The concept of colleges and universities treating students like consumers isn’t new; in fact, the debate has been going on for some time in business schools all over the country. But for other academic programs, taking a marketing approach to education has been slow to catch on. Is there value in adopting a marketing mentality for teaching techniques? What can higher education learn from marketing experts?
- College athletic departments learned this lesson decades ago, and their academic counterparts are starting to catch up: a strong and recognizable brand inspires loyalty. Even for colleges and universities with weak-to-middling sports teams, students and alumni tend to be proud of their teams and, by extension, their schools.
- Advertising has becoming an effective way to get students and their families interested in enrolling at various schools; in addition to attracting students, marketing can help change the perception of the school for current students as well.
- A 2008 article in Business Week breaks down how several large universities used marketing and advertising to reshape their public image. Since student retention is a major issue for colleges and universities, the goal isn’t just to get students to enroll—it’s getting those students to stay and graduate.
While the traditional college experience is important to many students, others are focused on the ends rather than the means during their academic careers. And with so many working adults returning to college, an old-fashioned college campus experience seems more like a distraction than a selling point.
In response, colleges and universities are offering online degree programs and distance learning opportunities that allow working students to earn a degree on their ownterms. Likewise, instructors for these programs are becoming more tech savvy, conducting office hours online or in chat rooms.
As the Internet becomes more integral in the lives of college students, schools are shaping their programs to appeal to non-traditional students, a demographic that continues to grow.
In the competitive world of academics, having a decent reputation isn’t enough—col
leges and universities must prove that their programs are run by leaders of their fields.
An important element of this type of advertising involves securing faculty members with experience in research, which can lend the department and the school a kind of prestige.
Faculty members with successful careers outside of academia, such as law or business, can also be attractive to students. This approach can give students and their families a sense of security; faculty with successful professional careers outside of a university setting can give their students a more practical education, and prepare them for the “real world.”
As the landscape of higher education continues change, colleges and universities are learning to adjust. A large part of that adjustment must include finding ways to draw and retain students; it also involves giving students several alternatives to the once-rigid four-year, campus-centric degree program.
From advertising to alumni relations, using marketing tactics are helping schools become more competitive. The result doesn’t always translate to a bigger student body, but it can result in a better one.
(Today is a guest post from the wonderful Joseph Baker, a wonderful guy and friend of The Engaging Brand. )