The Higher Ed Marketer
The Higher Ed Marketer

Episode 63 · 5 months ago

Aspirational Branding: What Makes Your Community College Exceptional

ABOUT THIS EPISODE

Community colleges often operate with limited resources. This can result in prospective students not knowing that there is an affordable and accessible path to higher education within their community.  

In this episode, Shauna Davis and Mary Laphen from the Lumina Foundation, provide an overview of what the Million Dollar Community College Challenge is and why helping community colleges brand and market aspirationally is so crucial. 

Join us as we discuss:

  • What the Million Dollar Community College Challenge is
  • Why it’s important to make higher ed accessible to adult learners
  • Why aspirational branding is needed for community colleges

The High Red Marketer podcast is sponsored by the ZEMI APP enabling colleges and universities to engage interested students before they even apply. You are listening to the Higher Ed Marketer, a podcast geared towards marketing professionals in higher education. This show will tackle all sorts of questions related to student recruitment, donor relations, marketing trends, new technologies and so much more. If you are looking for conversations centered around where the industry is going, this podcast is for you. Let's get into the show. Welcome to the High Red Marketer podcast. I'm troy singer and, as usual with Bart Taylor, we cohost each week a podcast that we hope, by US interviewing higher red marketers, will benefit and for the betterment of the entire higher d community. Today we're going to talk to Shan a Davis and Mary Lappin from the Lumina Foundation, and they are spearheading a big project which is called the million dollar community college challenge. Yeah, try IT'S A it's a pretty bold initiative that Lumina Foundation is done and I've always admired them their work. I've I've worked with them over several years and goes way back. But one of the things I really appreciate about Lumina is that they always try to look at very practical and pragmatic approaches to their grant writing and and providing grant's to two organizations, and this is no different. They're trying to be really bold in the sense of being able to say we understand marketing and branding is very important in making sure that people understand about community colleges and how they can attain a post secondary degree of some kind, and so they'll get into some of the details about that. But even if you're not in community colleges, don't hang up quite yet, because I think a lot of what we're talking about on this episode is very relevant to just about every school. We're going to talk about marketing, we're going to talk about higher a branding and a lot of the things that are coming out of this...

...this challenge I think that you could follow up on and learn from, and so it's a great conversation. So Courage to listen to the entire episode. I concurb art, even though this challenge is for Community College, what they're trying to teach, what they're trying to inspire I think would benefit any institution. Here's our conversation with Shanna Davis and Mary Lappin. It is my pleasure to welcome Shaan of Davis and Mary Lappin from the Lumina Foundation to the Higher Ed Marketer podcast and before we get into the big news about the million dollar community college challenge, would like to invite them to both give us a high level description of the Lumina Foundation and the roles that they play within the foundation. Sure, thank you so much for having us. I'm Seanna Davis and I'm the strategy director for what we call community college participation, and what that means is that we have a strategy that focuses on the enrollment and the re enrollment of adults in our country, in America's community colleges, and we certainly want more adults to earn credentials post high school, and by credential we mean not just degrees, but we also mean certificates and certifications, anything that can help them in the marketplace with a life of upward mobility. So, Mary Out, throw it to you to do introduction. Hey, Shanna, I'm yeah, my name is Mary Laughin. I am strategy officer for participation. So what that means is I get to put into place really interesting programs on like the one that we're going to talk about today, that encourage adult participation in our community colleges. And while we certainly think we have the coolest jobs, you did ask us also about Lumena Foundation, so we must certainly talk about our employer. And solumited foundation is a private it's an independent it's a private foundation based in Indianapolis, Indiana, and we have the distinct pleasure of focusing strictly on post secondary attainment, so focusing on learning post high school.

