While the Halloween season is a wonderful celebration of fantasy, masks, and disguises, today’s higher education marketplace craves realism, authenticity, and transparency on the part of colleges and universities. With prospective students and their families having so many more sources at their fingertips for making informed choices, higher education administrators must “de-costume,” so to speak, the true nature of the educational experiences their institutions offer. Among other things, this requires:
- Accurate portrayal in printed and online recruiting materials—As our Lawlor Review writer Erin Peterson recently put it, “The promises that colleges make to prospective students in admissions materials are not always explicit, but they’re embedded in every photo, caption, and poetic description of campus life and classes. And students internalize those ideas as they move from prospective student to admitted student to enrolled student. However, when asked later, they sometimes say that their college experience falls short of what those materials seemed to offer.” In fact, CIRP’s annual “Your First College Year Survey” consistently finds at least one-fifth of current students feel that the admissions materials they received didn’t accurately portray the campus.
- Authentic presences on social media—As we highlighted in our 2014 Trends report, higher education institutions have no choice but to trust in transparency: “Widespread use of anytime/anywhere technology is democratizing the control of information and is pushing institutions toward communicating with authenticity.” Social media is being utilized increasingly by college-bound high school students to gather impressions and information about colleges, and the evidence indicates this has an actual effect on their decisions about where to apply to college.
- Transparency regarding costs and financial aid—We offered “Seven Steps Toward More Effective Financial Aid Websites” in our most recent issue of The Lawlor Review, and almost all of the recommendations focused on ways to enhance transparency. In a time when even families with the ability to pay for a private college education are hesitant in their willingness to do so, students and parents want clear answers about exactly how they can afford a particular college. Thus, a higher education institution’s website has become more important than ever in providing such answers.
- Representative samples of outcomes—Earlier this year, John Lawlor posted about how colleges lacking the prestige that comes with national name-brand recognition can nevertheless convey their quality. He advised, “Focus on results—because that’s what today’s marketplace values.” These results might take the form of student satisfaction surveys, measures of learning outcomes, lists of job outcomes immediately following graduation, and diverse stories of alumni who have experienced career and life rewards.
Even in a scary marketplace for student recruitment, where enrollment professionals feel more besieged with tricks than delighted by treats, at least they know that “keeping it real” rules the day—even on Oct. 31.
Authenticity is more like “talking the walk” than “walking the talk.” So it helps when everyone at your institution is first walking in the same direction—which requires shared purpose and shared identity. Institutions that focus on delivering value with distinction are better positioned to succeed in today’s higher education marketplace. If you do this right, students and families will tell their circles of friends and influencer groups that your college truly is a destination for an educational treat. Happy Halloween.
In the News
Wired reported on “4 Radical Ideas for Reinventing College, Drawn From Stanford Research,” a project that involved cultural anthropology research conducted by students at Stanford’s Institute of Design. After exploring the student experience in several realms, they offered these proposals for reinventing college: Lose the four-year degree, lose the high school to college model, lose the transcript, and lose the college major.
Did You Know?
59% of Class of 2014 graduates had a career-oriented major, while 41% had a more academically oriented major.