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Updated business of higher education

October 2, 2018

Note: this update involves feedback from Patricia Maben. You should follow her on Twitter. I’m always interested in feedback to make the ideas better. 

It is a dense idea. And yes, I have no idea about non-private school admissions. Though I would imagine that in-state people are different from out of state. 

Higher Education is knee-deep in an admissions cycle, trying to fill the Class of 2023. America is in a booming economy, and the richest Americans are still bathing in the Trump tax cut, which was big for people with a lot of money. More rich people can pay for the looming $70K per year fee for a school.

While many in higher ed have difficulty admitting it, a school is a business. Private or Public, it needs revenue to pay the expenses of educating people. Salaries, lights, IT staff, deans, dining halls, speakers, these all cost money.

Though it makes no money, and most are non-profits, there is a rising cost to the run the business that needs funding. Since schools don’t make anything to sell, they rely on fixed revenue sources. In the private category, if you are one of the few schools with an endowment of around one billion, the numbers are something like this: around 25% of the budget is from the endowment, 10% from annual giving, and the remaining 65% from “full-pay” applicants.  average privates, 5% endowment, 5% annual giving, 90% tuition revenue from all of students. Public schools have different math, but still use gifts, tax money, and full-pay applicants. The math depends on many factors, and full-pay includes many people getting private and public loans, but this is the business.

This Inside higher Education article talks about issues with the business:

“College admissions directors, as in recent years, continue to report a great deal of concern about meeting their enrollment goals.”

There are a number of reasons for this: some are rising costs, the decline of high school graduates,  change in the college going demographics, increased competition, – then there is the lack of a marketing strategy, both with social media, and an overall marketing strategy. Having worked in a school, I can attest to the lack of an overall strategy. When I joined Higher Ed, I was struck by the one-size-fits-all aspect of marketing.

For elite privates, a school needs a certain percentage of full-pay students, so the admissions staff makes private school visits throughout the process. This is the marketing strategy — go into a private school, especially one that has drawn students in the past, and hand out a viewbook and talk to the school counselor. The students will get viewbooks from all the schools, and they will all be about the same. Each one will focus on the school visit, all believing that getting someone on campus means they will be converted. In reality, a friend or family member went there, so the student will too. For the rest of the privates, it is a little more complex, as they focus on all high schools – public and private – and likely have no budget for viewbooks – rather they hand out “travel pieces” – a mini version booklet.

The rest of the applications will come from marketing – or what higher ed often calls – the comm plan, recruitment plan – or making people aware of the school and sharing information. This is where social can impact the decisions process. Sadly though, most social is either advancement-related, or via the dean of the college. Higher education isn’t awesome at thinking about this as a decisions cycle. Schools should be planning the 2024 class right now, using social marketing to generate awareness of the school to current juniors.

Some are. Though most wait until the spring, when they are also trying to yield the current class, to get attention about the next class.

Right now, in high schools across the world, juniors and even sophomores are thinking about college. Some students are even ruling out higher ed as an option even when it is actually feasible for them. Students who know they can go to college, know the deadline to apply. They are planning summer trips, around summer camps, to some of the schools on their list. They are probably Google searching your school, and probably not clicking on your website, because, lets face it, your website is a hot mess of confusion for a junior. They don’t know who you are talking to, or why your website features a lecture right now.

Plus, as I’ve noted on this blog, Google has taken over the differentiating part of digital, and offered stats and stories to help (if you fancy, you can read about it a few posts ago.)

What should marketing be?

Since we know there are different people coming to the school, maybe there should be separate marketing to students based on their ability to afford college as an example – likely to be full pay or full need.

Speaking of full-pays, there’s also a good take on legacies in the piece.

Generally, college leaders defend these preferences as a way to keep alumni engaged (and giving money), and to create a multigenerational spirit about an institution, while critics decry what they see as “silver spoon” admissions. While college leaders regularly defend affirmative action in public statements, relatively few speak out about legacy admissions.

