Higher education marketing & the future… 8 notes from 2010

Higher education marketing: a challenging future continues in 2011

Higher education marketing in 2010… what most stands out when I close my eyes and think about the past 12 months of continuity and chaos in higher education?

No special order to these notes, just taking a moment to share the highlights from client connections, webinar questions, conference presentations, professional colleagues and personal friends.

8 marketing points that are top of mind today:

  • If predictions (see “60 Minutes” from last Sunday) about the upcoming financial stress on state and local governments is even half true, we haven’t nearly seen the end of financial turmoil on the public side of higher education. More cuts coming in most states. Huge in some.
  • Residential, “liberal arts” institutions that don’t have enormous reputational strength (that’s most of them) will continue to face price resistance. Holding enrollment levels and tuition discount rates even in the next few years will be a significant achievement. Various iterations of the “value proposition” face an increasingly difficult uphill slog.
  • The tuition discounting plague continues and is spreading from the private sector to the public sector, in part from increased public university competition for out-of-state students. That’s the lesson from reading that public sector discounting neared 13 percent in 2008. It can only be higher now.
  • The “move to mobile” continues with the ongoing increase in touch-screen smartphone adoption that’s making it easier to complete online tasks from 3 inch screens. Limited resources and the proverbial hesitance of higher education to change has meant slow development on the marketing side here (but lots of apps with campus bus schedules) but that’s going to change in 2011. Two of my favorite leaders so far are the mobile website at College of Charleston and the complex “Good Old App” at University of Virginia.
  • Traditional websites will adapt and change, with a new emphsis on simple design and integration with social media. Is the future showing on the Langara College home page?
  • In the social media era, you really can’t control what people will say about your brand. Merits of the individual programs aside, that’s the lesson learned this year from “D+” at Drake University, “Makers All” at Purdue University, and “AmericanWonks” at American University.
  • What future for the for-profit sector? It isn’t going to vanish, but the time of super-fast stock growth beloved of investment advisors isn’t returning in 2011. That’s a good thing. If for-profits are genuine in changing to more careful admissions and increased attention on retention, both the stock holders and students will benefit in the long fun. The correction in 2010 was overdue.
  • Online learning will continue to expand as a degree option, for “traditional” students and everyone else, as faculty come to terms with it. For-profits dominate online enrollment now. Efforts at schools like the University of Kentucky to share revenue with faculty who develop online courses may change that.

Humpty Dumpty

Higher education, of course, isn’t going away. But we can expect more change to move through the system as public universities and private colleges continue to adjust to the reality that the happy resource times before 2008 are not returning.

Higher education marketing will also adapt, although there is still an undue amount of time spent talking about how better delivery of “brand” and “value” messages might restore the bounty of the past. “Brand” is important. People certainly want “value” at the right price point. But nothing is going to put the Humpty Dumpty that fell off the wall in 2008 back together again.

Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays

2010 was a wonderful year. 2011 is primed for a fine start. Thanks to everyone, from marvelous clients to new and continuing newsletter subscribers and Twitter followers, to colleagues and friends, for helping to make that happen.

That’s all for now 

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