Cracking the Code on College Enrollment: Why Marketing and Admissions Alignment Is the Key

As a college enrollment leader, you know that meeting your institution‘s enrollment goals is tougher than ever. Student expectations are sky-high, competition is cutthroat, and traditional tactics are losing their luster. But there‘s one strategy that can give you an edge: aligning your marketing and admissions teams.

When marketing and admissions truly collaborate, the results are powerful. Schools that tightly integrate these two functions consistently see lift of 10-25% in key metrics like inquiry-to-application conversion and yield rates. It‘s a classic case of the whole being greater than the sum of its parts.

Think about it this way: When marketing and admissions are in lockstep, you can deliver a seamless experience to prospective students from first touch to enrollment. You can engage them with hyper-relevant content, respond nimbly to their needs, and build personal connections that drive action. You can focus your resources on the efforts that move the needle. In short, you can crack the code on sustainable enrollment growth.

But too often, marketing and admissions operate in silos, with misaligned priorities, disconnected data, and competing agendas. In a recent survey of enrollment leaders, 65% said lack of collaboration between these two functions was a top barrier to meeting their goals.

If you‘re ready to break down those barriers and unleash the power of alignment, read on. We‘ll explore why an integrated marketing-admissions approach is so critical, and give you a practical playbook for making it happen at your institution.

The State of College Enrollment: Disruption and Opportunity

First, let‘s set the stage with some context on the forces shaping the higher ed landscape. As you well know, the traditional enrollment model has been upended in recent years by a perfect storm of challenges:

  • Demographic shifts: The pool of high school graduates is shrinking and becoming more diverse, especially in key regions like the Northeast and Midwest. Schools must work harder to reach and resonate with a changing audience.

  • Economic pressures: College affordability is a major concern for many families, and the pandemic has only heightened financial strain. Schools must demonstrate the value of their programs and help students navigate cost barriers.

  • Evolving student expectations: Today‘s prospective students are digital natives who expect personalized, on-demand, omnichannel experiences. They‘re also more likely to question the ROI of a traditional degree. Schools must meet them where they are with relevant, compelling content.

  • Intensifying competition: With over 4,000 degree-granting institutions in the U.S., students have more choices than ever. Schools must differentiate themselves and stand out in a crowded market.

Amidst these headwinds, it‘s no wonder that many schools are struggling to meet their enrollment numbers. In fact, total undergraduate enrollment declined by 6.6% between Fall 2019 and Fall 2021.

But there‘s also good news: disruption creates opportunity. Schools that adapt to the new realities and find innovative ways to attract, engage, and convert right-fit students can emerge stronger than ever. And that‘s where marketing and admissions alignment comes in.

Why Marketing and Admissions Alignment Is a Game-Changer

Traditionally, marketing and admissions have been seen as two distinct entities with different roles. Marketing is responsible for building brand awareness and generating leads, while admissions is responsible for nurturing relationships and getting students to enroll. There‘s often little collaboration or communication between the two.

But in today‘s environment, that siloed approach is a recipe for missed opportunities. When marketing and admissions work in tandem, they can create a virtuous cycle that drives better results at every stage of the enrollment funnel.

Here are just a few of the benefits of a joined-up strategy:

  • Consistent messaging: When marketing and admissions align on messaging, prospective students receive a clear, cohesive story about your institution‘s value proposition from the first touchpoint to the last. This builds trust and motivates action.

  • Targeted engagement: By sharing data and insights, marketing and admissions can identify the right prospects to target, and deliver personalized content that resonates with their interests and needs. This leads to higher engagement and conversion rates.

  • Agile decision-making: With a unified view of the pipeline and real-time data on what‘s working, marketing and admissions can quickly pivot strategies and investments to capitalize on opportunities and address challenges.

  • Improved yield: By collaborating on yield campaigns and tailoring communications to admitted students‘ demonstrated interests, marketing and admissions can boost enrollment rates and shape the incoming class.

