Chris Wills

Chris Wills

The dog days of summer are upon us, which means orientations, vacations (hopefully) and strategic planning meetings for the upcoming school year. This is our rare opportunity to elevate to 10,000 feet, think more broadly about goals, processes, people, etc., before the frenzy of the new recruitment cycle starts in fall.

And as a leader, it’s also time to make some decisions to shape the upcoming year.
Fascinatingly, one of the most crucial aspects of leadership that is rarely, if ever, taught is making decisions. Yet mastering that skill can be the difference between being great or being average.

For your team and organization to make the most meaningful progress and have the most success, you as a leader have to make decisions – any decision – even if it doesn’t end up working out. Sound obvious? Take a moment and jot down a few things you are currently procrastinating on.

Should you realign recruitment territories? Cut back on high school visits? Which of the three candidates do you want to hire as a new admission counselor? Take that international recruiting trip?

We all have these lingering items that we aren’t sure how to handle, and either fear of making the wrong decision or inability to effectively discuss and debate it cause it to remain unsolved. There’s nothing wrong with taking some time to really understand an issue, but there is a fine line between proper due diligence and analysis paralysis. At a certain point, it’s time to make a decision and the limited and precious time you have begins to be wasted by continuing to revisit and rehash things.

I find that if I spend 20 minutes thinking about something I need to make a decision on and then do not make the decision, that 20 minutes was ultimately wasted because I often need to spend close to that same 20 minutes the next time I revisit the issue! Even if I make a decision that in hindsight turns out to be a poor one, I’ve actually freed up my time and mental energy to work on other important things that can contribute to the success of the organization.

In his blog, Gino Wickman talks about Napoleon Hill’s classic book “Think & Grow Rich,” that cited a study analyzing 25,000 people who had experienced failure. Lack of decision, or procrastination, was one of the major causes. In contrast, analysis of several hundred millionaires revealed that every one of them had the habit of reaching decisions promptly and changing them slowly.
Wickman highlights a great philosophy called “entering the danger.”

In tough times, people tend to freeze. When you’re afraid, your brain actually works against you. Research now shows us that when we are fearful, we use the back part of our brain, the amygdala. That’s our primal brain, developed 10,000 years ago to protect us from predators. It’s our fight-or-flight response, which doesn’t serve us well when solving business problems.

You must shift to the prefrontal part of the brain, the rational and critical thinking part. That will serve you well in the decision-making situations. The way to do this is to simply list all of the things that are worrying you: all of the problems, concerns, and fears. You can do this as an individual or as leadership in one of your meetings. Being open and honest will enable you to confront and solve your critical issues and get moving forward again.

Decisions can be hard, especially if there isn’t consensus, but as Wickman says, you have to have a strong will, firm resolve, and the willingness to make a tough call so you can move on to other important items. Not everything will work out perfectly, but that’s OK. Michael Jordan is famous for saying “You miss 100 percent of the shots you don’t take.”
So take a shot. Remember, it’s less important what you decide than that you decide something.

If you want to grow yourself as a leader and save lots of time procrastinating on decisions, email me at with the secret password DECIDE in the subject line and I’ll send you Gino Wickman’s e-book “Decide!”

Father Time, or Chris Wills, is passionate about helping other leaders learn and grow and free up time they didn’t think they had. He is the Founder of Student Paths, an organization that better prepares students for their future in college, career and life readiness.


Eric-Fulcomer-150x150In my community, we have a weekly lecture series run by the Chamber of Commerce. It’s called People You Should Know and influential people are invited to talk about a topic of interest. As a new person to the community, I have found this to be a great way to meet community leaders quickly. Recently, one of the speakers referred to “seventh generation sustainability” from the Constitution of the Iroquois Nations. He was speaking on the topic of a community renaissance and the importance of laying the groundwork for future generations. This intrigued me and led me to give some thought to the current state of the enrollment profession.

