As Another Year Ends, Three Challenges Top the List for Higher Ed Leaders
As Another Year Ends, Three Challenges Top the List for Higher Ed Leaders


As Another Year Ends, Three Challenges Top the List for Higher Ed Leaders

Apr 30, 2019By Mallory Willsea, Nicole Lentine & mStoner Staff

Another academic year is soon coming to a close. For many in higher education, this means it’s time to reflect on the past nine months, gear up and tackle summer projects, and set strategies and plans for the 2019–2020 academic year.

You’re in good company. We recently conducted research with senior leaders in higher education in areas of communications, enrollment, digital, and marketing. We wanted to learn about their biggest challenges and opportunities, plans for the summer months, and concerns about the upcoming academic year. We learned a lot, and we’d like to share those insights and helpful resources with you, in case you’re facing similar challenges.

We’re All in This Together

No matter the type or size of academic institution, three major themes emerged from our conversations:

1. Student demographic shifts

Although not every institution is experiencing declining enrollment, everyone we spoke with had concerns about navigating enrollment marketing to shifting, new demographics of students.

For many, the “traditional undergraduate student” has become a smaller and smaller portion of the overall student demographics. Those who historically relied on recruiting graduating high schoolers must figure out how their marketing and academic offerings should change to accommodate and speak to adult students, military students, part-time students, online students, and others.

In addition, with high school graduate demographics shifting in current primary enrollment markets (for example, New England demographics are predicted to drop by 2025), institutions need to find new markets to maintain incoming class sizes. How can a Maine institution, for instance, entice a student from California — without spending a ton of money on financial aid?

When speaking to Michaelle Cloutier, vice president for enrollment management at Bryant University, about the shift in student demographics, she said, “What’s keeping me up at night is the declining yield in New England, and the region is getting more competitive every single year. We need to focus on maintaining the incoming class size while maintaining a respectable discount rate. We want to expand our brand recognition and reputation, but also ensure we’re being good stewards of our budget — by making decisions backed by data.”

Consider This:
To improve both promise and process for your institution’s new student populations, you must understand the factors that drive their enrollment decisions, as well as the thoughts and emotions they experience during the process. Going through an experience mapping process can achieve this. It includes conducting necessary interviews and research, drafting and iterating the experience map, and using the map for content and process strategy. When you understand what information your target audience is looking for, when they’re looking for it, how they’re searching, and why, you’re able to identify areas for improvement in engagement, content creation, and so much more.

2. Digital buy-in and proving ROI

Fighting for internal support and more budget to execute new digital projects is a battle that no one we spoke with enjoys. All agree that educating senior leadership is a crucial step. We are often asked questions such as: How do I …

  • Prove that we need the project?
  • Measure and showcase if the project is worth the investment?
  • Build a case to stakeholders for more ongoing digital resources?
  • Educate staff and faculty about the website’s role in student recruitment?

Consider This:
Use insights from data to show what moved the needle in other digital projects, identify current shortcomings or opportunities that beg change, and prioritize next steps into a road map that shows the bigger picture. Review industry research to help you benchmark and collect expert observations or best practices to support your case. If you can tie your project back to the goals of your institution and offer researched ROI (return on investment) projections, stakeholders and decision-makers are more likely to support your initiative.

Jonathan Shearer, executive director, marketing and communications for Elmhurst College, conducted a site checkup on for two reasons: to uncover quick and effective ways to improve the current site and to gain internal buy-in and funding for a larger redesign project. “I knew a website redesign was going to take too much time, and stakeholders were expecting something immediate to improve our website’s effectiveness,” Jonathan said. “The site checkup was a great way to prove the importance of web strategy in front of decision-makers. It was also a quick and inexpensive way to show the value of an outside expert.”

3. Professional development

We heard a lot of complaints about professional development: Conferences continue to get more expensive, budgets for professional development steadily decrease, and staying on top of “the latest” trends changes like the wind. Time is as much of a finite resource as budget, and it’s difficult to find a one-size-fits-all option for teams. According to the leaders we spoke with, professional development is a priority investment for any remaining budget dollars this fiscal year.

Consider This:
There are tons of professional development resources available online, which can be helpful in eliminating travel costs. Some of our favorites include GatherContent, Marketing Profs, Coursera, Inside Higher Ed’s Call to Action: Marketing and Communication in Higher Education blog, The Chronicle of Higher Education, and Academic Impressions.

Until July 8, 2019, you can access all three of mStoner’s on-demand courses, (Advanced Marketing for Higher Education Websites, Digital Marketing for Higher Education, and Storytelling for Higher Education) at a special fiscal year-end discount rate. With topics that range from storytelling, marketing, and web to technology, design and content, (and more!), these courses offer something for everyone on your team — especially for those of you who wear multiple hats.

Resources FTW

At mStoner, we thrive on testing new ideas, experimenting, and sharing what we learn through research, Higher Ed Live, on-demand presentations and courses, white papers, workshops, and more. In case you and your team are experiencing some of the same challenges, here are a number of resources you can use to educate and inspire:

Marketing and Communication Teams

Admissions and Enrollment Teams

Web and Digital Teams

Technology Teams

  • Mallory Willsea Director of Marketing and Business Development Proud ENFJ, here! What does that mean for mStoner, besides entertaining colleagues with my wit and charm? I'm a problem-solver and enjoy working through our potential client's challenges to identify solutions and how a partnership with mStoner will bring value.

  • Nicole Lentine Business Development Manager Nicole works closely with mStoner's marketing team to connect with potential clients, identifying their challenges and finding the solutions that best fit their needs. She is a former host of Higher Ed Live's “Admissions Live” web broadcast, where she led dialogue about topics and trends in higher education admissions and enrollment marketing.

  • mStoner Staff