The author is right, legacies are more about donations. From a business perspective, a recent graduate of a donor alum is more likely to start out life as a consistent donor. A full-pay graduate with wealthy parents starts off in a better financial situation than a student who needs to take out loans. That reality turns them into a higher giving donor faster.

That previous paragraph might be frustrating, but it is true. Rich people are the people who give to schools. Their kids are more likely to grow into the kind of person who gives to schools because they started with an advantage.

This is about the business of higher education. It isn’t about the lofty goals or mission statements.

At any school, there will be a certain percentage of full-pays. Within that population will be the people who need loans to be full pays, and the ones who don’t need loans.

Then there will be the percentage of people who are not full-pays. In this population will be some people who get aid, but need a loan to close the gap, and people who get a full ride. This ride doesn’t include incidental costs like textbooks and spending money, so some of these people will also get a loan. In short, the only ones not getting a loan will be the real full-pays, the ones who received a 2.6 tax break on income. If they made 100 million, that is about 2.5 million, more than enough to give to a school on top of the tuition.

(There are some people who pay more each year than the sticker price — they get front row seats at events, first choice in housing, and dinners with the President.)

What is the point?

The point is, higher education doesn’t talk about their target markets that well. They go in talking about the school in the same way to all people. Even though all people come for different reasons. They also start too late. So they are under increased pressure, with decreased help.

As the price tag at private schools hit 70K, it is more and more time to start thinking about admissions marketing as a business. With proper marketing tactics tied to business objectives.

What do you think? Are there any schools that are doing it well?

Matt Hames is on Twitter. You should yell at him there. Matt is also on LinkedIn, connect and agree.

 

The business of higher education

September 25, 2018

Higher Education is knee-deep in an admissions cycle, trying to fill the Class of 2023. America is in a booming economy, and the richest Americans are still bathing in the Trump tax cut, which was big for people with a lot of money. More rich people can pay for the looming $70K per year.

A school is a business. It needs revenue to pay the expenses of educating people. Salaries, lights, IT staff, deans, dining halls, speakers, these all cost money.

Though it makes no money, and most are non-profits, there is a rising cost to the run the business that needs funding. Since schools don’t make anything to sell, they rely on fixed revenue sources. In the private category, a school with an endowment of around one billion, the numbers are something like this: around 25% of the budget is from the endowment, 10% from annual giving, and the remaining 65% from full-pay applicants. Public schools have different math, but still use gifts, tax money, and full-pay applicants. The math depends on many factors, and full-pay includes many people getting private and public loans, but this is the business.

This Inside higher Education article talks about issues with the business:

“College admissions directors, as in recent years, continue to report a great deal of concern about meeting their enrollment goals.”

There are a number of reasons for this: some are rising costs, a lack of a marketing strategy, both with social media, and an overall marketing strategy. Having worked in a school, I can attest to the lack of an overall strategy. I was struck by the one-size-fits-all aspect of marketing.

A school needs a certain percentage of full-pay students, so the admissions staff makes private school visits throughout the process. This is the marketing strategy — go into a private school, especially one that has drawn students in the past, and hand out a view book. The students will get view books from all the schools, and they will all be about the same. Each one will focus on the school visit, all believing that getting someone on campus means they will be converted. In reality, a friend or family member went there, so the kid will too.

The rest of the applications will come from marketing, or making people aware of the school. This is where social can impact the decisions process. Sadly though, most social is either advancement-related, or via the dean of the college. Higher education isn’t awesome at thinking about this as a decisions cycle. Schools should be planning the 2024 class right now, using social marketing to generate awareness of the school to current juniors.

Some are. Though most wait until the spring, when they are also trying to yield the current class, to get attention about the next class.

Right now, in high schools across the world, juniors are thinking about college. They know the deadline to apply. They are planning summer trips, around summer camps, to some of the schools on their list. They are probably Google searching your school, and probably not clicking on your website, because, lets face it, your website is a hot mess of confusion for a junior. They don’t know who you are talking to, or why your website features a lecture right now.