Enrollment management is becoming a nomadic profession. Enrollment managers are increasingly at an institution for just a season and then they move on to the next one. Of course there are exceptions, but there aren’t many “lifers” out there. This is especially important for me to consider as someone who recently left an institution after 19 years and joined a new campus community. I grew up professionally at Bluffton University – joining the staff as a graduate intern right after graduating from college and moving through a number of student affairs and enrollment management positions, including a decade as the chief enrollment officer. While I didn’t come to Bluffton expecting to stay for nearly two decades, I quickly became immersed in the place and saw myself as part of the institutional fabric. When I made decisions or recommended policies, I was well aware of the past and thought carefully about how the decisions we were making would impact the institution long term.

So now, as a new employee at Rockford University, I am aware that I simply don’t yet have the institutional knowledge that I had at Bluffton; I don’t yet feel like part of the institutional fabric. It will take time to gain the necessary knowledge to understand the past, yet in this fast-paced environment, decisions need to be made and new policies need to be implemented. So I am wondering what the impact will be on institutions when the people making important decisions are doing so without significant institutional knowledge and who therefore don’t truly understand how the decisions will impact the institution long term. And more specifically, I am trying to make sure that I am thinking about the long-term institutional impact of the decisions that I am making.
As enrollment managers, we are expected to bring in the numbers that are required to allow our institutions to meet and exceed their budget goals. This need to recruit and retain students is always going to be important for our institutions and the pressure to meet budget in a given year will necessarily push us to make decisions that help achieve those goals. But what if these decisions are good for the short-term but not for the long-term? And how do we figure out what is good for the institution long-term? I don’t know all of the answers, but I think that we can learn something from the Iroquois Nations. Here are a few principles* related to the Iroquois seventh generation thinking:

  • Each generation has a responsibility to ensure the survival of the seventh generation.
  • Elders are held in high esteem. They alone have the experience and wisdom of the years.
  • Our needs in terms of survival must always be balanced with the needs of our families, our community and our nation.
  • Everything that we do has consequences for something else. This circular pattern of thinking is a constant reminder to us that we are ultimately connected to creation.
  • What we do today will affect the seventh generation and we must bear in mind our responsibility to them today and always.

While I don’t have all the answers, I think that these guiding principles are a good place to start. I am committed to making decisions that take the long-term impact into consideration. And I am committed to understanding the institutional past so that I can better understand the institution’s future. As a member of a nomadic profession, I owe this and more to my institution.

Eric W. Fulcomer, Ph.D., is the Vice President for Enrollment Management at Rockford University (Illinois). He previously served in a number of positions at Bluffton University (Ohio), most recently Vice President for Enrollment Management and Student Life.

Paige Illum
Departmental collaboration is a must in this era of limited time, money and personnel resources. Not only is it smart in regard to resources but working interdepartmentally makes campus relationships stronger. Additionally, student success and attainment of enrollment goals are more likely.

Specifically, here are three ways to increase the connectivity between retention and academic affairs.

1. MOOCS (Massive Open Online Courses)
There is no doubt technology speaks to this generation of student (Levine & Dean, 2012). As we look for ways to further engage our students, technology can be an excellent tool. One of the areas receiving attention within higher education is MOOCS. Consider this: MOOCS can be a way to communicate student success strategies to large audiences of students within your campus… and even beyond.

To get started on your campus the enrollment management area selects topic(s) that relate to institutional attrition data (i.e. first generation college students, academically underprepared students, probation students, off-campus students, etc.) and faculty offer classroom expertise in a variety of areas including pedagogy, assignments and assessments. This is a perfect combination of two institutional areas using their areas of expertise to reach a goal.

This concept can be used as a summer bridge course, part of a requirement for first year seminar or during the term following a students’ placement on academic probation to increase their likelihood of academic success.

Lastly, it doesn’t have to begin with a massive course of a global magnitude. The “massive” could stand for “mini” or “moderate” in the beginning and it could grow to massive levels. The other MOOC characteristics such as interactivity, video lectures, open access, no expense to students, discussion forums, and community building between individual students and students and instructors can be the cornerstone of this concept. Not to mention, common intellectual experiences and collaborative assignments and projects are considered high–impact educational practices that further engage students (Kuh, 2008). These also happen to be characteristics of MOOCS!

