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Hard Times for Higher Education Spell Opportunity

While colleges like to project personas of stability and endurance, the truth is higher education is having a tough moment. With word last month that another small college would close, colleges and universities are reminded of the challenges they face, year in and out:

  • Finding academically qualified applicants for the next incoming class
  • Serving the current student population from the classroom to the dorm room
  • Helping recent graduates get desirable jobs
  • Keeping influential alumni happy and giving

All of this can factor into the merciless and seemingly endless set of rankings and ratings that can build or bust the reputation of any institute of higher learning.

Add to that the rising cost of college and people’s hesitation to take out student loans and you can see why it’s far from flush days on the quad.

When challenges arise, storytelling can be your best weapon. And since no two colleges or universities are built alike, each has a unique opportunity to leverage its strengths to attract its ideal student body.

These days, the word being used most (by both academics and students and their parents) is “value.” What is the value of my college education and my degree?

Not surprisingly, the definition increasingly revolves less around amenities or a winning football team and more about dollars and cents: Both in how much that diploma will cost and what it will unlock in the form of future earnings. And student loans also become more palatable when the promise of a higher starting salary comes into focus.

Great colleges (and their leadership) know how to tell this story: By communicating the programs they have in place to help graduates get good jobs that pay among the highest in their fields. From advertising to PR to SEO-powered blogs, writing and broadcasting a powerful refrain on value can spread among the audiences most interested in ferreting out the best school for them.

That track record can also attract more attention from academic peers, which in turn can influence the all-important national college rankings.

So even though alma mater may be facing its challenges, this is no time to withdraw. Clearing your throat, announcing your success and inviting people into the tent is the best way to ensure your college or university is geared up for the next wave of hopeful applicants.

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Vice President, Public Relations

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