Strategic Enrollment Planning (SEP)

UM is embarking on a year-long Strategic Enrollment Planning process that aims to unify our strategies and create a road map to meet our enrollment goals. Supported by industry experts at RNL to guide UM through this process, we will utilize data to analyze enrollment from all angles, breakdown silos within the university and identify how to better leverage our resources to expand enrollment at UM. The process is grounded in data and will have broad participation from our campus community.

SEP is a continuous and data-informed process that:

  • Provides realistic, quantifiable goals.
  • Uses action item and return-on-investment approaches.
  • Aligns the institution's mission, current state and changing environment.
  • Aligns and integrates academic and co-curricular planning with marketing, recruitment, retention, and financial aid strategies.
  • Fosters planned, long-term enrollment and fiscal health.   


The University of Montana is facing increased pressure to adapt its business model to a fiercely competitive market. We can no longer assume that enrollment growth will help us balance the budget. Location, reputation and surrounding demography all influence which institutions will continue to grow, necessitating the development of a sustainable approach to combat pressing global challenges, including: 

  • Public doubts about the value of higher education – The number of adults in the U.S. who believe higher education is important has fallen sharply in just a few years.  According to Gallup, over two-thirds (70%) of Americans in 2013 thought higher education was “very important,” but by 2020, that number was just over half (51%). A 2019 Pew Research Center Study found that only half of Americans believe colleges and universities are having a positive impact on society.
  • Demographic changes — Traditional enrollment streams are narrowing. Since 2010, U.S. higher education enrollment has declined by more than a million students and a greater percentage of students come from populations traditionally underserved by colleges and universities.  Amidst these demographic changes, institutions can no longer rely on growth from increased participation as direct-from-high-school enrollment rates appear to have reached their peak at around 70 percent. 
  • Changing expectations in a new economic reality – In the wake of the Great Recession and COVID-19, adults are looking to higher education for education and training in non-traditional forms. A 2020 survey from Strada Education found that one-third of adults in the U.S. believe they need additional education to stay competitive at work, but over half (59%) prefer enrollment in shorter, more flexible non-degree programs.
  • Increased competition — Marketing and recruitment are increasingly complex and expensive. Successful institutions manage multichannel communication strategies and institutions with a national reach are spending large sums on marketing. It seems that everyone wants to grow, but with a limited pool of students, not everyone can.
  • Costs rising faster than revenues — Quite simply, it is not possible to raise tuition fast enough to cover expenses.

SEP Planning Framework 

Phase 1: Preparation & Data Analysis

  • Build structure
  • KPI identification
  • Data collection
  • Situation analysis 

Phase 2: Strategy Development

  • Strategy ideation
  • Action planning
  • Strategy prioritization
  • ROI considerations 

Phase 3: Goal Development

  • Enrollment projections
  • Goal setting
  • Written plan finalization 

Phase 4: Implementation & Continuation 

  • SEP implementation
  • SEP transitions to SEM
  • Monitor, evaluate and update the plan