Your Higher Education Marketing Newsletter… August 2020

August. And the fall future for colleges and universities is a bit clearer now than at the start of the month. More schools abandoning on campus class plans. Others announcing initial online opens followed by fact-to-face classes. Many still planning to have everyone back. Sports leagues are closing down. Power 5 conferences still deciding. On we go to September.

Robert Kelchen, associate professor of higher education at Seton Hall University, wrote this on July 1: “Unfortunately, I’m convinced that this month will be one of the worst months that American higher education has experienced in a long time.” How did his conviction play out? Not quite as badly as he expected. Check his review of July events and updated forecast in his August 1 Twitter thread.

Kelchen’s closing comment this month: “Let’s try to take care of ourselves and each other as some really tough decisions that have been put off as long as possible will be made over the next few weeks.”

Review the recording of the idFive webinar: “Say what? Higher Ed Communications in the Coronavirus Age.” Slides and commentary are online now.

In 2020-21 75 percent of high school seniors will make a college website their first choice for information about a school that interests them. Find out what potential students like and dislike about your site. Feedback in 5 days on 13 quality points with Gerry McGovern’s unique Customer Centric Index survey. Complex name. Easy survey. See “How it Works.”

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And now, your marketing news and notes for August.
Cartoon of the Month: “If Higher Education Marketed Other Products”

Tom Fishburne pokes fun at “The Value Proposition” in a cartoon introducing a short essay on how “COVID-19 is forcing a re-evaluation of how brands across the board are valued.”

More from Tom on how the value proposition for higher education is broken at “the value proposition and lessons from higher education.”
On-Campus Tours: Reviewing What’s Still Possible

While many colleges have abandoned on-campus tours for the fall, others have not. One welcome development: campus tours are much smaller in size now than in the past, sometimes just one family at a time.

Check what’s happening at University of Toledo, College of Wooster, Tulane University, University of Southern Indiana and several more schools at “The Return of the Campus Tour” from Inside Higher Ed.
Inquiry Forms: What to do when you have too many inquiries… make the form really long

Jens Larson at Eastern Washington University gets credit for citing the University of Central Florida inquiry form as an example of what to do when you are not especially concerned about getting potential students to complete the form.

Jens take: “If an inquiry form could make the noise Gollum makes in Lord of the Rings, this is what it would be. Jargon. SSN. DOB. 13 required fields. 60 total fields.”

Especially odd. The last 4 digits of the SS number are “required.” But if you don’t want to do that, UCF tells you to just fill in “9999.”

Experience what Jens writing is about at “Join Our Mailing List.”
JAMA on Safe Campus Opening: Possible with Expensive, Frequent Screening

Journal of the American Medical Association has published a scenario of a residential campus of nearly 5,000 students that opens in the fall with 10 of the students being asymptomatic for COVID-19 when they arrive. Safely reopening is possible the report concludes if students are screened every two days and test results are rapidly received.

The article notes that “This sets a very high bar—logistically, financially, and behaviorally—that may be beyond the reach of many university administrators and the students in their care.”

The JAMA article: “Assessment of… Screening Strategies to Permit the Safe Reopening of College Campuses in the United States.”
COVID-19 Liability Waivers: What will students sign?

Will asking students to agree to statements like this one from Bates College reduce the number of returning students?

“I am voluntarily assuming any and all risks that notwithstanding the college’s best efforts to implement and require compliance with these prevention and mitigation measures I may be exposed to the coronavirus and may become ill with COVID-19, and that such exposure and illness may result in personal injury, illness, temporary or permanent disability, or even death.”

More on how colleges seek to protect themselves from COVID-19 liability at “Colleges Seek Waivers from Risk-Taking Students.”
Tracking COVID-19 Transparency: The UNC-Chapel Hill Dashboard

How will colleges and universities keep everyone informed re COVID-19 on their campus? University of North Carolina – Chapel Hill offers an excellent example to follow.

Dashboard details include the number of students tested each week, with positive and negative results. You’ll also see “Cumulative Positive Cases Per Day” for both employees and students as well as the “isolation capacity” and “quarantine capacity” available.

Data like this is smart marketing. People on and off campus want to know that organizations are making honest information available on a regular basis.

Visit “UNC–Chapel Hill CV-19 Dashboard.”

(Thanks to Benjy Renton a Middlebury College student who alerted me per a Twitter post.)
Building an Online Empire: University of Arizona buys Ashford University for $1

A few large, established players exist in online education: Arizona State, Southern New Hampshire University, Western Governors University to name a proverbial few.

Other universities seek to emulate them. Purdue University, for instance, with Purdue University Global. And now the University of Arizona with a $1 acquisition of for-profit Ashford University (enrolling about 35,000 students) and a University of Arizona Global name.

Arizona will hire the present Ashford owner on a revenue sharing basis over an initial 15-year agreement to run the venture. Zovio will receive 19.5 percent of tuition revenue.

More info from Inside Higher Ed’s “University of Arizona’s Big Online Push” and the Arizona press release.
Higher Education Websites: The Importance of the “Search” Tool

As highered websites grow in marketing importance, so does the role of the “search” function in helping visitors find content and complete tasks as quickly as possible. Sad to say, regular navigation is not always the best way to do that.

The worst problem you can have when people “search” on your site: finding outdated information. The message that you deliver when that happens is that you don’t care about making your site a friendly place to visit. People will leave. And not come back.

Compare the state of your search ability against the recommendations in a new report from mStoner written by Michael Stoner: “The State of Site Search on Higher Ed Websites 2020.”
Website Photos: What are you changing for COVID-19 reality?

Typical photos have to change at schools that are opening in fall with students on campus. So far only a handful have done that although I can’t claim to have visited more than a few dozen.

Here are 3 current home page examples that bring a sense of reality to a website. For students and professor masked and distanced in a classroom, try Arizona State University. For masked students in a social setting, visit Oregon State University. For an array of students in various masked settings, scroll to the bottom of the home page at Boise State University.

Colleges that haven’t started with new student and faculty photos yet had best do so soon. Reality marketing is more important now than ever. New photos will add credibility to COVID-19 plans.
Most Popular Topic in July Newsletter: Survey of 2021 High School Seniors

Carnegie Dartlet has released a survey on how “rising” high school seniors will change recruitment habits during the 2021 recruitment season. Marketers will want to pay special attention to the section on “College Choices and Communication Tactics.”

See the relative rankings of 12 information sources and more survey results at “Rising Seniors: A Study of COVID-19’s Impact on the Class of 2021.”
Be a marketing champion on your campus.

Bob Johnson, Ph.D.

Bob Johnson Consulting, LLC

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