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The Wonderful and Wacky World of Marketing Higher Education

April 21, 2009
Photo courtesy of David Riley Associates

Photo courtesy of David Riley Associates

It’s the place I’ve called my career home, this wonderful and wacky world of marketing higher education. For the uninitiated, there’s another world behind the student experience curtain, and there are a few things you should know if you are interested in being a marketing and enrollment management leader in higher education.

Part 1: Shared Governance. Management is not strictly top down.

A college or university is an academic community. Faculty own the place. Well, at least that’s their perspective. While the degree of that perspective will vary by institution, make no mistake, it’s at play at every college or university. The political power of the organization lies with the faculty. They own the academic curriculum, the core product of the institution. This sense of ownership is made credible by accreditation associations that promote the idea of shared governance, which basically means the faculty should play a key role in the life of the university.

In that way, a college or university is less like a for-profit corporation and more like a hospital or news organization where there is a professional core that understand their role as being central to the mission of the organization. Think doctors, journalists and professors. Their roles at their institutions are really quite similar. They perform the core function of their organizations and they have to deal with administrators or editors whom they tolerate at best. I know. I’ve been on both sides as a faculty member and an administrator.

So, what’s this all mean for a marketing and enrollment management leader in higher education? You’re going to have to deal with committees–a lot of them–composed of faculty from across disciplines. At some colleges, there will be a shared governance expectation that a committee will sign off on your marketing and branding strategies.

Implementing anything comprehensively on a university campus takes political savvy and a network of productive relationships with faculty leadership and administrative colleagues. Once you develop a solid network of leaders on campus, they’ll be your partners in the good times, and will be able to vouch for you during those challenging times.

So, excellent interpersonal skills are a huge plus. Use them as you develop those faculty relationships, which I’ve often found to be the most interesting. And here’s the positive in all of this…Where else in a work environment would you be able to have a conversation on Monday with an artist, on Tuesday with a political scientist, on Wednesday with an economics professor, on Thursday with a filmmaker,  and on Friday with a psychologist? Of course, you may then have deal with the dynamics of having them all in the same room for your committee meeting.

If you don’t have good interpersonal skills to navigate shared governance? You may want to schedule more time with that psychologist…

UPDATE (April 15, 2010): From The Chronicle of Higher Education – How Are Professors Like Cats? Let Me Count the Ways.

Next in the series:

The History and Status of Marketing Higher Education

Higher Ed. Where Consumers Are Also Students.

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