2. Common Reading Programs
Common Reading Programs are another avenue to further engage students and increase the likelihood of retention through a common intellectual experience (Kuh, 2008). Here are some ways to partner with faculty and build a stronger program for students. First, include faculty on the book selection committee. Second, require students to write an essay on the common reading (connect this to a first year seminar assignment) and collaborate with English faculty. Utilizing the experience of English faculty regarding potential essay questions and assignment details will likely mirror the type of essay a student will experience in a composition course. This will introduce a student to true academic expectations. Third, create discussion groups during new student orientation that are divided by academic major and ask faculty to help with the discussion group. Slant the discussion toward topics related to academic major while introducing a new student to an instructor within their major.

3. Faculty Liaisons
There is no doubt a retention committee inclusive of faculty, staff and students is necessary. However, this concept can be taken a step further. Create an elected or selected position within the faculty assembly or senate to serve as a liaison to the area of retention. First, the person in this position serves as a retention champion within the academic realm helping to move forward institutional enrollment goals. Second, this person provides meaningful information to faculty including cohort retention data, graduation data, national best practices, institutional retention initiatives and institutional and national retention survey data to name a few. Third, this faculty position and the chief retention officer meet regularly to keep open lines of communication and further move forward issues related to student engagement and ultimately retention.

There are many ways the retention department and academic affairs can collaborate and these are just three examples. Other ways to collaborate include first year seminar, academic advising, general retention committees and educational campus speakers. As enrollment management professionals we must focus on issues related to retaining our students and we must learn how to make this a campus-wide effort by utilizing the expertise of others and partnering with colleagues across the quad.

Paige Illum, Ph.D. works as the Coordinator of Retention and the First Year Experience, at Avila University (Kansas City, MO).  She previously worked in Enrollment Management.

Kuh, George (2008). High–impact educational practices. Association of American Colleges and Universities: Washington, DC.
Levine, Arthur & Dean, Diane R. (2012). Generation on a tightrope: a portrait of today’s college student. Jossey-Bass: San Francisco, CA.

Chris Wills

Chris Wills

It’s budget time again! And unless you are one of the lucky few, it’s otherwise known as that friendly reminder that you are once again supposed to do more with the same (or less) resources.

As an entrepreneur who started from nothing and has never had millions in venture capital funding, I eat, breathe and sleep this stuff and am passionate about helping other leaders save time and money so they can perform at a high level with less.

Back by popular demand, here are my top 5 ways to free up more hours and dollars this upcoming school year:

1. How much time are you or your staff spending on finding the best and least expensive flights? is a fantastic website that saves your flight search information and then connects you with the various travel and airline search sites to help you find the right flight at the right price. This is a huge time saver over the course of a year.

2. Does your school still take a chunk out of the Amazon rainforest by printing a nice, thick course catalog each year? When is the last time you used the hard copy version of the Yellow Pages? Put this entirely online and save $250,000 a year like one of our customers did. Unless you’d rather not have those extra dollars.

3. The travel industry is a game, and most folks are too in the dark or don’t have enough time to understand how to win. For example, hotels routinely change room prices based on supply and demand for different days. You could book a room at a certain price, and the hotel could lower that price 5 days later in an effort to fill empty rooms. Except who ever bothers to check back? Enter – if you book a room through the site and the price drops, it will automatically rebook you at the lower rate without you having to do anything.

4. Postage and printing are costs that keep rising at the same time your budget doesn’t. There is value to some printed communication, but I’m amazed at how many schools still do things they way they’ve always done them. Still sending confirmations for admit and registration days through the mail? Make this process entirely electronic and save all parties time and money.

5. Visiting with hundreds of colleges each year, I’m struck by how many complain about the declining effectiveness of high school visits. High schools are increasingly restricting access and sticking your admission counselors in the corner of the lunchroom. How effective are those conversations? Enrollment leaders are hanging on to them like I’m hanging on to my 200+ music CD’s on those big tower racks (remember those?) gathering dust in my basement. I realize it may be sacrilege to give them up completely, but follow the lead of one of our customers who freed up quite a bit of time and money by eliminating second visits and categorizing their high schools based on relationship and value and eliminated travel to the bottom third. You’ll also get higher value use out of your admission counselors since most application numbers have only gone up in the past few years.

