Published on 2019/10/02

The EvoLLLution | The Five Secrets for Marketing and Enrollment Growth: Leadership! (The Fifth Secret)
Higher education leaders need to run their institutions like as a business… one that can fail at any moment. A leadership team with strategic foresight can make or break a college’s future standing.

Is it really a secret that identifying, recruiting, retaining, and cultivating the right leadership staff is critical for success? Obviously not, but it’s also not as easy as it sounds. Let’s broaden the lens and look at what’s happening in higher education to crystallize some of the issues today’s leaders face. CBS News reported on closing colleges and universities on August 31, 2019, and highlighted some immediate challenges institutions are dealing with, including:

  • Shrinking enrollment
  • Weak balance sheets
  • Massive tuition discounting
  • Unsustainable physical infrastructure
  • The changing nature of learning
  • Increased institutional competition

The number of closing colleges and universities is a serious issue, and it has not just affected the for-profit education sector, though there have been some significant closures. Small private non-profit institutions in rural areas or in bigger cities are also affected, where state or large private universities with name recognition and multi-billion-dollar endowments dominate.

Having a leadership team with strategic foresight, particularly in the areas of marketing and enrollment, may be the difference between success or failure.

Operational Structure

When it comes to scaling marketing and enrollment activity, the first thing to consider is the decision-making structure. Marketing and enrollment functions demand flexibility, speed, accuracy and scientific theory. Who makes the decisions, and how quickly? We have seen it structured in two primary ways.

One way is the separation of marketing and enrollment duties usually allocated to a Vice President of Enrollment Management and a Vice President of Marketing. The other primary way is with a single person owning both functions – common titles could be a Vice President of Enrollment and Marketing or a Chief Operating Officer. Each of these structures come with pros and cons. However, we have seen it work best when a single person is able to hold both marketing and enrollment teams accountable for performance. Is the marketing team responsible for helping to grow enrollment? Is the enrollment team responsible for helping to increase the number of students interested in your institution? If the answer to both of these questions is “yes”, then the only way to avoid the finger-pointing is to have a single team devoted to overall recruitment.

Marketers are blind without the anecdotal information from the enrollment team. The enrollment team is blind without an understanding of how the institution reaches potential students. Transparency and communication through leadership are paramount.

Diverse Experience

By taking a cursory glance, you will find that many of today’s largest universities have a leadership team with diverse experience. In particular, many successful institutions have combined the academic rigor and quality of a non-profit institution with the business intelligence and innovation of a for-profit organization or institution.

This effective combination of experience can be identified through marketing tactics, the background of key leadership personnel, and the innovation and delivery of academic programs. Unfortunately, there are still individuals within higher education that hold traditionalism very tight. Recently on LinkedIn, we saw a post from a person that had been an experienced for-profit school administrator asking for advice on how to transition into a non-profit environment.

Could there possibly be a bias toward individuals who work or have worked in a for-profit school or business? We hope not.

Like it or not, operating a higher education institution is operating a business. There are profits and loss (or surpluses and deficit), depending on one’s ability to apply economic language to education. With that said, why not find the right balance of experience in order to compete, operate and succeed in what is increasingly becoming a saturated marketplace? It’s all about balancing talent, experience and collaboration.

The Five Secrets Revealed

In this article series, we combined our 49 combined years of higher education marketing and enrollment experience to create a road map for scaling marketing and enrollment activity within higher education today. Here is a quick review:

Secret #1 – Data

Secret #2 – Your Website

Secret #3 – Split Test Everything, Then Split Test Your Split Testing

Secret #4 – You Can’t Scale Without Appropriate Staffing

Secret #5 – Leadership!

The items we have written about have stood the test of time. We will always need data and people.  It’s impossible to operate without them. What separates one institution from the next is using data and people as the foundation for future planning and strategy. Higher education will not be getting any less competitive. In fact, the value of higher education is continually questioned by the consumer, business and industry. Those of us who work within higher education know the true power of quality education and we will continue to bring our messages to the masses.

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