Connecting the Higher Ed Marketing Dots

As the Pew Research Center finds 61% of Americans believe the higher education system in the U.S. today is generally going in the wrong direction—primarily because they think tuition costs are too high—a game show called Paid Off has premiered. Reviewed as “The Most American Television Show of 2018” (and not exactly in a good way), the show pays off the student loan balances of its winning contestants on the premise that student loan debt is “out of control.”

To have any hope of making a dent in the dominant narrative that college costs too much, higher education institutions will need to do a much better job of connecting the dots throughout their marketing efforts, at multiple levels:

  • Connect strategy and tactics with data. Any investments in the wider sharing of value messages should start with conducting institution-specific market research. Such research can inform not only the strategic direction for content, but also justify the cost benefit of using specific communication tactics that genuinely connect with various audiences.
  • Connect career outcomes with the educational experience. Among those who believe higher ed is going in the wrong direction, Pew found 65% (a majority of both Democrats and Republicans) feel a major reason is “students are not getting the skills they need to succeed in the workplace.” Translating authentic value will connect with the mindset of today’s marketplace.
  • Connect with internal stakeholders. As the Chronicle pointed out in its coverage of “Great Colleges to Work For,” helping faculty and staff members understand the institution’s business operations can go a long way toward building greater alignment in pursuing marketing goals and outwardly sharing messages with one voice. A shared understanding of marketplace realities fosters more effective connections.
  • Connect with competitors. Inside Higher Ed’s annual survey of business officers found that half of those working at private colleges or universities believe their institution should share administrative functions and/or combine academic programs with another college or university in the next three years, largely because it could reduce expenses. Making connections through synergistic collaboration can lead to enhanced investment opportunities.

Given the many disconnects colleges and universities face as they strive to reach students, families, and a wide variety of influencers (who may not be making the connection about the real investment value of a college degree), market-smart thinking is a necessity.

Wrong Direction

Though opinions differ for why, a majority of both Republicans (73%) and Democrats (52%) dislike the direction higher ed is heading. (Pew Research Center)

Toward Better Engagement

Survey responses revealed some models for connecting faculty and staff members to senior leaders to improve collaboration. (Chronicle)

Need for Change

“68% of financial officers at four-year private colleges now acknowledge that their tuition discount rate is unsustainable.” (Inside Higher Ed)


Lawlor Recommends

As many college and university professionals have shared with us recently, there is considerable “siloed” thinking internally about how best to make more effective connections with a variety of external audiences and constituents. This highlights the importance of internal dialogues about the reality of the marketplace. A shared understanding garners organizational intent and institutional purpose, fostering more effective communication—and connecting. No question, now is the time to connect the dots.