Published on 2014/04/22

Differentiating your Institution: Critical to Competing in Today’s Postsecondary Marketplace

Differentiating your Institution: Critical to Competing in Today’s Postsecondary Marketplace
Differentiating factors for an institution can be as simple as the people, technology and flexibility it offers, but those elements can have a significant impact on student experience and institutional reputation.
When you think about education, there are many options and in many cases the options reveal similar course offerings and amenities. So, when educational offerings are relatively similar from institution to institution, what do you do to be different from the rest?

Adapting engagement approaches is a big step. Institutions must focus on their ability to get the participants; in doing so you can engage and educate prospective students about your institution. There must be a path or goal that includes the ability to diversify educational offerings, broaden the options and deepen the levels of course offerings. In other words, with targeting-based tactics you have the ability to keep focused and drive change within the organization. One method is to entice students with extra offerings, cultural events and social interactions that change and impact the way the institution interacts with its city, county and state.

While working on approaches you must not only know your target audience but understand that target population. In many cases, the 18-23 demographic is just not available. This once-popular age bracket is in decline, while the 28-40 age bracket is enrolling in greater numbers, returning because of career adjustments or the need to further their education for a better opportunity. Because of the diversity of those prospects, and their expectations of the engagement process coming from their positioning as experienced consumers, you might need to look at multiple options in strategic planning. Many factors are built into the system including financial barriers, location, lack of extracurricular activities, scholarship opportunities and advanced participation in accelerated coursework to degree completion.

There are also silent elements that impact an institution’s ability to differentiate itself. These include reputation, levels and types of communications that already are being poured onto prospective students and lack of responsiveness to what prospective students are saying. Additional elements might include sending the right message, accurate and detailed program and institutional comparisons, new courses that might allow students to earn multiple credentials or easier additions to specializations that will allow a faster graduation-to-employment process. There are also interactive strategies that publicize all of the institution’s achievements, plans, expansions and future endeavors. In many cases these approaches seem easy, they also take a tactical approach in order to be clear, concise and targeted. The reason is the ability to convey interactions in a manner that is accepted and allows for curiosity to be explored and challenged.

In the end, the differentiation might just be in the people, technology and flexibility offered by an institution. Having a central point or process that allows a student to sign-up, change courses and directions, interact with administrators and faculty and provide the flexibility to complete courses on their own terms is critical to the student’s experience and institution’s reputation.

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Readers Comments

Mike H 2014/04/22 at 2:22 pm

Differentiation makes good business sense. It’s about protecting your institution’s competitive advantage and not stretching yourself too thin. An effort should be made on an oversight level to coordinate the different offerings of institutions and ensure resources are most effectively used. This would ensure students receive value for money and have access to a variety of options.

Tyrese Banner 2014/04/23 at 10:35 am

MacDonald’s idea of enticing students with cultural events, social interactions and opportunities in the community all speak to students’ inherent need to feel like they are part of something. Institutions that serve locally-based populations, and smaller institutions, are best equipped to deliver this kind of close-knit, relevant experience to students. Being sensitive to local needs and trends is perhaps the best way for an institution to differentiate itself from others.

John MacDonald 2014/04/29 at 1:31 pm

Mike, Great Points-A good question might be where is the balance between value and being stretched to thin? I wonder if both parties are working to hard at the same goal and maybe a more out of the box approach might be what is needed?

John MacDonald 2014/04/29 at 1:35 pm

Thanks Tyrese,

Here is a question-If it can be applied to smaller more localized institutions why cannot it not be applied to larger ones? The difference is culture and the size of the institution. Why could we not take some lessons learned and apply them to bigger operations? There is a cost but the end value is better more strategic placement for the students and the employers get a higher degree team member that should be able to hit the ground running? Just a thought?

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