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Conscious Collaboration: Three Ways CE and Enrollment Management Can Drive Institution-Wide Registrations

The EvoLLLution | Conscious Collaboration: Three Ways CE and Enrollment Management Can Drive Institution-Wide Registrations
To adapt to changing demographic realities, postsecondary leaders need to find new ways to serve new audiences by adequately leveraging the expertise of their colleagues in continuing, professional and online education divisions.

We know from statisticians and worried admissions officers nationally that the pipeline of traditional American high school graduates is in decline, and that this downward trend is expected to continue until at least 2025.

In response to this new demographic reality, nimbler colleges and universities have deliberately begun strategizing to attract and retain increasing numbers of non-traditional students, particularly adult learners seeking continuing education or degree completion, corporate groups, pre-college students and ethnic minorities (such as first-generation Latino students). These demographics, after all, are among the groups currently showing significant interest in attending college.

In these times of shrinking student populations and diminishing university budgets, it makes sense that institutions of higher learning would embrace the growing non-traditional student market by becoming more resilient, adaptive and welcoming to students of all ages, backgrounds and ethnicities.

How can continuing educators better collaborate with campus enrollment managers to successfully recruit such student populations?

The following is a series of possible scenarios for achieving this goal:

1. Marketing Campaigns

CE units often oversee their own marketing strategies and budgets. This model has emerged from years of practice wherein institutions have understood and supported the need for a customized marketing strategy aimed just at non-traditional learners. Such marketing includes messaging that specifically addresses adult and post-traditional learner behaviors, desires and priorities. These messages different from the marketing methodologies deployed to attract 18-year-old high school graduates.

How might these two distinct approaches become better integrated within the university?

Universities are not always willing to acknowledge that non-traditional students (ironically) may constitute the mainstream population on their campuses. Given this reality, university marketers and CE officers could more logically combine efforts, leverage resources and codesign strategies that serve multiple audiences, rather than only traditional or non-traditional ones.

Such collaboration would save on time, avoid redundancy and decrease internal competition for scarce resources, while saving on the cost of parallel marketing campaigns, multiple advertising firms and potential confusion in the marketplace due to mixed brand messaging, as is now often the case. Rather, embracing marketing as one central effort aimed at attracting diversified audiences would go a long way toward creating a more unified campus response in marketing successfully to an array of diverse learners.

2. Recruitment Strategies

Like marketing, recruitment strategies between the mainstream unit and the CE team tend to be separated at most colleges. Better integration of these efforts would create a more streamlined and consistent process that could be customizable to any student population.

With increasingly joint strategies, institutions of higher education could become nimbler and more adaptive, able to refine their recruitment strategies for any student population, rather than being overly reliant on and vulnerable to potential decreases in just one. This is occurring presently, as some colleges have clearly been thrown into having to devise strategies to ensure their very survival.

Such strategies would strengthen overall recruitment capability and help dissolve the silos that separate CE enrollment from the rest of the institution, which can result in undesirable competition for growth and resources and a divide that may be become challenging to overcome between these two functions.

3. Admissions Operations

In most colleges with well-developed CE units, admissions practices regarding non-traditional learners also take places separately from the central admissions office. While this often results in successful program growth, it is questionable whether such division is necessary. It’s even possible that this split perpetuates a bifurcation of efforts and resources, when a consolidated admissions function designed to flexibly accommodate all student populations would be preferable and easier for institutions to manage.

The admissions division for the main campus and CE could share resources, cocreate strategies and share personnel to mainstream their non-traditional admissions efforts, fortifying both. In addition, there would be a greater understanding by the core campus of what it takes to recruit, admit and retain non-traditional learners. This would only strengthen our institutions and prepare them for the increasing diversity in college populations that demographers are predicting.

Making the Case for a Consolidated Effort

Granted, such strategies for integrating CE and non-CE functions presume that colleges and universities are studying the demographic changes and increases in diversity within their student populations and agree on adjusting their enrollment goals and practices accordingly. It would mean that the historic bias in favor of traditional learners would be giving way to a more contemporary, well-informed appreciation of the true demographic and social shifts taking place, and that senior officers in both the non-traditional and traditional offices would collaborate regularly and discuss ways to streamline and emphasize more cost-effective, unified processes for successful growth and expansion.

Gains hard won by continuing education leaders and their units in acquiring such resources and independence may not be ceded quickly. Similarly, a consolidation would require that traditional marketers and enrollment managers come to know as much about attracting and retaining non-traditional students as they do about traditional ones.

Is this vision achievable? The imperatives being caused by the current historical shifts in American students attending college, begun during the last century when women, then adults began attending in greater numbers, may force colleges and universities to alter their business models as newer, under-served non-traditional learners gradually outnumber traditional learners in accessing a college education.

By 2050, according to higher education icon Dr. Arthur Levine, the white population in America will comprise the new minority. In the end, serving as many members of society as possible is both the responsibility and calling of higher education.

As resources shrink, it is incumbent upon our colleges and universities to collaborate internally, develop deeper mutual understanding of our varied processes and devise better, more integrated strategies that both serve our institutions and society at large.

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