Centralized Marketing Functions in Higher Education: An Examination of Two Models
©2002 W. Michael Hendricks

edited 4/13/14

In today's higher educational landscape, many private, mid-sized comprehensive universities are faced with the reality of having to address the escalating costs of higher education and the growing competition for talented students by focusing on increasing enrollments and net tuition revenue. Institutions with modest endowments are particularly concerned with the fiduciary issues associated with marketing and promotion. In response to this, many colleges and universities have centralized the marketing and promotion of the entire University into one area. This paper will examine the overall philosophy, and organizational structure of two models of centralized marketing functions at private, tuition dependent, comprehensive universities and compare and contrasts the decision making processes found in each model.


The first model, (Model A), is the Enrollment Management model. In Model A, all marketing functions are centralized under the supervision of the Vice President for Enrollment Management(VPEM). The basic responsibilities of this position include: the direct supervision of the offices of Admissions, (Undergraduate, Graduate and Adult Continuing Education) Financial Aid, and Enrollment Services (Bursar, Registration, and Records), providing and attaining enrollment goals for each of the Universities enrollment cohorts, as well as creation and fiduciary responsibility for the marketing and promotion of all academic programs.

The second model (Model B) is the University Relations Model, where all marketing and promotion functions are consolidated under the supervision of the Vice president of University Relations (VPUR). The basic responsibilities of this position include: fiduciary, development, design, and project management responsibility for marketing and promotion of all academic programs, direct supervision of the offices of Press Relations, Communications,Publications, and Web Design. In general, both models are designed to effectively and efficiently achieve institutions' marketing goals. However, there are significant differences in the philosophy,organizational structure and decision-making processes of each.


Enrollment Management proponent, Garlene Penn, contends that as an advisor to the President and governing boards, the enrollment manager must have excellent communication and extensive knowledge of policies and practices influencing the enrollment of students. The development, maintenance and continuing enhancement of a conceptual framework for enrollment management and attention to external constituencies affecting enrollment are essential if the enrollment manager is to assist with positive institutional change (Penn, 1999). This skill set is critical and forms the basis for why institutions centralize marketing functions using an Enrollment management model.

According to Dixon, Enrollment Management also has four standard performance goals. The first is to define the institutions nature and characteristics. The second is to market the institution appropriately. Third, incorporate all relevant campus constituencies into marketing plans and activities and fourth to make strategic decisions about the role and amount of financial aid for students and the institution, and make appropriate commitments of human fiscal and technical resources to enrollment management (Dixon, 1995).

The most important aspects of the Enrollment Management Model are the direct control by the VPEM over the actual enrollment areas e.g., financial aid, admissions, bursar, and registrar, and that Enrollment Management assumes that marketing is part of a larger, integrated structure designed to manage enrollments. Put simply, Enrollment Management models are employed to allow comprehensive universities to maximize resources and enrollments.

Proponents of the University Relations model believe that marketing and promotion supercedes all areas including enrollment management. Dr. Robert Sevier of Stamats Communications Inc. argues that market oriented institutions must understand the primacy of their customers and it's subsequent impact organizational structure in a significant way. The position of director or vice president of market or university relations accomplishes this significant change in structure. In this organizational model, one senior administrator, the Vice President for University Relations oversees all customer relations regardless of the stage at which the customer is with his or her relationship to the institution (Sevier, 1999). Proponents of this model also criticize the need for enrollment management and embrace a market relations approach to marketing. From this viewpoint, an institution which views itself as market oriented, e.g., enrollment driven/tuition reliant,should embrace the University Relations model since the majority of an institutions' energy and resources should be customer-focused (Seiver, 1999).

Decision Making Processes-Interests

In order to compare and contrast the decision-making processes inherent in each model, it is best to begin with the notion of "interests" in the decision-making process. According to Morgan,one needs to conceive of "interests" in terms of three ' interconnected domains relating to one's organizational task, career and personal life (Morgan, 1996, p. 16 1). A comprehensive university has to service many different internal constituencies, each with specific marketing needs. Generally,each area has academic program directors, responsible for the enrollment numbers and marketing of their program. Under Model A, the program directors rely on the direction of the VPEM for marketing and for achievement of their enrollment goals. The "interests" of program directors in terms of organizational tasks are similar to those of the VPEM.

Under Model B, responsibility for marketing academic areas also resides with the VPUR. However, in contrast to Model A, the VPUR is only responsible for marketing and promotion and has no enrollment accountability. In Model B, the program directors assume the role of enrollment managers. Because of this, the "interests" of the VPUR may be different than those of the program directors. Herein lies the catalyst for divergent interests and politics intrinsic to any situation where people wish to pursue divergent interests (Morgan, 1996).

Group Decision-Making

Group decision-making can be seen in both models because of shared governance in higher education. Group decision-making is defined as the process of arriving at a judgement based upon the input of multiple individuals (Lahti, 1996). There are two models of group decision-making processes with particular relevance to these models.

