Organizing for enrollment management and the rise of consultants

One of the central themes of my doctoral thesis on marketing at Notre Dame College is that organizations adapt to their environments and there is no single best way to organize. In fact, I found that the organizational structure changed several times during Notre Dame’s transformation. As external and internal circumstances change, organizations adapt in response.

My study examined the total adaptation and organization of a higher education institution, but the same conclusions apply to enrollment management approaches. In “Enrollment Management Grows Up,” Kurz and Scannell said there is no ideal organizational structure for enrollment management, and with 40 years of direct experience, Peter Bryant said, “adaptation is not an option in enrollment management.”

In my review of literature and numerous college and university websites, I have observed that most enrollment management divisions include student recruitment, admissions, and financial aid. Other common functions include registration and records, institutional research and planning, marketing and communications, student orientation, and advising. Enrollment management divisions may also include career services, student affairs, and other student development functions.

Where Does Marketing Go?

Leaders at every higher education institution will determine their optimal organization, and they will decide where marketing and communications fits in relation to enrollment management. I have seen a variety of successful models for where marketing sits in the organization: some report to institutional advancement, some report to enrollment management, and others report to the president or a cabinet member not directly responsible for either admissions or development. In enrollment management, the day-to-day personal selling occurs in admissions, which is supported by robust communications plans. Those communication plans and the related online and print materials can be developed in collaboration with the marketing and communications department.

If marketing is included with enrollment management, it suggests a deeper integration where marketing may take additional responsibility for student search or other aspects of recruitment that do not involve one-on-one interaction with students and families. However, marketing’s importance to other campus stakeholders should not be lost in this type of arrangement. What type of arrangement works best in your setting?

Make Room for Consultants

One of the newest developments in organizing for enrollment management is the increasing use of consultants. In “Enrollment Management, Inc.: External Influences on Our Practices,” Schulz and Lucido surveyed 50 enrollment managers and found that nearly all of them have experience working with consultants. Enrollment managers are motivated for a variety of reasons: acquiring expertise unavailable on campus, influencing presidents and board members, and monitoring competitors. In my campus experience, consultants provide expert advice and technical tools otherwise unavailable quickly or economically. (Disclaimer: I am an associate consultant at Noel-Levitz.)

As I noted in my doctoral thesis, part of Notre Dame’s turnaround included working with consultants to increase the number of applicants and develop new online programs. My thesis did not explore the reasons for using consultants, but generally consultants provide  expertise that might be lacking on a college campus or keep college staff focused on areas more central to the institution’s mission. Colleges and universities are increasingly including consulting as part of their operations.

Schulz and Lucido suggest that the use of consultants is leading enrollment managers astray from their institutions’ missions with a focus on commercial practices and tuition revenue. I argue that consultants provide a critical link to the external environment and help institutions fulfill their missions. What do you think?

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