As higher education institutions across the nation are experiencing a decline in enrollment like never before, their focus has primarily narrowed to just that: enrollment. Many have shifted the majority of their marketing efforts to lower funnel acquisition campaigns to drive applications, admissions and enrollment numbers. What’s getting lost in all of this? The importance of brand and an institution’s narrative to help foster both interest and trust.
To frame just how dramatic this decline of public trust has become, consider this: a poll conducted by Morning Consult of over 11,000 U.S. adults found that, in the last three years, the level of public trust in higher education has declined 88%.1
Furthermore, a recent Gallup poll shows that Americans’ confidence in higher education has fallen to 36%, sharply lower than in two prior readings in 2015 (57%) and 2018 (48%), and that the rising costs of postsecondary education likely play a significant role.2
The Chronicle of Higher Education conducted a recent national survey to probe attitudes about the value of a degree and found that many respondents don’t think institutions do a great job educating their students — or that they are of great benefit to graduates. To many Americans, alternatives like trade school strike them as just as clear a path to a successful livelihood. Colleges’ value to communities and to society also drew skepticism. 3
We uncovered similar findings in our own proprietary, annual research study, The State of the American College Student, which showed current and prospective students questioning the value of a college education. When asked if they thought college was worth the cost, 19% said they do not think it is worth it, and just over one-third said they are unsure.4
There has never been a more important time for institutions to re-focus on their brand, and more specifically, their brand narrative.
As the Morning Consult survey shared, two-thirds of all U.S. adults and over three-fourths of students say it is important for them to have seen, read or heard about a college or university in order to trust it. 1 After all, how can we trust something that we don't feel we know? That's where your brand narrative comes in. It's the story of who and what your institution is; where you come from, and where you're going; what you stand for, and—above all else—that invaluable something you provide your students, which can't be found anywhere else.
So ask yourself: what is unique about my institution's history, purpose, location, staff, specialization, or spirit that is like no other? What is a persuasive and authentic way to talk about that uniqueness—and make it come to life for my audiences?
With so many universities and colleges focused on funnel management and application numbers, now is the time to tell your story—to communicate (and differentiate) how your institution provides value to your students, graduates and the greater community.
Perhaps paradoxically, the facts are plain: higher education is at a crossroads and the institutions that succeed will be the ones who build the narrative, distinct profile, and brand trust that the larger educational sector is currently lacking.
- Bridging The Trust Gap in Higher Education, Morning Consult, 2023
- The State of the American College Student, Fuseideas, 2022