When most marketing professionals, academic leaders, presidents, board members, and others think about marketing institutional distinctive advantages, they focus almost exclusively on programs and quantitative data. For instance,
- 88% of our pre-med graduates go on to medical school, or;
- 93% of of our education graduates pass the state teaching licensure exam, or;
- 100% of our nursing graduates pass the national licensure exam.
This focus on programs and quantitative data, they believe, will lead to greater recruiting success, improved retention, and increased graduation rates.
It doesn’t. And, it won’t.
But, “It’s what the parents are asking about,” they say emphatically. “It’s what the students are seeking,” they say with certainty.
But, humans regularly bend to social pressures in a whole variety of settings, including what to seek as helpful educational outcomes. In today’s world, the social pressure to “go to college for a job,” is strong.
Talk, though, with your alumni who are “successful” (in any accepted sense of the word). Talk with parents of graduates who are “successful.” Ask them why your institution is special to them.
Here is what you will primarily hear:
- The institution helped me find my place in the world;
- The institution gave me confidence in myself and my abilities;
- The institution opened up the world to me in ways I had never imagined;
- The institution gave me my lifelong friend group;
- The institution made me feel welcomed and accepted;
- The institution put people in my life who cared about me enough to help;
- The institution prepared me for a fully-lived life.
Yes, they may also talk about how your institution helped them with “career preparation.” But, even in that discussion you will hear about that one professor who encouraged them or made difficult math concepts easier to grasp. Or that one administrator who helped them get the internship that opened new doors for them.
Most every institution seeking to distinguish themselves from others will tout professional preparation numbers, percentages, and program highlights.
If you are seeking to create a helpful distinctive advantage, however, share the more qualitative, rich, and vibrant stories about your “caring culture,” or your “world-opening experiences,” or your “life-preparation” focus. Share the vignettes of graduates who believe your institution gave them the opportunities to emerge on an adult trajectory of meaning and value. Share the perspectives of parents who claim that your institution guided their student comprehensively from a child into adulthood.
And don’t simply share those examples and stories. Build, however slowly, the institutional curricular and co-curricular infrastructure to enhance those outcomes.
It will be an investment well spent.
Because you already know that is what really makes your institution special.
This article was originally posted on Jason’s Blog in January 2024. To read more, visit www.jasonmcneal.com.