Bob Johnson's Blog on Higher Education Marketing

December 2010 Archives

Higher education marketing: a challenging future continues in 2011

Higher education marketing in 2010... what most stands out when I close my eyes and think about the past 12 months of continuity and chaos in higher education?

No special order to these notes, just taking a moment to share the highlights from client connections, webinar questions, conference presentations, professional colleagues and personal friends.

8 marketing points that are top of mind today:

  • If predictions (see "60 Minutes" from last Sunday) about the upcoming financial stress on state and local governments is even half true, we haven't nearly seen the end of financial turmoil on the public side of higher education. More cuts coming in most states. Huge in some.
  • Residential, "liberal arts" institutions that don't have enormous reputational strength (that's most of them) will continue to face price resistance. Holding enrollment levels and tuition discount rates even in the next few years will be a significant achievement. Various iterations of the "value proposition" face an increasingly difficult uphill slog.
  • The tuition discounting plague continues and is spreading from the private sector to the public sector, in part from increased public university competition for out-of-state students. That's the lesson from reading that public sector discounting neared 13 percent in 2008. It can only be higher now.
  • The "move to mobile" continues with the ongoing increase in touch-screen smartphone adoption that's making it easier to complete online tasks from 3 inch screens. Limited resources and the proverbial hesitance of higher education to change has meant slow development on the marketing side here (but lots of apps with campus bus schedules) but that's going to change in 2011. Two of my favorite leaders so far are the mobile website at College of Charleston and the complex "Good Old App" at University of Virginia.
  • Traditional websites will adapt and change, with a new emphsis on simple design and integration with social media. Is the future showing on the Langara College home page?
  • In the social media era, you really can't control what people will say about your brand. Merits of the individual programs aside, that's the lesson learned this year from "D+" at Drake University, "Makers All" at Purdue University, and "AmericanWonks" at American University.
  • What future for the for-profit sector? It isn't going to vanish, but the time of super-fast stock growth beloved of investment advisors isn't returning in 2011. That's a good thing. If for-profits are genuine in changing to more careful admissions and increased attention on retention, both the stock holders and students will benefit in the long fun. The correction in 2010 was overdue.
  • Online learning will continue to expand as a degree option, for "traditional" students and everyone else, as faculty come to terms with it. For-profits dominate online enrollment now. Efforts at schools like the University of Kentucky to share revenue with faculty who develop online courses may change that.

Humpty Dumpty

Higher education, of course, isn't going away. But we can expect more change to move through the system as public universities and private colleges continue to adjust to the reality that the happy resource times before 2008 are not returning.

Higher education marketing will also adapt, although there is still an undue amount of time spent talking about how better delivery of "brand" and "value" messages might restore the bounty of the past. "Brand" is important. People certainly want "value" at the right price point. But nothing is going to put the Humpty Dumpty that fell off the wall in 2008 back together again.

Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays

2010 was a wonderful year. 2011 is primed for a fine start. Thanks to everyone, from marvelous clients to new and continuing newsletter subscribers and Twitter followers, to colleagues and friends, for helping to make that happen.

That's all for now 

·  Join me on Twitter at

· Subscribe to "Your Higher Education Marketing Newsletter" at 

December greetings to the 4,000+ subscribers who make this newsletter a special pleasure to write each month. If you have colleagues and friends who might like a personal copy, send them to to subscribe in less than 60 seconds.

This year has moved along quickly but it is still hard to believe that my first professional development activities of 2011 are almost here. Check below for two January events: an online seminar with Magna Communications and the Winter Institute of the National Association of Graduate Admissions Professionals in Fort Lauderdale.

If international student recruitment interests you, I have 5 recommendations for building strong websites and links to 6 examples in an Academic Impressions article at

And now here are your marketing news and notes for December.
Mobile Marketing: Watch this Video

The growing expectation of instant access to information from any location impacts higher education, from student recruitment to the latest capital campaign update.

If you do not already have a goal to integrate "mobile" into all your marketing efforts, you risk falling behind your competitors.

If people on your campus are still skeptical, have them watch the "Social Media and Mobile Marketing: Gaining a Competitive Advantage" video of Christina Kerley's presentation at Rutgers University at
Rebirth of Degree Credit for Work Experience

The continued boom in college enrollments from adult learners with significant work experience is creating new interest in gaining competitive advantage with better ways to evaluate and award credit.

Universities doing this include places as varied as the University College at University of Maryland, Lehman College in New York City, City University of Seattle, and Valdosta State University in Georgia.

Read more about the rebirth of credit for work experience at
6 Obstacles to Email Marketing Success

Email marketing is not dead, even for teens. How you do it can kill your chance at success.

