Responding to College Vulnerability, Part 1

Becky Morehouse

Becky Morehouse

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Our most recent blog looked at the factors that most often contribute to institutional vulnerability.  

Over the next several weeks, we will review potential strategic responses to these vulnerabilities; responses that will not only help you survive, but thrive, in today’s confusing and highly competitive marketplace. 

This blog lists the six characteristics that most contribute to institutional vulnerability and offers insights and suggestions that address these limiting, and potentially detrimental, factors. 

Characteristic 1: Rural/remote; removed from major population centers  

  1. Firstly, invest in a credible, sustainable institutional brand strategy that will help overcome distance/location issues 
  1. Build a brand around highly attractive, high quality, in-demand majors so distance/location is less of an issue 
  1. Develop and invest in co-branding opportunities with regional businesses and visitors’ bureaus that have difficulty in recruiting employees and visitors  
  1. Conduct research with current students to determine what institutional qualities helped them overcome distance concerns. Add these insights to your marketing communication strategy 
  1. Evaluate building a satellite campus in nearby major metro areas 
  1. Develop a relationship with colleges in nearby major metro areas 

Characteristic 2: Small, often less than 2,500 students  

  1. Stress how your small size supports intimacy, safety, and familiarity  
  1. Highlight low student-to-faculty ratios and high availability of mentors 
  1. Highlight opportunities for students to get involved, play intercollegiate sports, and develop leadership skills 
  1. Additionally highlight opportunities for student-faculty research    
  1. Stress opportunities to have deeper relationships (make friends) with other students 
  1. Note that students are less likely to get lost in the crowd 
  1. Highlight stories of alumni who could clearly have attended another institution but chose yours 

Characteristic 3: Private  

  1. Highlight your four- and five-year graduation rates if they are better than regional public competitors 
  1. Stress how smaller class sizes foster a better educational experience  
  1. Demonstrate commitment to the complete student experience  
  1. Because of the perception that privates are more expensive, push financial aid messaging early in recruitment communication efforts  

Characteristic 4: Focus almost exclusively on traditional, full-time undergraduate students 

  1. Stress your commitment to this type of student and make it a central component of your brand strategy 
  1. Rather than quickly diversifying away from this type of student, slowly add another dimension to your student mix 
  1. Develop a feeder network of area high schools and community colleges 
  1. Assess and improve proactive transfer recruiting strategy 

Characteristic 5: Highly residential  

  1. See recommendations, in #4  
  1. Stress how residential life contributes to a better college life experience
  1. Highlight intimacy, safety, and familiarity
  1. Similarly highlight how residence life staff support the students in their care
  1. Tout exceptional facilities—from residence hall amenities to rec activities—as well as highly engaging social opportunities and engaging events

Characteristic 6: Tuition dependent 

Finally, diversify away from tuition dependence1. Depending on the type of institution, this can include (in no particular order):  

  1. Increase fee revenue
  2. Increase student retention
  3. Customize academic programming/training
  4. Offer alumni enrichment programs
  5. Enhance fundraising:
    • Annual funds
    • Capital campaigns
    • Directed/specific giving opportunities
    • Planned/deferred giving
    • Gifts in kind
    • Endowment performance
  6. Seek state appropriations especially in the areas of STEM, minority student recruiting and retention, and women recruiting and retention
  7. Earmarks (one time)
  8. Create opportunities for co-ventures/incubators
  9. Undertake sponsored research for corporations
  10. Enhance grant writing
  11. Offer special events/conferencing/camps
  12. Enhance auxiliary services
  13. Sell excess inventory or other assets
  14. Sell or lease intellectual property
  15. Undertake athletic marketing
  16. Seek branding/licensing/trademark opportunities

Next week we look at another set of strategies to help advance your institution.

Interested in how to better address institutional vulnerability? Reach out and we can discuss how Stamats can help.

Read Next: Responding to College Vulnerability, Part 2

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