Private, four-year, and about to close?

If you work for, graduated from, or are associated with a private, four-year college or university, you’re already aware of the competitive pressures on your institution. Still, a quick look at a 2013 Vanderbilt University study, as well as more recent NCES data on the number of four-year colleges that have closed, begs the question: Who’s next?

For institutions that want to appease alumnae, remain independent, and still keep the campus brimming with activity, the research points to a few timely recommendations that can filter into marketing efforts, outlined below.

Tailor your messages

At the risk of sounding obvious, your message needs to be audience-specific. For example, if you’re trying to reach adult learners, be specific about why they should consider finishing their degree at your school. They’re a growing segment of the market that wants career advancement, personal fulfillment, and the flexibility to finish their degree on their own terms – all message points that will help you resonate with their specific needs.

Develop a deeper, social relationship

What we really mean is: reach out for more than just fundraising or annual Homecoming events. Yes, endowments need to grow, but these adults are also the face and the market value of your brand, rising or falling with the times. Moreover, they can offer excellent input on how to remain relevant in a fluid world. Rather than just keeping them updated on campus life, ask them to keep your institution on point when it comes to areas of expertise that they’ve developed. Of course, social media is one vehicle for that discussion, which can all start with an invitation or question. In sum, don’t just think of social as a channel, see it as a chance to grow an existing relationship or answer a burning question.

Use your size and speed

What smaller institutions have on their side is speed. Larger, more cumbersome institutions take much longer to change direction or respond to the changing needs of today’s students. If other industries are any indication, there’s no such thing as “too big to fail,” and customer demands have no governing body, no universal voice that restricts their choices or requires collective agreement. Add to this the recently proposed changes in tax policy, which could significantly affect graduate and post-doc applications, and you can see why change is the only permanent force for the foreseeable future across higher education.

So how does all of this filter into your marketing efforts? A very good question, and one we can help you answer.

Stay tuned to Backe social, where we’ll continue to explore the challenges colleges and universities face today and tomorrow – in our Higher Education series.

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