If you want to save even more money this year, email me at with the secret password EXTRA CASH in the subject line and I’ll share another creative bonus idea with you. I’d also love to hear about any tips you’ve used!
Father Time, or Chris Wills, is passionate about helping other leaders learn and grow and free up time they didn’t think they had. He is the Founder of Student Paths, an organization that better prepares students for their future in college, career and life readiness.

Tim FullerThe admission funnel is a time-honored concept that has been taught to admission counselors for decades but is still often misunderstood, and the implications of misunderstanding it can be expensive and misleading.

Unlike the funnel you might use to change your oil or prepare something in your kitchen, everything you pour in the top of the admission funnel doesn’t come out the bottom. As we gather and review fall 2010 new student enrollment results for NACCAP we see vivid illustrations of the misleading nature of the funnel for institutions that made significant investments in direct mail and other “top of the funnel” strategies where the final new student number is either flat or only slightly higher. There are several important principles at work here to help avoid the funnel dysfunction:
•Make sure your systems for dealing with increased top level funnel traffic are strong and smooth
•Make sure your admission team is armed with some sort of predictive modeling system to help them prioritize their work
•Remember to have the end goal in mind when making your “offer” to generate inquiry responses from direct mail – the point is not to generate more inquiries, the point is to enroll more students. Adding more unqualified inquiries may only serve to clog your systems and overwhelm your staff (and create a false sense of hope for fall enrollment)

Chris Wills

Chris Wills

“The most important decisions you make aren’t what decisions, they are who decisions.” — Jim Collins

How much is a phenomenal staff member worth? The difference between meeting your goal or exceeding it? Making your budgeted goal or not? Yet if you don’t have an open position on your staff, how much time last week did you spend on finding top notch people? It is easy to be reactive when it comes to the people part of our role, yet it really doesn’t matter how great your institution is or your strategy to market it if you don’t have top notch people to execute it and seal the deal.

One of my recent blogs (DOLLY THE SHEEP) talked about the importance of figuring out the type of people you want on your team. But equally challenging is actually finding those people.
After 16 years of running Student Paths and all sorts of hiring mistakes, I’ve concluded that the traditional hiring process is way too inefficient, inauthentic and unpredictable and plainly doesn’t work. When supposed HR professionals succeed with less than half of their hires, there is clearly an issue.
Yet oddly, the paradigm of hiring accepts these poor and costly results because very few are willing to break outside of the box and try a different approach.

Why do 50 percent or more of hires not work out? Consider the process! A job is posted, a bunch of resumes and cover letters designed to showcase the candidate come in, someone has to sift through them to identify the ones worth an interview, and then the finalists do their best to tell you what you want to hear so you will give them a job. No matter how hard you try and how good your questions are, the process does not allow you a genuine understanding of who the candidate really is and thus, whether he or she is a fit for your organization.
As most leaders know, that only happens in the traditional process about 6-9 months into the job after the honeymoon period has worn off.

But why not turn that process around? Think about when you truly get to know someone, when they don’t have their guard up and you see their true self. That only happens over time and in certain environments. And the problem with the traditional hiring process is from the very get-go, a candidate is manipulating how they are viewed. So we’ve modified our process to always be looking for top notch people, even when we don’t have positions open, and to interact with them without any mention of the hiring process. In fact, if there is any hint of that, the evaluation immediately is polluted because people are not their true selves when the possibility of a job is hanging over the conversation.

The idea is to build “bench strength” of folks who we are confident are a fit for our team because we’ve observed them in different situations over time, but without the risk of having to discover who a person really is 6 months (and all the associated costs) into a job. Your mindset on hiring should change to view it as an ongoing process you are always working on, and not a one-time event. And when a position becomes available, there is no need for all the time spent on the traditional hiring process – you’ve already got your person. There is a myth that the bench strength process takes more time. It is a reallocation of time, and certainly it is a savings of time if you consider how much time wrong hires cost!
The organizations and institutions that succeed are the ones that have figured out the people component. When all or most things are equal, people are your unduplicitable differentatior. And having that differentiator means a lot more confidence in where your numbers end up this time of year.

