College Presidents Need Seven Things in a Chief Enrollment Officer

by Bob Massa and Bill Conley, Enrollment Intelligence Now

      March 2024


The annual presidents’ survey by Inside Higher Ed revealed major concerns facing colleges and universities in 2024 and beyond. College presidents identified a myriad of concerns (e.g., AI, the political environment in the nation and on college campuses, the impact of the Supreme Court decision on diversity, loss of public confidence in higher education, and the cost of education for colleges and for students), but the most immediate and pressing may be the so-called enrollment cliff and its implications for finances and institutional mission.

In the wake of these concerns, one thing presidents need to get right is to hire or retain a skilled chief enrollment officer.  Every member of the senior leadership team is critical to the institution’s success. However, the chief enrollment management officer (CEMO) influences revenue and the makeup of the community like few others.  One writer opined that the CEMO may be the toughest job on a college campus. While that claim might be up for debate, there is no question that a President’s job is made easier with the right CEMO on the team.

When seeking an effective CEMO, presidents should value seven key qualities:

  1. Strategic Thinking: The capacity to develop long-term enrollment strategies aligned with the university’s mission, vision, values, and long-term objectives.  Only on a strategic foundation can tactics be effectively identified and deployed — from where to devote student recruitment resources to which tools to purchase to help achieve enrollment and revenue goals.
  2. Analytical Skills: A successful chief enrollment officer can gather and analyze data and discern trends that inform decision-making in enrollment policies and practices. The individual is transparent in sharing that data with other decision makers on the senior staff and with enrollment staff members who might lend further insight.
  3. Problem-Solving Ability: The aptitude to address challenges head on and adapt to changing circumstances in the enrollment landscape is a must. Being open to exploring and implementing innovative approaches to recruitment, selection, financial aid modeling, yield efforts and retention programming should be second nature.
  4. Collaborative Style: The CEMO must collaborate effectively with the president, of course, and with other university departments and senior colleagues.  A strong working relationship with the CFO and the CAO is essential, as is working with the chief student affairs officer and the chief marketing officer.  Sharing potential strategies and tactics results in confirming a direction or providing some alternative action.
  5. Emotional Intelligence: Look for strong communication and interpersonal skills in your hire or incumbent. The successful CEMO conveys confidence and demonstrates sensitivity to the concerns of prospective students, parents, alumni, faculty, and staff. Modeling a growth mind set undergirds the CEO’s credibility. Exhibiting humility means an openness to feedback and acknowledges she doesn’t always have the answers and values input from staff and colleagues.
  6. Ethical Integrity and Cultural Competence: The chief enrollment officer must have a commitment to fairness, transparency, and integrity throughout all aspects of the enrollment process.  In today’s environment, the CEMO must be sensitive and committed to students and staff from diverse backgrounds and cultures to ensure inclusivity in admissions, financial aid, and student success.
  7. Leadership Acumen: Finally, your chief enrollment officer must have the ability to lead the enrollment team and guide the admissions, financial aid, and student success processes. He or she must be a skilled communicator who demonstrates empathy, empowers the team, takes responsibility for team outcomes, inspires others, and has the resilience to keep moving forward under all conditions.

And now, a couple of caveats:

  1. It is the rare (and treasured) CEMO who possesses all these traits and in full measure.The challenges facing your college will determine those qualities that must be your CEMO’s strong suits, allowing others to develop “on the job.”
  2. Currently, the demand for talented CEMO’s outstrips the supply. Retirements and, frankly, career-changing under the pressure of unrelenting enrollment pressures has left fewer CEMO professionals in the pipeline.

If you have a strong CEMO or expect to onboard a new CEMO and would like to support their continued professional growth, we would welcome the opportunity to discuss how our coaching-mentoring service can deliver results.



Enrollment Intelligence Now, with a combined 85 years of on-campus experience, serves as a strategic partner and trusted advisor in converting today’s steady stream of challenges into tomorrow’s success.  We work with presidents, CFOs, CMOs and chief enrollment management officers (CEMOs), offering perspective, direction, and counsel when you need it: NOW.  Visit or email us

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