How to Create an Integrated Enrollment Ecosystem for Better Results

Ben Arendt Jul 06, 2021 Ben Arendt AVP, Enrollment + Marketing Solutions Persona The Expressive + Philosophical Detective

The Attention Poverty in higher ed – why you need an integrated enrollment ecosystem

For a couple of decades, cognitive psychology has been sorting out the nuances of how we live in an attention economy. This idea suggests that attention is one of the most highly valued commodities available—yet it is increasingly difficult to acquire due to the convenient availability we all have to high quantities of information. Simply put, we have a wealth of information but an impoverished attention.

What does this mean for those of us charged with reaching an audience that will take necessary action to enroll? For starters, we are all painfully aware of the declining availability of traditional, residential student populations. We are fatigued with poring over the financial constraints that both universities and prospective families are facing. We need not read yet another post on how we don’t know the long-term impacts of COVID-19. So let’s assume these are givens.

Vying for attention is a hyper-competitive proposition precisely because there’s a reduction in available students within this high-content, high-volume context that we live every single day. Higher education has also made its own significant contributions to the so-called “attention poverty” by insisting on messaging to the masses. If there’s a decreasing student population and they’re receiving content from more institutions (from those that insist on “front loading the top of the funnel” with more students), the result is predictable: we all become a non-distinct blend rather than uniquely mission-driven institutions clearly set apart from each other. This type of strategy is a remnant of the linear enrollment funnel process and mentality, not the result of market-centric, multichannel integration.

Although there is a cyclical nature to recruitment and the incremental steps of the student journey towards enrollment do matter, the traditional funnel has to give way to an integrated marketing and enrollment ecosystem mentality. This will allow a move away from those common “vanity metrics” towards the reality that the student journey reveals multiple paths more than a standard progression.

Designing an integrated marketing & enrollment ecosystem

Presented below are three considerations when designing and developing an integrated marketing and enrollment ecosystem.

Student Search

The familiar practice of high-volume search needs to be appropriately situated within the larger framework of an integrated ecosystem. Search is an important port of entry through which students engage, but it’s only one port of entry among many. Designing communication constructs with variable content tethered to clearly identified segments is only a beginning piece of the puzzle. Leveraging and prompting micro-conversions along the way through layered tactics that are easily identified and measured will lead you to a more realistic sense of how much attention you’re capturing. This elevates the need for sophisticated in-house CRM optimization and execution from campaign sends to reporting and Retargeting.

Markets first

Find incremental audiences within your primary market before expanding into new territory. The cost to extend reach might be well worth the investment in some cases, while in others it could be prohibitive. Focus on identifying those key ports of entry that matter the most within your ecosystem, followed by clear plans to optimize toward favorable outcomes. Remember that information overload could lead to attention poverty, so understand, and deliver, what your market is demanding. You can do this by understanding what sets you apart from competitors, what makes your program offerings attractive to your primary audience, and truly identifying the market position you hold.

All-in-one integration

The comprehensive and integrated enrollment and marketing ecosystem considers the intersectionality of marketing, research, strategy, digital, creative, fulfillment, and the tactical systems of integration (reporting, analytics, modeling, and psychometrics, to name a few examples) that are needed to thrive in today’s environment. Campuses that are exceeding expectations have captured momentum through synergy and integration. They have married their enrollment and marketing functions and have invested in sophisticated CRM deployment.

High-volume messaging to high-volume student counts is unlikely to be the winning strategy in this hyper-competitive moment. Optimize your integrated ecosystem by identifying the multiple ports of entry through which students engage, then strategically apply platform specific strategies and tactics. Tailoring your tactics will earn you a greater share of attention that leads to affinity and engagement.

Contact Carnegie to optimize your enrollment strategy

Do you need help with designing an effective enrollment strategy to stand out from the highly-competitive higher ed student recruitment environment? Contact Carnegie to talk to our enrollment experts today!


Ben Arendt is the Vice President, Enrollment Strategy at Carnegie. With more than 20 years of higher education experience, Ben knows how to transform clients’ unique challenges into opportunities for success. Ben is an imaginative and enthusiastic problem solver, with expertise in everything from student affairs and teaching to visit programs and enrollment programs. He is motivated by understanding the people, goals, and priorities that make up the unique identity of each client community– connecting them to the Carnegie strategies that drive results.   

Follow and engage with Ben on Linkedin, where he shares content and opinions on enrollment management, strategy, communications, student affairs, and teaching.

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