EDgage Magazine, Spring 2020

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FPO APTech, publisher of June 3, 2020 EDgage magazine, brings Virginia Tech Research Center together the leaders in higher EDgage Live is a summit of some the brightest education marketing to minds in higher education marketing and discuss how to matter more enrollment. If you are a higher ed professional to prospective students and involved in the planning and implementation of marketing and programming directed at drive enrollment success. traditional and non-traditional students, you need to be here!

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Branching out

12 Sharpest Tool in The Shed Finding the best mechanism for messaging POP QUIZ

16 Academic thought leader Jeff Selingo on the future of higher ed INFOGRAPHIC

17 Looking for Trouble Survey shows scrutiny of students’ social media







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very negative situation includes the possibility for something positive. These opportunities are born from how we view things. When our resources are depleted, it forces us to be more creative. When things get tough, it is a chance to frame yourself and your school as strong and supportive. We cannot let fear make us wait for a better moment. We cannot get conservative when things get challenging. Granted, if circumstances are beyond our control, we simply have to make the best of them. But crisis offers us all the chance to shine and transform the negative into a positive. By adopting a mindset that is the opposite of how people think, schools can stand out over time. You have material for a powerful reversal, a chance to prove your brand. It is only out of difficulty that you can rise at all. So, by simply embracing the moment as something positive and necessary, you have already created enormous value. EDgage will continue to bring you the type of content that inspires new thinking. We believe this is a great time to invest in real engagement, research and storytelling. In fact, we think there is merit in all of us using the power of content to connect with others during a time where people are behind closed doors. This is a time to remind people that your school is a safe bet. Our cover article, “Branching


EDgage is published quarterly by Association for PRINT Technologies, copyright 2020. All rights reserved. For more information contact info@edgagemag.com edgagemag.com

Out—How to Connect with Changing Demographics,” is a safe bet and a great read. The changing demographics of higher education enable schools to expand their reach, but puts a great deal of pressure on the marketing department to connect with a variety of people. This story first speaks to the challenge and offers some advice on how to manage the engagement with different demographics. In our second feature, “Sharpest Tool

managing editor

editorial and creative


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Julie Shaffer

Michael Pallerino Maria Soldner

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in the Shed—Finding the Best Mechanism for Messaging,” we provide a snapshot of the different mechanisms for engagement available to higher education marketers. The story also offers advice on how to best use them. These are the vehicles needed as you embrace the opportunity at hand. I wish you health, security and an opportunistic mindset. Warmest regards,

Thayer Long Publisher



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“You have to develop a solid brand strategy with strong research insights and use this as the foundation for all messaging.” — Chris Noah, CMO, Indiana University of Pennsylvania

They call it the Story Team, a group tasked with identifying and determining the best way to deliver a brand message across the variety of social channels and platforms available. Chris Noah says the strategy focuses more on showing, not telling the message Indiana University of Pennsylvania (IUP) wants to deliver. The strategy enables the story—not the delivery channel—to be the hero. IUP’s marketing and communications team seek out stories that support the university’s brand pillars—ones that are able to consistently deliver and fortify the reasons a student would want to consider attending the school. “We want the audience to get a true sense of our brand,” says Noah, CMO. “This means saying no to some messaging. Fewer, bigger, better is the goal, not volume of messages. You want to provide your audiences with interesting stories that will help them engage with your brand.” The goal of Noah’s team—which consists of more than 20 professionals, including writers, graphic designers, media experts and multimedia producers—is to unify IUP’s voice and to build the university’s reputation among potential students, families, alumni and the broader community.