The first is the Rational Model, which is based upon an economic view of decision-making. It is grounded on goal s/objectives, alternatives, consequences and optimality. The model assumes that complete information regarding the decision to be made is available and only one correct conception of a problem, or decision to be made can be determined. The model further assumes that decision-makers consistently assess the advantages and disadvantages of any alternatives with goals and objectives in mind. They then evaluate the consequences of selecting or not selecting each alternative. The alternative that provides the maximum utility (e.g., the optimal choice) will be selected. The Rational Model is the baseline against which other models are compared (Allison,1971: Cheshire & Feroz, 1989: Lyles & Thomas, 1988).

Model A is governed in many ways by the Rational Model. The VPEM relies on data collection and analysis for decision-making and has the authority to supervise how this is done. The most salient advantage of the Rational Model is that it utilizes a logical, sequential approach (Lahti,1996). An overall view of all processes, factors, and goals allows the VPEM to have all the necessary information for decision-making. In contrast, implicit in the structure of Model B is the need for consensus. There is no clear hierarchy. The VPUR must rely on information for decision-making that will come from many different sources with different goals and objectives.

The disadvantage to this model is that it assumes there are no intrinsic biases to the decision-making process (Lyles & Thomas, 1988). Model B is fraught with intrinsic biases because of the relationship between the VPUR and the program directors. The VPUR has the budgetary power, but no enrollment accountability. Under Model A, the intrinsic biases of the program directors are subjugated due to the authority of the VPEM.

The second model of group decision-making is the Political Model, which considers the preconceived notions that decision-makers bring to the table in the decision-making process (Lahti,1996). Decision-makers are motivated by, and act on their own needs and perceptions, which leads to a cycle of bargaining among decision makers. More specifically, the process involves each decision- maker trying to sway a powerful person within the situation to adopt his or her viewpoint and influence the remaining decision-makers (Allison, 1971; Cheshire & Feros, 1989; Lyles & Thomas,1988;Schneider, Shawver & Martin, 1993).

Although this process occurs in both models, bargaining among decision-makers is limited in Model A due to the authority of the VPEM. Under Model A, the VPEM may have preconceived notions regarding personnel or operating procedures, which will play a role if a group decision-making process is employed. The preconceived notions of the VPEM, although having possible negative effects on individuals within the decision making-process, will only produce negative consequences for the institution if they lead to inefficient use of time, resources or poor decision-making.

In contrast, under Model B each member of the group will have his/her preconceived notions based on their own programmatic and personal interests. Lahti believes that cycle of bargaining is related to personal agendas and that this fact becomes a disadvantage because the best solution may not be selected (Lahti, 1996). Under Model B, each program director will try to influence the VPUR in a way that will favor their program. University goals may be overshadowed by personal agendas. Nevertheless, Lahti relates that individuals will always have their personal biases and agendas that influence their behavior. By identifying or acknowledging this fact in the decision making process, potential problems and conflicts can be foreseen and minimized (Lahti, 1996). This conclusion is an important dynamic and strength of the group decision making process utilized in the university Relations model.


Morgan states that conflict arises whenever interests collide and that the natural reaction to conflict in organizational contexts is usually to view it as a dysfunctional force that can be attributed to some regrettable set of circumstances or causes. Conflict is regarded as an unfortunate state that in more favorable circumstances would disappear (Morgan, 1996). Under Model B, conflict seems inevitable because the dysfunctional force limits institutional effectiveness and creates an inefficient structure with the potential for a power struggle. In contrast, conflict is limited in Model A because of the clearly defined hierarchy, tasks, and accountabilities. Powerful people supporting a particular perspective will minimize conflict because members usually fall in line behind them (Lahti, 1996). This is a strength of the Enrollment Management model.

Although conflict in Model B may seem to promote inefficiency and an unfavorable environment, the reality may be the opposite. Morgan argues that with conflict comes response and often times creative solutions and team building since organizations are made up of coalitions and coalition building is an important dimension of almost all organizational life (Morgan, 1996). A sense of team and collegiality can be fostered and free from the yoke of hierarchy in Model A,thoughts and differing opinions will foster innovation and success.

Morgan also argues that the absence of conflict can produce conformity and "group think" and that the existence of rival points of view and different objectives can improve the quality of decision-making. According to Morgan, this is particularly true in group decision-making situations where the absence of conflict produces conformity and it group think"(Morgan, 1996).

Under Model A, there is great potential for the negative aspects of "group think" to occur. Morgan also believes that the existence of rival points of view and of different aims and objective scan do much to improve the quality of decision-making (Morgan, 1996). Because program directors are not subjugated to the will or leadership of the VPUR, personal inclinations will force internal conflict, which in turn encourages self evaluation and a challenge to conventional wisdom (Morgan,1996). It may cause a certain degree of pain within an organization but it can also do much to stimulate learning and change. It can help an organization keep abreast of a changing environment and be a source of constant innovation (Morgan, 1996).


