, and heard,” and 3) support belonging by “always having time to connect” with one another. Ginger graciously left us with signed copies of her book, Connectivity Canon: Why and How to Connect with People on Purpose with a Service Mindset.

    Pulling all of this together and reflecting on what our new normal will become, I find myself being optimistic regarding all the things we can do in higher education. It also makes me return to my teaching philosophy, Teaching for Learning, in which I describe education from the learner’s perspective; that our task is to create “educational environments that enhance learning and by engaging students individually in ways that inspire them.” This can best be done when we attend to the SEM trilogy of student success, institutional wellness, and operational efficiency while taking into account our takeaways from the pandemic.

    I can hardly wait to see what we come up with!

    -Clayton Smith

    De Witte, M. (2020). Past pandemics redistributed income between the rich and poor, according to Stanford historian. Stanford News.

    Moving Toward the Re-imagined University

    Higher education may have been forever changed by the COVID-19 pandemic.

     A Pearson Global Learner Survey (2020) found that of three, out of every four, global learners believe that “education will fundamentally change as a result of the pandemic” (p. 5) and colleges and universities will fundamentally change. Most think that online learning will be part of the university student experience post-pandemic. And, interestingly, trust in education is rising as education systems receive higher marks than ever for quality, despite all the disruption resulting from the pandemic.

    One educational consultant, Marguerite Dennis (2021), commented recently that the pandemic experience has highlighted a number of issues of concern. Some of these include rigid enrolment procedures, poor retention rates, lack of alignment between academic credentials and employable skills, mental health needs of students, space utilization, and relationships with students before and after graduation. Dennis believes it is time for higher education to create the “reimagined university.” Reimagined universities would be led by chief executives who have both the vision and ability to champion new ways of leading their institutions and can lead their institutions to embrace life-long learning.

    The University of Windsor has begun to embrace this challenge. Dr. Robert Gordon, president and vice-chancellor at the University of Windsor recently commented,

    It’s going to be a different world when we go back to some of the ‘new normal.’ There are going to be different and heightened expectations of how people interact with one another, but I think its going to be appropriate for us to make sure that we’ve learned from this and that we can adopt new approaches to how we support our institution through those lessons learned.

    Mighton, 2021, p, 23

    One pathway to consider comes from the world of strategic enrolment management (SEM), which has helped institutions face the challenges that have come our way previously. We have seen natural disasters, economic recessions, and changing demographics. By applying SEM principles, we have successfully led our post-secondary institutions toward enrolment health and student success.

    The core SEM purposes include:

    • Creating a data-rich environment to inform decisions and evaluate strategies that support strategic dexterity and identification of scenarios;
    • Establishing clear goals for the number and types of students needed to fulfill the institutional mission and building options and scenarios;
    • Promoting students’ academic success by improving access, transition, persistence, and graduation;
    • Promoting student and institutional success by assuring effective academic program planning and assessing options to match need and demand;
    • Improving process, organizational and financial efficiency and outcomes; and
    • Increasing communication and collaboration among departments across the campus to support healthy enrolment and a healthy institution.

    Smith and Kerlin (2020) suggest pursuing these purposes by using six SEM tools to manage our way through these changeful times. They include systems thinking, link-integrate-extend, strategic dexterity, building scenarios, collaboration, and change management.

    The key to unleashing SEM to help our institutions confront the significant challenges that lie before us is to engage in collaborative dialogue across the campus to ensure that each of us can find effective ways to support the development of our re-imagined universities.

    -Clayton Smith


    Dennis, M. (2021). Imagination and innovation in higher education, bulletin 46. Naples, FL: MJDennis Consultants.

    Mighton, D. (2021). The life of a wartime president: Robert Gordon discusses the effects of the pandemic on University of Windsor students. The Drive, 34, 22-23.

    Pearson (2020). The global learner survey. London: Pearson.

    Smith, C. & Kerlin, C. (2020). SEM Institute. Presented at the 2020 virtual AACRAO Strategic Enrollment Management Conference. Washington, DC: American Association of Collegiate Registrars and Admissions Officers.

    Taking Time to Ponder

    Harvard psychology professor Ellen Langer said something on this week’s Sunday Morning news show that caught my attention and put me on a reflective path.

    Langer said that human beings are unique in their ability to think about the future, which leads us to be thinkers about our unique and collective futures (Weisfogel & Ross, 2020).  While recognizing that plans create an illusion of control and that plans are guesses, these uncertain times call for us to contemplate and hope about what is to come.  Langer goes on to say, “But what we need to recognize is that if something leads us in a different direction, that could end up even better for us.”  So, in other words, by taking time to ponder, we each may be able to find a pathway toward a different but perhaps more enjoyable destination.

    I thought about this all day.

    Dr. Smith listening to Research in Education graduate students
    Dr. Smith listening to Research in Education graduate students describe their research proposal posters

    Since returning to teaching four years ago, I have focused my research in three areas.  First, I have continued my career-long work in critically assessing the impact of Strategic Enrolment Management on the twin goals of achieving institutional health and student success.  Second, I renewed my interest in the international student experience by exploring student perspectives on the way we teach in our colleges and universities and how we can improve our teaching of culturally and linguistically diverse international students.  Third, after coauthoring two open educational resource (OER) textbooks and making increasing use of OERs in my teaching, I am beginning to focus on how we can achieve deep and interdisciplinary learning by enhancing our use of OERs.

    While each of these research threads are different, it occurred to me that there is common ground between them; namely, the amplification of the student voice.  If ever there was a time to pay more attention to student views, it is now.  The COVID-19 Pandemic has left so many of us questioning the future.  This includes students, faculty and staff, and those who lead our postsecondary educational institutions.

    Psychiatrist Pavan Madan, who was also interviewed on Sunday Morning, spoke about the anxiety that is impacting us all.  Dr. Madan suggests that “we put our big dreams aside for now and focus on the small, more manageable details of daily life” (Weisfogel & Ross, 2020).

    So, in this public space, let me say that during the balance of the time we have in the Pandemic and for the time to follow, I will commit to amplifying the student voice in all I do. 

    If this interests you, consider joining me (  I am thinking that both the journey and the destination will be quite enjoyable.

    Clayton Smith

    Weisfogel, A. & Ross, C. (27 December 2020).  Going to Plan B: When COVID pulls the rug out from under you.  Sunday Morning.  New York: CBS.