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Fragments II: micro stories about the learning business

Where did all my colleagues go?

Sometimes a conference saves its most poignant moment for the last session on the last day.

Sitting somewhere near the back, already thinking about the journey home, a respected colleague of mine stood up on the stage and expressed exactly what had been nagging me for a while.

We have to address the fact that so many of our colleagues - some of the brightest and most talented people we know - are no longer amongst us.

Immediately, I noticed all of the empty seats across the auditorium and my mind began to fill them with colleagues that no longer attended these conferences because, somewhere along the line, they had decided to move on and do something different with their lives.

A photograph of red theatre chairs.
More than half of admissions professionals do not anticipate being in the role within five years.

Retention, within any profession, is a marker that one should always keep an eye on. The Enrollment Management Association industry reports over recent years have painted a pretty consistent picture across both international schools, as well as independent schools in North America. Only around half of us see ourselves in admissions in five years, their findings suggest, with nearly a quarter of us hoping that we'll soon move on to become a head of school or take on some other senior leadership position.

The funny thing is that, when I look at all the empty seats, I see the evidence of attrition, but in the world of international schools I have never met anyone who went from admissions to actually become a head of school.

(I do know many who have been and continue to be involved in searches).

Looking at this scene, I agree that this is an issue we need to address and, in the hope of starting a conversation, offer up three simple observations.

First, we have to address the fact that, in many international schools, being an admissions professional is a dead-end career. If schools only ever hire locally, there literally isn't anywhere else to go.

Second, we would do well to start collecting more data on where our colleagues end up. What kinds of careers are they jumping into? As we consider the variables of tenure, age, sex, location, do we notice any patterns that help us understand what's really happening out there?

Third, it may also be worth bringing greater definition to the journey of mastering our craft. Those of us who started in enrolment management more than a decade ago bring an entirely different role, perspective and level of experience to who we were back then. But how do we capture this journey and professional growth in ways that validate who we are and who we are yet to become?

Back in the auditorium, all of this went through my mind. But most of all I guess I also just missed people who I was lucky enough to work alongside for a while.


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