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Connecting with a changing demographic of prospective college students is a never-ending race. Today’s prospective college students are more technologically savvy. They are accustomed to receiving content and goods instantly. And they value the brands that provide great customer service and recognize that there are many options out there to them as consumers. The truth of the matter is that higher education has been slow to adopt this customer service mentality. In revisiting the higher ed marketing playbook, it would be wise to take a page out of how consumer brands like Netflix, Google and Apple interact with today’s generations. “Being truly student-cen-


tric and customer-service oriented means removing the barriers that exist in processes and policies at your university,” Noah says. “The key to a campaign that can engage with this new brand of students is flexibility. It is about putting the students first, listening to them and creating messaging that speaks to their actual needs.” One of the keys to engaging with prospective students is to allow them to be themselves at your school. Does your marketing look like them or does it look like stock photos of well groomed, clean-cut kids? Gary R. Vaughn, M.S., Executive Director of Marketing at Wayland Baptist University, says the picture you paint has to be spot on. “This generation is scan-

ners, not readers,” Vaughn says. “They want visual, so you have to consider digital delivery options. This is where the students are all the time.” To keep in step with what the kids are doing these days, Vaughn and his team take the time to listen to their student workers, who can be invaluable sources of

information about student thinking, student trends and student life. Focus groups are another great tool to see what is the on the minds of today’s students. “Listen, watch and follow their lead,” Vaughn says. For example, Wayland Baptist has been working on a new degree program with an emphasis on tabletop game design. Vaughn says his team did not know much about tabletop gaming until they sat down with a handful of students who enjoyed playing. “We found out they had already formed a club on campus and had a robust attendance. It was our own little nerd-fest. We invited them to review our materials and we ended up completely revamping our messaging to fit their world.”

Higher Education Marketing

New day, new way of thinking


ere is something you already know—the great mailout campaign of 1999 will not have the same results as a mailing today. So, if you are thinking, “This is not your grandfather’s university,” you are right. The landscape of learning has changed. So, what is a higher ed marketer to do? Talk to your students. Explore why they leave or transfer, find out what makes the others stay through graduation. Travel to other campuses to see how they are integrating technology into daily life for their students. “You will be surprised what you learn and how much you may need to rethink your own strategy,” Vaughn says. IUP’s marketing efforts focus on messaging that blends support with academic rigor focusing on short, snackable pieces over long-form content. The best practices to follow key in on speaking in the students’

voice, being authentic, and staying away from jargon or marketing speak that errs on the side of pretentiousness. Noah and his team rely heavily on Instagram to deliver the messaging. Student-driven Q&As, where students actually field the questions, also prove to be very successful. “You have to develop a solid brand strategy with strong research

insights and use this as the foundation for all messaging,” Noah says. “A brand strategy with core message pillars should act as your guide and filter for all messaging. This will prevent marketers from just tossing messages out into the marketplace that do not build to anything greater.” While it is easy to feel the pressure to message everything and anything that people across your university bring to you, Noah says it is critical to say no when you and your team do not believe it will deliver and advance the overall brand. “It takes time to conduct the research, analyze it, make sense of the insights and build the actual brand strategy, but it will serve your institution well in this challenging

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“This generation is scanners, not readers. They want visual. Listen, watch and follow their lead.” — Gary R. Vaughn, M.S., Executive Director, Marketing, Wayland Baptist University


environment,” Noah says. And there is one last thing when it comes to marketing to today’s prospective college student—they are never satisfied. Because students apply to a variety of colleges and spend considerable time in the consideration phase, even when they commit to a university by placing a

deposit for the fall, they have time to (and do) change their minds. “The marketing never ends,” Noah says. “Yield communications is critical. Providing the reason why to choose your university should not end with a deposit. It is important not to fall into a transactional communications mode of housing

choices and meal plans only. Keep providing messaging around academics, student life, faculty profiles and student/alumni success stories. Remember, choosing a college is a very emotional decision, so your marketing must balance both rational and emotional messaging.” And plenty of it.





ccording to The National Center for Fair & Open Testing (FairTest), more than 280 schools have decreased the importance of standardized testing in the admissions process since 2005. Some are not using them at all. The trend has grown,

with 28 new schools joining the list of test-optional admissions since fall 2019. Most rely on other factors, namely GPA, which shows a history of not only academic performance, but also timeliness and attendance.

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According to data by Markets and Markets, the augmented reality (AR) market is estimated to grow to hit $72.7 billion by 2024. For educators, AR blends the real-world with the online world by overlaying digital information over the learners’ own environment—creating a world where the whole learning experience is more appealing to students because they are more engaged and motivated throughout their instruction.