Plus, as I’ve noted on this blog, Google has taken over the differentiating part of digital, and offered stats and stories to help (if you fancy, you can read about it a few posts ago.)

What should marketing be?

Since we know there are different people coming to the school, maybe there should be separate marketing to full-pay students.

Speaking of full-pays, there’s also a good take on legacies in the piece.

Generally, college leaders defend these preferences as a way to keep alumni engaged (and giving money), and to create a multigenerational spirit about an institution, while critics decry what they see as “silver spoon” admissions. While college leaders regularly defend affirmative action in public statements, relatively few speak out about legacy admissions.

The author is right, legacies are more about donations. From a business perspective, a recent graduate of a donor alum is more likely to start out life as a consistent donor. A full-pay graduate with wealthy patents starts off in a better financial situation than a student who needs to take out loans. That reality turns them into a higher giving donor faster.

That previous paragraph might be frustrating, but it is true. Rich people are the people who give to schools. Their kids are more likely to grow into the kind of person who gives to schools because they started with an advantage.

This is about the business of higher education. It isn’t about the lofty goals or mission statements.

At any school, there will be a certain percentage of full-pays. Within that population will be the people who need loans to be full pays, and the ones who don’t need loans.

Then there will be the percentage of people who are not full-pays. In this population will be some people who get aid, but need a loan to close the gap, and [people who get a full ride. This ride doesn’t include incidental costs like textbooks and spending money, so some of these people will also get a loan. In short, the only ones not getting a loan will be the real full-pays, the ones who received a 2.6 tax break on income. If they made 100 million, that is about 2.5 million, more than enough to give to a school on top of the tuition.

(There are some people who pay more each year than the sticker price — they get front row seats at events, first choice in housing, and dinners with the President.)

What is the point?

The point is, higher education doesn’t talk about their target markets that well. They go in talking about the school in the same way to all [people. Even though all people come for different reasons. They also start too late. So they are under increased pressure, with decreased help.

As the price tag at private schools hit 70K, it is more and more time to start thinking about admissions marketing as a business. With proper marketing tactics tied to business objectives.

What do you think? Are there any schools that are doing it well?

Matt Hames is on Twitter. You should yell at him there. Matt is also on LinkedIn, connect and  agree.

I never knew what to do with Facebook groups

September 20, 2018

Facebook has 26,000 internal groups for employees. That was a stat I heard at Facebook when they were pitching “Workplace” — an intranet that is free to non-profits, but runs at around 3K per month for businesses. It is an intranet build around the concept of groups. If your employees can build work groups, they can also build play groups and enjoy work just a little more.

For highered, the group system works perfectly for class years. Classes are groups, both when they enter the school, and come back for reunions — next fall the class of 1969 turns 50.

In the admissions cycle, the group is a yield tool. Invite the growing group of early decision applicants into the group, and prompt them to up-sell the school to the people on the fence. ED students are the unique subset of people who love you, and you love them. So getting them to sell isn’t hard.

But that was the extent of the strategy. When August rolled around the class convocated, the groups sat idle. Sure, some entrepreneurial students would pitch their group/idea/play to the people, but mostly they sat silent. It always felt wrong for a comms person to go in there and pitch things after graduation.

Facebook now lets pages join and post in groups.

I don’t know if this is something Stanford lobbied for — but this solves all sorts of issues. Before I was ousted at Colgate, I had made a policy that no one but students would post in class year groups. They didn’t need more selling — the give message should be it (giving of time or $$). Incidentally, this isn’t the policy now — there is such a push to sell nostalgia on alumni right now that even I, a non-alum has blocked all efforts.)

That said, a page can tell class year groups about events, free useful apps (like the Evertrue app) and free classes. The Page postings can actually add value, and grease the wheels for giving.

