focusEDU consulting firm

Remote Interim Leadership

in Admissions, Registrar and Financial Aid

Remote LeadershipRemote interim leadership in enrollment services adds value, and that added value can be even greater during this time of uncertainty in higher education.  When a top enrollment services administrator leaves the institution, it can be a difficult time for the office and the institution. Ideally, the incumbent will give the institution sufficient time to evaluate what is needed for the future and to conduct a thorough search for that person’s successor. While the perfect scenario is having a new leader in place as the previous one steps down, this is the exception, rather than the rule. During these unprecedented times finding the right person for the position has become especially difficult. Even if the departing person gives considerable notice, and gets all things in order prior to leaving, very often the institution still is not in a position to bring on the new hire immediately as the incumbent departs. Given this situation, the institution finds itself in need of an interim to fill that top spot between the time the incumbent leaves and the new person takes over. In some situations that interim might be someone from within the office – a long time assistant or associate who has the confidence of the institutional leadership, the staff and the campus community to lead the office during this interim period. Often, though, such a person is not available and the institution must seek an interim from external sources. Finding the right person to fill this interim role can be difficult, however, as there are a limited number of experienced and highly qualified individuals willing to fill such a role. On the other hand, a firm such as focusEDU can provide this type of interim leadership, providing institutions with high level, experienced professionals in the field; professionals who enjoy the opportunity to assist schools during these transitional periods and who can bring fresh perspectives to these roles, and in these pandemic times focusEDU can provide this type of interim leadership remotely.

Remote Interim Leadership in Enrollment Management

When considering how to fill the gap between the incumbent’s departure and the new leader’s arrival there are several factors to consider.

  • Think carefully about promoting someone from within the office to be an interim, especially if that person is a strong candidate for the permanent position. Sometimes this can be an excellent choice – maybe even a chance to take this person for a “test run,” to see how they handle leadership situations. However, this could set up a situation where a longtime associate or assistant assumes the job is theirs and could make for a very difficult situation if, as the search unfolds, that individual is not selected for the permanent position.
    • Some institutions might feel that anyone can serve temporarily as an interim in enrollment services areas so they decide to move someone from outside that specific area into the position. While this might appear logical and cost effective in the short term, it isn’t necessarily the best decision for the long-term health of the office and of the institution. Positions such as Director of Financial Aid, Bursar, Director of Admissions, Dean/Director of Enrollment Management and Registrar are highly specialized fields that require very specific skills and a very specific knowledge base to do the job well. One of the goals of an interim is to be able to jump into the position right away and keep things moving forward. The current challenges enrollment services offices are facing, as circumstances evolve and change rapidly, require significant knowledge of the specific profession, as well as the experience to know how to make things happen quickly and with buy-in from the campus community. While someone from within the institution, but outside of the office, has institutional knowledge, they likely won’t have professional knowledge about the specific area and would take quite a while to learn those skills, especially if their support staff is small or inexperienced. remote leadership interim
  • Decide what you are looking for. Do you want a caretaker, organizer, change agent (including making difficult changes, paving the way for a smoother transition for the new, permanent, person), “Coach” for less experienced staff, etc.?
    • If there are concerns about the office, an interim can serve as an impartial, objective observer/evaluator of policies, procedures and personnel – basically a consultant. With the right interim in place, that person is in a prime position to provide feedback on the status of the office and, in many cases, the type of person needed for the permanent position.
    • The need for an interim often depends on the size of the office/institution – with a small office do you have someone internally with the experience and qualifications to provide the necessary leadership?
    • While most positions in the enrollment services field are running at full speed all year long, the timing of the incumbent’s departure can also play a role in determining the need for an experienced interim candidate. Does the Director of Admissions leave mid-fall, right during the critical admissions cycle? Does the Registrar leave in mid-spring, immediately prior to the fall registration cycle and prior to clearance for May graduation? In these cases, having someone who can jump right in and keep things moving forward could have long-lasting positive effects, and make the new person’s transition much easier.

