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Keeping Higher Education on the Minds of Students

We’re in the midst of summer, but before you know it the fall semester will be back in full swing on college campuses. Apprehension and anxiety will best describe both traditional and non-traditional students’ state of mind as they anticipate the start of the new school year and some decisions have to be made. Students, whether new or returning, go through the same process to get into college.

First and foremost there must be a strong desire by the student to attend college. Sometimes the road to success takes a detour or two yet students must stay the course. A longstanding custom of  mine is to ask them why they chose a particular college. The answers range from academic programs to friends telling them about the college. These answers along with the myriad of other reasons all lead to the issue of marketing.  Some in academe will always steer clear of the term because of their disdain and dislike for the word “marketing” to be associated with colleges and universities.

I disagree with those who dislike the term, and I offer a different view. I believe strongly that colleges and universities that market their programs, their people and their facilities will ultimately be on top and stay on top.

Let us take a reasoned look at each of these things.

If you used a survey and asked students for the number one reason they chose a particular school they would probably say it was because of a program or a major.  Students and academic programs go together like macaroni and cheese. You can’t have one without the other.

Students today are traveling great distances just for their specialized program and major. Colleges and universities must keep their academic programs current with the times. I don’t mean adding a program a month but I do mean looking at student needs and making informed additions. If your college or university has not added a program in a while it may be time to make that change. The competition for students among colleges today is much too keen. Innovative colleges are offering innovative ways to obtain a higher education.

I can’t think of a better time to be a college student at any degree level. You are in the driver’s seat! Weekend courses, online courses and offsite courses are all being used as strategies to lure prospective students.  Web sites, direct mail pieces, radio and television ads are all being used by today’s colleges and universities. It could be argued that colleges are in an advertising war and their slogan is “can you top this?” Colleges and universities have long since dropped any boundaries. The general feeling is today’s undecided student is tomorrow’s enrolled student.

There are many colleges now that make a regular habit of marketing their students, faculty and staff. They are featured in publications, on web sites and on radio and television programs. Faculty and staff who have conducted significant research or published articles and written books are prime marketing candidates. Prospective students and community people are always interested in this kind of information as it makes the college more attractive. Students, through internship and cooperative education opportunities, can be great ambassadors for their institutions.

Creative colleges continue to find new ways to put their students in the spotlight. In the coming years students will be taking a more active role in marketing their campuses. Don’t forget to put athletics into the marketing arena. Sports have a huge upside when it comes to drawing students to your campus.

Colleges like to market their facilities. For example, many staff and faculty invite their associations to have meetings on their campuses. I believe that the more people that see your campus the more impressed they will be. Companies and corporations are always looking for places to hold their meetings. What better place than a college campus? If college officials take advantage they can welcome the attendees, hand out a few brochures and maybe provide them with a student-led tour. The goodwill and the seeds planted will bode well for the campus as you never know who is taking notes.

I believe that, in order for a community to feel good about a college, it must have some type of positive experience there. Is the concept of marketing colleges and universities exaggerated? I think not, as we are likely to hear something on the radio or see something on television tonight about a college.

Dr. James B. Ewers Jr. is a higher education consultant/youth advocate and a member of The Academy Speaks.

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