A 2020 Perspective on Higher Education

The start of a new year is often the time for colleges and universities to consider their strategic plans.  At Saint Vincent, our President recently addressed the faculty and shared hopes and aspirations for our institution.  I suspect many of our objectives are shared by colleges across the U.S., to include the development of “a financially sound, environmentally sustainable and beautiful campus.”

Such strategic plans in higher education will continue to be strained during the next several years as a result of changing market dynamics.  Marketing guru Seth Godin predicts that higher education will experience dramatic shifts as we approach 2020. “The business of higher education is going to change as much in the next decade as newspapers did in the prior one.”

In his recent interview with University Advancement, Godin also asserts that most colleges and universities have become, “mass marketers, [and] have chosen to sell above average education to above average masses of students.” Elizabeth Scarborough, a higher education consultant, recently developed a word cloud of almost 1,000 college and university taglines that highlights common words perhaps indicative of a mass market approach.  At the top of list: world, excellence, success, transforming, minds, leaders, faith, discover, experience and opportunity.

So how can a college develop a distinct competitive advantage?  Godin explains, “Marketing is first and foremost about what you sell, not how you sell it. So an institution that wants a different marketing footprint needs to have a different agenda and a different curriculum.” It is still a rather common misconception that marketing should be primarily focused on the function of admissions. Such a mindset fails to consider that students will often have even greater value to the institution as alumni. Thus, it is important to establish strong relationships with students before they even arrive at the college, continue to build upon those relationships while they are attending college, and ideally extend the value of those relationships across a lifetime.

If colleges and universities do not start to consider the entire lifetime value chain of a student and connect the links in the chain with concepts such as integrated marketing communication, they will undoubtedly lose considerable opportunities to advance their institutions.




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