The Real Madness of March

It’s supposed to be the best time of year for college athletics. The month we celebrate Cinderellas, buzzer beaters, fab freshmen, crown a national champion and, of course, rake in the billions of dollars made from TV rights to broadcast the whole thing. That’s right. TV ad revenue for the NCAA men’s basketball tournament exceeded $1 billion last year, more than the entire NFL postseason (including the Super Bowl).

As a former sports information director and self-professed college hoops fanatic it’s a time I love. But this March a different kind of madness has ensued. And it’s put the spotlight on the hypocrisy that exists between the NCAA and so-called amateurism of big-time college athletics programs, specifically football and men’s basketball.

Let’s recount:

There’s so much to sort out and the issues are most certainly complicated. Painting all of college athletics with one swath is dangerous territory. But the tenor of rhetoric has reached a tipping point. With all the shuffling of conferences (clearly done for money grabs and budget balancing) and TV rights of the last four years, holding true to the fantasy that college athletics is about the athletes or about academic opportunity is like saying the mortgage industry is about fulfilling the American Dream. And the NCAA is really just a monopolized holding company.

One thing is for sure … as college presidents continue to watch higher education face major change, tough choices, and increased scrutiny, athletics will be under the microscope more than ever before.

What Higher Ed Can Learn From Matthew McConaughey

I’ll admit it … I’ve got a bit of a bro-crush going on with Matthew McConaughey. It started when I saw Mud earlier this year, followed by an amazing 10-minutes in Wolf of Wall Street. And it hit fever pitch with my undying love for True Detective and an amazing performance in Dallas Buyers Club. There’s a bit of true weirdo charm that comes out in dear ol Matt as evidenced by his Oscar acceptance speech. Alright, alright, alright.

So, inspired by @Gurbash Chahal’s post on “What We Can All Learn from Matthew McConaughey,” I thought I’d apply the same to the current state of higher education. McConaughey pointed his credit to three things he needs in every day … something to look up to, another to look forward to, and someone to chase.

Something to Look Up to

McConnaughey pointed to God as proving that gratitude reciprocates. For higher ed let’s point to those god-like faculty. Lord knows a cynical public wants to think they’re meandering around campus aimlessly but what they don’t understand is that mind-bending breakthrough requires tinkering. Pretty much any study of higher ed quality aligns an institution’s reputation with the quality of its faculty. And while students and administrators come and go, faculty remain loyal to institutions (that show the same loyalty) for life, leaving an unmatched mark on those campuses.

Look forward to

While MOOCs may not have proven to be the thing that was finally going to tear down the Ivory Tower, they did leave us with something to look forward to. Between the technology improvements bound to come to college campuses and the boom of TED talks, our greatest thinkers and researchers have realized they are in control, they have a voice and a publishing platform, and people are interested in listening. So maybe we are on the early edges of a new sort of democratization of enlightenment where great ideas are given peer review on a grand scale. If anything MOOCs have confirmed a latent excitement for life-long learning for a lot of people.

Someone to Chase

While the economic collapse that began in late 2008 had devastating outcomes for much of public higher education it has put the focus on three key things that I think are exciting.

Cost. It’s clear that the economic gap is growing in our country. And highered continues to be a great equalizer. While our country readies for major demographic changes and resulting concentration of economic wealth, lifting a commitment to keeping higher education affordable will have better outcomes for our society.

Student Service. With rising costs students rightfully pointed out that they were simply not getting the support and service for what they were paying. We’re not talking dorms with pools but career services, good advising and, well, time with that amazing faculty.

Brand. When the funding floor bottomed out institutions big and small were left with a critical reminder … you’re only as good as your reputation. And the result has been that colleges and universities are finally focusing on marketing and branding. At wise institutions those efforts are tied to key strategic goals. Smarter, more meaningful higher education brands will be an inevitable outcome.

2014 AMA Symposium Call for Proposals

Have innovative and effective higher ed marketing strategies to share with your peers? Then it’s time to work on your paper proposal for this year’s AMA Symposium for the Marketing of Higher Education, slated for November 10-13 in Austin, Texas. Co-chaired by SimpsonScarborough’s Jason Simon and mStoner’s Deborah Maue, the Symposium is the largest professional development opportunity for higher ed marketers. It will feature 48 general lecture sessions falling into one of the six tracks described below:

Digital Strategy
(social media, content marketing, web, crowdfunding, search/inbound)

From Google search, to tweet, to mobile website visit, marketers have to plan for every way our increasingly connected audience is finding us. Proposals should cover cutting-edge strategies for creating consistent and compelling digital communications.

