community college marketing budget
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Advocating for a Community College Marketing Budget when Times Are Tough

4 tips to help your marketing program earn the resources it needs to accomplish its mission.

The pandemic and looming state budget cuts have turned community colleges’ finances upside down. With enrollment trends down, community colleges are all grappling with the same question: how do we best use our resources to prepare for whatever the future has in store?

Competition for department budgets is intense. Decision-makers are mandated to scrutinize every dollar spent. Community college marketers everywhere are (or should be!) preparing a clear list of solid reasons why marketing is more crucial than ever.

Here at Aperture, we have put together four concepts to help you advocate for resources in tough times.

Tip #1: Keep decision-makers informed.

Are your decision-makers aware and up to date on the value of content marketing in positioning your institution to weather the storm? Take the time to educate them.

Content marketing is different. It is not just brand recognition. Decision-makers need to be aware of how a content marketing strategy supports every single college department. Content marketing addresses questions and provides prospective students and families with the information they need to make a confident enrollment decision. Truly inclusive content that resonates with your audience requires far more than images; it reflects audience research, thorough knowledge of the college’s interests and strengths, and current career opportunities.

This approach is always more effective because families incur substantial costs when a student or breadwinner decides to enroll. But with the population under unprecedented financial pressures, content marketing has never been more critical. In consultation with administrators and industry experts, you can devise a strategy tailored to your college’s immediate needs and long-term stakeholders.

Do you want to focus on high school students whose plans have been radically upended and may now choose to live at home? You can focus your message specifically to that demographic and choose the appropriate messaging channels.

Read our post: “5 Characteristics of Gen Z, What They Mean for Community College Enrollment.

Do you want to focus on upskilling laid-off hospitality or retail workers? Highlight programs geared to in-demand skills in your neighborhoods. Once you have a target, work with your departments to craft your message and push it out widely across multiple platforms.

By sharing useful information and educating your audience, the college increases its support among families, guidance counselors, and employers. As a result of knowledge about your programs and job opportunities, your prospective students will be more likely to enroll confidently, finish, and advocate for your school with their friends.

Good content addresses multiple audiences and showcases the best attributes of your college. It will show off notable teachers and mentors, and highlight unique opportunities and resources available to prospective students. In other words, it should answer all the critical issues facing students and families as they consider enrollment—from financial aid to job prospects.

Read our post: “What Do We Mean When We Talk about Marketing Strategy.”

Tip #2. Make the case.

When money is tight, marketing must be top-notch. Show how your marketing plan is different, versatile, and critical to the life and future of the college.

  • Return on investment (ROI) matters! Marketing’s ROI may not be immediate, but it is real, nonetheless. Long-term relationships with the community are built semester by semester. Content marketing gains community trust, wins advocates at the high school level, and creates business alliances. In other words, content marketing is like working out—it pays dividends into the future.
  • Find out which programs have high capital investment but not enough seats filled. The IPEDS report might be an excellent place to start if you don’t have ready data on your enrollment numbers. Reach out to program directors and ask how many seats need to be filled. Begin a constructive dialogue about a strategy aimed at increasing enrollment, and start with your struggling programs.
  • Tailor your marketing to the needs of those around you. The pandemic has made the skilled labor shortage much worse. In many fields, older workers who comprised the core of the skilled labor force are retiring early. The ability of community colleges to address the skilled labor shortage is a huge selling point. For example, getting the word out about your advanced mechatronics classes will not just win potential students but help develop partnerships with local businesses.
  • Expand your distribution. Avoid the temptation to retrench at the point where student recruitment is more vital than ever. Good content will win students and can be repurposed across many avenues, from blog posts on your school’s website, to printed mail pieces, to engaging Twitter and Facebook posts. The more thought given to the content piece, the more effective and longer its shelf-life will be.
  • Share content, save time, and do it right. You don’t have to invest the time and effort to research the job market and devise how to promote your programs. Partnering with Aperture Content Marketing not only means your project is handled efficiently and professionally, but much of the work is also done for you. Our content is easily customizable and based on the best practices among community colleges.

Tip #3. Speak to the college’s overall mission.

Community college presidents are always concerned about enrollment, but they are not only worried about enrollment, especially during such tumultuous times!

Presidents see the bird’s eye view of the school. They are always looking for ways to cultivate and improve the image of the college, to win advocates in the community, and solidify the college’s position as a pillar of the region.

Content marketing is one of the most effective tools to achieve these goals. Informative messaging to underserved students can secure enrollment, boost the school’s prestige, and ensure the school meets demographic targets and federal metrics. It has always been the core mission of community colleges to serve the entire community. To recover from the pandemic’s economic impact, it is critical that the underserved population not be left behind.

Read our post: “How to Build Trust Among Students Among Tough Times.”

Tip #4. Be visionary, but stay grounded.

Be creative and concrete when you explain your ideas. At the same time, double down on strategic, long-term thinking.

Is your school involved in community outreach programs? Are you showcasing pathways to careers and jobs? Speak to the college’s enrollment center. They will have good ideas for content—perhaps interesting success stories of diverse students or new scholarship opportunities in select fields. Have your nursing graduates been local heroes during the pandemic? Does your school have partnerships with local organizations that help improve the economic health of the community? Where are you making a difference?

Content marketing can tell these stories, explain college initiatives, and focus a broad audience on the school’s social contribution during these challenging times. This content is easily transformed into email blasts, social media posts, or features on the college’s homepage. When crafting your budget appeal, demonstrate the multi-faceted purposes of content marketing. The key takeaway is that content marketing strategies can conserve resources while supporting enrollment and maximizing effective relationships with your community.

Show your community that your college is there for them.

Community colleges anchor our communities during good times and bad. Your college’s role in supporting students and workers during this pandemic will not be forgotten. Make sure you get the message out to them with thoughtful content. It will go a long way to shore up enrollment in the short-term while keeping an eye on your institution’s long-term stability.

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