That is what we do. It is all we do and it is all we do. So we are so excited about that. We do that in a number of ways through policy and practice, and we have a number of colleagues who are very talented in different areas of post secondary. A team it. Thank you both. Now getting into the exciting project that you are I don't want to say wrapping up, but while just say the Million Dollar Community College Challenge. That's the reason why we approached you to be on the High Reed Marketer podcast and would love to hear what that is. Yeah, so the Million Dollar Community College challenge is a national grant competition that encourages community colleges to tell us what their vision is for brand building or transforming their brand building effort, efforts and their marketing effort to encourage adult learners to enroll out their community colleges. And with that vision they have a chance of winning one million dollars to support that implementation of the work. That's great and I just in full transparency. I have known the limited foundation for years. I think my first project, plumit of foundation, was in two thousand and twelve, working on an early website, and so I have fallen in love with the foundation and I'm so excited to see some of the work that's going on to especially specifically on the idea of helping community colleges tell their story better and and the branding. But tell me why, why did limited decide to kind of go this direction with with this particular project? So we've been looking at this idea of the need for more Americans to earn a credential post high school. So you know we have a goal which we want to see sixty percent of Americans earn a credential value by the Year of two thousand and twenty five and certainly our goal is to see even more Americans have a credential value doesn't cut off at two thousand and twenty five. We really started looking into all of these things. There's lots of different reasons. We know this. There's lots of...

...different reasons as to why people, even before the pandemic and even now, why adults are not as highly represented as we think they should be right now in America's community colleges, especially when you look at the the role that they play their accessibility mission, when you look at the the cost of tuition being far more accessible and affordable than many other forms of higher education, and just the range of training and certifications and certificates that are offered for people who may want a degree or who may want to get that credential and go directly into the workplace and benefit from that. So we started looking at all of these different things and one of the things that we realize very quickly was that this idea of marketing and brand building was far too often seen as a luxury for community colleges, primarily because historically they're underfunded. So when you think about this idea of community colleges who enroll about forty percent of undergraduates in this country. Many times, just by way of word of mouth and very limited local recruitment and marketing efforts, they just have not been able to kind of get in and focus on those vital campus to community connections in ways in which larger institutions have been able to because they have the resources to do so. That's great and I think that that's so important because I think, you know, part of it, especially with community college, is helping everybody understand, you know, because a lot of a lot of the you know, people going back through community college is might not understand the educational process. So I think messaging and branding is so critical for for this success of the post secondary market and so I'm really excited to see how Lumina is kind of leaning into that and recognizing that. How has been the response on that, because, I mean that's a little different than maybe some traditional grants that Lumina has made. I mean, what's been the response from from the you know, the people are looking at the grants? So I the response has been fantastic, in a...

...word. We've heard from community colleges all across the country that are ready to tell their story and ready to tell and share with their community what they have to offer and a shot. I mentioned it. In many cases it has been a luxury and they just for reasons of underfunding or are you know, myriad of reasons that they have had the capacity. So we have folks out there who are hungry for this information, who are ready to get started, and I am I won't give away any of our winners quite yet, but we do have some really amazing ideas that have come to us and we're excited to learn more from those schools. Can I ask a question? Can we turn the table? Can I can we give a shout out to the number of people who actually engaged in this? Please do. Okay, okay, so I'm glad you said that, because I would have been hot if you had. So I'm going to throw some numbers out. So because because I thought this was amazing and we really want to recognize it's easy on a as a, as a grant meeker, it's easy to to kind of say we're going to give money and then people respond with the response has just been amazing. We had almost a thousand people come to the informational webinars alone on this particular challenge and hundreds of applications from colleges all across this country and I just wanted to kind of, on the flip side, do a shout out to all of the people that took that time to dig in and not just apply for grant funds, but to tell us about their vision and, more importantly, tell us about the communities and which their college is live and what that challenges are and what the opportunities are. So we're getting excited about that. But I had to throw that out there because the response has been phenomenal and and we're so appreciative of them leaning in so that we can also lean in and provide support. I think that's so exciting because that while we're talking here, I just did a quick Google search because I'm like, I wonder how many community colleges are in America, and it's it's a little under fifteen hundred. So you think about Onezero five hundred community colleges, but you had nearly...

