An unprecedented plan to manage McGill’s student enrolment for the next decade is currently circulating through the various forums that create University policy, and will be presented to Senate for approval March 23.
The Strategic Enrolment Management (SEM) plan outlines a broad tactical approach to enrolment management for the University – including increased recruitment of graduate and international students – from now up until 2016.
Morton Mendelson, Deputy Provost (Student Life and Learning), described the plan as something that “aligns our broad objectives with respect to enrolment at McGill, and our goals under each of those objectives.”
“An Enrolment Management plan is something that many universities have. We’ve had objectives defined, but not in as much detail and not as coherently as will appear in this plan. So that’s one of the things that was missing,” said Mendelson.
Strategically targeting empty seats
One of the “fundamental goals” targeted in the consultation draft of the SEM plan includes “increases targeted in specific programs,” yet Mendelson emphasized that the SEM plan does not strictly focus on enrolment numbers. When asked which programs were targeted for increases in enrolment, Mendelson answered, “It’s not that kind of a plan.”
“It’s not just about numbers. Enrolment management is essentially about the students’ experience, and it’s about the University’s transaction with students from the time they first visit our website to explore the idea of applying to McGill, through…their transactions with the University when they’re here, and then beyond when they’re alumni,” he said.
Mendelson identified programs in the Faculty of Engineering – such as the Department of Mining and Materials – and those at Macdonald Campus as programs that could be targeted for increases.
“This kind of thinking is very specific to specific programs here and there across the University,” said Mendelson.
Another program that could see increased enrolment is the School of Computer Science. When asked whether Computer Science was targeted for enrolment increases, Gregory Dudek, Director of the School, answered that “it looks like it.” Dudek, however, attributed such forecast increases to exterior influences, as opposed to a specific McGill agenda.
Dudek said the dot-com crash around the year 2000 led to a sharp decrease in Computer Science enrolment, so that now, as a result, the department has more room to accommodate increases.
The SEM plan identifies various “threats” to McGill’s enrolment aspirations, including escalating competition and McGill’s “Research Profile.” Mendelson described these threats as possible competition from other universities, and that of McGill not fulfilling its own high standards.
The SEM plan reads that “we must be mindful of threats to our reputation.”
“McGill was the most research-intensive university in Canada, but that’s no longer the case. So that’s a threat to our reputation,” said Mendelson.
“We are striving to be as student-centred as possible, but we’re not there yet, obviously,” continued Mendelson. “The degree to which students evaluate the University – as not providing as positive an undergraduate experience as they would like, for example – is a threat to our reputation.”
Mendelson also pointed out that McGill has been putting less effort into the recruitment of American high school students in recent years, saying that “complacency” with this constituted yet another threat to McGill’s reputation.
“In a recent survey – recent market research in the U.S. – we’ve learned that most U.S. high school students haven’t heard about McGill,” said Mendelson. “So the quality of the reputation, and just having McGill front-of-mind, is something that we can’t be complacent about. We can’t assume that that’s the case,” he continued.
In order to neutralize some of these threats, the draft consultation SEM plan prescribed various solutions, including shifting the University’s recruitment focus to the southern and western United States – where the university-aged population is expected to grow – and to Colorado, where the SEM plan says “the nation’s best students (approximated by SAT scores)” are, as well as developing relations with “the strongest students” by grade ten.
A central goal of the SEM plan is increased international student enrolment, particularly from countries like India and China. The consultation draft of the SEM plan describes McGill’s desire to increase the overall international student body to approximately 22 per cent of all McGill students by 2016, possibly to offset an anticipated decline in Quebec student enrolment.
According to the consultation draft, “Statistics Canada data suggest that there will be a peak in enrolment in postsecondary institutions in Quebec in 2009-10, which should then be maintained for the following four years, prior to a steep decline, bottoming out in 2025-26.”
Total McGill enrolment is projected to decline 6.9 per cent from 2013 to 2022, while enrolment in all Quebec universities is projected to decline 9.2 per cent over roughly the same period.
The SEM draft notes that competition for students from these countries will increase due to the “improvement in the educational systems of former ‘sending countries’ (e.g. China).” The SEM plan projects that China and India alone will generate over half the global demand in international higher education by 2025.
In order to tap into this swelling reservoir of students, McGill has begun a number of international recruitment schemes. Mendelson said that McGill often participates in joint missions abroad with other Quebec universities as well as with the Quebec and federal governments.
“I myself, for example, was in India a number of years ago, on the Quebec mission,” said Mendelson.
McGill also carries its own independent missions abroad, according to Mendelson, including having faculty and graduate students pitch the University to potential students while they are either back in their home country or attending conferences.
“Our goals and our business is not one hundred per cent aligned necessarily with all the other universities. So it’s a mix of participating, lending our support to efforts that can benefit all universities in Quebec…and at the same time advancing our own interests,” said Mendelson.
In the same breath as it advocates for an increase in the international student population, the draft consultation SEM plan aims to “pursue the deregulation of tuition for international undergraduate students.”
When the Quebec government set international tuition, that revenue was taken by the government and redistributed throughout all Quebec universities.
“The money that international students paid for tuition to come to McGill did not stay in McGill,” said Mendelson.
In 2008, Quebec deregulated international tuition for six disciplines, of which McGill has four – Law, Engineering, Management, and Science – and allows McGill to keep all of that tuition money. According to Mendelson, thirty per cent of net revenue derived from tuition is going to student aid.
“That is important because it means that our students can get the benefit of the tuition they’re actually paying, and it’s important to the University because we end up having increased revenue,” said Mendelson.