If you’re reading this and you’re a digital strategist in highered, you should craft a strategy for telling your class years content that is meaningful to them.

What do you think? What was your class year Facebook group strategy?

The emerging issue of the liberal arts and careers

September 4, 2018

This month, a whole bunch of students from the class of 2022 started at Colleges around the US.
At Colgate, the one in my hometown, 58% of them are “full pays” — they pay the full sticker price. The sticker price is about 250K for four years.

(Note: at the top end of these full pays are the 1%, who can afford 250K like it is a fancy dinner with a good bottle of wine. They probably got 100 times that in the Trump/Ryan trillion dollar tax cuts. At the bottom of the full-pay range are people who probably had to take out a loan to get them into Colgate.)

Purchase made, just about the all the people at this school want to know how this investment will lead to a job. The school even built a gleaming new Career Building to shine a light on how the school will get people a job. This has some tension with faculty, who want students to go to grad school, even though these days, that can be a crippling financial decision.

The liberal arts and employment

It is tempting to look at the 54 majors at Colgate and wonder which ones are best at preparing someone for a job. Economics = Wall Street. Political Science = Washington. Computer Science = Silicon Valley. Psychology = Starbucks. Or probably, psychology = graduate school, which most-likely adds to the 1.4 trillion (1,400,000,000,000.00) in student loan debt.

This bears out in the data. Of the 689 students from the class of 2019 with LinkedIn profiles, 118 are Economics majors and 86 are Political Science majors. The next highest is psychology majors (46) but many of them are Econ minors and show internships on Wall Street in the summer on their LinkedIn profile. Biology general 18, and biology molecular 14, combine to an impressive 34 majors, and some will be on a pre-med track.

You can check all this out if you’re logged into LinkedIn.

Computer Science sits at only 25, below Sociology 27, and History 29, but that is due to the argument for Liberal Arts Computer Science, which isn’t being made well yet, and not just at Colgate.

That leaves Environmental Studies 23, Geography 23, and Philosophy 20, in that weird place of what will this get me? That doesn’t even include the 12 English majors and 3 music majors.

The argument for Liberal Arts

I’ve argued in the past that the power of the liberal arts is not in preparing people for a job today, but preparing them for the jobs tomorrow. As an English major, I’m doing a job now that didn’t exist when I graduated. But I can remember thinking the same thing at University – what on earth is this preparing me to be when I grow up?

But that argument seems to run hollow in an era where there isn’t time to rebound from debt. When I started working at Colgate, we would proudly say that the average debt was just 13K on graduation.

But that number doesn’t tell the whole story, obviously. Average numbers are just that, an average look at a situation. The average gift at Colgate is 48K per year. While that sounds super high, the average still leaves a gap of 22K per year.

That is an 88K gap from the average.

So while it is true that an English major like me can be prepared for a job that doesn’t exist, that was obviously truer in the last century.

Indeed, a look at the majors from the class of 1989 shows Economics 148, Political Science 106, and English 91.

So while it is true that I think a liberal arts degree in something like English is a sound way to prepare someone for any job, it is getting harder and harder to make the argument that it is “worth it.”

We need to make it worth it.

To make it worth it again, we need to collectively help our kids make this investment. One of the primary resources of a country is the education of our children. If we don’t invest in the education of our children, we are missing an opportunity to make a better future.
I genuinely think that everyone should have the opportunity to major in English. They will learn to make arguments, have their minds changed, have their minds blown, convince someone of something, and soundly, and coherently make an argument. That’s the thing that Steve Jobs was looking for when he said he would hire liberal arts majors.

The problem is, the math doesn’t really work at 70K per year. The people with loans feel like they NEED Econ, whereas the people who are full pays could take English and still go and work their mom’s firm without fear of debt.

America is approaching the heady days of the aristocratic age, where learned men studies Greek philosophy and old English texts. The people who need to pay back the loan need Econ and Comp Sci.

