Steven Johnson leads university enrollment with diverse opportunities, personal relationships
Although he might be a relatively new face around the university, Steven Johnson is no stranger to the inner workings of the enrollment process.
His first position in enrollment was when he was just 18 years old, as an undergraduate work study student at Davenport University.
Now, as the Vice President of Enrollment and Student Services at Central Michigan University, Johnson is continuing his passion for education by providing guidance in enrollment for the university.
January marks one year of being in his position in Enrollment and Student Services, and Johnson said he could not be more pleased with how things are going, despite a slight drop in overall fall enrollment and 12 percent decrease in freshmen.
“I think coming to (CMU) at this stage is being part of a greater opportunity of the evolution of the institution,” he said. “It has always served the state of Michigan very, very well, but there are some greater opportunities to expand that reach beyond the state of Michigan. What we're trying to do is identify where our greatest opportunities are to attract students beyond just the state of Michigan, but also to continue to serve this population very well.”
Building relationships with students, faculty and staff is the best part of the job, Johnson said, because it illustrates the great learning community that exists at the university.
“There are no hierarchies at CMU; we're all here,” he said. “That's what we like. We love to be here; we love to be accessible; we want students to see us. We want it be known that their institutional leaders care and we want to hear what they have to say.”
University Communications Associate Vice President Sherry Knight, who works closely and frequently with Johnson on university marketing, said Enrollment and Student Services contributes to what makes CMU such a great university.
“(Enrollment and Student Services is) really focused on shaping the future; not just letting the future happen, which is how the best organizations succeed,” she said. “(They are) constantly learning, constantly evaluating, constantly improving. They also have tremendous passion for this university, for our premiere programs, for our legacy programs. They are as excited about a program that has been here from our start as they are for our newest programs.”
Johnson said he looks forward to some upcoming projects in Enrollment and Student Services, including focusing more on graduate student enrollment, working with academic prioritization and introducing bridge programs to high schools.
A major focus of enrollment is ensuring students receive diverse and meaningful experiences both in and out of the classroom. Bringing students to the university who have varying backgrounds and interests is key in that process, he said.
“We are unique, and I think we have a unique program offering that is attractive to a wider audience,” he said. “So, when you look at how we can take that to the next level and introduce ourselves in new markets and bring new students with varying experiences on campus, I think it's just going to make your experience as a student that much greater.”
Enrolling a diverse student body is possible by not being overly rigid or using an admissions checklist, he said.
“For the admissions process, we really want to understand the individual individually; so, therefore, they may make a different contribution – a special talent, courses they took, civic engagement, service learning,” Johnson said. “Students have so many opportunities in high school now that it's really not that cut-and-dry. We try to look at the individual and try to see if that's a good fit for what the student and the institution need.”
Johnson said he can see himself retiring from CMU and looks forward to his work in the coming years.
“I've had seven different institutional experiences; right now I can easily say this is the best one I've had, because even though I'm not a student, I am a student, because we continue to learn together,” Johnson said. “Education is that type of profession where you're always learning, no matter what side of the desk you sit on.”