November 16

Marketing to the Entire Student Life Cycle

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by | Nov 16, 2023 | Featured, Strategies, Podcast

The student life cycle is not a fleeting encounter; it’s an enduring relationship that evolves over time. 

This journey of a student through the stages of higher education encompasses the broad spectrum of interactions and experiences that students—and eventually, alumni—have with an education brand.

Higher ed marketers sometimes forget that they’re not merely engaging with prospective students. 

They’re selling their brand’s value proposition to future alumni.

From the initial spark of interest as prospective students, through the transformative years spent on campus, to the lifelong bond as alumni, each phase presents unique opportunities for engagement. 

Ellen Johnson talks to us how they market to the entire student life cycle at Allegheny College. That’s why Ellen Johnson, Vice President For Enrollment Management at Allegheny College, says her school’s enrollment marketing speaks to the entire breadth of the student life cycle. 

By making their brand storytelling part of everyone’s mission, they’ve created a winning culture of recruitment and retention campus-wide.

In this episode of The Higher Ed Marketer podcast, Ellen tells us how Allegheny is successfully promoting a liberal arts education in a digital-first world and how they’re strategizing for the enrollment cliff.

Recreating the Scope of Enrollment Marketing 

In the ever-competitive landscape of higher education, it is paramount for institutions to recognize and leverage the potential of comprehensive marketing strategies that cater to individuals at every stage of this life cycle.

Historically, marketing efforts in higher education have been heavily skewed towards wooing prospective students. 

While this focus is undeniably important, it’s equally critical to acknowledge the value of nurturing relationships with current students and alumni. 

Even before Ellen arrived, Allegheny was already beginning to expand the scope of enrollment marketing to include the entire student life cycle.

When this position that I’m in now was recreated with some staffing changes, it brought in all of marketing and communications for the college into enrollment management as well, [which went well beyond] the typical enrollment management of admission and financial aid.

One of the reasons I was excited about joining Allegheny is [their] understanding and vision that regardless of whether we’re marketing to alumni, marketing to prospective students, or doing public relations work, all of that has a significant impact on our prospective and current students as well. 

[In my current] role, [I’m not only] working with our admission staff [and] doing financial aid leveraging, but [I am] also thinking about the brand of the institution through [the entire student life cycle]. 

[I am] also working closely with our provosts and faculty on academic programs and retention work.

[It is an] opportunity to see the institution as a whole [which is] pretty exciting! 

A Holistic Take on the Student Life Cycle

Allegheny’s approach to higher ed marketing is extremely holistic. Somehow, they’ve grasped the complexity of all the ways the different stages of the student life cycle connect. 

Current students, immersed in the academic and social fabric of the institution, are potent ambassadors whose experiences can influence prospective students. 

After graduation, their transition into alumni is a new chapter, where their affinity toward their alma mater can lead to fruitful partnerships and philanthropic contributions. 

Not to mention that alumni (who are technically at the end of the student life cycle) are more likely to send their children to their cherished educational institution, which is a major boost to the front end of the cycle, admissions.

Adopting this more panoramic vision shifts the goal from  merely guiding the student into the next phase but to cultivating a lifelong relationship that benefits both the individual and the institution. 

Recruitment is Retention

Marketing to the entire student life cycle takes a fair amount of work, but there is a lot that we as education marketers can do to make it easier. 

For Ellen, this holistic approach work begins with proper recruitment. It’s all about qualifying prospective students so that you find truly mission-fit students

A lot of the work we do from an admission perspective is not just about recruiting students to a college. It is about the idea that we do not recruit students to the college[; we] recruit alumni. 

We’re not just meeting a headcount goal. We’re not just bringing students to the institution, but [we are finding] the “right fit” student for the institution, and [ensuring] the institution is the right fit for them as well. 

It’s not just about building a predictive model to say, “Oh, we know students from this state retain well.” It’s about telling our authentic story, understanding who our institution is [and who our] students are. 

[It is about] looking for and really seeing that full [student] life cycle from the point where they might enter as an inquiry, or they’re born to an alum and are already being infused with the Allegheny Gators at an early age, to the time that they spend on campus, and then graduate to being a faithful alum of the college as well. 

Recruiting Alumni

I really like this idea of recruiting alumni rather than recruiting prospective students. 

When higher ed marketers adopt this mentality, it forces them to think long-term. It forces them to face the harsh reality of whether a student is truly mission-fit or not. 

Anyone looking for an education could potentially enter as a prospective student, but not everyone can be a successful alumni supporter. This requires a person who shares the values and resonates deeply with the identity of the institution. 

By intentionally identifying and recruiting mission-fit students, although it means that you’ll have to reject many prospective students who may not share your values, you can automatically improve the quality of the student life cycle. 

As a result, you can be more successful in retaining students and cultivating them into future alumni supporters and future parents of new students.

Discover more when you listen to the podcast!

There is so much more that Ellen Johnson shared with us in the full podcast episode.

Listen to our complete interview to get even more insights into:

  • Approaching prospective students with a retention mindset (6:08)
  • Storyboarding campus tours with tactical on-site branding (14:18)
  • A commitment to helping students from low-income families (27:42)


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Featured image via allegheny.edu

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