In group decision-making, the influence or notion of power within the organization is extremely important. Morgan defines power as the medium through which conflicts of interests are ultimately resolved. Power influences who gets what, when, and how (Morgan, 1996). The most identifiable type of power in an organization is associated with formal authority. Formal authority is a form of legitimized power that is respected and acknowledged by those with whom one interacts (Morgan, 1996). The most obvious type of formal authority in organizations is bureaucratic and is associated with the position one holds (Morgan, 1996). Morgan argues that bureaucratic power occurs when people insist that the exercise of power depend on the correct application of formal rules and procedures (Morgan, 1996).

In Model A, the power exerted by the VPEM is dependent upon formal authority. The VPEM is at the top of a hierarchical structure and is capable, because of the position he/she holds, to be the final decision-maker in a group decision-making process. In contrast, the power exerted by the VPUR is not through formal authority but rather through resource power. Morgan contends that if the resource is in scarce supply and someone is dependent on its availability then it can almost certainly be translated into power. Scarcity and dependency are the key to resource power (Morgan,1996). In the case of Model B, the resource in question is money, and the VPUR controls the advertising and marketing purse strings for each of the areas. Although resource power is also identifiable in Model A, it is not the most prevalent aspect.

Another source of power within group decision-making is the control of decision making processes and premises. Morgan states that the ability to influence the outcomes of decision-making processes is a well-recognized source of power that has considerable attention in the organizational theory literature. Of importance to each model is the use of knowledge and information as sources of power. By controlling these key resources, one can systematically influence the definition of organizational situations and create patterns of dependency (Morgan, 1996). By possessing the right information at the right time, by having exclusive access to key data, or by simply demonstrating the ability to marshall and synthesize facts in an effective manner, organizational members can increase the power they wield within an organization (Morgan, 1996). Often the quest for control of information in an organization is linked to questions of organizational structure (Morgan, 1996).

In Model A, the VPEM controls the information. He/She has the knowledge of program enrollment trends, curricular issues, and the ability to mine data to support the decision making process. Conversely, in Model B, the VPJR needs to rely on information from the program directors. Data analysis, curricular concerns, programmatic market trends and internal needs have to be relayed or given to the VPUR by the program directors. This undermines good decision-making because of the potential for intrinsic biases discussed in the previous section.

Another aspect of power relates to the use of knowledge and expertise as a means of legitimizing what one wishes to do. The "expert" often caries an aura of authority and power that can add considerable weight to a decision that rests in the balance or, needs further support or justification (Morgan, 1996). In Model A, the expert is the VPEM. In Model B, both the VPUR and the program directors can claim to be experts. The VPUR can legitimize the marketing and promotion decisions made based on the idea of "the expert". The VPUR cannot claim to be an expert in the area of student enrollment and curricular offerings. The program directors can. This is in contrast to Model A where the VPEM is seen as the expert in all areas.


Both models of centralized marketing functions offer particular advantages to the institution with the goal of maximizing resources and enrollments. The Enrollment Management model utilizes a Vice President for Enrollment Management, who has direct responsibility and accountability for all enrollment areas. The VPEM has the advantage of wielding power within the organization through the formal authority implicit in the hierarchical structure of the position and by being considered the "expert" in the area of marketing and student recruitment in the decision -making process. In addition, the goals set forth for enrollment management and the qualities identified for enrollment managers enhance the power of the VPEM and the Enrollment Management Model because it provides for control of all information and knowledge needed for good decision-making. Finally, there tends to be a commonality of interests between decision- makers because of the shared enrollment accountability and goals of the VPEM and program directors. Therefore, the process of bargaining among decision-makers and the potential for conflict is minimized in Model A.

The University Relations Model, Model B, embraces and acknowledges the primacy of the customer for enrollment driven institutions and addresses this need with an appropriate organizational structure. Model B also facilitates group decision-decision making, which in higher education is extremely important because of shared governance. In addition, Model B relies on consensus building for decision-making with the VPUR considered the "expert" in marketing and promotion. The group decision- making and consensus building created by this organizational structure also facilities productive or beneficial conflict.

Nevertheless, each model presents it's own unique inherent and potential challenges. The hierarchy imposed by Model A leads to "group think" which limits the decision-making process. As stated earlier, conflict can be beneficial by fostering innovation, freethinking and creative solutions to problems. The imposed hierarchy and formal authority of Model A seems to limit even productive conflict.

The organizational structure of Model B decentralizes traditional organizational tasks. Because the VPUR is responsible for marketing and promotion solely and does not have the accountability for enrollment numbers which is directly linked to these activities, the University Relations Model is full of intrinsic politics and often times counterproductive conflict. In addition, imposed group decision-making processes and the need for consensus decision-making creates a cycle of bargaining and alliance forming among the decision-makers. Finally, the real source of power wielded by the VPUR under Model B is resource power. Control of the resources for marketing, without accountability for the final results, i.e. reaching enrollment targets, is the greatest limitation of Model B.

In short, each model provides various strengths and weaknesses, inherent or structure based,which determine their correct usage within Universities to maximize resources and achieve required goals.


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