Academic journal article College and University

Enrollment Management: A Market-Centered Perspective

Academic journal article College and University

Enrollment Management: A Market-Centered Perspective

Article excerpt

DURING THE YEARS WHEN ENROLLMENT MANAGEMENT WAS EMERGING AS AN ORGANIZATIONAL CONSTRUCT, IT PRIMARILY FOCUSED ON RECRUITING NEW STUDENTS, AND MARKETING WAS A CENTRAL EMPHASIS OF ITS EARLIEST APPROACHES. EVEN TODAY, AACRAO'S ANNUAL STRATEGIC ENROLLMENT MANAGEMENT (SEM) CONFERENCE REMAINS EXTENSIVELY POPULATED WITH SESSIONS ON RECRUITMENT-ORIENTED MARKETING. BUT TO THE MEDIA AND TO MANY CRITICS OF ENROLLMENT MANAGEMENT PRACTICES, A MARKETING ORIENTATION IS OFTEN THE FOCAL POINT OF CRITICISMS OF CONTEMPORARY INSTITUTIONAL ENROLLMENT PRACTICES. ORGANIZATIONS SUCH AS EDUCATION CONSERVANCY AND NACAC CRITICIZE COLLEGES AND UNIVERSITIES FOR INTENSIFYING THE COMPETITIVENESS FOR ADMISSION AND FOR USING MARKETING TACTICS THAT DO NOT PROMOTE THE EDUCATIONAL VALUE OF POSTSECONDARY EDUCATION. NEWSPAPERS AND MAGAZINES (SEE FOR EXAMPLE ATLANTIC MONTHLY, NOVEMBER, 2005) HAVE CRITICIZED THE 'WINNER TAKE ALL' APPROACH EMPLOYED BY MANY COLLEGES AND UNIVERSITIES TO ATTRACT AND ENROLL STUDENTS AND FOR THE ENCROACHMENT OF A MARKETING MINDSET INTO THE ACADEMY.

At a recent conference sponsored by the Center for Enrollment Research, Policy, and Practice at the University of Southern California, Gary Rhodes (formerly a Professor of Higher Education at the University of Arizona and now General Secretary of the aaup) suggested that colleges and universities do indeed seem to be characterized more by their strategic imitation rather than strategic imagination as their singular pursuit of prestige is shaping to an extreme degree the strategic agenda of colleges and universities. Clearly the emergence of the rankings industry has further intensified the notion that there is a hierarchy of colleges and universities wherein institutions all adhere to common definitions of quality, with the top of an ordinal ranking being the highest quality and wherein all institutions seek desperately to move up a notch. Too often, both the advocates and the critics of recruitment marketing seem to assume that American colleges and universities are a highly homogenous group, marching lockstep toward identical objectives and in pursuit of identical outcomes, only varying in the degree to which they've successfully attained a uniformly shared set of goals and quality outcomes.

All enrollment management officers are aware of the stark differences between institutions that occupy different places on the so-called 'food chain' or 'pecking order' of the higher education marketplace. Unfortunately, U.S. News and the rankings industry have taken these institutional attributes and assigned a quality judgment, with good, better and best comparisons, elevating these alleged differences in quality by catering to the American penchant for ordinal rankings and lists of 'the best of But regardless of how rankings have taken natural differences between institutions and created a beauty contest among them, we've long been aware of the fact that there is symmetry and stratification to this marketplace, that every institution occupies a fairly distinct position relative to each other institution.

Like many aspects of enrollment management, however, the reality is more variegated and complex than many critics acknowledge. Not one of the many assertions or criticisms about em and marketing can be interpreted or even understood absent an appreciation for the systemic, stratified nature of the marketplace that defines American higher education. The reality is that every college and university does occupy a distinct place on a continuum of institutions, and that there are clear and discrete institutional attributes that define a college's position in a structured marketplace. But that position is not just some qualitative value reflected in an easily measured or computed ordinal ranking; the institutional market is neither that simple nor simplistic. Scholarly observers of higher education such as Bill Becker and David Round as well as Bob Zemsky have argued that there is not one single market for colleges and universities; rather the marketplace is comprised of multiple markets. …

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