Illustration of people rolling out a red carpet

The Value Proposition’s Double Meaning

When we talk about the value proposition of a higher education institution, we’re usually referencing what it provides (the educational experience as well as its resulting outcome) to make students feel their cost is worth it as they consider their return on investment.

But there’s another way to think about the value proposition—as a set of values the institution is promising to adhere to. These values are not simply listed in the mission statement to express what the college stands for, but should be the core principles that govern all of its operations. The key to successfully marketing them is to find where the college’s authentic values align with the values that prospective students want to see it uphold.

For example, we know from the Pew Research Center’s social and demographic surveys that a majority of today’s teens value:

  • Fairness. This week’s college admissions bribery scandal has so thoroughly captivated the national imagination because it runs counter to a widespread desire for college admissions to be fair. Yet while highly selective institutions struggle mightily to devise and maintain equitable systems of access, a vast remainder of colleges and universities have the capacity to accept virtually all students who meet their baseline admissions criteria.
  • Concern. Care for the whole person is a major expectation for residential colleges and universities to deliver. This goes beyond personal attention in the academic realm to also include mental health support in student life, given that 70 percent of today’s teens say anxiety and depression is a major problem among their peers.
  • Inclusion. Among today’s teens, 62 percent view increasing racial and ethnic diversity as a good thing for our society, and half of them believe society is not accepting enough of people who don’t identify as either a man or a woman.

Students and families have become more distrustful of higher education institutions and what they say they will deliver compared to their price and, in many cases, what they actually do deliver. But showcasing authentically-held values such as fairness, concern, and inclusion can send a reassuring message to help counter this prevailing trend.


Presidents Survey

60% of private college presidents believe it is appropriate to consider legacy status in private college admissions. (Inside Higher Ed)

Faculty Survey

58% of faculty have participated in training in preparation to be a mentor, with STEM professors being more likely to have done so. (HERI)

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This time of year can bring consternation to many people who are no doubt longing for greener pastures and hoping that the luck of St. Patrick will help influence the pending decisions of their admitted students. No question, a key variable influencing most students and families today is how their decision will impact their ability to pay and/or borrow for their college education investment.

However, equally important now more than ever is also knowing whether or not the college or university really does walk its talk. “Proof-of-purchase” storytelling that demonstrates student satisfaction and alumni success no doubt will help persuade students and families about the inherent investment value of the school they think they want to attend—and convince them that their desired school will genuinely welcome them for the entire time they are enrolled. Authenticity is persuasive.