America though, needs students who can think for themselves.

What do you think?

The New York Times is pretty sure you’re doing it wrong

August 17, 2018

Bull.

The problem isn’t getting the attention of college students, the problem is getting anyone’s attention. At any point, I can watch a movie on my phone. Right now, I could stop doing this comment and go watch a movie from an almost infinite list.

I have bad news for you.

You don’t have people’s attention. You don’t have their attention with your email, your tweet, your Instagram story, your web page, your snap stories.

It is okay, you never really did have people’s attention, but you weren’t trying before. Now you’re trying.

And failing.

How marketing used to work.

Smart marketing people got together and decided to create a print ad, TV spot, or radio spot that communicated one thing. One unique selling proposition to an audience who was watching TV or reading a newspaper. This one thing message was an interruption, so it was funny, clever, smart.

It also ran at least three times.

At least three times. Because humans don’t remember shit unless they hear/see it three times.

To recap, in order to tell people one thing, smart marketers used to use a 30-second TV spot that was designed to be seen three times.

Now, marketing people send one email. That one email has 15 things in it.

Or they send tweets. One tweet (okay, we’re good, we’ve told ’em.)

The problem isn’t that older tools aren’t working. The problem is an expectation of attention.

Marketing people, you can’t expect the attention of your target market.

/rant.

How people should use social media

August 7, 2018
tags:

The director James Gunn was fired from the 3rd Guardians of the Galaxy franchise because of posts he made 9 years ago. The actor Sarah Silverman had to put out a release because of posts she made on Twitter 9 years ago.

The alt right on the internet, the trolls of Reddit and 4chan target people for their older content, feigning outrage when there is none.

I tell you this because of the social platforms that are indexed by Google. They are Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and Tumblr.

The things our kids post today will still be there 9 years from now (assuming these platforms are still there.)

Yes, Instagram has a private feature. However, there is no guarantee that older posts, ie, posts made when our daughters are just trying to understand their place in the world, will continue to be protected. The mission statement of Instagram is about “capturing and sharing the world’s moments.”

The mission statement or the Terms and Conditions does not say older posts will always be private.

My advice.

Don’t tell kids to not use social media platforms. They are under pressure to get on Instagram, and they will be under pressure to get on some other platforms. Younger men, and some younger women, will experiment with Reddit. I’ve deleted two Reddit accounts.

Kids will use social media. Here’s what I tell my kids.

Sit down with your kids and talk about their brand. Have them think about three words that they want people to use to describe them.

My three words are marketing, parent, fun. 

My daughter has three words. My son is still thinking about the second two, his first is soccer.

Now, when your kids have three words, tell them to only post when their post reflects at least one of the words. My daughter has an Instagram account, and she is aware that it is forever, so she is being really picky about her first post.

The next thing to talk about is commenting. When we comment without looking someone in the face, it is easier to be mean. Talk to your kids about commenting.

My rule has always been this: would I be able to read my comment to my mom?

I asked my kids to think about their comments as if their mom was in the room.

As for the rules above? I’ve failed at them (I’ve deleted Reddit twice.)

Social media sites that are indexed by google are not a place to experiment with your voice. Reddit is a good place to explore a voice, but be careful. Nothing is anonymous.

Nothing.

Let me know what you think.

The issue with Higher Education communications

June 29, 2018

Higher education is.the only high consideration, high involvement product in which the date of purchase is known. Higher education knows that someone has until January 15th to buy the undergraduate version.

Think about that for a minute.

At the high end, the product is $250K and the buyers and sellers all know the date of purchase. Everyone knows who the purchaser is, and when the purchase decision is being made. Many are on Facebook spending hundreds in an online auction on the SAME people, telling them the same thing: we have small class sizes, offer off-campus study, have a tree you can study under, and a professor who does class outside.

The issue.

The problem is, most schools don’t think they need to sell. They don’t think it is a product.

The mission is higher.

