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Drive College Enrollment and Retention with Departmental Collaboration

Higher education enrollment and retention challenges get easier the more staff work together. Use these tips to foster better cross-departmental collaboration.

Higher education leaders understand that student enrollment and retention are vital to the health and longevity of an institution — and that enrollment decline is a complicated, multi-faceted challenge. However, administrative departments have historically attempted to address solutions to these issues and others in isolation, in operational silos. 

For many institutions, these operational silos persist despite research and best practices that illustrate indicate a siloed work culture slows down innovation and creative problem solving. Instead, higher education enrollment services, marketing, financial aid, academic affairs, and student affairs departments can leverage their unique knowledge, roles, and responsibilities to optimize the enrollment funnel, communicate institutional value, and engage and retain more enrolled students. Consider the following insights to encourage greater partnership and coordination between these institutional units on your campus.  

Optimizing the College Enrollment Funnel  

Competition for a limited pool of applicants means enrollment services offices must work closely with other related units to nurture more applicants and convert them more effectively into matriculants. To draw students to their institutions, admissions leaders are casting a wider prospective student net, with more than three-quarters of four-year institutions increasing recruitment for out-of-state and historically underserved students.  

Historically, higher education enrollment services worked as a standalone unit in the middle of the recruitment funnel. However, to locate, reach, and engage more non-traditional prospective students — who may have different concerns, preferences, or needs — any strategic enrollment management plan must also involve the cooperation of staff from units such as financial aid, marketing, and academic affairs.  

For a more cohesive approach to optimizing your institution’s enrollment funnel, consider the following:  

  • Analyze the Enrollment Funnel: Gather a cross-functional group to conduct a comprehensive analysis of the entire enrollment funnel to assess overall funnel health, identify traits of the students most likely to progress through the funnel, and address pain points or barriers that students experience during the enrollment process.  
  • Expand Recruiting Targets: Use and share geographic and sociodemographic data to identify new pockets of potential students.  
  • Measure Drivers of Institution Choice: Survey matriculating and non-matriculating students to identify factors that influenced their enrollment decision. 
Learn how to capture more student interest in postgraduate opportunities with our blog post, A Tactical Guide to Graduate Student Recruitment. 

Collectively Communicating Institutional Value

Increased competition along with rising public doubt about the value of a college degree creates branding and messaging challenges for college and university marketing teams nationwide.  Communicating an institution’s value is an ongoing process, calibrated to meet students’ evolving perspectives and needs.  

A strong, shared internal understanding of an institution’s core value proposition makes it possible to generate a more cohesive and authentic brand identity, which in turn, helps prospective students differentiate and select a college or university that resonates with their own values and goals. Key departments outside of marketing should also understand prospective students’ interests and perceptions to ensure their practices align with student needs and reduce barriers to higher education enrollment.   

Consider the following tips and opportunities for cross-departmental collaboration when aiming to expand and strengthen your institution’s core value proposition:  

  • Measure Brand Strength: Survey prospective and current students, alumni, and community stakeholders to identify your brand’s strengths and areas for improvement. 
  • Identify the Most Impactful Marketing Channels: Survey your stakeholders to understand which communication and marketing channels and methods they prefer, then adopt the most popular ones across campus communication strategies. 
  • Compare Your Brand to Competitors’: Benchmark your branding and messaging against your peers to identify opportunities for increased differentiation. 
Set your branding and marketing efforts on a path to success with our guide, 4 Ways to Measure Marketing Effectiveness in Higher Education.  

Partnering to Increase Higher Education Retention 

Retention is a key aspect of institutions’ strategic enrollment management, as a healthy retention rate can take some of the burden off new student recruitment and enrollment. By collecting and sharing disaggregated data about students’ academic, financial, and personal support needs, every department can adjust their practices and behaviors to support persistence and prevent attrition. For example, student and academic affairs units can identify struggling students early and intervene to reduce their chances of failing or dropping out. 

Use these tips to increase information sharing between departments in support of student retention efforts:  

  • Conduct Campus Climate Surveys: Collect feedback from students, faculty, and staff regarding their perceptions of the educational environment and how well the institution supports their academic, social, and personal needs. 
  • Identify At-Risk Students: Evaluate comprehensive data to determine which student profiles are at risk of not graduating and uncover key triggers that may contribute to failures to graduate. 
  • Learn Why Dropped Students Leave: Survey dropped students to reveal factors that contribute to student dropout and target ways to prevent student dropout in the future. 
Ensure your institution’s operations serve all students regardless of culture, identity, or ability. Learn more about their perceptions in our 2023 Higher Education, Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Survey report.  


Enrolling more new students and retaining current ones are campus-wide efforts. No single department can address persistent enrollment-related challenges alone. Instead, sustainable institutional improvement lies in deconstructing stand-alone operational silos to address complicated problems and solutions together. With increased information sharing and collaborative problem-solving forums, college and university departments can tap into valuable expertise and opportunities to work better together, in the service of meeting all students’ needs. 

Don’t stop here, find more opportunities to Drive Enrollment with Cross-Departmental Collaboration. Get the guide. 


Boost your higher education enrollment and higher education retention rates by promoting departmental collaboration.

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