  • Sustainable success: Ultimately, a coordinated marketing-admissions approach leads to more efficient use of resources, more predictable outcomes, and long-term enrollment health.

The proof is in the numbers. A recent EAB study found that institutions with the most mature marketing-admissions partnerships were twice as likely to report enrollment growth over the past five years, compared to those with the least mature partnerships.

So how can you foster this kind of game-changing alignment? It starts with a shared commitment from leadership, and a willingness to break down historical silos. But it also requires a strategic approach to people, processes, and technology. Let‘s dive into some practical steps you can take.

How to Align Marketing and Admissions: A Step-by-Step Guide

Step 1: Define shared goals and metrics

The first step in any successful partnership is to get on the same page about what you‘re trying to achieve. Marketing and admissions should collaborate to define a set of shared enrollment goals and key performance indicators (KPIs) that will guide your efforts. These might include:

  • Inquiry-to-application conversion rate
  • Application completion rate
  • Admit-to-enroll yield rate
  • Melt rate (summer melt)
  • Net tuition revenue per student

By aligning around common targets, you create joint accountability and ensure that everyone is pulling in the same direction.

It‘s also important to establish a regular cadence of reporting on these KPIs, so you can track progress and make data-driven decisions. Consider creating a shared dashboard that gives both teams real-time visibility into key metrics.

Step 2: Map the student journey

To deliver a seamless experience to prospective students, you need a deep understanding of their journey from awareness to enrollment. Marketing and admissions should work together to map out each stage of the funnel, identifying key touchpoints, channels, and content needs.

Some questions to consider:

  • What are the key milestones in the student‘s decision-making process?
  • What information do they need at each stage to move forward?
  • What channels do they prefer to engage with at each stage?
  • What are the potential barriers or pain points that could derail their progress?

By visualizing the student journey, you can identify opportunities to provide value, remove friction, and guide prospects toward the next step.

One helpful exercise is to develop personas for your key target audiences, based on research into their demographics, psychographics, and behaviors. These personas can inform your content strategy and help ensure that your messaging resonates.

Step 3: Develop an integrated content strategy

Once you have a clear view of the student journey, you can develop a content strategy that supports each stage of the funnel. This should be a collaborative effort between marketing and admissions, leveraging the unique strengths and insights of each team.

Some key elements of an integrated content strategy:

  • Top-of-funnel content: At the awareness stage, focus on content that educates prospects about their options and establishes your institution‘s unique value proposition. This might include blog posts, social media content, and virtual events.

  • Middle-of-funnel content: As prospects move into the consideration stage, provide content that helps them evaluate your institution and programs in more depth. This could include student testimonials, program guides, and webinars.

  • Bottom-of-funnel content: At the decision stage, focus on content that overcomes objections and drives action. This might include personalized communications from admissions counselors, financial aid resources, and yield campaign materials.

The key is to ensure that each piece of content is tailored to the prospect‘s needs and interests at that stage, and that there is a logical flow from one touchpoint to the next. By collaborating on content development, marketing and admissions can ensure that the messaging is consistent and impactful.

Step 4: Leverage data and technology

To execute an integrated content strategy at scale, you need the right tools and data infrastructure. Marketing and admissions should work with IT to ensure that your systems are talking to each other and providing a unified view of the prospect.

Some key technologies to leverage:

  • CRM: A robust customer relationship management system is the foundation of any enrollment strategy. It should integrate with your marketing automation and other tools to provide a 360-degree view of each prospect‘s interactions and status.

  • Marketing automation: Automated communications can help you deliver the right message to the right prospect at the right time, based on their behavior and preferences. Look for a platform that integrates with your CRM and allows for dynamic content personalization.

  • Analytics: To track the effectiveness of your efforts and make data-driven decisions, you need robust analytics tools that can measure key metrics across channels. Make sure your analytics are properly configured and that key stakeholders know how to interpret the data.

By leveraging data and technology, you can gain real-time visibility into the pipeline, identify opportunities for optimization, and continuously refine your strategies based on what‘s working.