Factors to Consider When Hiring a Permanent Leader

  • Don’t underestimate the time it will take to find a new professional and to get that person on board, especially during these uncertain times.
    • Sometimes, especially when a long-time leader leaves a position, the institution might need a period of evaluation to determine what it needs in a new leader. This process should not be rushed just because you feel the need to get someone in place.
    • A national search takes time for evaluating and advertising the position, screening candidates, interviewing finalists and getting the new hire in place. Hopefully, any high-quality, experienced, professional you select will feel the need to give sufficient notice to their current institution – while this might delay that person’s move to your institution, this is the type of professional you want at your institution, and the wait will be well worth it in the long run.
    • There can be a benefit to having the interim involved in the search as well – the interim can speak to what the job entails and help the candidates understand the institution and its expectations. focusEDU also provides search services, and an ideal situation might be an interim who also assists with the search.
    • Both searches and interim appointments can be done remotely, and focusEDU has experience with these types of remote operations.
    • remote interim leadership enrollment

Remote Interim Leadership Enrollment Appointment

Remote leaders enrollment managementOnce you’ve made the decision to seek an external interim, finding a qualified individual can be challenging. Here are a few things to consider when selecting an interim.

  • Find a firm that provides interim placements in the enrollment services field as one of its core functions.
  • Consider the experience level of the proposed candidate – you need someone who can jump right in and hit the ground running with creative solutions to evolving challenges, while garnering the respect of the faculty and other administrators – credentials and experience means a lot in this situation.
  • In today’s world technology is a critical component of any administrative position in higher education, but it isn’t the only component. The Registrar, for example, is heavily dependent on whatever student information system the institution uses. Ideally, the interim will have direct experience with the system your institution uses, but, if not, that shouldn’t be a deal breaker. You are looking for an interim leader who will provide direction and guidance to the office and the institution, not necessarily someone who will know every detail of the student system. Most student systems these days are very similar, and an experienced interim will be able to come up to speed on any system fairly quickly.
  • Interview potential candidates via phone, or some other remote technology. A typical interim appointment could be for anywhere from three to six months, and maybe longer under unusual circumstances. Given that, you need to feel good about who you will be working with for that time.
  • Be flexible about the interim’s schedule. This person may be committing to leaving home for a significant period of time so some flexibility is desirable, and this is where doing this work remotely might well be the ideal solution, given the pandemic. Most institutions have been providing these enrollment service operations remotely for several months now, so having an interim serve remotely would be consistent with that type of operating model. That flexibility could also help with funding this interim position. With an in-person interim you will be expected to pay a salary to the interim, plus all expenses – transportation, lodging, and meals – so having an interim serve remotely eliminates, or significantly reduces,  many of these non-salary expenses. focusEDU has considerable experience in providing interim services remotely, in person, and in a hybrid model of in-person and remote work. This all can be worked out in the negotiation stage.
  • When you are ready to bring your new permanent leader on board consider a period of overlap – the interim could be critical in bringing the new person quickly up to speed. Also, most individuals doing this line of work would not hesitate to assist the new person with a few phone calls or emails as situations arise.

focusEDU – Creating a Positive Environment at a Critical Time

focusEDU - sustainable optimized solutions - logoClearly, an external interim can be a real benefit to an institution at a critical time of transition. Interims provide day-to-day leadership to the office, bring fresh ideas and insights to the institution, and can serve as consultants to provide feedback to institutional leadership concerning the direction of the office and policies under which that office operates. A highly qualified, experienced interim, such as the interims provided by the team of focusEDU, can create a positive environment at a critical time.  Click here to view the team of focusEDU. remote interim leadership enrollment

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About the Author:

Interim Placement Bruce Cunningham
Bruce Cunningham has over 30 years of administrative experience in Higher Education, most recently serving 19 years as Assistant Vice Provost and University Registrar at Duke University. Prior to coming to Duke in 1996 he served as University Registrar at Saint Louis University, and served as Associate Registrar at Old Dominion University and West Chester University prior to that. That combination of both public and private institutions provides Bruce with a unique perspective on the world of higher education. Prior to his work in higher education, Bruce served as an Economist for the federal Departments of Labor and Energy.

Bruce joined focusEDU as a Consulting Director in 2015 after an acclaimed professional career as a leader in the registrar profession. Bruce was promoted to Senior Consulting Director after a number of highly successful engagements to assist the leaders of our higher education community.

Bruce holds a Ph.D. in Urban Services/Higher Education Administration from Old Dominion University. He also has a M.Ed. from George Mason University and Bachelor’s degree in Economics from Cortland State University.

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