Enrollment and marketing staff have many of the same overall goals. We all want our colleges to succeed. We want healthy enrollment numbers, happy students, and successful graduates. We also want to expand the reputation of the college, increase the profile of our programs, and inspire alumni and others to donate. Merging our visions and managing our priorities within the different areas of the institution will help us all move forward to better success. Yet we’re not always on the same page.
Higher education has long been siloed, with different divisions and departments doing their own thing, often oblivious to the efforts of other groups on campus. Yet better communication and collaboration between departments will improve the outcomes for all. Marketing and enrollment are often in different departments, with many aligned priorities but different mindsets. Increasingly, these two functions are moving closer in colleges and universities, sometimes even merging into one department.
While this makes a lot of sense for universities to bring enrollment and marketing functions into closer proximity, the differences in thinking and processes can be difficult to merge. Considering the similarities and differences will give us a better idea of how to harmonize our activities, whether inter-departmentally or within the same office.
The Business of Higher Education: Financial Foundations
Many colleges depend on tuition revenue to keep their finances on firm ground. While financing higher education institutions is a complex and individual pursuit, many schools get a large percentage of their operating budgets from tuition. For public doctoral universities, tuition is approximately 41% of overall revenue. If we think about this from a business and marketing perspective, students are the consumers of education, and we need effective marketing to find the customers who want our educational “product.”
Although recruiting students is a more nuanced art form, many of the same marketing principles are needed to get the process going. Prospects need awareness of your school, messages that tout the benefits of your educational programs, and a warm emotional feeling that will induce them to apply and consider enrolling. Wooing students is very similar to finding customers for a complex product in the business world—you need to qualify prospects, figure out their needs, and encourage them into the right programs where they can find satisfaction and success.
Data Informs Both Marketing and Admissions Departments
With more data available to universities, marketing and enrollment teams can track many nuanced data points to help them optimize marketing and recruiting budgets. Spending the money and time on prospects most likely to matriculate will lead to better enrollment yields. Data from alumni interactions, student surveys, academic results, and broad demographic information can benefit both teams in planning the best strategies.
Sharing data analysis and insights will help both teams stay on budget while achieving their goals. With the faster pace of enrollment and digital data tools, staff can collaborate more effectively with joint access to reports. Even with different aims, the richer data available can benefit each team in varied ways. Information hoarding is not just out of fashion when our lives are awash in data, but it is simply impossible. When offices can see that success is not a zero-sum game—each team’s achievements drive the other’s triumphs—they may realize that collaboration benefits all the stakeholders in the school, including academic departments, marketing, recruitment, and eventually, the students who enroll.
Enrollment Resembles a Marketing Funnel
Marketing teams have expertise in finding channels to drive awareness and lead prospects toward the goal of getting them to apply to the school. This marketing funnel requires the competencies that traditional marketers excel at. Yet intertwined with the marketing funnel is the enrollment process, which is shaped strikingly similarly. The fast pace of digital communications means these two funnels often overlap and can undoubtedly be seen as extensions of the same process.
Once marketing has effectively brought an applicant to the enrollment team, there are many steps to draw that applicant closer to the school as they go through the steps towards registering for classes. They may need a tour of campus, to apply for or sort out financial aid, learn more detailed information about the programs, speak with a counselor about what classes and programs will be a fit, put down a deposit, and finally, if all the stars align, start their classes.
Working Collaboratively in Any Situation
As more colleges are moving towards consolidating functions in varied ways, many possible arrangements exist for the collaboration between marketing and enrollment. No matter how your institution has configured your departments, there is space for cooperation. In fact, it is increasingly crucial to get admission and marketing working together to effectively recruit the waning numbers of prospective college-aged students. Marketing may be more concerned with branding and reputation. At the same time, the admissions office has more responsibility for communicating with individual prospects and their families. Still, a harmonized set of interlocking goals will help move the institution forward in this uncertain demographic shift for higher education.
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