Social media continues to be one of the main ways students and prospective students use the internet. Higher ed marketers must master the best techniques for showing off their universities and colleges if they want to stay ahead of the game. Check out these marketing strategies from Higher Education Marketing:


Show off your campus and surrounding town with striking photos and videos. Snap a shot of the state-of-the-art building or striking scenery.


Your photos should always be visually appealing, but do not underestimate the power of a great candid photo. Get prospects excited about genuine student life behind the perfect social media curtain.


Do not be unprofessional, but do not be afraid to add some humor in your posts. Instagram is informal, and your posts should reflect that.


Conduct some research and find the top hashtags that are relevant to your posts

to increase your visibility. It is also a good idea to create branded hashtags that are specific to your school.


Encourage students to share their own photos to increase your sense of community and visibility, as well as generate more content for your page. Contests, featured student posts and alumni testimonials are all great strategies.


This is a perfect way to show candid and spontaneous moments. Stories should be fun and informal, and capture the day-to-day life of students. Show off special events like social events, graduation and special guests.


Similar to Instagram Stories, Instagram Live is great for showing off special events, but in real-time.



STUDY SHOWS BREAKDOWN OF ONLINE LEARNERS More are taking the online college route due to convenience and flexibility. According to the “Online College Students 2019” report, from Learning House, a Wiley brand, and Aslanian Market Research, the online learner is not a single demographic. The study shows that 32% are aged 18 to 24, 19% are aged 25 to 29, and 25% are over the age of 40. The differences in demographics means your marketing efforts need to adjust. Here is a look at other key stats of online learners:

69% 59% 44% 44% Have a parent who went to college

Employed full time

Are married

Live within 25 miles of campus

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SHARPEST TOOL IN FINDING THE BEST MECHANISM FOR MESSAGING herapy dogs on campus.” “The Dance Department.” “The traditions.” “Small class sizes and professors that care about you as a person.” “Amazing job/grad school placement. Great alumni network.” Last year, as Union College was approaching the upcoming tuition deposit deadline, the marketing and communications team decided to reach out to alumni and current students on Instagram and ask why


someone should choose one the country’s most historic academic institutions. The results were overwhelming. Alumni and students flooded the well with compelling testimonials (including the aforementioned shout outs) that enabled university marketers to create a 1:28 second video, “Why Choose Union,” to stream on the Student Life section page of its website. The marketing and communication team also was able to repurpose the answers in other channels. The simple approach to find content was just that—simple. It is the kind of content research that any university marketing team can conduct among the most trusted resource—those who have worn and wear the school colors. “Keep it simple,” says Tom Torello, Chief Communications Officer, who for the past four years has overseen Union’s marketing, media and public relations, publications, social media, and alumni magazine, newsletter and website. Keeping it simple is a strategy that Torello makes look easy by working closely with campus leaders and departments to enhance and promote Union’s academic reputation and brand. The love of the university pouring over onto the video came from the heart. “Don’t ask too much of your audience. They’re being engaged by a lot of brands, not to mention friends and others. You have to value their time and

don’t flood them with so much content that they tune you out.” In a time when students have more access to information than any other generation before them (by leaps and bounds), the best higher ed marketers can do is control what content people see and where. “Much of the content they get is coming from sources not controlled by us,” Torello says. “If we want to tell our own stories, we need to find ways that not only inform the students, but make them feel as though they are being welcomed into the community.” And that means finding the best mediums, a strategy that at times can sound easier than it is. “You need to use all channels,” Torello says. “Students jump from channel to channel constantly. You want to take every opportunity to break through the noise and meet them where they are. The focus should be largely on digital platforms, but selective use of print can be effective as well. We have seen better response when we combine print and digital.”

