Top 3 Challenges Facing Higher Education Marcomm in 2023

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As we grow one year further away from the seismic shift that was 2020, new challenges are emerging that present opportunities for marketing and communications pros to have significant impact. Here are three of the trends affecting how we’ll need to communicate going forward.

The Shift to Direct Admissions

To make it easier on students and increase the applicant pool, many colleges and universities have become more flexible with their admissions requirements. A growing number of schools are now offering direct admission programs, a trend we expect to continue in 2023, making the competition among schools harder as students have more power in their college decision.

Different priorities will take precedence when reaching direct admissions students. Direct admission is turning the tables on traditional applications and student intent, it is now up to schools to apply to students, not the other way around.

Marcomm and admissions teams will have to determine which students to prioritize, create personalized communication plans to increase conversion, and remember to include parents in the decision-making process. This is a clear collaboration point for marcomm and admissions to guide prospective students to success at scale.

Recruiting and Retaining Employees

With a looming recession, hiring and retaining employees will be top of mind for college and university leadership.

In recent years, many institutions have cut costs by laying off employees or implementing hiring freezes. Others have seen staff and faculty move on to pursue new (and higher-paying) opportunities.

Whatever the case, schools (especially community colleges) will face a shortage of qualified employees this year. In January, 50 percent of higher ed leaders cited recruitment and hiring as their third most critical risk.

Schools facing employee shortages and those unable to retain top talent need to act quickly. Understaffed departments can mean the difference between a frictionless student experience that converts and one that leaves much to be desired from prospects, learners, and donors.

Smart technology choices can help augment shrinking teams too, but higher ed is under-investing in this area. In one presentation at the 2022 AMA Symposium, Salesforce reported the average higher ed marketing budget invests 5 percent in martech and 50 percent in staffing, compared to typical corporate marketing budgets that evenly invest 25 percent in martech and 25 percent in staffing. If the expectation is growing for marketing pros to be more data-informed and for small teams to accomplish more, the right tech integrations and infrastructure must be in place.

The Rise of Artificial Intelligence

And speaking of smart technology choices … everywhere we look, artificial intelligence (AI) is found—from self-driving cars to social media deepfakes. In 2023, AI has the power to increase productivity for understaffed schools that want to see student enrollment and engagement grow.

AI-powered software can make recruitment, marketing, and engagement teams more efficient while reducing costs—and help overcome those staffing shortages. Many embeddable live chat systems utilize AI to quickly assist students and free up busy staff. Automated and dynamic training, communication, and task management can increase productivity for teams that lack specialized staff roles or cannot hire and retain top talent.

Moving Forward With a Student-Centered Approach

If providing a smooth experience for students is priority number one, these challenges should be top of mind for higher ed marcomm pros in 2023. Marketing and communications teams will be successful if they embrace new technology, lead the charge in boosting collaboration with their admissions and enrollment colleagues, prioritizing hiring and onboarding while ensuring current staff are meaningfully engaged. By tackling these top issues, we can focus on a student-centered approach that resonates with learners and engages all our constituents.


Mallory Willsea is VP of marketing and demand gen at Element451, a leading student engagement platform that creates seamless, personalized connections between students and schools.

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