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The Market Rules

September 11, 2013
The Harvest, Camille Pissaro (public domain)

The Harvest, Camille Pissarro (public domain)

I haven’t been in the habit of writing about successful enrollment seasons, choosing instead to talk about the strategies and tactics that lead to them. But the reality is that we live or die by the numbers, and enrolled students are the ultimate return on investment.

If you’ve worked in admissions and marketing long enough, you’re going to experience highs and lows. This year, a lot of colleges and universities are experiencing enrollment decline. Unfortunately, It’s a tough time for many of our colleagues.

However, that’s not the case here at Concordia University Irvine. Our admissions, marketing and communications team-under the leadership of our executive vice president and chief enrollment officer, Dr. Gary McDaniel–just wrapped up an extraordinary recruitment season.

Fall 2013 enrollment highlights at Concordia University Irvine:

University enrollment = 4046 (+15%)
Undergraduate enrollment = 1592 (+9%)
Undergraduate Admissions = 614 (+15%)
Undergrad non-degree seeking = 28 (+133%)
Graduate enrollment = 2102 (+18%)
Adult degree programs enrollment  = 324 (+20%)

While not all programs on campus experienced an increase in enrollment, and while we are definitely not without concerns about our enrollment, we’ve paused this Fall to thank God from whom all blessings flow, and the many on campus who contributed to these increases.

I’ve been reminded of a favorite song of mine, one of the signature songs from the musical Godspell, written by Stephen Schwartz.  The first verse and chorus…

We plow the fields and scatter the good seed on the land
But it is fed and watered by God’s almighty hand

He sends us snow in winter, the warmth to swell the grain
The breezes and the sunshine, the soft refreshing rain.

All good gifts around us
are sent from heaven above
So thank the Lord, oh thank the Lord for all His love.

The lyrics speak gently about how the seasons work together for the harvest. But the sometimes cruel reality is that the seasons are powerful forces of nature that require skillful responses by the one who scatters the seed. Nature rules. The sower is just grateful to God when the harvest is plentiful.

Such is the case with marketing higher education. While we don’t manage crops exposed to unpredictable seasons, we do manage our academic and university brands in a world of powerful market dynamics that require skillful marketing tactics. Ignoring or misjudging those dynamics spells trouble. The market rules.

Boiled down to its basic core, our responsibility as marketing leaders is to understand market dynamics and leverage them to our advantage in ways that are ethical and consistent with our mission.

But marketing is more than promotion, and it takes more than just marketing and enrollment leadership. Importantly, it also takes institutional commitment and skill by administrative and academic leadership to understand the market dynamics of product, place, and price, and to leverage them in order to be successful. I’m grateful to work with university leadership that understands this.

We’ll see what happens from here. Although we admittedly enjoy a better prospective student market than many other institutions, the competition is fierce, well-armed, and plotting to take our crops (market share).

So, we’re off sowing in a new recruitment season, understanding that market dynamics are by definition dynamic, changing just as the seasons change, especially in a market ruled by Google. Keep that in mind whether you’re experiencing the highs or the lows of the admissions and marketing profession this fall enrollment (harvest) season.

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7 Comments leave one →
  1. September 12, 2013 9:40 AM

    There is an unexpected comfort in the understanding, “Nature rules. The sower is just grateful to God when the harvest is plentiful.” It reminds me: 1) Be thankful for what I have. 2) Don’t try to control things that are out of my control. 3) Manage well the things God has given. 4) Stay loose, look for opportunities, and be creative.

    • September 12, 2013 10:04 AM

      So well said, wonderingcounselor! That’s a blog post right there. Thanks!

  2. September 13, 2013 5:04 PM

    Thanks for posting this. We just give it all over and do the right thing. Our philosophy is that if we put the student, family and our staff first, the rest will be supplied. This year we are at an all time high for enrollment and we pretty much were able to do well in the last four years during a down economy. Self-improvement and trying to offer the best services has been our mission. We have a center in Long Beach and I would love to talk to you sometime when I am out there. thanks, michael mcmanmon

    • September 15, 2013 10:33 AM

      Michael, that’s a great long term philosophy and commitment that will positively impact your reputation (brand). Feel free to send me more information about your organization. Thanks for your comment.

  3. October 11, 2013 6:44 AM

    OT: Sorry for off-topic, here, Question: I read in another of your posts your mentioning of the Higher Education Marketing Report. Is this is good resource? Is it a ‘must have’ for academic marketers?

    • October 12, 2013 1:01 PM

      Hi, Dan. No worries. I began subscribing to the Higher Education Marketing Report once they featured us in their publication. It’s been around for a long time, and it’s relevant, but I don’t think it’s a must-have. I follow the blogs listed in the Blogroll in the right column of my blog. Additionally, read all you can by Bob Sevier (@Sevier_Stamats). He’s been the higher ed marketing guru for the last couple of decades. Finally, I’d recommend starting to follow higher ed marketing types on Twitter. You’ll learn from those who use Twitter to share professional info. It’s been a big-time help to me.

  4. October 14, 2013 9:07 AM

    Thanks for the tips, Rick. Much appreciated.

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