Organizational Structure

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?

Marketing positions available in higher education today

Following my previous post about chief marketing officer (“CMO”) positions in higher education, I conducted a quick search on three popular higher education job websites for CMO listings: The Chronicle of Higher Education, HigherEdJobs, and Inside Higher Ed.

I did not find many CMO opportunities, limiting my ability to conclude anything substantial from my search. One CMO opportunity was clearly described as a position responsible for communications and promotions within a particular unit of a larger university. Another CMO position reported directly to the head of the institution and involved strategic and institution-wide responsibility. A part of the job advertisement included “fostering institutional trust,” a phrase that implies knowing target student populations and serving those populations better than competitors.

Broadening the search beyond the CMO title to include positions as vice president or director did not reveal many senior-level marketing positions. One institution may still be struggling to define the role for its marketing officer, with a position responsible for institution-wide marketing reporting to the associate vice president for development with a dotted line to the vice president for public affairs. I wonder where academic affairs, student affairs, or enrollment management fit into that role.

Even marketing positions that report directly to the president focus primarily on communications and public relations.

However, marketing positions that encompass the entire marketing mix do exist, such as the associate vice president position at Northwood University. In addition to communication and public relations, the position responsibilities include pricing, monitoring student retention, and analyzing competitors.

This is not a rigorous study, but a glance into a snapshot in time. It seems to confirm two findings that I have already written. First, marketing is not well defined in higher education despite wider acceptance in business. Second, institutions are making their individual adaptations to their environments.

A variety of opportunities exist for marketing practitioners, and the more marketing professionals that enter higher education, the better we can serve our institutions.

Does your university have a chief marketing officer?

Whether or not to have a chief marketing officer (“CMO”) is an important question for governing boards and presidents in higher education. In a rapidly changing and competitive environment, colleges and universities cannot leave to chance environmental scanning, marketing planning, or organizational adaptation. As external political, economic, social, technological, and legal forces act upon higher education institutions, some have adapted their organizational charts to include a position for CMO. This has tacitly signaled marketing’s increasing (albeit slow) acceptance in the academy.

The College & University Professional Association for Human Resources ([CUPA-HR], 2005, 2013), which has been tracking salary and demographic data since 1967, added the “Director of Marketing” position to its annual salary survey in 2004-2005, and as of 2012-2013, did not list a college or university marketing position in its top executive and senior institutional officers category. The latest survey included a CMO position in the heads of divisions, departments, and centers category (CUPA-HR, 2013). No clear model for marketing in the organizational structure has emerged in higher education despite wider acceptance in other sectors (Fleit & Morel-Curran, 2012; McGrath, 2002).

However, titles don’t tell the whole story.

As I explained in a previous post, marketing is not the same as advertising and promotion. Marketing involves adapting an organization to the wants and needs of target markets. Advertising, public relations, marketing communications, direct marketing, personal selling, and interactive marketing are marketing activities. Additional marketing activities include environmental scanning, targeting the marketplace, segmenting, positioning, branding, developing products and services, and pricing.

With marketing properly defined, it is easier to imagine why higher education institutions have been slow to add CMOs to their organizational structures. Some marketing activities relate to university functions that are the purview of established and accepted positions such as president, provost (or chief academic officer), vice president for business affairs (or chief financial officer), vice president for student affairs, or vice president for enrollment management.

Perhaps your college or university’s CMO is the person in one of these positions, even if his or her title does not contain the word “marketing.”

When I conducted research on organizational adaptation to the rapidly changing external environment, I found that Notre Dame College in Ohio increased student enrollment from 894 in 2003 to 2,147 in 2011 by deploying marketing strategies without any evidence of a marketing plan or person with “marketing” in his or her title (Brown, 2012). President Andrew Roth was Notre Dame’s de facto CMO, which I found through an analysis of his shrewd application of the marketing mix on his leadership of the institution (Brown, 2012).

Just like it is possible to have a CMO whose title is president, it is possible to have a CMO position primarily responsible for marketing communications with little crossover in academic and student affairs or business and finance.

Therefore, answering the question whether your college or university has a CMO requires that you look past titles on an organizational chart.

Do you have someone reporting to the president or governing board who is responsible for (or brings senior staff together for) identifying target student markets, learning about the wants and needs of those students, and delivering products or services that satisfy those wants and needs in a superior way than competing institutions?

If you do, then you have marketing management in place, and you have positioned your college or university for adapting to a rapidly changing environment. This will give you a competitive advantage in your marketplace.

If you don’t, then how do you organize instead? Will your organization provide you a competitive advantage in your environment?


Brown, S. M. (2012). Organizational adaptation to the rapidly changing external environment: A case study of strategic marketing at Notre Dame College in Ohio (Doctoral dissertation). Available from Dissertations and Theses database. (UMI No. 3525742)

CUPA-HR. (2005). Administrative compensation survey for the 2004-2005 academic year. Retrieved April 7, 2013, from

CUPA-HR. (2013). Administrators in higher education salary survey for the 2012-2013 academic year. Retrieved April 7, 2013, from

Fleit, C., & Morel-Curran, B. (2012, March). The transformative CMO: Three must-have competencies to meet the growing demands placed on marketing leaders. Los Angeles: The Korn/Ferry Institute.

McGrath, J. M. (2002). Attitudes about marketing in higher education: An exploratory study. Journal of Marketing for Higher Education, 12(1), 1-14.

Five essential higher education marketing management principles

For this post, I want to return the following statement by Hiram College President Kenneth Brown (1940):

The uncertain future will be determined largely by the vision and the untiring effort of the college servants in ascertaining the educational needs of that section of American youth which the college serves and in fulfilling these needs in a superior way—but also partially at least by national and economic forces wholly outside their control.

