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Maintaining Mission-Driven Admissions

August 19, 2010

ABC News on Thursday began running an investigative story on the recruiting practices of the University of Phoenix. Within the context of congressional hearings, and news of the for-profit industry’s astronomical federal loan default rates, it doesn’t give a pretty picture of for-profit admissions.

Once a college or university divorces mission from admissions, it all begins to go terribly wrong. Once it all becomes about profit, it’s no wonder that admissions begins to view federal financial aid as revenue instead of student aid, and prospective students as potential sales instead of potential students.

As I reflected on the story, I thought of a recent post by Tamsen McMahon on the Brass Tack Thinking blog, titled Offer or Sell. It’s a good perspective on how the market is changing. But it also sounds to me like the difference between mission-driven admissions and profit-driven admissions. Here’s the post in its entirety.

Let me ask you a question:

Are you offering what you sell, or selling what you offer?

One is about relationships, the other transactions.

One is about pull, the other push.

One is about permission, the other interruption.

One is about engagement, the other broadcast.

One is about conviction, the other convincing.

One is about giving, the other taking.

One is about value, the other cost.

One is about relevance, the other utility.

One is about service, the other commodity.

One is about finding opportunity, the other filling holes.

One is about them, the other…you.

Do you see a difference? What are you doing?

For those of us in the admissions profession, it’s not that we don’t sell. Mission-driven institutions are businesses, and we must use the best practices of moving our prospective students down the admissions funnel.

But our focus is on what comes before the comma. Giving. Service. Engagement. Pull. Conviction. Value.

Our admissions staff work at our institutions because they believe in our mission. They know how transformative it is. And because of that, they embody the mission. Their conviction about it shines through.

Thus, they model our brand culture by the way in which they interact with potential students. They offer (and sell) an opportunity. A life-changing experience. Not a commodity.

The takeaway for enrollment leaders of mission-driven colleges and universities?

It is imperative for us to work to maintain and model our mission-orientation, remembering that we are in the admissions counseling business, helping young people and professionals alike in finding their path or calling in life.

UPDATE (May 27, 2011): The Chronicle of Higher Education reports that the University of Phoenix is hit with a new whistle-blower lawsuit over recruiting practices

See also:

Marketing Higher Education Brand Communities

Mission vs. Marketing

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