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Insights & Highlights from the 2023 AMA Symposium for Marketing of Higher Education

AMA Symposium image for decoration only

Over 1,000 attendees from institutions all over the world gathered for the 2023 American Marketing Association Symposium for the Marketing of Higher Education November 12th - 15th at the Sheraton Hotel in Chicago. The event highlights and offers insights into the evolving higher education landscape. Its purpose is to build community and help Higher Ed marketers enhance communications strategy, build strong brands, improve reputation, achieve enrollment success and maintain financial strength.

“As a member of the UIC Technology Solutions Marketing team, I was able to attend the AMA Symposium this year and gain valuable insights into trends, challenges and opportunities marketers in higher education face,” said Technology Solutions Assistant Director of Client Engagement Crystal Ortega.


This three-day symposium allowed me to immerse myself in round table discussions, workshops and presentations from various peer institutions as well as network with colleagues, sponsors, and vendors.

Crystal Ortega  |  Assistant Director, Client Engagement

Highlights from the AMA Symposium Heading link

Sessions this year focused on hot topics in higher education marketing including AI, digital transformation, data analytics, brand strategy, changing demographics, and DEI (diversity, equity, and inclusion) initiatives. Ortega shares highlights from the AMA Symposium:

Marketing & Communications Challenges in Higher Education Heading link

AMA attendees during a session

The fireside chat session, Top 10 Challenges of Higher Education, with Scott Jaschik Co-founder of Inside Higher Ed, delved into the challenges our industry faces. Below are the 5 challenges that resonated with me in terms of what I think will have the largest impact on marketing in higher education:

Adapting to Changing Demographics:

Institutions will need to adapt marketing strategies to appeal to a more diverse student population with varying needs, backgrounds, and preferences.

Embracing Digital Transformation:

Embracing and effectively leveraging digital platforms for marketing will be crucial. Higher ed institutions often face challenges in keeping up with rapidly evolving technology and online communication trends.

Commitment to Data Security and Privacy:

As institutions collect and use more data for targeted marketing, ensuring the security and privacy of this data is critical, especially considering the increasing concerns around data breaches and theft.

Data Analytics and Increasing Customization

Leveraging data analytics to drive marketing decisions and strategies, with a focus on personalized communication and experiences.

Enhancing Brand Perception

Maintaining and enhancing the institution’s brand image should be a continuous and ongoing effort. Negative publicity or miscommunication can significantly impact how the institution is perceived by potential students and their parents.

Staying Strategic Through Constant Change Heading link

AMA Presenters speaking at AMA session

During the Staying Strategic Through Constant Change session, five university leaders representing small, large, public, private, R1 and regional universities shared real-life examples of staying strategic through change. Panelists shared how their institution successfully navigated presidential transitions, employee retention challenges, campus crises, complex budgeting, mergers and acquisitions, building new teams and completely reinventing divisions.

Leaders from University of Arizona, St. Edward’s University, Lasalle University and Creighton University shared stories that highlighted how their institutions adopted a new technology; or how they used information and feedback to make data-driven decisions to shift strategies; or how they enabled creativity or innovation to encourage new solutions. While I listened to these stories and advice on how institutions stayed strategic through change, one common theme was that universities are successful when they embrace innovation and adaptability.

The only constant is change and institutions must be adaptable and flexible in today’s world to successfully navigate through it. At UIC, innovation is ingrained into our missions and strategy, and IT leadership is making grand strides in enhancing campus infrastructure, adopting new tools, launching new research resource programs to prepare UIC for the future.

Innovation at UIC

Most notably, UIC is making major shifts in technology that will:

I am very excited to be a part of the IT team at UIC where we aren’t just embracing the future; we’re shaping it!

The only constant is change and institutions must be adaptable and flexible in today’s world to successfully navigate through it.

Higher Education Marketing in the Age of AI Heading link

AMA Presenters speaking at AMA session

Artificial Intelligence and the impact it will have on higher education, communications, security and privacy, and client experiences is a trending topic. More and more institutions are leveraging AI to take marketing campaigns, communications strategies, and enrollment directives to new heights.

