Enrollment Marketing: The What, Why and How

CASE’s Enrollment Marketing conference explores how to use data-driven strategies and storytelling to attract prospective students. Here, CASE Vice President for Marketing and Communications Rob Moore explains how enrollment marketing has gotten more sophisticated (and more important) than ever.

By Rob Moore

The revenue that comes with students is the single most important funding source for 90 percent of colleges and universities.

Okay, I made up that percentage, but it’s more than a wild guess.

In public and private schools alike, for two-year and four-year institutions, for research-intensive universities and liberal arts colleges, student-based revenues are the largest single component of the budget. Depending on the nature of the institution, these revenues take many forms: tuition and fees, Pell Grants and third-party payer scholarships, federal or state per-capita allocations, room and board payments, parking fees, bookstore and collateral purchases, event attendance and participation fees, and the like.

Sure, there are institutions that are less reliant on enrollment-based income.

  • Harvard University’s endowment, fundraising success and research revenue reduces the net tuition contribution to budget to only 22 percent.
  • With the largest endowment-per-student in the nation, Princeton University tallies 18 percent of its revenue coming from tuition and fees.
  • Pomona College, with the largest endowment-per-student in the United States among liberal arts colleges, counts on 28 percent of its revenue coming from the student body.
  • Elsewhere on the spectrum, 63 percent of the McDaniel College budget is supported by tuition and fees; 68 percent of New York University revenues are student-dependent. At American University, nearly 88 percent of gross institutional revenue comes from students.

“If higher education marketers aren’t paying attention to enrollment issues, they are not paying attention to job one,” says Terry Flannery, vice president for communications at American University, and CASE Treasurer. “This is in part because of the revenue implications, but even more so because of the importance of enrolling a class that will maximize the opportunities your institution offers and the potential that your institution has.”

Enrollment Management & Marketing: Strategic Allies

Effective enrollment marketing requires close coordination between the enrollment management professionals at a college or university and the marketing team. The enrollment management operation is responsible for aligning its work—which includes recruitment and admissions, “modeling” the class, financial aid packaging, student retention activities and related functions—with the aspirations and budget realities of their institution.

The marketing team works hand in hand with the enrollment management team to identify prospective student populations and understand their motivations to attend college. They synchronize that motivation with the opportunities that the institution can legitimately offer and reach out to prospective students through a wide range of media with messages that will first draw their attention to the institution, then—ultimately—convince them to apply and attend.

In our current media market, this requires:

  • using analytics and data,
  • understanding how the institutional brand can be expressed,
  • creating exciting and energetic materials and collateral,
  • deploying the messaging through traditional, digital and social media and
  • consistently monitoring outreach activities to understand what’s working and what can be improved.

This has long been understood among private institutions, but public universities are also becoming more and more aware of the fundamental importance of enrollment marketing. Based on 2017 data, the State Higher Education Executive Officers Association reports that “for the first time ever, most states rely primarily on tuition revenue to fund higher ed”—and that revenue, along with per-capita allocations from state legislatures, is what keeps public institutions afloat.”

Building More Sophisticated Strategies

Recognizing the importance of effective enrollment marketing to our members, CASE launched our Enrollment Marketing conference, chaired for the second year by Marc Harding, vice president for enrollment management at the University of Pittsburgh, and Kate Ledger, Pitt’s executive director of marketing and engagement. The pairing of an enrollment management professional with a skilled marketer as co-chairs of this conference is deliberate: one helps set the goals that are aligned with the institution’s strategic imperative, and the other helps deliver the goods.

As one of the first chairs of CASE’s Annual Conference on Marketing and Branding, and the former chair of the American Marketing Association Symposium for the Marketing of Higher Education, Terry Flannery (vice president of communication at American University) has witnessed the explosive growth in understanding the importance and nuances of enrollment marketing.

“For example, the Higher Ed Symposium started out more than 30 years ago as relatively modest gathering of marketers” who were grappling with the emerging realities of net tuition, new media, changing demographics, and related issues. In 2018, the Symposium registered nearly 1,300 participants, all eager to hone their strategies, learn new methods and keep up-to-date with the latest developments in data, analytics and ROI in marketing.

“Early on, we were focused mostly on defining the issues, understanding the challenges and sharing effective responses,” says Flannery. “Now there is much more sophistication in the multiple dimensions and complexities of our work. Professional associations have to up their games to satisfy the growing demand for professional development among the burgeoning field of higher ed marketing. I’m delighted that CASE is offering an option to focus on enrollment marketing in a more concentrated, integrated setting, where higher ed marketers will learn from expert faculty colleagues and each other.”

Rob Moore is vice president of marketing and communications at CASE.

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enrollmentmkt_sidebar_imagesExplore how to attract prospective students with data-driven strategies and storytelling at our Enrollment Marketing conference, Jan. 9-11, 2019, in Fort Myers, Florida. Learn more about the program.

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