W. Michael Hendricks:
Tackling CUA’s Enrollment
By Warren Duffie
It was a crisp March afternoon at the BWI Airport Marriott near Baltimore. CUA’s president and provost were sitting in the hotel lobby waiting to interview a candidate for the vacant position of vice president of enrollment management.
As Very Rev. David M. Connell, C.M., and John Convey reviewed the candidate’s resume, a bear of a man walked over to them. Father O’Connell looked up, grinned and said, “I know you.”
The 6-foot-3, 260-pound W. Michael Hendricks extended a muscular hand and said, “It’s good to see you again, Father. It’s been a long time.” Hendricks then sat down and they began discussing university enrollment issues.The two men had known each other in the mid-1980s when Father O’Connell was a religion teacher and director of student activities at Archbishop Wood High School near Philadelphia. Hendricks played offensive line for the football team and would later earn All-American honors as an offensive tackle for Lehigh University in Bethlehem, Pa.
W. Michael Hendricks
A few months after their March interview, in July 2004, Hendricks became CUA’s vice president of enrollment management. Instead of hitting linebackers and defensive ends, he’s tackling a new challenge: increasing CUA’s enrollment numbers and enhancing its name recognition nationwide. “I was so happily surprised that this well-credentialed candidate with so many great accomplishments in higher education was the same guy I knew as a football player in high school,” Father O’Connell says.
To Hendricks, effective enrollment management is both a science and an art. The science involves analyzing an institution’s goals and determining whether it is “tuition-dependent.” For example, Harvard University has a $25 billion endowment, so it doesn’t have to charge tuition to function. A university like CUA, however, would have to shut its doors if tuition dollars were unavailable. So drawing more students and boosting tuition revenue are crucial.
But it’s not all about dollars and budgets. The art of Hendricks’ job consists of the personal touch: e.g., answering questions from prospective students and seriously listening to their concerns — or offering scholarship information to an individual from an economically challenged background who could go far with a college education.
“I remember when I worked at Fairleigh Dickinson University, I pushed hard for one kid to get in whose grades weren’t the best but who I knew could be a good student,” Hendricks says. “He’s now a police officer in New Jersey and doing well for himself. It’s cool at the end of the day to know you helped someone.”
Higher Ed Success
This Philadelphia native ought to know something about how to sell a university. He’s spent the last decade working in admissions. From 1999 to 2004, he served as dean of admissions at Widener University in Chester, Pa. There, Hendricks chaired Widener’s university management committee, which was charged with developing a strategic plan to increase enrollment, student retention and tuition revenue.
During his tenure, freshman applications increased by 45 percent and freshman-class enrollment rose by 30 percent — to the highest levels in Widener’s history. For a 10-year period before Hendricks' arrival, the university usually attracted 500 new freshmen each year. This academic year, a record 740 freshmen are enrolled at the university.
Hendricks also developed and launched an e-recruitment program that sent the university’s information electronically to prospective students.
“If you do it right, you can reach thousands of kids through e-mail more effectively and at a cheaper price than if you print up and mail out brochures,” he says. “E-recruitment is a topic close to my heart. My doctoral dissertation [he’s a doctoral candidate in higher education administration at Widener] is focused on how prospective college students use new information-distribution systems during their college search.”
Before working at Widener, Hendricks spent six years in the admissions office at Fairleigh Dickinson University in Teaneck, N.J., serving as director of admissions his final two years there. As director, he helped increase freshman enrollment at both of the university’s campuses, and the average SAT score of freshman applicants rose 140 points to 1050.
From 1991 to 1993, Hendricks worked as a sales representative for Pillsbury and says he can apply much of what he learned about selling dough to selling a university.
“Pillsbury puts you through a rigorous training program involving marketing, accounting and finance,” he explains. “The marketing and promotion aspect is really crucial to higher education. Not long ago, colleges and universities believed that the students would just enroll and the concepts of marketing and promotion were only for the business world. Today, it is widely accepted that these principles are essential to institutional success.”
A New Job and New Goals
“What appealed to me about this job was Catholic University’s potential,” says Hendricks, who learned about the position from an executive search firm that CUA commissioned to find excellent applicants. “While some schools have been very, very successful and some have been atrocious, CUA has been good. We can do even better.”
“Mike has an established national reputation in admissions and enrollment management,” Father O’Connell says. “When I was in Minneapolis earlier this year [for the annual American Cardinals Dinner], an admissions director at a college there told me how fortunate I was to have Mike Hendricks on board.”
One of Hendricks’ immediate goals is to increase freshman applications. If a large number of students apply, more money is generated in application fees and university administrators can be more selective in whom they choose.
Another goal is bringing more potential students to campus, because someone who visits CUA’s campus is 40 times more likely to enroll, according to the new vice president for enrollment management.
Next year Hendricks also wants to establish a national alumni-admission initiative. This will involve inviting alumni to travel to high school college fairs to promote the university.
“Our enrollment pool is predominantly from the East Coast,” he says. “But if you look at where our alumni live, they’re all over the country. That is a wonderful asset to capitalize on.”
Emphasizing the Undergraduate Program
Hendricks says that CUA must place emphasis on its undergraduate population (which currently numbers 2,910 and numbered 2,759 during the 2003-2004 academic year) in order to keep up with the times and flourish.
“The growth potential in the undergraduate population is huge,” Hendricks says. “The demographics indicate that, all over the country, colleges and universities are tapping into this base. There also are larger numbers of high school graduates who are looking to attend college.”
This focus on undergraduates is significant considering the original conception of CUA back in 1887.
When colleges and universities were first established in the United States, they were modeled after institutions of higher learning in England — starting off as undergraduate colleges then adding graduate curricula and upgrading to university status. By the 1880s, however, a movement arose touting the virtues of the German university system, which focused on providing graduate education to “professionals” such as teachers, civil servants and diplomats. Thus, Johns Hopkins University and CUA were among the first American institutions of higher learning built strictly for graduate students and research.
But in the early 20th century, CUA established an undergraduate program that exploded in size during the late 1940s, as World War II veterans used their G.I. Bill benefits to attend the university. CUA's undergraduate school continued to grow thereafter.
CUA still has strong graduate programs, of course, and conducts groundbreaking research within the Vitreous State Laboratory and its other graduate departments and schools. Hendricks believes that the reputation of CUA as a graduate institution can enhance the overall perception of the university and draw more students.
“CUA still has a strong reputation as a graduate school,” he says. “We can enhance that by developing innovative new master’s programs to support our doctoral programs and by using e-recruitment to reach a larger number of people.”
And CUA has several recruiting tools in its favor: first of all, location, location and location. Situated in Washington, D.C., CUA offers politics majors the opportunity to intern on Capitol Hill or at dozens of lobbying firms in the city. Law students can hone their skills at advocacy law firms or prominent nonprofit organizations. Local world-class hospitals offer opportunities for nursing students.
Catholic University’s purchase of 49 acres from the Armed Forces Retirement Home increased its total acreage to 193 — by far the largest campus in Washington, D.C. “When you have this much land in an urban environment, you’re in a good position to grow,” Hendricks says.
CUA’s age and Catholic mission are two other selling points. Many people place intrinsic value on longevity, and the university’s Catholic identity sets it apart from other schools, he says.
“Some people may argue that the ‘Catholic’ part of our name detracts from it,” Hendricks says. “I couldn’t disagree more. It gives us a clearly defined mission and sense of identity that many schools do not have.
“I’m excited about where Catholic University can go in the future,” he says. “I’m very proud to be associated with this institution.”
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