The new Dean of Enrollment Management, hired from Middlebury College, answers our questions about his role, the admission process, and his move from college back to boarding school.
Our work in enrollment management ought to reflect the values of the School, its priorities and goals – in the classroom, in the Houses, on the fields. At the same time, enrollment management is subject to the pressures of changing demographics and financial sustainability (numbers of full-pay versus financial aid students). The margin for error in managing these challenges has become increasingly slim. And we’ve seen an explosion of competitive options, putting pressure on the applicant pool. With the rise of social media, there’s also been a sea-change in the way information is exchanged. We get a lot of “stealth” applicants, those who come to us through the website without any direct outreach. It’s important that we guide the way families engage with Lawrenceville to focus on their partnership with the School. After the first year, I hope everyone will understand who to ask about what (Enrollment Management versus Admission Director). I’ll still interview, read applications, and travel for the School, but this is a fairly new model, only 10-15 years old, in reaction to a changing environment. It definitely puts Lawrenceville ahead in anticipating and meeting challenges.
There’s a big picture perspective that makes you proficient at these decisions over time. It’s about mining information (from applicants) and assessing it based on best practices and the values of the institution. You become good at assessing the qualities you seek. It’s a constant process of tweaking, calibrating and reviewing your success, looking at evidence like graduation rates and matriculations, and using that collective experience together with institutional protocols. You can come to rely on that. When you are as strong as Lawrenceville, this works. The perspective of a really good staff is key to this process. You create a department that offers a total greater than the sum of its parts. Lawrenceville has this.
Small liberal arts colleges (like Middlebury and Kenyon, Buckles’ most recent employers) and boarding schools like Lawrenceville are very similar. The top ones are similar in selectivity, and many of the issues are the same, such as ensuring diversity in the student body. But at this level there’s the additional challenge of convincing families to send their children away for high school. I was attracted back to a boarding school (having previously worked at Hill and Loomis-Chaffee) by the community it offers and the relationships I can develop with families and students. That part of the mix is a whole different experience and one I’m really excited about.
Those numbers are impressive, but what’s most important is who actually shows up in your classrooms. We had a philosophy that drove incremental growth without sacrificing values. One of our charges here will be to responsibly grow the applicant pool, but we won’t be creating a lot of new initiatives to inflate the numbers. At Middlebury, we had the advantage of a staff that reflected what we were trying to achieve – gender and racial diversity, first generation college, and so forth. We had nine languages spoken among 18 employees. All this helped us expand our network for getting the word out (about opportunities at Middlebury) – through community-based organizations and a wider cohort of alumni, in addition to visiting individual high schools. I’ve heard – and believe – that you can resolve challenges by focusing on them. We were steady, we were focused, we were responsible. We operated with a longer-term, sustainable vision.
It was a confluence of events. I was very happy at Middlebury. I’ve always been opportunity-driven versus goal-driven. I felt I’d made it to the top of my profession, and then this opportunity came up. With the perspective of 33 years in admissions and four children, I firmly believe that the best investment in your child’s education is at this level. Lawrenceville is the best of both worlds for me. It’s a new opportunity, but it’s also filled with a lot of familiar people – Blake Eldridge (Dean of Students), Larry Filippone (History Master), Jeff Durso-Finley and Holly Burks Becker (co-Directors of College Counseling), Steve, Mary Kate, Christie Ding (Associate Dean of Admission). Steve and the quality of his leadership team were a major factor.
In the first year, to gain the respect, trust and faith of the community, to show them what an enrollment management model looks like. It’s incumbent on me to help people understand this position. Beyond that, to build a deep appreciation for the culture while driving our goals forward. Taking a longer view, the challenge is to position Lawrenceville to thrive and flourish over the next generation, to determine where those families will come from, to ensure affordability for families and sustainability for the School. On a more granular basis, we’ll need to determine how we present and talk about GCAD (the Gruss Center for Art and Design) and the new Dining and Athletic Complex – what a resource that’s going to be! Sports are really important to me. My father was my football coach. I was a coach, and I played in both high school and college.
It’s unlikely that I’ll teach, coach or do House duty this first year due to travel commitments, but I look forward to getting back to these aspects of School life. At last count, my wife and I have been affiliated with about a dozen different boarding schools. She was born at St. Paul’s. We’re really looking forward to campus life. My wife will be teaching English (as she did most recently at Hotchkiss), doing House duty in Woodhull, and coaching girls’ JV soccer.
My mother was the secretary at my high school, and my father was the guidance counselor and football coach. The daily rhythm of school is all I’ve ever known. Click here for a full bio of Greg Buckles, Lawrenceville’s new Dean of Enrollment Management.