CATCH THEM WHERE THEY ARE There are studies that try to push people into age-related groups for contact preference. There are ones that show prospective students vary in contact preference based on their actual careers. Piper Stone says these types of generalizations are not helpful anymore. The bottom


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“Students jump from channel to channel constantly. You want to take every opportunity to break through the noise and meet them where they are.” — Tom Torello, Union College


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line is that it is rare to encounter a prospective student who is not part of the social media universe—no matter the age. The issues with social media, from where Childs sits, is that prospective students do not always trust what they read there anymore. Trusting an article shared on Facebook is close to citing Wikipedia as a source of factual data in a research paper. “There is so much information out there that our filter for determining validity of a post is much higher than if something is received in print,” says Childs, Associate VP of Professional and Graduate Enrollment at MidAmerica Nazarene University. “Looking at a long-term plan, a robust marketing strategy still includes elements of all mediums (social, marketing automation, print, email, web, etc.). The strategy is successful based

“While your marketing strategy may change every six months based on the current trends, a complete failure to move with those trends will leave an institution in the dust fairly quickly.” — Piper Childs, MidAmerica Nazarene University

on hitting individual prospective students in just the right way, at just the right decision-moment, which can only be done with a complex campaign using multiple messaging methods.” The sheer amount of information out there today is why higher education marketers must continually stay on top of communication medium trends. While trust wanes in one area, it will surge in another, but the pendulum always swings back. “It is one thing to know how to reach your audience and another entirely to know what and when to communicate to move them forward in the application process,” Childs says. “While your marketing strategy may change every six months based on the current trends, a complete failure to move with those trends will leave an institution in the dust fairly quickly.” When it comes to engagement, market research still is an extremely helpful tool. Most universities collect source data from new inquiries and applications for their programs to figure out how to better spend marketing budgets. If every group of incoming students is engaged in a conversation about marketing and what messaging they would respond to from a prospective school, or what messaging they did respond to, it would help marketers identify trends that would make their campaigns more productive in the short-term. Childs recalls the story of a prospective student who responded to an email recently that was originally sent to him in 2014. The student responded to the enrollment representative by name, and said he was ready to get started. “It’s hard to tell if he was prompted to reach out based on current advertising. If he did, it wasn’t consciously because we

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asked him about it.” This type of situation happens fairly regularly. Childs says it indicates that the relationship MidAmerica Nazarene establishes with prospective students during the investigation phase of their return to school is likely more important to adult students than some of the more obvious criteria that would drive a decision, such as cost, length of program, etc. In the end, it all comes down to monitor-

ing your lead flow, which is still one of the most important ways to gauge a campaign’s effectiveness. “Watching for spikes in SEO numbers after piloting a campaign through a certain medium helps to see if the campaign is driving consumers to the site and if they are clicking where expected based on the marketing message,” Child says. Torello says that after you track engagement, you should track it again. “You have

to do all you can to invest in the tools that will help you determine which channels and which content are getting the most engagement. Beyond that, test, test, test. Don’t be afraid to do A/B testing or withhold communication from test groups to see what is effective.” In the changing world of higher ed recruiting, every campaign matters. You just have to find which one works and when.


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I 16

n his upcoming book, “Who Gets In & Why: A Year Inside College Admissions,” Jeff Selingo talks about the journey of the selection process from inside three admissions offices, providing an inside look at what really matters to the gatekeepers and how the ultimate decision is often based of a college’s priorities. As one of the academic world’s foremost thought leaders, Selingo has carved out a career by offering a unique and introspective glimpse into the higher education landscape. As both an observer of higher education and an insider with academic appointments at two prominent universities, Selingo’s takes can regularly be seen in The Atlantic, The Washington Post, The New York Times, the Chronicle of Higher Education and as co-host of the podcast, FUTURE U. Working as a special advisor for innovation to the president at Arizona State University, Selingo also is founding director of the Academy for Innovative Higher Education Leadership and visiting scholar at Georgia Tech’s Center for 21st Century Universities. In addition, he regularly counsels universities and organizations on their innovation strategy and storytelling. We sat down with him to get his take on the changing world of the college admission process. Who plays a role in the admissions process? How does each help students? There are multiple players in the process. Parents and counselors help shape the playing field for students based on what they think is the right academic, social and financial fit. Often, the various rankings, along with public perception of a college’s prestige, also play a critical role. Parents want to know that a college their son or daughter applies to will pass the window-sticker test. Will it be a name that people instantly recognize on the back of the family automobile? Colleges play a large role, too. Many start to recruit students as early as their sophomore year of high school, buying names from the SAT, ACT, and other sources.


