Friday, August 23, 2013

Honey, I shrunk the Enrollment!!!

Tuition is an important source of income for many academic programs, a fact that leads to considerable anxiety when numbers of students are declining.  While some universities never encounter overall declines in numbers of students (although individual programs may experience declines), others always fret over their numbers.  Most institutions have sophisticated enrollment management strategies and developed marketing plans.

At the program or department level, however it is not that simple.  University strategies take the lead. The unit is left with less maneuvering room.  What seems to be more problematic however,  is the way that many programs approach their marketing efforts.

Academics are not well known for their ability to promote even good ideas and it is truly remarkable that people who are trained to analyze complex problems are often willing to tie enrollment decline to a single variable. It's been my experience that it is almost never true that one thing is to blame for declining enrollments. It also means that one thing will probably not turn it around. Marketers tell us that organizations create a marketing mix encompassing product, price, promotion and place.

Fundamentally, a healthy department, program or unit has found a way to integrate the teaching, research and service in synergistic ways. It has a sense of purpose and everyone works together to address the needs of the students, the academy and society.  It is a welcoming place that seems like a center of important activity.  There is a focus on something good.  People want to be there.  Programs like this still do not sell themselves, but they are certainly easier to promote than those that move away from this model.  They also create more social value.

Not everybody works in a place like that.  Having said that, it might still be possible to create products

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