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Community Colleges That Engage Businesses Must Rethink Marketing

By May 7, 2014May 13th, 2014digital marketing

When employers think of a Community College, they usually think of a place for a student to receive a quality, two year education, at an affordable price.  My experience in talking with business executives about the college in their local community is almost always favorable – “I received my 2-year degree at a community college or my son or daughter received their 2 year degree.”  Employers know what community colleges do in benefiting their personal academic needs in the communities they serve.

Community Colleges Engaging with Local Business

What many employers are not aware of is, how community colleges can directly impact their business.   Community college products and services include customized employee training programs, continuing education, lifelong learning, access to business grants, tuition assistance planning, co-sponsoring events, being a foundation board member, participating in student – employer pools, career fairs and many other value-added partnership programs.  All of the above help employers improve efficiencies, employee morale, exposure in the community and most importantly, their bottom-line.

8 Marketing Tips for Community Colleges

Marketing budgets can be a challenge and resources can be limited for community colleges.  As employer budgets have tightened over the last decade, so have educational budgets for those employers. A community college must be able to better communicate the value they have with local business owners.  This requires a more business-like approach to reach this extremely busy community of decision makers.

Businesses have dramatically digitized their own communications and marketing.  Community colleges need to be able to take the same steps and show they are relevant to this new, extremely connected business environment.  Below are eight (8) cost effective tips to rethink community college marketing and business outreach efforts.

  1. Testing and Analytics. Stop guessing if you need a new website or if you can improve your existing website. Employer and student first impression of a website can ultimately impact engagement and conversion. Always test and analyze your design, copy and navigational of information. The benefit of continuous testing and monitoring is more practical and less expensive rather that making major overhauls.
  2. Establish Partnerships. If you want to make an employer feel like a strategic partner, they must feel that way across all departments in the college.  For example, if they invested in your foundation, you better make sure you treat them well if they’re interested in Contract Training.  This builds positive employer awareness of the college and you’ll see more of an investment in other programs and services that you provide.
  3. Make it easy to reach you. – If an employer is viewing your website about something they’re interested in, automate their interests to the right person or department.  For example, one employer visited a community college main website that wanted a corporate group leadership program.  It took that possible customer 5 attempts until they found the right place to go since the layout of the site was such a mess.  Also, if a business fills out a lead form, always return their request by the end of the day with a personal follow up and not just an automated response.
  4. Be proactive.  Don’t wait for an employer to contact you.  Be proactive, post 4-5 blogs, videos, campaigns, events, sponsorships and or news every week. In today’s competitive market, you can’t wait until someone contacts you.  Take advantage of your good reputation.  Employers love to hear from your college and learn about what’s new and how you can work together.
  5. Get employers involved, for free.  Ask them to volunteer for events like Kids College Day, Lunch n Learns, Advisory Councils, Speaking engagements.  Employers enjoy giving back to the community and sharing a day with college students and faculty.  This is exposure for them and you get to build awareness.
  6. Brainstorm with Employers. Brainstorm and think of cross-promotional ideas to present to the community.  Finding that synergy between business and education that really taps into community trust and involvement.
  7. Reporting and Measurements. Are you effectively driving organic traffic to your website and converting that traffic into registering more students? If you don’t know the conversion rate of every step a prospective business student takes to signing up for a class, then you don’t know what is happening on your site. During your requirements gathering, your goals need to be identified, measured and reported or else you won’t know how to make improvements.
  8. Go Mobile. More and more employers are going mobile in their interactions and expect the same from their educational partners. Make it easy for employers and their students to connect, register and learn through mobile applications.

A New World for Community Colleges

Community colleges need a flexible website and continuous, targeted digital communications that will allow them to attract more employers and students, update content easily, provide a great mobile experience and give them insights behind their course registrations, enrollments, campaigns and events.

Optimizing community college websites and marketing strategy isn’t hard, but it does take time.  Coordinating and building partnerships with businesses and the workforce investment system will create pathways in workforce improvement, student internships and job placement.  Being able to easily adapt to the changing business environment to drive student registration is going to be critical for community colleges to grow both local awareness and student registration numbers.

Jeff Roth

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