...a thousand individuals. I understand that some of those community colleges brought a lot of people to talk about this, but still that's an amazing amount of percentage of the amount of schools that could qualify this that we're paying attention. Bravo to you all for being able to get the word out. Thank you so much. And so when we say we now, we know that it's a big team. There's a lot of people, internal and external, our communications team as well as many others. So absolutely great. I know part of the exercise was to change the paradigm of how some of the community college has branded themselves, and one of the terms that you use in the earlier conversation was aspirational. So would like for you to describe or maybe tell us, either from the entries that you received or what your vision is of how you would like to change the landscape and level up the way that community colleges brand and market themselves. So that's such a good question. And so community colleges have really depended on this idea. I think I mentioned earlier of two core pieces. They've talked a lot about themselves as being kind of practical, a practical form of higher education. There a tuition is lower cost than most universities and they're really truly the open form of higher education in America. They are the open access higher education in America. So that's really been those two pieces, but what you haven't heard a lot. So while you've heard a lot about the functional aspects of Community College, you've heard a lot about the practicality of attending a community college, you don't often hear about what's really exceptional about community college programs, about the experience. They're so diverse and they sit in, you know, all corners and communities in America and they serve a wide range of people and programs and we don't talk enough about who graduates from community colleges. We don't talk enough about their successes. We just don't talk about the aspirational parts of going to a community college or why you might choose a community college as your first choice. So this was really important to us because...

...when you look at how people are choosing education, it's largely based on what they think about that education. We talked about kind of brand and aspiration and you know your brand is largely perception in many ways. What do people think about you? And so we really want it colleges to tap into understanding better, not who they just think they are right, but who the community thinks they are and see if there's an alignement there or if there's work to be done. So that the community understands the great things about community colleges, not only what's practical about community colleges. So you put this call out and receive responses. So I'm curious to know you probably had somewhat of a thought of what you would receive and the types of responses you would receive. As you're starting to receive them and go through them, are you surprised at all or how of those responses compared to what you thought they would be? So I want to say I'm surprised because I had really high hopes for what we would see, but they have exceeded my expectations exponentially, like a shot. I mentioned, we've had such an excellent response to the the application and our college is really did pour their heart and soul into their vision. They shared with us what makes our college outstanding, what makes Standa in their community, and then they also have brought forth really interesting and creative ideas as to how they can how they can continue to connect with their community and share with you know, adults in their community, what would make them a great choice. That's great. That's great and I and I think that part of one of the next questions that I have is just the idea about. So, as you're getting these in and as you start to see the the choices that you're going to award the the funding to, at the end of the day, what do you hope the outcomes will be, not only for these recipients but just as as as across the Board for Community Colleges? Yeah, so I'll the started in trying to field three free jump in, because I really see three...

...major outcomes that were looking towards, and the first one is just supporting a number of community colleges across the state, or, excuse me, across that country, in connecting with their communities and allowing that engagement to go both ways and then ultimately enrolling more adult learners into our community college. And then second, I would say, what we've talked about earlier, is elevating the brand of our community colleges, making the case and really sharing with adults across the country what their local community college has to offer to them. And then third, I would say we want to learn from the colleges we yet. We've put this out there, we are sharing resources that we have, but really we want to know what great ideas they have, what strategies they've already put in place, what strategies they're thinking about and then take those lessons learned and, you know, recycle and share those with more books across the country. And the only thing I would add today, I think those that's a great top three. The only thing I would add to that is really coming out of this again this idea of seeing community colleges through new eyes, and that is the again, that the campuses and their communities. So we really want community college leaders and and faculty and staff and everyone who touches the system of education that includes community colleges to kind of step across the street, if you will, and look at their community colleges through new eyes and really think about how can we connect with people in a modern age like how can we connect with people and more meaningful and compelling ways and help to help them to see not only the promise within themselves right as far as what they want to achieve or what goals they have, but really kind of see community colleges through the the ways in which they can be a vital part of that promise. So that's kind of that piece. And then we also want the community to look at their community colleges as hey, when I'm thinking about where I want to go and what I want to do, like this is in my top three...