For some specific actionable items on how we build bench strength, email me at with the secret password BENCH.

Father Time, or Chris Wills, is passionate about helping other leaders learn and grow and free up time they didn’t think they had. He is the Founder of Student Paths, an organization that better prepares students for their future in college, career and life readiness.

Tim FullerThe College Search: What Students Want (reposted with permission from Tim Fuller at Credo)

Last year, Credo partnered with nine institutions that use our Admitted Student Research (ASR) service to gain a sense of why some students chose one institution over another; a student’s decision-making process; how students gather information; and what students look at to determine which school is a good fit for them.

Our experience with ASR tells us that the results, when combined with an institution’s analysis of their data, help create a clear picture of the reasons behind applicants’ enrollment choices.

Below are the top five factors for every campus to consider:

1. Campus visits matter. Guest experiences factor highly. Prospective students are able to get a better feel for campus life and facilities – more than a website can provide – and whether or not they can call a campus home. It is vital that guest experiences are comfortable, welcoming, and as individualized and personal as possible.

Our research says:  There is a very large increase in students’ positive perceptions of an institution after visiting campus.  Also, there is a strong correlation between students who visit campus and enroll as a first-year student; however, it is difficult to determine whether students are visiting because they are more interested in an institution, or are visits encouraging them to become more interested, leading to matriculation?

2. Don’t leave old school methods behind when embracing social media.  Students want to feel connected, but not suffocated. It is important to be visible across social media platforms because students seek information this way, but they want to connect on their own terms. Let them make the first move. Disqualifying social media can count against you, but don’t spend a lot of time and resources on it. Direct mail and email are still much more important than social media in the search and selection process for prospective students.

Our research says:  Students prefer two-way communication in a more traditional sense: 76% of matriculants prefer email when communicating with colleges and universities (only 9% prefer to communicate directly via social media). Overall, slightly more than a quarter (27%) of matriculating students used social networking tools to assist in their search and selection process, and the majority (64%) of these students mainly used social networking tools to gather information about a particular institution.

3. Mom is the most influential. How is your institution reaching out to parents – especially Mom – in the admission and recruitment process? Parents, and even siblings, are incredibly influential to a prospective student’s college and university selection. Include Mom and Dad in the recruitment process, but never neglect the student.

Our research says: Both matriculating and non-matriculating prospective students chose Mom as the most influential in his or her college selection (25%); Dad, siblings, friends, and an institution’s faculty and staff are also in the top five for key influencers. Overall, family members accounted for 46-48% of the influence on prospective students’ college and university selection.

4. Perceptions of an institution. An institution’s overall brand and how prospective students perceive it is increasingly important. Prospective students are now looking to colleges and universities for what they feel they deserve, rather than what they might truly need. Be proactive about perceptions of your institution, specifically academic reputation, career placement, student engagement, and community. Institutions need to be aware of what prospective students are looking for so that they can provide the right information from the start.

Our research says: Institutions should not just try to find prospective students to meet their goals, but they should be engaging and enrolling best-fit prospective students – those that want and will persist until graduation. Provide as much information as you can about the factors that students care about the most so that they can decide whether your institution is a good fit for them.

5. Money will always matter. There has been a big jump between what prospective students need as opposed to the money they feel they deserve. Today, prospective students are shopping around and are looking for the best deal. Be sure to eliminate financial barriers (as best you can) that will inhibit a prospective student from choosing to apply and enroll at your institution.

Our research says: The median amount of money needed for a prospective student to change his or her mind to enroll at an institution was $10,000. Seventy-four percent of prospective students said they possibly would have enrolled at an institution if they had been given more money (30% definitely would have), but only 26% of these students said that this money would be need-based. Again, seek and maintain the right prospective students from the beginning and be sure they feel they want to be at your institution and can afford to be there.

If you would like to learn more about Credo, please visit or contact Tim Fuller at