Graduate Enrollment Management Center rebuilds graduate admissions process
Graduate Enrollment Management Center rebuilds graduate admissions processMay 04, 2004Edward Byrnesedbyrnes@syr.edu
Three-year improvement process results in ‘strong, effective support’
Three years ago, most applicants to Syracuse University’s Graduate School didn’t receive responses from the University unless their applications were accepted. Many wondered whether applications had even arrived at the admissions office, which was so understaffed that applications received in November were not reviewed until February. Some departments even suggested developing independent graduate admission processes.
As a result, says Associate Vice President for Enrollment and Dean of Graduate Enrollment Management Donald Saleh, “there was a pent-up need to change the system and make it much better, but the encouragement, support and resources weren’t there. The system was terribly broken.”
“Vice Chancellor and Provost Deborah A. Freund established the Graduate Enrollment Management Center (GEMC) in June 2001 by reassigning administrative control and reporting responsibility for the former Graduate Records Management (GRM) unit to David C. Smith, vice president for enrollment management. This action was recommended in a 2001 report to her from the Committee to Review The Graduate School of Syracuse University, which she had established in 2000.
Freund and Smith took aggressive action. Early in 2002, they hired Saleh, who had been the Dean of Admissions and Financial Aid at Cornell University, to tackle the problems facing graduate admissions. Today, the process is a model for smooth and productive operation. According to Graduate School Dean John Mercer, “The GEMC is able to provide strong and effective support to the admissions process in SU’s Schools and Colleges, enabling their graduate programs to compete more vigorously for the best students, nationally and internationally,” because of the work done by Saleh and his team.
“What I observed was an organization that had been in many ways cut off from the mainstream of the University. Here we had an entity that was trying to survive using tools that no longer worked, there weren’t enough people, and there was an absence of technical support and other resources. The best that could be expected was to tread water,” observes Saleh.
Kathleen Kelly, manager of graduate admissions customer service and data quality, was one of the staff members who helped diagnose the problem.
“I knew a lot of things weren’t working,” says Kelly. “For instance, the software we were using was not being used to its fullest potential-I felt it was essential that we use our resources more productively.”
Saleh asked Andrew J. Clark, chief process architect, to assist by assigning David Harris, process analyst, to work with him.
Harris and Saleh created process maps for improvements and efficiencies and soon after, Saleh, Smith and Mercer established the Graduate Admissions Council-now the Graduate Council-to guide GEMC graduate application processing, as well as graduate student recruitment, something the graduate admissions office had not pursued for several years. The council, made up of faculty or administrative representatives from each school and college, meets throughout the academic year to focus on portions of the Academic Plan that address improving research and graduate study.
“That’s hard to do if you can’t attract and admit the best and brightest graduate students, and the former process wasn’t suited to that,” says Saleh. Now, according to GEMC Director of Recruitment Peter Englot, graduate enrollment has become a valued element of SU’s institutional culture.
Since the creation of the GEMC, SU has broken a 10-year trend of decline with two consecutive years of significant increases in graduate interest, applications and enrollment. The GEMC is in regular communication with the schools and colleges, with applicants and especially with prospective students.
“We’ve multiplied by six or seven times the amount of communication we have with students; the reason we can do this now is that we have an organization and process that works,” says Saleh.
Change is also evident in the GEMC’s improved ability to handle large numbers of applications without backlogs. “To go from a backlog of somewhere around seven or eight weeks to three weeks, in the first year, to a week and a half, in the second year, is pretty significant,” says Saleh. The GEMC will continue working to improve upon that success, because in Saleh’s words, “in any good operation you continue to get better.”