Book Review: Higher Education on the Brink: Reimaging Strategic Enrollment Management in Colleges and Universities

This article is part of NASFAA's occasional book review series, where members share their reflections on books, published within the past five years, on higher education themes of interest to financial aid professionals. The opinions offered and statements made do not imply endorsement by NASFAA or the authors' employers and do not guarantee the accuracy of information presented. Would you like to suggest a book for a future review? Email us at [email protected] with your recommendation.

Tammy SaulReviewed by Tammy Saul, Senior Administrative Assistant for Student Success, Alamance Community College.

As institutions of higher education face continual change, it is imperative to have processes in place to adapt to that change. "Higher Education on the Brink: Reimagining Enrollment Management in Colleges and Universities," by Alicia B. Harvey-Smith, presents a method for taking on the ever-shifting needs and demands colleges and universities face. The book centers on her Three-Stage-Ten-Step Change Model, a business model used to achieve positive changes at Pittsburgh Technical College, where Harvey-Smith is president. The book describes this model in an easy-to-follow, detailed, and organized way that leaders at other institutions can use to achieve success as well.

Harvey-Smith opens the book by explaining why it is essential to have a strategic enrollment management (SEM) plan in place. She describes recent challenges in higher education such as financial difficulties and enrollment declines. She then explains how institutions can use her model to overcome these and other challenges and demonstrates how Pittsburgh Technical College rose above the challenges it faced using this model. I found it beneficial to see not only how the process should work, but also evidence that it actually does work.

SEM planning is a key theme throughout "Higher Education on the Brink." Each institution needs to establish a course of action to deal with the changes that inevitably arise. Since enrollment plays a vital role in funding for higher education institutions, the ability to anticipate and control enrollment numbers is crucial. By creating a SEM plan, institutions can handle challenges before enrollment crises arise. Having multiple back-up funding plans in place is also key to keeping courses current and operational during periods of uncertainty. The author offers ideas such as developing partnerships within the community to help meet financial needs.

The book lays the foundation of creating SEM plans focused on students and their success that include buy-in for staff, faculty, and the community. Retention and completion rates increase by placing the institution’s time and attention on clearing the roadblocks students face while working on their education. In Chapter 2, Harvey-Smith discusses various strategies for supporting students during their educational experience. This section especially interested me as it talks about expanding counseling services, creating clear and defined strategies through advising, and enhancing online experiences. Each of these topics is important to student success. Harvey-Smith strongly recommends higher education leaders “use the student as [a] compass” and gather data to drive decision-making.

This method challenges leadership to utilize the entire team of staff and faculty to brainstorm and create ideas so each person feels committed and valued. Collaboration and buy-in are important to the success of growing through change, and Harvey-Smith describes different approaches to being successful with both. The book’s examples, taken from specific institutions such as Lone Star College in Houston and Metropolitan State University of Denver, demonstrate real-world experiences that worked. By reading through the book’s clear examples and helpful diagrams, readers can choose which approaches would work best for their institution.

Being a part of a community college that recently revised its SEM plan ignited my interest in reading about Harvey-Smith’s model. Having worked in financial aid, admissions, and student success, as well as being a part of the Quality Enhancement Plan committee at Alamance Community College, I have seen first-hand how the need for colleges to adapt to recent challenges — from COVID-19 to technology changes, cultural shifts, and new generational needs — has changed the way higher education institutions now operate. Using a collaborative approach to address change and continue to grow has been imperative in our SEM efforts, and this book offers a thorough explanation of how to develop and implement such an approach.

Overall, the book focuses on involving, empowering, and showing appreciation to staff and faculty to increase buy-in, which is vital to the success of any postsecondary endeavor. It also emphasizes how retaining and graduating individuals who are ready for the workforce benefits the students, the institution, and the community. Harvey-Smith explains that it is possible to achieve both, allowing the institution to meet and confront critical challenges.

I would recommend "Higher Education on the Brink" to anyone in a higher education leadership role. It provides context to the changes that inevitably arise and  presents a practical and proven model for dealing with the challenges we face. Although concise, the book is dense with clearly explained, easily implemented ideas proven successful at other institutions. Any college seeking to create their own individual plan to meet the needs of their students and community would find it valuable.

Tammy Saul is the senior administrative assistant for student success at Alamance Community College as well as a GED instructor.  She began her career in higher education as a financial aid specialist completing verifications, leading work-study and financial literacy efforts, and awarding scholarships in partnership with the Foundation office. Tammy holds a bachelor’s degree in political science from High Point University and is currently enrolled in the Masters of Higher Education-Community College and University Leadership program at Appalachian State University. 


Publication Date: 8/14/2023

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