...and not in well, if I don't get in here or if I can't do that, like this is in my top three because they are doing excellent things. So we want both who want the people there to see things a little bit differently and to use how they see that and how they think the community might see that and compelling ways and communicate and more compelling ways. And we want the community also to look at their their local colleges through different eyes and engage with them more often, because what they're looking for might just be already in their community. I think that's great and I the one of the things that I really like about that approach, Sean and Mary, is the idea that I think so many times when we when we think about adult learners with we think about our perspective students, whether it's community college or or, quite honestly, any form of post secondary higher education, we sometimes take for granted what they know or what the what we think that they know, and I think that's one of the important exercises that that that brand building can do is not only for the external community help clarify the messaging, but also for the internal community to understand that we might be talking too much academicians, you know, the speak of Academicia, rather than being able to say, okay, well, what do our prospective students need to know? I mean, you know, there's always the discussion about, you know, do you organize on your website by programs or apartments, or do you do you organized by major? And so I think that in our initial conversations we even had a cover. You know, I think Sean our Mary, one of you talked about the idea of this parking lot example of sometimes how difficult it is and we forget sometimes, as these perspective, students, and especially adult learners, who are competing more against life than they are other colleges. You know what, what can we do from a branding standpoint that that can help them and kind of make sure that they they can, they can succeed? The married IMA? I'll take this one first. You're right. We talk about the idea of branding, brand building being like a sensory experience, right, so we want to tell people that we can offer these things, or colleges can offer these things, that they have to be able to experience it. And...

...so one of the things we talked about a lot is, you know, from the parking lot to the website to the classrooms. So if we're going to tell the community, if you if your college and you're going to tell the community that you are first choice for adult learners and you focus on things for people who oftentimes education is not the number one priority in their life right just out of real life situations. You have family and and you have, you know, careers and people, you have responsibilities and education might be number three or number four. So if I come to your campus and I can't easily navigate your campus, let alone your your website, if I even make the initiative to come to that campus and I can't figure out where to go, I can't find a parking space, I can't you know, I go into an office and I'm not sure you know it. Will someone help me? Will they not help me? That it's hard to get students, it's hard to get anyone right to engage in to go through that process of oftentimes what can be a very emotional process when choosing whether or not to go back to school. That is it's not just labor market information and data right. It's oftentimes you're making a decision based on your own personal aspirations. If you're an adult, you have a limited amount of time and bandwidth and you're got to fit this in along with everything else, even if you have this big goal in mind. And so we have to understand that and it has to be easier to navigate. Like, if I want what you have to offer the website, I shouldn't have to go five clicks in and four pages over and over to find it. In order to find it. If you know that you of a population of students who need that information, let's start designing those websites from the point of view of those students and help them get what they need up front. Let's make these campuses easier to navigate and let's tell them about all the wonderful programs that we have and match that up and just maybe, at that point it'll be easier for them to engage in roll. And, most importantly, we don't just want them to engage in enroll, we want them to complete and to benefit from that in the market place. That's great, that's really good stuff. So what will be the result of...

...this and in full transparency. We are recording this at the latter part of March, but this episode probably will not be released until middle of May. So there are some benchmarks that will have been met within this challenge already. So if you can tell our listeners what the next steps are in the challenge? Yeah, so right now, like you said, try we are a little earlier. So right now we are digging through all our applications. But when our listeners are hearing this right now, we will have announced our top ten finalists and those folks will be highlighted or on our website at limit of foundation dot Org forwards last challenge, and those top ten finalists will be going through round two to narrow down to who our winner will be. And then who are nine are winner will receive one million dollars and then our nine finalists will receive a hundred thousand dollars to support their brand building efforts, and we will be making that announcement in August. So stay tuned for that wonderful and for those community colleges or individuals that didn't know about the challenge but thinkless is wonderful, might be looking for more resources. Are there other things that they could find out about going to your website. Absolutely, I would tell them. I don't want to give away all my secrets quite yet, but take a look at our website because we have resources coming and they will all be posted at, like we said, limit, a foundation that org forwards last challenge. It will be a great place for to see the finalists of what they're up to, but also other resources that we are developing through this work. And we do have some resources currently on the site because we did have some questions about some colleges really had a foundational question about what's the difference between brand branding and marketing. We on our website. We've already curated some resources there to really help them understand that. And so go now and there's some...

