by Mark McGowan
After a lifetime spent in upstate New York, Kitty McCarthy is well accustomed to long winters stricken with cold and snow.
But it wasn’t the familiar chill and grey skies of November in DeKalb that ultimately lured the new associate vice president for enrollment management to NIU.
“I had been with the State University of New York’s System Administration for a little over eight years – great experience, great people – but I was interested in making a change. I was eager to return to a campus environment,” McCarthy says.
“Visiting NIU in November and meeting the people really confirmed that this would be a terrific choice for me. I was just so impressed with the faculty, staff and students I met and how they felt about NIU. That’s what really sold me,” she adds.
“NIU has people who are smart and interested in doing better for NIU and NIU students. This is such a student-centered place and a place where student outcomes truly matter, and that’s been at the heart of so many conversations I’ve had.”
McCarthy, who replaces Brent Gage, heads up coordination of the efforts of NIU’s offices of Admissions, Financial Aid, Orientation & First-Year Experience and the Scholarhsip Office to manage the flow of enrollment.
Brian O. Hemphill, vice president for Student Affairs and Enrollment Management, called McCarthy “a natural choice for NIU.”
“Ms. McCarthy’s arrival at NIU comes as the admissions environment in Illinois and across the country has entered into a period of dramatic transformation – demographic shifts, economic uncertainty and a declining population of 18-year-olds,” said Brian O. Hemphill, vice president for Student Affairs and Enrollment Management.
“To be competitive and successful in these challenging times, enrollment professionals must possess a wide range of skills from admissions and financial aid to marketing and data analysis,” Hemphill added. “Ms. McCarthy’s knowledge of these areas will be vital to meeting enrollment goals, solidifying recruitment territories and expanding NIU’s reach into new areas.”
Her arrival comes at a busy and critical time.
Dozens of members of the Enrollment Management Strategic Planning Task Force are creating a clear and comprehensive five-year plan for enrollment goals and measurable objectives.
The work includes providing measurable outcomes to gauge the success of the strategies, a refined set of comprehensive initiatives for retention and student success and a plan that connects and aligns with available campus resources.
McCarthy’s move to Illinois also coincides with troubling times for colleges and universities in the Midwest and Northeast. Many parts of those regions are coping with a declining number of high school graduates as population growth shifts to the South and West.
Meanwhile, she says, the sagging U.S. economy has convinced some prospective students that college is not affordable and that they should postpone matriculation until the nation’s bleak financial picture rebounds.
“A student’s college search process is different than a few years ago. It’s a time when colleges and universities – NIU included – need to make sure that their message is out there,” McCarthy says.
“We’re going to want to engage more local and regional high school students in our process, and we might be looking at some new markets as well. One of our great opportunities is the strong relationship we have with so many community colleges, a choice for more and more students.”
McCarthy brings more than 20 years of higher education and marketing experience with her.
As assistant vice chancellor for enrollment marketing for the 64-campus SUNY system, she was responsible for the direction and administration of all undergraduate recruitment and outreach programs for the Office of Enrollment Management.
She and her staff presented the system “in new ways” inside and outside of the state of New York to enhance awareness of its campuses and its student outcomes.
She also assisted in the development and promotion of SUNY’s online application, introduced in 2004. Her office’s effective marketing of the computer-based tool elevated the system’s online application rate to 90 percent by 2009.
Her career in higher education began in 1986 at the University of Rochester, where she was hired as assistant director of admissions and marketing coordinator. At the time, she was working in marketing research.
“In the late ’80s, not a lot of colleges and universities were marketing. It was new to higher education at that time, and I really had anticipated staying in admissions for only a few years. I didn’t necessarily see a career in it,” she says. “But I had such terrific mentors and amazing people to learn from that I did find a career, and it’s been wonderful.”
McCarthy’s subsequent stops included a five-year stint as director of admissions at her alma mater, Alfred University, where she had earned her bachelor’s degree in business administration. She also holds a Master of Business Administration degree with a concentration in marketing from Syracuse University.
She later worked at Siena College as dean of Admissions and made a return to the University of Rochester to serve as assistant director of Career Services for the William E. Simon Graduate School of Business Administration.
Leaving her native state for Illinois in the dead of winter fulfills her notions “about being a little bit bolder in terms of a move,” and she’s eager to explore her new environs and to experience the three other seasons.
“I have siblings in Rochester, N.Y., Norfolk, Va., and Portland, Ore., and my sister has an annoying habit of posting all the temperatures online,” McCarthy says with a laugh. “I look forward to rising on the list.”