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February 17

Finding Donors in a Shrinking Higher Education Market


How do you boost enrollment and find donors in a shrinking higher education market?

Whether you’re a seminary, graduate school, or a small private college, everyone is looking for ways to pull in more prospective students.

Many different schools are relying on their graduate schools and seminaries alone to impact the bottom line.

Communications for graduate schools is different than marketing for traditional higher ed. Something I’ve wanted to explore is the uniqueness of being able to blend marketing and development for graduate level schools, whether it’s a seminary or your Graduate School of Medicine.

So on The Higher Ed Marketing podcast, my co-host Troy Singer and I had a conversation with two amazing professionals doing just that at Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary.

Joe Emmick is Garrett’s Vice President for Development and Shane Nichols is their Chief Marketing and Communications Officer.

In this episode, they discuss the shrinking market in higher ed, finding new enrollment opportunities, and the importance of one-on-one conversations.

The Shrinking Higher Education Market

After the past couple decades, we’ve seen a slowly shrinking higher education market.

Garrett Evaneglical Seminary's Shane Nichols helps us understand how to find donors in a shrinking higher education market. There are several reasons for this.

One possible factor could be increased competition from an ever growing array of college alternatives.

Shane Nichols gives us his take on the shrinking higher education market and the unique way they’re dealing with it.

Certainly [the higher ed market is shrinking] everywhere and all signs at this point keep pointing to the fact that it will only get smaller. So, the challenges are real. 

The biggest thing for us that we do [for enrollment in a shrinking market] is events. They are one big way we get the institution in front of people that may not even know that Garrett is a thing. 

From our development side, we spend a lot of effort on “Ministry Sundays.” They are an opportunity to be able to honor a particular alum or pastor so that we can then introduce the seminary to congregations from the admission side of the house. 

This last fall, we hosted five different events that were all hybrid online events to be able to introduce prospective new students [to Garrett]. For us, events are about getting the institution in front of people. Doing so with engaging content and events is one of the primary ways that we’ve really been able to expand our audience. 

Development and Marketing Teamwork

Personally, I love seeing this teamwork between different departments at Garrett.

We’ve seen this kind of collaborative synergy in other enrollment professionals we’ve interviewed.

For example, check out this collaboration between marketing and enrollment at the University of Kentucky.

Collaboration is a real factor in their success as it helps unleash the creative power of their marketing teams.

Finding the Watering Holes

I wrote a post once about a strategy I call “finding watering holes.”

Watering holes are where animals gather to get the daily things they need.

As humans, we have watering holes too.

Every day, we go to the same digital sources to get our news, connect with others, and be entertained.

Garrett Evaneglical Seminary's Joe Emmick helps us understand how to find donors in a shrinking higher education market. The idea of finding watering holes is that instead of spraying and praying that your messaging finds your audience…

Find your audience first, and then position your messaging there.

Joe Emmick describes how their event-based strategy works at Garrett.

Historically, the Ministry Sundays that Shane described have been incredibly successful for us. First, we identify alumni who are pastors in milestone years or their ministry. It’s almost like a class reunion list. 

Then, we take nominations for them to be honored with the Ministry Sunday. It’s really honoring somebody, for example, who’s had a very effective ministry for 25 or 30 years. The seminary then establishes a scholarship in that person’s name. We put in the first $1,000. 

Afterwards, we invite members of the congregation to contribute to the scholarship fund. We have over 600 individual endowed scholarship funds. A good number of those were started through these Ministry Sunday programs. 

What I love about this is that Garrett is creating their own watering holes!

Not only did they go to where their audience is already going to every week – churches – they made a way to connect those watering holes to Garrett through Ministry Sundays.

This interview was absolutely packed with insightful, actionable advice from two veterans of graduate school marketing.

Even in a shrinking higher education market, they’ve found a way to move the needle forward.

By working together, they are combining the uniqueness of each of their programs to create an amazingly effective strategy that helps both enrollment and development for Garrett.

Discover more when you listen to the podcast!

Like all of our blog post reviews of The Higher Ed Marketer podcasts, there’s so much more to learn in the podcasts themselves.

Listen to our interview with Joe Emmick and Shane Nichols to get even more insights into:

  • The shrinking market for higher education
  • Enrollment opportunities & merger history
  • Key takeaways for the audience

Don’t want to miss a future episode?

Subscribe to The Higher Ed Marketer podcast today!

Looking for Enrollment Marketing Content that Works?

You’re in luck! We’ve curated 25 awesome ideas inspired by top higher ed institutions across the country and put them in one handy guide: 25 Ideas for Great Admissions Content.

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    • 25 enrollment marketing content ideas you might never have considered before
    • Guidance on how to use each one for best results
    • Brief discussion on why they work to help you sell these ideas to your team

Get inspired.
Get enrollment results.
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Featured image via garrett.edu

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