...things that can help you, easy short pieces, even some interesting podcast to kind of consume and and to learn a little bit more, and we will be producing some more resources for the fields and marries it. That's great. We talked a lot about it on this show. Schools are really struggling today to make the same adspend work. CPMS are up eighty nine percent you over year on facebook and instagram. Our College clients are no longer looking for rented audiences. They're looking for an owned community where they can engage students even before they apply. This is why Zeemi has become so crucial for our clients. With over one million students, close to tenzero five star ratings, consistently ranked as one of the top social laps and recently one of apples hot APPs of the week, there is simply isn't anything out there like it, and we have seen it all. Zeem me not only provides the best space for student engagement, but the most unique in action will data for their one hundred and sixty college and university partners. We know firsthand from our clients that Zee me is a must have strategy for Gen Z. Check them out now at colleges dot Zee mecom. That's colleges dot Zee m eecom. And yes, tell them Barton Troy sent you. We closed each of our episodes by asking our guests if there's something dealing with the topic that we just discussed that you could offer as either a tip or a thought that could be implemented right away or soon after our listener has taken in the podcast. What could you offer them as some of your best practices or tips. Yeah, so, as we talked about today, trying to fill a free to jump in. But I think brand building is so important and the biggest piece of brand building is perception. So I think for our listeners today is take fresh eyes to look at your college and if that's taking a look at your website for the eyes of a student it, maybe I'm walking across the street to see what your community...

...college looks like to your community rather than someone who is on campus every day, just taking another look to see how is your community perceiving your community college and how can you better better connect? The one one thing that I would put like a very practical thing, kind of thinking internally. So as a former practitioner, my heart always goes out because I know that there are so many talented faculty and staff and administrators and just people who serve all kinds of roles at community colleges that are really doing great work. And one of the things that I would say, whether you're in a formal leadership role or you're leading from the seat that you're in, is that a very important thing that you can do is understand who your students are today, because when you think about colleges that may maybe they were born sixty years ago, that's when they were created, and you think about how your community may have changed, the demographics of your students, the economy around your community, as local colleges may have change, to really stop and take an assessment as who is this college today? Who Do we serve today? What are the employment opportunities today? And then how are we communicating with the reality of all of those things that we just talked about, with those people with those opportunities? How do we line up with where we are today? I think that's one of the most important things we know nationally that you know, was it, one third of today's learners or more than a third of today's learners, or between twenty two and forty, and so that that is going to look a little bit different in each community. So you largely serve at a community college and older student population, when we say old ER, older than eighteen, and also primarily serve people who work, even younger people. So if we think as an adults, as twenty five plus, it's as we talk about them often in Higher Ed. But if you think about this idea of students who work, students who have adult lives in real life responsibilities. That becomes the bulk of the population of students at community colleges, whether you're one thousand, nine hundred and twenty or your forty five. So I do think that's important. How...