During the How AI, Brand Action and Accessibility are Game Changers for Universities session, presenters shared how AI helped their institution customize and personalize website experiences for prospective students leading to increased site visits, and helped achieve marketing and conversion goals. Based on student data, a website would display “Schedule a Tour, “Submit Your Application,” etc. With these personalized calls to action, Ferris State University observed significant increases in Click Thru Rates and exceeded conversion goals.

The session How AI Helps you work smart, not harder shared how marketers are embracing AI and using AI to create content and automate processes. They shared some of the different tools institutions are leveraging including chatbots, predictive analytics, Natural Language Processing (NLP) machines, as well as AI platforms, such as Pardot, Oracle AI, and Hubspot that support and automate marketing processes, personalize content, and help uncover insights. ChatGPT (Chat Generative Pre-trained Transformer), is being used more and more by marketers to create compelling and inspiring content quickly. These tools are helping institutions uncover insights to better engage with audiences more effectively.

Leaders from various institutions and agencies shared tips and talked about data and how it is crucial to unlocking enrollment growth, retention, and engagement throughout the student lifecycle during the Data Alchemy – A Panel Discussion: The Intersection of Data, AI, Technology and Human Intelligence to Optimize Engagement Throughout the Student Journey session. Institutions have access to data that is readily available and can be used to tell a story, gain actionable insights, customize content, and utilize marketing strategies. The challenges institutions face, however, are the disparate number of data sources available; extracting or getting access to that data is not always straightforward; and as always, security and privacy concerns.

Panel members provided helpful suggestions when sourcing new partners or agencies to support marketing initiatives. First, ensure they are industry experts and are leveraging modern solutions and practices, and more importantly, that their technology can seamlessly integrate with the institution’s existing systems. As new technologies are adopted, ensuring they integrate seamlessly with existing technology will be critical to avoid disruptions and to ensure a smooth flow of data, as well as optimizing the value of the institution’s investment.

Gen A is Coming Heading link

presenter speaking at AMA Symposium

Several sessions focused on the emerging cohort Generation Alpha, or “Gen A,” (those born between 2010 and 2025) and provided speculations on this group’s values, behaviors and characteristics. This group will be college-aged soon and understanding this group’s behaviors can help higher education marketers communicate with them better. Here are some key insights I learned about Gen A:

Most Racially Diverse Generation

Gen A will be the most racially diverse generation in US history, and are more likely to grow up in multiracial, non-traditional households.

Integrated with Technology from Birth

As technology becomes increasingly intertwined with daily life, this group is likely to be even more digitally integrated from birth. They might engage with social media platforms from a very early age, and may grow up using it in new and immersive ways.

Prefer Visual and Interactive Content

Similar to Gen Z, Gen A is expected to favor visual and interactive content. Platforms that offer short-form videos, augmented reality (AR), and virtual reality (VR) experiences may become their preferred modes of communication and expression.

Value Immediacy and Authenticity

Growing up with AI assistants like Alexa and Siri, this group will expect immediate answers to questions. They will be adept with new technology and may be good content creators. They support brands that are transparent and honestly address concerns facing this generation.

Dubbed Mini-Millennials

Gen A will typically have Millennial parents and have been dubbed “mini-Millennials”. Millennials are known as digital pioneers and savvy consumers. They see their children as an extension of themselves and raise their children to have similar values. These cohorts are compassionate problem-solvers who don’t tolerate inequity.

Keep in mind that these insights are based on conjecture, and may evolve as this generation grows older. However, one thing is for certain: Gen A is coming, and they will be the largest generation in history consisting of two billion people by 2025. As marketers at UIC, we must ask ourselves: will we be ready for Gen A?

The AMA Symposium for Marketing in Higher Education proved to be a valuable and enriching experience. As a communicator dedicated to amplifying UIC’s accomplishments and mission, the insights gained, connections made, and strategies shared during this event have truly been inspirational and insightful.

Crystal Ortega  |  Assistant Director, Client Engagement