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Courageous Higher Ed Marketing

There’s a quote I love from author Sharon E. Rainey—and it’s especially relevant these days. “Through each crisis in my life,” she writes, “with acceptance and hope, in a single defining moment, I finally gained the courage to do things differently.”

The courage to do things differently. Not the “opportunity.” The “courage.”

As someone who strives to be an optimist, this quote speaks volumes to me about how a crisis can productively push us into unfamiliar territory. When circumstances are right, and if we take a bold approach, great things can happen.

Today, this concept is being tested among higher ed professionals nationwide. As they confront unprecedented realities, they are being forced to innovate in ways previously only vaguely considered. And as a result, there are some great things happening—even in the midst of a crisis.

Best Ideas Emerging in Higher Ed

Here are a few of the best ideas emerging in higher ed marketing and recruitment—and that may inspire you to make some “courageous” changes of your own.

Adapting to audience anxiety

According to The Princeton Review (among other sources), more students than ever are choosing to stay close to home in the fall—not surprising given the uncertainties they face. As a result, many institutions, including Asher client Ivy Tech Community College, launched mini campaigns that speak to their ability to serve guest students, transfer students, commuters, and those who want to take classes online. In doing so, these institutions have subtly demonstrated that there are options aside from a gap year.

Allowing for campus visits—from a distance

The University of Southern Indiana was among the many schools taking a new approach to campus visits. Instead of making their tours fully virtual, however, USI offered a drive through campus tour. Prospects and their families viewed academic buildings, athletics facilities, and residence halls, while being guided by a staff member. The tours were enhanced with video and Zoom calls with admissions team members—while visitors were parked, of course.

Learning from the past

How satisfied were students with the shift to virtual and online learning in the spring? If you believe many of the studies that have been released in the past few months, not very—with as many as 75 percent saying they are dissatisfied. To make future adaptations go more smoothly, schools like the University of Wisconsin at Whitewater are using research to better understand what went well, and what didn’t, while providing students with some hands-on data science experience along the way.

Modeling authenticity in social media

You can’t fool your social media audience—and they’ll call you out if you try. It’s critical, therefore, to be open to honest conversations, even when students may voice criticism or concern. Recognizing this, Asher client Indiana Tech used Instagram stories to facilitate a Q & A session about student concerns related to the coronavirus pandemic. The conversation met traditional-age students where they are, given Instagram’s unique traction with younger audiences, and provided an opportunity for the larger campus community to learn from each other.

Staying connected even when students are away

Middlebury College wanted to stay in touch with its students, even when they were off campus during the summer. In response, the Center for Careers and Internships developed ideas and resources so students could use their time productively and make themselves more attractive to employers. In doing so, as one Middlebury staff member noted in a recent interview, the college “showed what [it] will do for them, how this place is here for you, no matter what.”

Taking care of current students

It’s perhaps never been more true that the best prospect is the one you’ve already recruited. In other words, every student you retain means one less you have to recruit. That’s why Asher client Saint Mary’s College developed a “Welcome Home” mailer for its new students. The package provided a glimpse into life on campus along with expectations about what will be different this coming semester. These innovative approaches only hint at what’s possible when institutions think differently about how to connect with students, prospects, and their families. With a little creativity—and some courage—there’s never been a better time to pave a new path.


These innovative approaches only hint at what’s possible when institutions think differently about how to connect with students, prospects, and their families. With a little creativity–and some courage–there’s never been a better time to pave a new path.

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