MarketingSherpa gives us the results of a survey of 1,100 email marketers re: what are your major obstacles to email marketing success?

Most important is an old adage that is truer today than ever before: send content that is relevant to the recipient. So simple, yet so often ignored.

Find the other 5 obstacles in an easy-to-read and print chart at
Jakob Nielsen: Email Trumps Social Media for Ongoing Customer Contact

The most recent Alertbox from Jakob Nielsen reports on the increased usability achieved by properly prepared email newsletters.

Scroll down to mid-point for a section that makes good marketing sense: items posted to Twitter and Facebook have a relatively short shelf life, as they are quickly replaced by new items posted. If people do not see them soon after posting, they are likely to pass out of sight.

Email, on the other hand, sits in the mailbox of the recipient. People will often scroll through a long list of email in search of items of interest. And thus, of course, the importance of a good subject line and the reason to pay special attention to the opening lines seen by people who use preview screens.

The November 29 Alertbox is at
Digital Income Divide: $75,000 Family Income

The folks at the Pew Internet and American Life Project have reviewed several research studies to prepare a report on how wide a divide exists among families in many Internet aspects.

There is not, for instance, a great divide on percent of families who owns cell phones, but a much larger divide exists re desktop computers in the home: 79 percent of the 75K group compared to 55 percent of those under that level. The divide is greater for laptop owners.

For an overview of the full study and to download a PDF of the full 13-page report, visit
11 University Magazines and Twitter

University magazines have an increasing presence on Twitter, where updates are used to let especially loyal readers follow events between publications. Tweets often lead back to an online magazine or elsewhere on the university website.

The University of Chicago and Harvard University magazines are the most active.

For a list of 11 university magazines on Twitter and links to their Twitter sites, visit my blog post at
New Facebook Marketing Opportunity?

An early report is out that Facebook is dropping a requirement in place since November 2009 that FB site owners purchase at least $10,000 in advertising before offering promotions to people visiting FB sites.

Focus on recruitment for graduate programs, adult learners at any level, and alumni. FB does not allow promotions for people less than 18 years of age.

More details and a link to promotion requirements are at
Stanford University Twitter Survey

Stanford has a Twitter survey underway to learn more about how to make it a more effective communication tool, including sections reserved for alumni and students.

To see what is being asked take the survey at

To follow Stanford University on Twitter visit
Declining Net Tuition and a "Grim Future" Prediction

NAICU recently did some fancy whistling past the graveyard in reporting the low cost of not-for-profit private colleges as net tuition revenues in this sector declined 11.2 percent over the past 5 years. Contributing to the decline at many institutions has been the need to increase tuition discounting to preserve enrollments and market position. Check the tune at

Declining net tuition helps the "value proposition" in the short term, but at what future cost?

The financial rating people at Moody's, on the other hand, are predicting especially difficult times ahead and are placing a new emphasis on the ability of top leadership, especially trustees and presidents, to speak frankly about financial challenges and how they plan to meet the. Presidents who seem overly optimistic can expect to see the bond ratings of their school decline.

The Chronicle of Higher Education reviews the Moody's plan at
eduWeb Conference Call for Papers

Start thinking about a proposal you might make when the Call for Papers opens on January 5.

The conference welcomes papers with a marketing perspective. Check the tracks and more information on eduWeb (San Antonio in July this year) at
Marketing-Oriented Financial Aid Director

Eric Sickler at Stamats wrote not long ago with news that Central College in Pella, Iowa was searching for a financial aid director with a keen appreciation of the role that financial aid plays in higher education marketing.

Details for the position, located with the Enrollment Management department, are posted at

Interested people also can ask Eric about the position at
My Upcoming Conferences and Webinars in 2010 and 2011

Attend an upcoming conference to share questions and answers with people like you who are building a competitive edge in higher education marketing. Join me at these events.

December 9 webinar: Academic Impressions, "Writing Right for the Web: Social Media, Mobile and Traditional Sites." Dec 9 is an advanced session for creating and editing content for social media and mobile sites. Details at

January 20-21, National Association of Graduate Admissions Professionals Winter Institute, Fort Lauderdale, FL: "Social Media and Graduate Student Recruitment." Register at

January 26 webinar: Magna Communications, "6 New Essential Elements in Web-Based Marketing." Seminar outline and registration are at

Increase ROI from your online marketing. Expand the writing, editing, and search marketing skills of people on your campus. Host a campus workshop on online marketing.

Contact me at
That's All for Now

Be a marketing champion on your campus.

Bob Johnson, Ph.D. (
President and Senior Consultant
Bob Johnson Consulting, LLC
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