Research has found that the vast majority of marketing from colleges is ignored by teenagers and their parents. Only 11% elicits some sort of response (that is considered good by comparison to direct mail for consumer products where the response rate is even lower). Still, colleges send so much because the admissions process is so uncertain for many schools. They must have enough prospects in the pipeline in order to yield enough students at the end to fill classrooms. Other colleges hope that their marketing will generate more applications, just so they could reject more and make themselves look more selective to the outside world. Finally, a handful of colleges are always looking for that needle in a haystack—the talented

student from a middle-of-nowhere high school they hope will be among a stack of search names they buy. In the end, the most important player in the process is the students. They must make the choices for themselves, maneuvering through the unpredictability of life after their senior year by embracing the best fit at that moment and remembering that college is a staging ground—one of many stops they will make throughout life.

Choosing the right college, the right major or the right classes is difficult because we lack the tools to make bottom-line comparisons between options. What motivates students to choose a particular university? It comes down to three factors: financial, academic and social. The emphasis put on any one of these depends largely on the socioeconomic and academic background of students. Most students start the college search looking at institutions near home. Indeed, most go to college within 100 miles of their home. That narrows the search for the majority of teenagers to a select group of institutions. From there, students search for the right social and academic fit—small/large, urban/rural, and most of all, does it offer


the majors they are interested in pursuing. Unfortunately, too many students and their families wait until much later in the search to think seriously about financial fit. They believe every school offers a discount (they do not) or that every financial aid package is negotiable (it is not). Families should winnow out costly colleges on the front end, using the net-price calculators colleges are required to display on their websites. In the end, choosing a college is an emotional decision, one economists refer to as an “experience good.” We do not know what we are buying until after we experience it. Choosing the right college, the right major or the right classes is difficult because we lack the tools to make bottom-line comparisons between options. As a result, the decision-making process is ill-informed, usually haphazard, and full of false starts. How has the college admissions scandal affected students’ decisions? The Varsity Blues scandal has not impacted students’ decisions. If anything, the scandal just reaffirmed the belief that going to a name-brand school mattered: There were people willing to risk going to jail to get their kids into a top school.


You claim that college admissions is not about the applicant, but about the college. Can you explain? College admissions is not about being “worthy,” per se, it is more about fitting into a college’s agenda, whatever that agenda


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might be. Every school has different needs that change over time, sometimes even from year to year. Goals for the admitted class are set by university leaders and then left to the admissions staff to carry out. In a given year, that might mean more full payers, humanities majors and students from the Dakotas. Sometimes the goals are narrower: a pitcher for the baseball team, a goalie for the soccer team or an oboist for the orchestra. Many colleges give special consideration to applicants with deep and lasting connections to the school, such

as the children of alumni and employees. A rejection then is not about you—it is about what a college needs the year you apply. Just because a college accepts 25% of its applicants does not mean you have a one in four chance of getting in. This reality is hidden from applicants beneath impenetrable layers of reviews, rendering it open to criticisms of favoritism or outright discrimination. What can universities do to better serve applicants? There are many things. Let me


focus on three here. First, colleges can limit how many names they buy in search. The reality is that many of those names are noise in the system—they are prospective students who either have no intention of going to the school or no real shot of getting in. Second, eliminate early-decision and early-action deadlines. Early decision—with its application deadline two months into a student’s last year of high school—rushes a process that should be a journey of discovery and reflection for teenagers and their families. Early decision

leaves students with the impression that there is only one right college for them. Third, colleges should redesign their applications to focus on what really matters. Schools typically know that two basic measures indicate whether students will succeed on their campuses: high school courses and grades. That is why nothing usually carries more weight in admissions than those two elements. Yet, colleges ask for so much more in the process that every year whips high-school students into a frenzy. Colleges have the power to change the process.





veryone, from parents to employers to schools, is keeping up with kids’ social media posts. Results from Kaplan Test Prep’s “College Admissions Officers 2019”

19% of admissions officers say they check students’ social media often

show that 36% of admissions officers at top-ranked schools visit applicants’ social media profiles. This is up from 25% the previous year. Here’s a look at other key findings from the survey:



of admissions officers say the findings have a negative impact on prospective students

of admissions officers say the findings have a positive impact on prospective students

59% of admissions officers say social media profiles are fair game

70% of students say social media profiles are fair game




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