Step 5: Foster collaboration and agility

Finally, to sustain marketing-admissions alignment over time, you need to foster a culture of collaboration and agility. This means breaking down silos, communicating frequently, and being willing to pivot when needed.

Some best practices:

  • Schedule regular check-ins: Marketing and admissions leaders should meet weekly to review pipeline metrics, discuss challenges and opportunities, and align on next steps. Consider also holding periodic joint team meetings to share updates and celebrate successes.

  • Clarify roles and responsibilities: Make sure each team understands their unique role in the enrollment process, and establish clear hand-off points and protocols. Use a RACI matrix or similar tool to map out who is responsible, accountable, consulted, and informed for each key activity.

  • Encourage cross-functional collaboration: Look for opportunities to bring marketing and admissions staff together on specific projects or initiatives. This could include joint application review sessions, yield event planning, or content brainstorms.

  • Celebrate shared wins: When you achieve a key enrollment milestone or exceed a target, make sure to acknowledge the contributions of both teams. This helps build morale and reinforces the value of collaboration.

By fostering a culture of partnership and continuous improvement, you can build a marketing-admissions powerhouse that drives long-term enrollment success.

The Future of Marketing-Admissions Alignment

Looking ahead, I believe that the imperative for marketing-admissions alignment will only grow stronger. As the higher ed landscape continues to evolve, schools that can adapt quickly and deliver seamless, personalized experiences will be best positioned to thrive.

Here are a few trends I see shaping the future of enrollment strategy:

  • Continued focus on ROI: With concerns about college costs and debt on the rise, schools will need to get even better at communicating the value of their programs and linking them to career outcomes. Marketing and admissions will need to collaborate closely to develop compelling value propositions and proof points.

  • Greater emphasis on diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI): As the student population becomes more diverse, schools will need to rethink their recruitment strategies and messaging to appeal to a wider range of backgrounds and experiences. Marketing and admissions will need to work together to develop inclusive content, outreach, and support services.

  • More sophisticated use of data and AI: As data analytics and artificial intelligence tools become more advanced, schools will have even greater opportunities to personalize the enrollment experience and optimize their strategies in real time. Marketing and admissions will need to be at the forefront of leveraging these technologies for enrollment success.

  • Emphasis on lifetime value: In an increasingly competitive market, schools will need to think beyond the point of enrollment and focus on building long-term relationships with students and alumni. Marketing and admissions will need to collaborate with other departments like student affairs, career services, and advancement to create a seamless lifecycle experience.

To stay ahead of these trends, enrollment leaders will need to be proactive about aligning marketing and admissions around a shared vision for the future. This may require rethinking organizational structures, investing in new technologies and skills, and fostering a culture of continuous learning and innovation.

Key Takeaways and Action Items

Aligning marketing and admissions is not a one-time project, but an ongoing journey. It requires a fundamental shift in mindset and a willingness to break down traditional silos.

But the payoff is worth it. When marketing and admissions work together as true strategic partners, they can:

  • Deliver a seamless, personalized experience to prospective students
  • Make data-driven decisions that optimize resources and results
  • Adapt quickly to changing market conditions and student needs
  • Build a strong, sustainable enrollment pipeline for the long term

If you‘re ready to get started, here are some key action items:

  1. Schedule a joint leadership meeting to discuss the vision and business case for marketing-admissions alignment.
  2. Conduct a gap analysis to identify areas where collaboration could be improved, and prioritize opportunities for quick wins.
  3. Develop a set of shared goals and KPIs, and establish a dashboard to track progress.
  4. Map out the student journey and identify key touchpoints for joint content development and optimization.
  5. Assess your current technology stack and identify any gaps or integration needs to support an aligned strategy.
  6. Establish a regular meeting cadence and communication protocols to foster ongoing collaboration and agility.

Most of all, be patient and persistent. Achieving true alignment takes time and effort, but the results are well worth it. By working together as one team, marketing and admissions can drive better outcomes for your institution and your students.