Paying Attention to the Long-term Impact of our Decisions

Eric FulcomerIn my community, we have a weekly lecture series run by the Chamber of Commerce. It’s called People You Should Know and influential people are invited to talk about a topic of interest. As a new person to the community, I have found this to be a great way to meet community leaders quickly. Recently, one of the speakers referred to “seventh generation sustainability” from the Constitution of the Iroquois Nations. He was speaking on the topic of a community renaissance and the importance of laying the groundwork for future generations. This intrigued me and led me to give some thought to the current state of the enrollment profession.

Enrollment management is becoming a nomadic profession. Enrollment managers are increasingly at an institution for just a season and then they move on to the next one. Of course there are exceptions, but there aren’t many “lifers” out there. This is especially important for me to consider as someone who recently left an institution after 19 years and joined a new campus community. I grew up professionally at Bluffton University – joining the staff as a graduate intern right after graduating from college and moving through a number of student affairs and enrollment management positions, including a decade as the chief enrollment officer. While I didn’t come to Bluffton expecting to stay for nearly two decades, I quickly became immersed in the place and saw myself as part of the institutional fabric. When I made decisions or recommended policies, I was well aware of the past and thought carefully about how the decisions we were making would impact the institution long term.

So now, as a new employee at Rockford University, I am aware that I simply don’t yet have the institutional knowledge that I had at Bluffton; I don’t yet feel like part of the institutional fabric. It will take time to gain the necessary knowledge to understand the past, yet in this fast-paced environment, decisions need to be made and new policies need to be implemented. So I am wondering what the impact will be on institutions when the people making important decisions are doing so without significant institutional knowledge and who therefore don’t truly understand how the decisions will impact the institution long term. And more specifically, I am trying to make sure that I am thinking about the long-term institutional impact of the decisions that I am making. As enrollment managers, we are expected to bring in the numbers that are required to allow our institutions to meet and exceed their budget goals. This need to recruit and retain students is always going to be important for our institutions and the pressure to meet budget in a given year will necessarily push us to make decisions that help achieve those goals. But what if these decisions are good for the short-term but not for the long-term? And how do we figure out what is good for the institution long-term? I don’t know all of the answers, but I think that we can learn something from the Iroquois Nations. Here are a few principles* related to the Iroquois seventh generation thinking:

  • Each generation has a responsibility to ensure the survival of the seventh generation.
  • Elders are held in high esteem. They alone have the experience and wisdom of the years.
  • Our needs in terms of survival must always be balanced with the needs of our families, our community and our nation.
  • Everything that we do has consequences for something else. This circular pattern of thinking is a constant reminder to us that we are ultimately connected to creation.
  • What we do today will affect the seventh generation and we must bear in mind our responsibility to them today and always.

While I don’t have all the answers, I think that these guiding principles are a good place to start. I am committed to making decisions that take the long-term impact into consideration. And I am committed to understanding the institutional past so that I can better understand the institution’s future. As a member of a nomadic profession, I owe this and more to my institution.

Eric W. Fulcomer, Ph.D., is the Vice President for Enrollment Management at Rockford University (Illinois). He previously served in a number of positions at Bluffton University (Ohio), most recently Vice President for Enrollment Management and Student Life. *Source: http://www.iisd.org/pdf/seventh_gen.pdf

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