In 1940, President Brown made this prescient statement that succinctly underscores the importance of marketing in higher education today. This statement imparts five contemporary marketing management implications for us to consider.

First, marketers monitor emerging trends and adapt to changes.

The future is uncertain and our response relies upon reliable forecasts. We forecast how many donors will renew their annual support, how many prospective students will accept offers of admission, how many continuing students will return the next term, or which courses should be offered the next year. We also speculate about broader developments, such as online education. The future is unknowable, but we should think about what might happen and make adjustments as we collect new information.

Second, all “college servants”—including trustees, administrators, faculty, staff, students, and other stakeholders—are responsible for marketing.

As I outlined in a previous post, marketing involves identifying customers and developing products for those customers. Marketing is not the purview of the marketing office alone. For example, faculty and staff in academic and student affairs have relationships with students, so they have valuable information about students and what products or services students want or need.

My research on marketing organizational structure indicates that an organization must adapt to its environment. For some colleges, that means appointing a chief marketing officer (“CMO”) reporting to the president. Others have a marketing director reporting to a vice president in institutional advancement or enrollment management. Some colleges may not have anyone in the organizational structure responsible for marketing by title or job description. There is no one best way to organize; there are a variety of ways to adapt to external environmental pressures.

My research concludes that colleges and universities should prioritize marketing at the highest level whether or not this is reflected by the appointment of someone with “marketing” in his or her title. Presidents, provosts, and senior officers should carry out marketing activities—even if it is not called marketing—and empower those reporting to them to do the same.

Third, marketers are responsible for determining the needs of the students that the college serves.

In President Brown’s era, “American youth” described the student demographic of his private liberal arts college in the Midwest. That is not true today. International and posttraditional students (a new term of art that I am seeing to describe adult or nontraditional learners) are important demographics.

Beyond changing demographics, this marketing management implication involves essential activities that are often overlooked in higher education: market segmentation and target marketing. For example, some admissions offices behave as if all prospective students are roughly equally likely to enroll and allocate resources correspondingly. However, that is counter-productive to recruiting a class.

Put another way, Northeast Ohio has five community colleges, four state universities, a freestanding medical school, dozens of private colleges, and several for-profit institutions. Collectively, these colleges and universities enroll 225,000 degree-seeking college students. It would be impracticable (and undesirable) for all of those students to attend a single institution. Therefore, higher education leaders determine the segment of the total college-going population they serve best and assign resources accordingly. If you are not sure whom you serve best, start with this year’s graduating class and expand your analysis until you find your direction.

This lesson can be applied to other areas, not just student enrollment. Fundraisers, for example, can segment past and potential donors by a variety of characteristics and target outreach appropriately.

Fourth, marketers develop programs or services that fulfill customer needs better than its competitors.

This implies knowing your strong or distinctive programs, and knowing the same about your competitors. Higher education marketers should ask students what persuaded them to enroll and what keeps them returning. By doing this, marketers can also uncover experiences that might lead students to explore other colleges, which could lead to program improvement. Marketers should also ask the following questions: When students consider your institution, what other schools are they considering? Why? When students leave your institutions, what schools are they attending instead? Why? This will provide critical information about your position in the marketplace.

Finally, the most important implication for marketing managers is that the external environment exerts tremendous pressure on colleges and universities.

Political, economic, social, technological, and legal forces are acting upon higher education, and in most cases, these forces are beyond our control. For example, online education and massive open online courses (“MOOCs”) are changing the way we think about education delivery and credit for learning. The Affordable Care Act is changing the way that we think about using part-time and adjunct instructors or student interns. College costs have come to the forefront due to changes in the broader economy since 2007.

In practice, the day-to-day internal issues and pressures often divert attention away from the external environment. This is unfortunate. Higher education leaders sometimes make decisions considering primarily internal politics without much regard for external realities. The implication for marketers is to constantly survey the external environment and make connections to what is happening internally. Remember that marketers constantly forecast the future and adapt to changes. Forecasting does little good if it only considers what has happened in one institutional setting or what has happened in the past. Always be outwardly focused.

President Brown may not have had all of this in mind when he made the statement above, but I think his words speak directly to the challenges and opportunities for marketing in higher education today.


Brown, K. I. (1940). A campus decade: The Hiram Study Plan of intensive courses. Chicago, IL: The University of Chicago Press.

The “long and slow metamorphosis” of higher education marketing

Last night on Higher Ed Live, University of the Pacific Associate Vice President of Marketing and University Communications Richard Rojo answered questions about marketing organizational structure. He described a “long and slow metamorphosis” of the marketing and communications function at his university. Previously, it was as a function of the institutional advancement division, but now it reports directly to the president. Mr. Rojo answered questions about the size of his staff (which has increased) and the balance of generalists and specialists in his division.

Mr. Rojo said that higher education marketing and communications is transitioning from a copy shop to a full-service agency. As marketing is becoming more accepted in higher education, organizations are adapting. University of the Pacific is on the leading edge of this transition.

The responsibilities of marketing and university communication at University of the Pacific—at least as best as I understood from this interview—was primarily focused on communications. The textbook definition of marketing involves aligning an organization’s product or services with a customer’s wants or needs. Yet, I did not hear much about product, place, or price.

Perhaps the members of the president’s cabinet are marketing savvy, and the senior team works together developing programs for target markets.

If not, as University of the Pacific continues to adapt and as the associate vice president position becomes more involved at the cabinet level, the marketing concept might become more important. Collaboration with the provost, chief financial officer, and others could make this happen.

The hour-long interview covered a variety of topics and I recommend it for anyone working in higher education marketing or communications.