Visit Modern Campus

The Impact of Brand Name Institutions on Extension Enrollments

Continuing education units at big, name-brand universities may have less difficulty in attracting people through name recognition, but they must work very hard to distinguish their product for their prospective students.

The following interview is with Diana Wu, the Dean of the UC Berkeley Extension and Executive Director of the Berkeley Resource Center for Online Education. Adult students have a number of different reasons why they will pick one higher education institution over another. In this interview, Wu discusses how working behind a big brand-name influences the way continuing education units market their product to prospective adult students.

1. How does a strong main-campus reputation affect the way extension units market themselves?

I think that’s an excellent question because, in Berkeley’s case we’re so closely affiliated with our main campus that the reputation has a tremendous effect on how we market ourselves.

The thing that we keep in mind, first and foremost in our marketing, is that we’re a reflection of the Berkeley brand. One of the things that we benefit from as well as have to clarify for people is that, as a continuing education unit, although we reflect the strengths of UC Berkeley, we also offer things that the main campus doesn’t offer. So it’s a constant messaging to say that, “Yes, we’re a part of Berkeley but we’re distinct and we offer different products that the main campus doesn’t necessarily offer.”

2. Is it easier for continuing education units housed in big-name universities to get the attention of adults?

Not knowing what it’s like at not-a-big-name university, I have to say that it’s probably easier for us because of our association with a big brand-name.

As an example, continuing education is getting better and better known as an industry internationally, but if you’re unfamiliar with continuing education, we benefit because people will come to us because of the big-name brand.

Sometimes they come to us, not knowing exactly what they’re looking for in the way of continuing education, but just because we’re Berkeley. So we definitely benefit from the brand.

In terms of adults, I would say that, particularly with alumni who probably think first to come back to Berkeley to get their continuing education, but also if you were a student at any university in the Bay Area, for example. And then Berkeley has a national and international reputation, so to the extent that adults who may or may not have been affiliated with Berkeley might look to us first because of the name.

3. In your opinion, do continuing education units at big-name universities need to commit the same resources to marketing as smaller institutions might?

I think we absolutely do, perhaps in a different way. We may have the benefit of a big-name brand, but many people, including adult professionals, are not necessarily familiar with continuing education or what continuing education units do.

Our marketing department actually does quite a bit of work. They don’t necessarily need to promote the Berkeley brand, but they absolutely need to do institutional messaging for Berkeley Extension to promote continuing education and they also need to do a lot of work around the types of programs, distinct programs, in continuing education that we offer.

A combination of promoting continuing education as an industry and the services that we provide our students and then also a focus on our targeted population who are looking for specific types of training that really only continuing education—at least at Berkeley—only the continuing education unit offers.

I do think we do have to commit at least the same amount of resources, I would guess, if not more.

4. Is there anything that you would like to add about the impact that a main campus’s reputation will have on prospective adult students?

Although we benefit from the strong main campus reputation, I think it’s our responsibility to distinguish ourselves by defining who we are and what our niche is and really how we want to reflect the quality [of the institution]. It’s a big responsibility to hold up the brand. However, it’s also our responsibility to demonstrate to our audiences how we are distinct because we serve a different audience and we understand the needs of the adult learner.

In most cases, they’re different from the traditional student so, as much as we are so proud of being part of our main campus community, I feel it’s also important to make a clear and strong case about who we are and who we serve as distinct from the main campus.

Author Perspective: