College Planning & Management

JUN 2012

College Planning & Management is the information resource for professionals serving the college and university market. Covering facilities, security, technology and business.

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Recruit & Retain CENTRAL PENN COLLEGE The 'Why Us' Effect Understanding a college's diff erentiator to maximize student success. BY MATT KUROWSKI AND MARY WETZEL "W E GET MORE APPLI- cants every year than we can accept. We don't need help with our marketing." Too often we hear this statement from colleges and universities that seem to be doing it right. But, do thousands of applicants equate to successful students? Colleges and universities that recognize they cannot be all things to all people are focusing their efforts on marketing strategies that attract the right students, instead of all students. By understanding what makes a college or univer- sity unique and weaving that differentiator into the fabric of the institution, schools can make a more lasting impact on the success of their students and the college's reputation. Central Penn College, located near Harrisburg, PA, worked with a marketing partner to better understand its differentiation and its students in order to develop a distinctive brand platform. The school recognizes that there are certain students who share com- mon goals and traits that will be most successful at Central Penn. The College embraces those differences and with them, creates a more tailored experience for its students. Often the fi rst in their families to attend college, Central Penn students are motivated by the degree and the doors it opens and less by the archetypal "college experience." Central Penn under- stands that its students are eager to start their careers and that there is a strong sense of pride in earning a degree. Incorporat- ing this understanding into the brand platform and infusing the fi ndings across the entire campus enable the school to create an experience that truly aligns with its students. In step with this fi nding, the Central Penn experience more closely resembles a working professional's environment. The college offers accelerated programs, which allow students the opportunity to earn a bachelor's degree in three years, plus an internship, by attending classes year-round. To better prepare traditional-age students for the transition from college to career, students attend class in professional attire. These differentiators, which provide the baseline for the college's brand platform, have permeated as far as the housing offered to the students — apart- ments instead of dorms — and to campus life, which often includes networking events where students can interact with working professionals in their chosen fi elds. 16 COLLEGE PLANNING & MANAGEMENT / JUNE 2012 Defi ning what makes a college unique can be diffi cult to pinpoint. Start by asking questions like: Which students are most successful at our school? Why are those students successful? How do we defi ne success? Creating a point of differentiation can help a college better understand its students, which can in turn deliver powerful results for both the students and the college. Understand what makes students successful, and make a commitment to helping students succeed by tailoring college practices and requirements. This cre- ates a positive environment where students will thrive. An ACT Policy Report titled "The Role of Academic and Non- Academic Factors in Improving College Retention" fi nds that stu- dents who are confi dent and satisfi ed with their college; who feel connected with the college environment, their peers, faculty, and campus activities; are less likely to drop out. This fi nding under- scores the importance of understanding what motivates students, what makes them successful, and incorporating those fi ndings across the campus at every touchpoint — from courses offered to graduation requirements and activities offered on campus to student housing options. A stronger brand platform has its impact on the college, too. For starters, happy, successful students generally equate to a stronger network of brand ambassadors among students, faculty, and alumni. A large network of supporters can enhance a college's reputation, driving future enrollment and creating more engaged alumni. For colleges and universities, one size does not fi t all. To drive student success and retention rates, colleges should invest in defi ning a brand strategy that captures the essence of what makes the college unique. Don't shy away from being specifi c. Not all students would trade sweatpants and sneakers for suits and ties, but for Central Penn students, professionalism correlates with an underlying motivation. And don't stop short. A brand strategy that permeates through every facet of the college helps the school to stand out — which can lead to stronger enrollment, higher retention, and more successful students. CPM As Central Penn College's Marketing Services director, Mary Wetzel oversees the marketing and communications initiatives for all the College's locations. Mary can be reached at marywetzel@central- penn.edu. Matt Kurowski is account director, Strategic Accounts at JPL, where he oversees brand-building engagements for JPL clients. Matt can be reached at mkurowski@jplcreative.com. WWW.PLANNING4EDUCATION.COM

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