The National Association for College Admissions Counseling (NACAC) made a monumental decision that I believe shifts the landscape for college and university marketing offices. The NACAC National Assembly voted in late September to strip provisions from the Code of Ethics and Professional Practice (CEPP) due to a two-year investigation of possible antitrust violations.
The provisions removed included the following language:
- "Colleges must not offer incentives to students applying under an Early Decision application plan.
- "College choices should be informed, well-considered, and free from coercion. Once students have committed to a college, other colleges must respect that choice and cease recruiting them.
- "Colleges will not knowingly recruit or offer enrollment incentives to students who are already enrolled, registered, or submitted deposits to other institutions.
- "Colleges must not solicit transfer applications from a previous year’s applicant pool or prospect pool unless the student initiates the transfer inquiry."
What does this mean, and how can college and university marketing and communications offices help play a strategic role as we enter this new landscape? With the absence of the CEPP, colleges can offer special incentives for early decision, including promises of special housing, course selection or an enhanced financial aid package. Other colleges can continue to recruit your early-decision-deposited students well into the spring and summertime. Your current students can receive an email from a competitor that offers a transfer scholarship.
All of the traditional rules that we have lived by in enrollment marketing are gone.
Enter the opportunity to play a strategic role for your institution. Have you had a conversation with your vice president for enrollment about the changes? Have your president and cabinet been engaged in the discussion? What type of education have you done with your trustees and faculty so that those two key governance groups have a solid understanding of the challenges that lie ahead? All of these are crucial conversations that need to be had, and also avail your marketing team of opportunities to educate your campus community about the critical work required and the role your team will play in it. If you have not had conversations like these at your institution, there is no time like the present.
Tolerance for Risk
Some of the opportunities that are now available to college and university marketing offices and enrollment teams are riskier than others. For instance, what will the impact be on your institutional reputation if you were to email your top overlap school’s first-year class and offer an incentive to transfer? While these types of tactics are not new to the business world, they are distinctively different for higher ed marketing to consider. The chief marketing officer, in collaboration with the vice president for enrollment, needs to have a good understanding of the types of tactics that fit with your institutional values, and that will help you decide which ones to try and to which ones to avoid.
With early-decision deadlines upon us, some of your competitors have already started to offer ED incentives. Understanding your institutional risk tolerance and response strategy will be vital as your plan communications strategy and tactics. As yield season approaches, you have probably begun planning for spring communications, and your approach will be determined in part by that same understanding. Developing that shared approach to risk between the marketing and enrollment areas will help to ensure your alignment of strategies moving forward.
Role of the MarComm Team
Your team in marketing and communications will need to be nimble and prepared to respond to an assortment of new challenges in the coming months and years. You may need to be ready to respond to the student life area and help market new retention-oriented programs as a response to a threat from another college trying to entice your current students to transfer. Is your team prepared to pivot and work collaboratively with your enrollment team on short notice to respond to trends or actions other colleges are implementing? May 1 may no longer be the end of the traditional enrollment cycle. You and your staff might have to play a more significant role in the summer melt communications plan and bring together your orientation and admissions teams to create a more seamless transition and hand-off.
Wrapping It Up
The decision by NACAC to strip several provisions from the Code of Ethics and Professional Practice has created uncertainty and significant changes to the enrollment marketing landscape. Communications and marketing offices have an opportunity to play a strategic role by driving the need for an institutional strategy and conversation about the topic, understanding the tolerance for risk in the use of key strategies and tactics, and preparing their team to be ready to respond to new and emerging needs.
Paul Redfern is vice president for university communications at St. Lawrence University in Canton, N.Y. He is a frequent presenter on marketing and brand topics at national conferences and serves as a member of the Board of Directors for the College and University Public Relations and Associated Professionals (CUPRAP).