Opportunities and Challenges of the Role
The next executive director will join the association at a critical time as AACRAO transitions from a position of reacting and adjusting to the COVID-19 crisis to a proactive and forward-looking stance that embraces the new opportunities that can arise out of a period of upheaval. Additionally, fluctuating federal and state priorities, the upcoming demographic shifts and concomitant enrollment challenges will continue to reshape the work of enrollment management professionals for years to come. The executive director will be expected to quickly formulate and articulate a positive vision for AACRAO that will transform and strengthen mission and service to the membership. Top priorities to be addressed as outlined by key stakeholders include the following:
Diversification and sustainability of funding
The COVID-19 pandemic, coupled with the changing landscape of higher education broadly, has placed significant financial strains on Council of Higher Education Management Associations (CHEMA) member organizations, and AACRAO is not immune to these dynamics. In-person conferences and events have been moved to virtual offerings in the short term, and existing conference contracts and commitments will require a high degree of creative and confident oversight. The new executive director will be expected to collaborate closely with the board of directors and AACRAO staff to explore and cultivate new, diversified avenues for sustainable and predictable funding. In order for the association to be successful, the executive director must have a strong entrepreneurial sense, and an ability to identify and leverage significant sources of revenue apart from membership dues and in-person conferences/events.
AACRAO understands that current and prospective corporate partners and sponsors are under extreme pressure to justify their spending and their partnership, and to be successful in a rapidly-changing and competitive business environment. The association has an opportunity to make changes that will transition the corporate partners program into a valuable relationship that will provide sustainability for AACRAO, value for members, and value for corporate partners. In July, 2020 the association received a final consulting report that identifies a specific plan to transform the corporate partners program. The new executive director will play a significant role in implementing the recommendations.
The executive director will be asked to increase member engagement, with particular attention paid to supporting and delivering value to professionals of color, members from small institutions, and emerging professionals. Stakeholders also expressed a desire for greater representation and involvement from admission professionals. Finally, AACRAO’s evolving relationships with the state and regional associations, and with those overseas, will also need thoughtful attention in order to strengthen and diversify the association’s perspectives and impact.
An important aspect of AACRAO’s service to its members is its function as a thought leader and information source. The association also adds value by conducting relevant research, analyzing professional trends, creating opportunities and channels to share ideas and best practices, and producing and curating knowledge. The executive director must understand the profession’s historical, contemporary and emerging issues at a high level and be able to put in place procedures and mechanisms to quickly and efficiently harness the thought leadership within the organization.
Advocacy role in public policy
Given the prominent role that higher education has played in the broader national agenda, particularly during the last 10 – 15 years, AACRAO must maintain and strengthen its presence and influence in public policy deliberations. The executive director will be expected to be an adept public spokesperson, communicating confidently about such issues with the membership, and ensuring that the association continues its leadership role in these conversations, interacting frequently and persuasively with the national media, U.S. Congress, foundations and federal officials. The capacity to build on AACRAO’s existing strong relationships with all of these sectors is paramount.
Digital delivery of professional development offerings
Recent surveys of the membership have brought to light the need for accessible and high quality continuing education and professional development offerings that support the career advancement of the members. In response, AACRAO staff are engaged in creating a badging and credentialing system and are moving aggressively to make professional development offerings available through digital channels. The COVID-19 crisis has further sharpened the imperative for high quality, intentional training and development programs.
Organizational structure and management
Stakeholders describe the AACRAO staff as dedicated, collegial, talented, and hard-working. They are often faced with “doing more with less” and are being stretched to fulfill their multiple responsibilities. The current staffing model would benefit from an evaluation of the reporting structure currently in place. Furthermore, stakeholders indicated the need for the implementation of a human resources system or operation to better support staff development, performance management, and organizational priorities.
Stakeholders across the association spoke energetically about the importance of identifying and taking advantage of opportunities for AACRAO to be proactive and strategic in seeking collaborative opportunities with sister organizations within CHEMA.