In October after the release of the College Board's Trends reports, we interviewed Robert Massa, vice president for communications at Lafayette College, for tips on marketing the value and affordability of your institution. This week, we have asked Bob Sevier, senior vice president of strategy at STAMATS, for practical strategies toward publicizing the value of your academic programs.
First, Sevier suggests moving away from talking about value. "When students hear 'value,' they hear that you're justifying a high cost. The key is to talk about outcomes."
"Colleges define academic quality in terms of their curriculum and their faculty. Students define academic quality in terms of what happens after their graduation."
Bob Sevier, STAMATS
This can mean more than just tracking and promoting the percentage of graduates who are employed in their field or enrolled in a graduate program within six months after graduation. Sevier recommends promoting:
- What type of jobs your graduates are finding (are they finding career positions?)
- The path from particular majors to particular careers
"Students define a good job not just in terms of income, but in terms of security, benefits, and opportunity," Sevier notes. It is important to show the level of opportunity that an education at your institution has offered. Also, "students are notoriously poor at translating majors into jobs." Sevier notes the frequency with which students ask what they can do with a math or an English major if they do not want to teach. "Anything a college can do to draw that connection helps."
This means more than offering a bullet list of careers on the departmental website. To make the case for your institution more effectively:
- Offer case studies from alumni
- Showcase your career planning & placement resources
- Showcase your alumni network
"In one case study, talk about someone who had a more interdisciplinary approach and wasn't certain what to do after graduation, and how your institution's alumni network or career placement services helped that student find their direction."
Bob Sevier, STAMATS
"Colleges need to be facilitators," Sevier remarks. "They are like the matchmaker, and students are looking for colleges to fulfill that role."
Promote Visible Signs of Academic Quality
Whether on your website, in your promotional materials, or on your campus tour, Bob Sevier recommends being intentional about how you demonstrate the quality of the academic experience at your institution. Sometimes small things can make a difference. For example:
- Make sure to convey the importance of academics at your institution. "Often the very photos colleges think cliche are what students want to see -- for example, photos of students talking with faculty."
- Do you show students in solitary study, or students learning in social groups? "Learning is social," Sevier comments, "and students want to see groups."
- When you highlight learning technology, don't only show technology. Show examples of how your learning technology is facilitating interactive and collaborative learning.
- Make sure your photographs are "environmentally rich," with interesting and engaging backgrounds, not just foregrounds. "The best photographers are often sports photographers," Sevier observes, "not portrait photographers. Sports photographers are used to telling the story with the whole photo."
Beyond your marketing materials, when you bring students and donors on campus, Sevier advises customizing that walk to offer each constituent group a tour that shows them the facilities they are most curious about.
In either the case of promotional materials or a campus tour, the key is to understand what is of critical value to your audience and focus first on giving examples of how you can -- and do -- offer that. A prospective student should never have to hunt through your website to find the evidence they need that your institution offers a high quality education -- and one that will help them prepare for their career.