Marketing’s Role in Continuous Improvement for Higher Ed

As our nation’s labor market enters the age of automation, “the day-to-day nature of work could change for nearly everyone,” predicts McKinsey & Company. “Nearly 40 percent of U.S. jobs are currently in occupational categories that could shrink between now and 2030.” Workers with only a high school diploma are four times more likely to be displaced by automation than workers with a bachelor’s degree, but “all workers will need to adapt as machines take over routine and some physical tasks and as demand grows for work involving socioemotional, creative, technological, and higher cognitive skills.”

As the pace of change accelerates in the workplace, colleges and universities will need to adjust how they prepare their graduates for it. S&P Global warns that smaller institutions are dealing with more financial challenges than colleges and universities with ample resources and strong brand recognition are. Still, the annual Inside Higher Ed survey of business officers suggests that private institutions may have a slight edge over public institutions when it comes to having the right tools and processes to respond quickly to needed changes. Importantly, 40 percent of private college business officers are optimistic that their personnel have the right mindset for agility. Responding to change requires a culture of continuous improvement among people who are always looking for better ways to do things.

For colleges and universities that are engaged in innovation, three marketing functions can reinforce continuous improvement:

  • Brand identity—A shared sense of the institution’s strengths, ambitions, and value is the foundation for proceeding with purpose.
  • Market research—Knowing what the marketplace demands is the key to delivering relevant outcomes.
  • Communications—Transparency is a great facilitator when it comes to gaining buy-in for change.

With today’s increased focus on affordability, a college simply must be able to continually adapt in order to deliver return on investment tomorrow.


The Future of Work

Automation will come unevenly across geographies and occupations, with rural areas experiencing more worker displacement. (McKinsey)

S&P Analysis

The report describes the higher education’s recovery, increasing competition, and growing inequality since the Great Recession. (S&P Global)

Business Officers Survey

Colleges and universities in the Northeast are considered most vulnerable in their financial stability, followed by the Midwest. (Inside Higher Ed)


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The reality of marketplace conditions is a genuine catalyst for developing a campus culture of continuous improvement. As Jim Collins noted in his book, Good to Great and the Social Sectors, pursuing greatness involves striving to have disciplined people, disciplined thought, and disciplined action. College and university communities must focus on a collective sense of self and proceed with organizational intent that fosters value-added distinction, and not simply imitation. Focusing on the art & science of marketing is a necessity today. Now is the time to discuss, discern, and do in a very relevant, market-smart manner. Talk the walk, and then make a genuine commitment to walking the talk—and raising your institutional voice with persuasive storytelling that enhances the investment value of your college or university.