Marketing In Action
(undergraduate and graduate recruitment, nontraditional student recruitment, emerging markets, alumni engagement and philanthropic marketing)

For higher ed marketers, this is where the rubber meets the road. How can we do a better job of enrolling highly qualified students, identifying new markets, inspiring alumni and courting donors. Proposals in this category should showcase the innovative ways you’re engaging constituents to achieve results.

Marketing Operations
(staffing, budgeting, organizational structure, teams, tools, and tricks of the trade)

People, processes, budgets, data…managing successful marketing operations has never been easy, and it’s becoming increasingly complex. Proposals should cover innovative approaches and tools to help marcomm professionals elevate their work and take their organizations to the next level.

Brand Strategy
(positioning, market planning, identity, voice and messaging, integrated campaigns, advertising, measurement)

How do you find your institution’s voice, brand position, and bring it to life? Proposals in this category should cover innovative approaches to developing university brand strategies from broad strategies; bringing it to life through integrated campaigns, advertising and more; and  maintaining and evolving your institution’s brand.

Marketing Intelligence
(market opportunity, web analytics, data mining, competitive intelligence, dashboards, research, measurement)

From Google Analytics to Big Data, marketers have never been more accountable for assessment of market opportunity and measurement of marketing activity. Proposals should cover innovative ways in which you are using data, intelligence, and research to determine who your key audiences are, the best ways to reach them and the results of those activities.

Austin City (No)Limits
(student affairs, career services, the kitchen sink, unleashed creativity)

Proposals should highlight solutions and strategies to answer every marcomm professional’s worst nightmare/challenge: “Can you just … ?” One session will be a repeat of last year’s 9 x 5 Open Mic Round Robin: The steering committee will pick 9 proposals that each can showcase one best practice in under 5 minutes.

Download the call for proposals for complete submission guidelines. Proposals are due April 19.

Communicating the Value of a College Degree

It’s clear that the cost of attending college, debt and the ability to find a career on graduation have passed the tipping point. For parents, prospects and politicians, it’s top of mind.

A recently released study by Pew Research Center provides some answers for those who question the value of a college degree. The report, “The Rising Cost of Not Going to College,” shows that recent college graduates have legitimate concerns. When compared to earlier generations, today’s graduates spend more time looking for work. They fare worse in terms of hours worked, full-time employment and overall wealth. And adjusting for inflation, median annual earnings of young adults ages 25-32 with a bachelor’s degree or higher have risen only slightly since the mid-80s.

Despite this, the report paints a picture undoubtedly bleaker for those without a college degree. The earnings gap between 25-32 year olds with only a high school diploma and those with a college degree widened from $7,449 in 1965 to $14,245 for late Boomers in 1986 and to $17,500 for Millenials in 2013. Notably, when adjusting for inflation, the median income for high school-only young adults has dropped from $31,384 in 1965 to $28,000 today; 22% are living in poverty, compared to 6% of their college-educated counterparts. With the cost of not going to college higher than ever, a college degree clearly has value.

The challenge for colleges and universities focuses on how to communicate that value to students and parents and and how to respond to their concerns about employability and return on investment. The University of Texas System has met the challenge head-on with its new seekUT website (search + employment + earnings = knowledge)—an interactive website that allows students and parents to search by campus and major to find what recent graduates are earning at one and five years after graduation, as well as their average student loan debt.

But providing data and communicating about the issue are just part of the challenge. Colleges and universities are reconsidering investments in areas that address outcome challenges. USA Today reported last week on the renewed attention to career guidance and services on many campuses, including major investments at the University of Vermont and St. Olaf College. UVM spent $276,880 to renovate its career hub and increased its career services budget by 27% this year, to more than $1.2 million. At St. Olaf, the career services budget of $67,000 two years ago has increased to $379,550 today.

How is your institution meeting these challenges?

Cost and Financial Aid Increasingly Important in College Choice

The 2013 CIRP Freshman Survey, out this week, shows the increasing importance of cost and financial aid in students’ college choice. The survey, administered annually by UCLA’s Higher Education Research Institute (HERI), shows that academic reputation and the ability to get a good job after graduation remain the top reasons for choosing a particular college. But 46% of students cited cost as a “very important” factor in their decision, up 15 percentage points from 2004. In addition, 49% (the highest in the item’s 42-year history on the survey) said the financial aid offer was “very important” in their decision. Other key findings:

  • Fewer students are enrolling in their first-choice institution. Among the top reasons for not enrolling at their first choice? Not being offered financial aid and being unable to afford the cost of attendance.
  • Students are submitting more college applications. More than half had applied to three or more institutions in addition to their current institution.
  • Online education has a place, but it’s not a replacement for a traditional college experience. Overall, few incoming freshmen said there is “a very good chance” they will enroll in online courses while in college. However, of students who had frequently used online instructional websites in the past, nearly 30% said there is “some chance” or a “very good chance” they will take an online-only course at their college.

Download the full report or research brief for more details.