Centralized or Decentralized: Making Your Graduate Enrollment Operation Work

Scott JeffeVice President, Research (Graduate and Online)July 28, 2021

“Centralized or decentralized, that is the question.” This is how my colleagues Lew Sanborne and Reena Lichtenfeld began their session at the RNL 2021 National Conference. They were joined by Dr. Paul Gemperline, Dean of the Graduate School at East Carolina University to discuss how to optimize graduate marketing and recruitment, whether an institution has a centralized, decentralized or hybrid structure.

But before jumping into how Paul manages all of this, Lew shared some interesting data from a soon to be released RNL study on Graduate Marketing and Recruitment Practices. These stats included:

  • 50 percent of private institutions say graduate marketing is managed by a central office, while 46 percent of publics say these responsibilities are shared between a central office and individual schools and departments.
  • Trends in graduate recruitment and cultivation are very similar, with privates much more likely to have centralized functions and publics much more likely to share functions between a central office and schools and programs.
  • While most institutions include graduate enrollment in their strategic enrollment plans, the majority do not have a stand-alone graduate marketing and recruitment plan.

These data make it clear that our public institutions are more likely to be operating in what I think of as “legacy structures,” often established in a period when graduate programs faced less competition, were often not considered a primary revenue source, and where it was thought that academic stakeholders could make the best case for enrolling in a given program.

The challenge is that these less centralized structures may not be equipped (or uniformly equipped) to confront today’s competitive graduate market, the emphasis that many institutions are placing on graduate programs in order to make up revenue lost to shrinking undergraduate enrollment, and the sophistication that today’s graduate students expect of the programs in which they enroll. Just consider one statistic from our new Graduate Recruitment Report: 80+ percent of graduate students are likely or will definitely enroll in the first program to accept them.

Paul Gemperline has confronted these challenges head on. He described a marketing and recruitment structure in which the Graduate School coordinates and leads many functions, but has total control over fewer. He coordinates marketing with both his nine colleges and the institutional marketing office, and he coordinates recruitment and cultivation with a central team and the nine colleges. He has engendered an environment that welcomes experimentation and after describing some things that didn’t work, he focused on how things are working at ECU now.

It starts with active collaboration and ends with accountability. He established a council to manage graduate marketing and recruitment. The council includes stakeholders from an array of offices, as well as the associate deans of his nine colleges. At monthly meetings at least two things happen: 1) a presentation is made on one or more best practice, and 2) each college’s associate dean gives a report – with dashboard data provided by Paul’s office – on the status of their inquiries, applications, admits and more. Watch the session in order to hear more from Paul on how this has instilled the long-sought-after sense of “ownership” of the enrollment imperative.

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About the Author

Scott Jeffe

Scott Jeffe has worked with more than 200 institutions in 40+ states to apply market data to strategic decisions. With a focus on profiling the demands and preferences of nontraditional (adult, online, etc.) students, Scott...

Read more about Scott's experience and expertise

Reach Scott by e-mail at Scott.Jeffe@RuffaloNL.com.

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