Growing Pains: Attracting and Landing Students with a Third Party Vendor

Concurrent Session 7

Session Materials

Brief Abstract

An institutional approach to professional masters programs pivots around an aggressive online and regional campus growth strategy that is operationalized by centralizing non-academic enrollment and marketing services within a decentralized academic setting. This presentation will focus on how introducing third party enrollment coaching services impacts goal achievement and day-to-day operations.


Kat earned a B.A .from the University of Colorado and an M.S. from the University of Maryland, both in Biological Psychology with an emphasis in Animal Behavior. She earned her Ph.D. in General Psychology from Capella University. In her role with the College of Science at Northeastern University, she creates and facilitates the strategic vision for growth and development of graduate certificates and master’s degrees within a traditionally lab-based curriculum. This work embraces online program development, quality assurance, marketing, recruiting, and managing internal and external partnerships. Prior to her tenure at Northern Virginia Community College, Dr. Hitchcock held administrative and faculty positions within public and private universities where her responsibilities included academic course and program strategic planning, design, and implementation, quality assurance and institutional integrity, faculty and student support, and policy development and compliance.
Bryan Lackaye, EdD Associate Dean, Graduate Program Administration College of Computer and Information Science Northeastern University Member LI3 Advisory Board Bryan holds a bachelor's degree in History and a masters degree in Higher Education Administration from Boston College, and an EdD from Northeastern University. He has worked at Northeastern for 10 years. In that time, he has gained experience in the development of a number of interdisciplinary degrees, the launch of multiple programs at national and international satellite campuses, the development of online programs, and the expansion of graduate student recruitment and enrollment. In addition, his most recent work at the university includes the development of an academic pathway program for women and underrepresented minority students from non-technical or liberal arts programs into graduate program in computer science.

Extended Abstract

At the end of this session, participants will be able to:

  • List academic and non-academic aspects of online program growth

  • Draw conclusions about the effectiveness of obtaining a third party vendor to facilitate reaching growth goals

  • Develop practices that will maximize effectiveness of third party vendors and facilitate goal realization

In terms of job prospects, the master’s degree has become the new bachelor’s degree. More and more employers are requiring advanced degrees for entry level positions. A recent survey by CareerBuilder (2016), showed that 27% of employers are looking for students with master’s degrees to fill positions previously held by those with baccalaureate degrees. Over the next 10 years, “master's degrees are projected to grow far faster than degrees at any other level. By 2022, experts predict, master's degrees will account for nearly a third of all degrees awarded” (Education Advisory Board, 2015). This trend creates a growth opportunity for higher education institutions, particularly those with a strong connection between educational programs and the workforce.


For lasting impact, growth needs to be sustainable, so institutions looking to enter or expand into the master’s degree space must be able to create a strategic approach that facilitates scalability. One such method for addressing scale is through the development of online and hybrid programs; however, research-focused institutions generally lack the infrastructure to support them. A particular point of pain can revolve around recruiting and enrollment, specifically, attracting and landing the new students necessary for achieving growth expectations. Professional enrollment coaching teams can help fill this infrastructure gap by providing specialized sales and customer service skills that may be lacking among existing resources. However, incorporating external entities into the organizational structure can bring with it a series of challenges.


As part of its strategic plan, a Research 1 institution made a commitment to invest in professional master’s programs, including adding online and hybrid delivery to the traditional on-ground instructional method, which was expanded to include regional campus operations. The institution’s approach pivots around an aggressive growth strategy that is operationalized by centralizing non-academic enrollment and marketing services charged with helping colleges and programs realize shared growth goals. These services include marketing, market research, recruiting, enrollment coaching, online course design, LMS administration and oversight, and regional facility operations. The University’s growth goals hinged upon brand recognition outside of the region and the capacity to attract and land students nationally. Doing so required the stretching of existing resources and the acquisition of new ones that would facilitate achieving scale. To address service gaps, the centralized non-academic services unit contracted with third party enrollment coaching services in order to add capacity and address the specific target market of domestic students.


The University has completed its first year of the relationship with the external coaching partner. There were several growth programs that were included in the portfolio for the coaching partner and the specific target addressed new domestic student leads. Other programs and leads that did not fall into this category were managed by an existing internal enrollment coaching team. Initial indicators are that the third party enrollment coaching team was more successful in making direct contact with leads and did so within a shorter time period than the existing internal coaching team. There were several challenges associated with the implementation of the third party coaching strategy and its integration with the academic units. These included issues with communication, hand-offs, data integration, and service expectations that likely impacted and continue to impact the overall effectiveness of the approach.


Professional coaching teams can provide added value through the customer service and sales experience that existing resources do not have. Conversely, they can be expensive and are not networked into the institution in the same way as internal service units. Careful consideration must be undertaken to assess the true value of entering into these types of arrangements. Continuing with or expanding upon these relationships should be the result of evidence-based decision-making. Lessons learned from the implementation and integration of third party services into the academic and service environment contributed to the development of recommendations that could be applied to future third party relationships.


This session will include opportunities for exchange of ideas and experiences. Attendees will receive a set of guiding questions for future application in their professional contexts. A copy of the presentation will be posted to the conference web site.




CareerBuilder. (2016). More than 1 in 4 employers are hiring employees with Master’s Degrees for positions that had been primarily held by those with four-year degrees in the past, according to new CareerBuilder survey [Press Release]. Retrieved from

Education Advisory Board (2015). Understanding the changing market for Professional Master’s Programs. Retrieved from