The mission is to make better adults, to generate a love for learning. There’s often a 1000+ word mission statement, on a ridiculously obtuse website, about what the school wants to do, and how it makes a difference. I’ve seen the data on this, and no one looks, or cares.

I’m not here to tell you the missions is wrong, I think it is right. I’m here to tell you that the communications department needs a different mission.

Think back 25 years: one can imagine an editor and someone who can work a fax being the comms department, The team was responsible for an alumni magazine and a press releases faxed to the press about something or other that the school did. It is called news, and in an era where there were newspapers, news was important.

Schools had an alumni magazine, it was said, because alumni are interested in news.

The comms department might have helped with the view book, and they might have helped with the DM packages from advancement, but this is back at a time before higher education budget bloat, when the IT department was still 5 people with overhead projectors.

Fast forward to the first stage of the internet, and higher education got its first website, and the first major expansion of staff. More IT people, more comms people. The mission of IT was to support faculty in the mission. And maybe hep with this website thing, but maybe not. It was school specific.

What is the website for, asked no one.

Admissions or advancement? Dean of Faculty? Dean of college?

As pages got added to the website, staff was added in IT and comms.

These new staff members weren’t on campus to make a better student and a better world, or maybe they were? IT supported pedagogy. Comms people didn’t though. (Side note, I did help create a Twitter play that was pure pedagogy.)

The annual budget

The typical private institution makes money in two ways, apps and gifts. I know a school where 65% of the annual budget comes from full pay applicants. 25% comes from the endowment, and the remaining 10% comes from annual fund gifts.

Apps and love. That’s it.

My advice.

When I worked as the marketing department for a Pressure Transducer company, the engineers used to say, “Matt, this product sells itself. Word of mouth is the key. We just need to make the product more maroon and people will buy it.”

They didn’t believe in marketing. They said, “let the product be the product.”

At a higher education school that I know, the President would said  “let our school be our school.” He probably also said more maroon.

This isn’t a criticism. Engineers tend to think about the product first, and how to talk about the product second. Make a better product is the strategy of all engineers. And the president of a college is the chief engineer. He or she makes decisions about the product that impact why people will buy it.

But that isn’t marketing. It takes a marketer to understand how to sell the product.

What higher education needs. 

This week, Syracuse University relaunched their communications department. They are hiring an associate vice president of marketing strategy. A director of digital strategy. A director of marketing strategy.

They get apps and love.

They understand that the goal is to market to people, at the right time, with the right content.

Instead of thinking about content as “news” – an old way of thinking about content born of an alumni magazine and a fax machine, they probably intend to have weekly strategy meetings to talk about content that can generate behavior.

“News” implies people care. A news feed implies people care. People don’t care.Higher Education can no longer launch a website or redo a website and assume people will give a crap.

I’ll bet at Syracuse they intend to focus in on the brand pillars that advance the admissions or fundraising elements of the school. I’ll bet all marketing content will crescendo in the middle of January, and then work towards yield and summer melt.

I’ll bet they will never redo their website, but instead finally give it purpose. They won’t have summer hours on their website because they’ll have purpose.

When deciding to create marketing content, they will ask who will care and why? They will also ask how they will prove people cared. They’ll ask questions of their content BEFORE they make it, and find the answers in the data.

That’s called marketing. Something that doesn’t get done enough in higher education.

It isn’t higher education’s fault. They know their mission. For the most part though, the mission of the internal marketing departments hasn’t been articulated.

Watch Syracuse. You’re about to see it get articulated.

Higher education is an important product for the world. We need more critical thinkers, not less.

If you’re reading this, and you work in a communications department in higher education,  ask yourself why it is called communications when it should be called marketing. If you’re not in charge, ask the people in charge.

If the answer is that the mission is bigger than marketing, agree, and suggest that if you figured out a better way to use the stories of your school to sell it to people who will buy it.

The world would be a better place if that happened.

What do you think? Agree? Disagree?