...does our college actually serve working people and how are we designed to serve working people? That to me as a foundational question that every college has to ask. Before you focus on putting a whole bunch of money in and putting messages out there, make sure you understand who you're trying to connect with and what's most meaningful to them. That is wonderful, Shanna. Mary, thank you so much for being a guest on the hired marketer podcast for bringing us some such wonderful and inspiring information in a very entertaining, warm and excited way. I know I'm very aspired to go and learn more about the Lumina Foundation and their efforts to uplift community colleges. For other inspired listeners, could you give them the best way that they could reach out to you if they would like to do so? And I'll ask Mary to go first and then followed by Shanna. Sure we actually have an email address just for just for this project? So at challenge and at limited foundation DOT ORG. Shan and I are both in there and I would love to answer any questions that come our way. And of course, the other thing I would say is that we certainly have I have to we have a newsletter and if you come to the foundation, a newsletter, if you go to our website, Lumina Foundation Dot Org. Think I got that right right. So if you go to the we have a number of ways, through social media as well as through our newsletter, if they would like to subscribe, in which they can stay abreast of all of the the wonderful things that we're engaging in. I should say we are engaging in a number of wonderful things because the education community is engaging in a number of wonderful things. So it's a really great way to learn not only about what we're doing but about the work that is being done in education all across this country, because we really take an effort to raise up the work that's being done in states and it individual institutions all across America. Thank you and I must say that if ever you want to come back and want to give an update or if there is another challenge or initiative that you are...

...going to delve into, please let us know. We would love to highlight whatever you're doing in full support of you. So thank you, Bart. Do you have any final thoughts before we wind up the episode? Yeah, I do try and thank you, Sean and Mary. It's been a great conversation. I just wanted to highlight a few things toward listeners, and I know that many of you listeners, you know, kind of saw this maybe as our community college specific episode in it in a way it has, but I think some of the things that Lumina is doing and some of the things that Sean and Mary I have mentioned, it's worth pulling them back out and kind of saying it really applies to just about any area of higher education. And so, you know, one of the things that I really liked about a lot of what we've talked about today is the idea of really seeing the prospective student, whether their adult students or whether they're Grad students or traditional students, really seeing them as the hero. We've got to look at everything through their eyes and look at it through their perspective. I think too many times we have a we have a temptation in higher ed to kind of, you know, Tut our own horn and talk about the accolades that our faculty have, the accolades that our college has, the accolades the university, which those things are important, but we've really got to be able to get in the shoes of the prospective student and understand how do they see themselves in the story of their education, attainment and success, and I think by starting there, that's really where a lot of great branding starts. I really like Donald Miller's book, you know, story brand and his process of really kind of making sure that we make the prospective student the hero of everything, and so part of that is really kind of, once we understand who they are, learning how to market to them better, whether that's through branding or different aspects of marketing, and I hope that you're learning that through, you know, episodes here on the High Ed Marketer. Also really making sure that we understand how we can elevate the brand to a better way that's accessible and make sense, and then just making sure that, I thought Mary's common about learning from others. It's going to be a lot of really good data that comes out of this and honestly, a lot of the what the what the winners are going...

...to be doing and the what you will see on their presentations of how they are going to implement that. It's there's there's nothing wrong with being able to borrow ideas from everyone. There's no new ideas under the sun. So you know if it's going to work. Look at that and look at how that might be working, and I would encourage you to do that across the board. I mean look at what's going on, what success looks like. I know there's a lot of small schools that listen to this podcast and sometimes it's difficult to think, well, if I, if I had that million dollars, I could do this. Well, there's a lot of things that you could do just by learning from the other people and trying things out, and so I would really encourage everyone just to kind of pay attention to what's going on with this challenge and then look to see what you can glean and apply to your own school. Thank you, Bart, thank you, Loomin the team. That wraps up a wonderful episode of the High Ed Marketer Podcast, which is sponsored by Kaylor solutions and education marketing and branding agency and by Think, patented a marketing execution company, combining print and mail for your outbound outreach. On behalf of my cohost Bart Taylor, I'm troy singer. Thank you for joining us. You've been listening to the Higher Ed Marketer. To ensure that you never miss an episode, subscribe to the show in your favorite podcast player. If you're listening with apple PODCASTS, we'd love for you to leave a quick rating of the show. Simply tap the number of stars you think the pod cast deserves. Until next time,.

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