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Nurturing your Community College Brand

Is your college brand giving your school a competitive edge?

Community college enrollment numbers are counter-cyclical, so low unemployment generally has had a negative impact on enrollment numbers. Right now, declining enrollment a top concern for community college presidents, with 68% reporting that enrollment management is a big challenge for their institution

Even though there are some positive signs that the next generation of students, Gen Z, will be enthusiastically filling classroom seats, community colleges are worried about falling enrollment among older, non-traditional students. Unfortunately, enrollment among this demographic has declined nationally by 1.5 million since 2010.

Difficult seasons often prove a good time to re-evaluate. To compete for new students, community colleges are adding new programs, focusing on transfer agreements with four-year institutions, and moving classes online. Marketing initiatives are also increasingly important – even local students have to be won over.

That’s why it’s time to ask whether your current branding strategy is really helping your school define and promote your vision.

Are you telling your story?

Community colleges are the local, affordable choice for students. It’s not wrong to focus on these aspects of your school in your marketing materials, but if that’s all you’re communicating you’re missing an opportunity to make your school stand out from the competition.

Lackluster appeals to convenience won’t build a unique college brand. Worse, they play into many of the negative stereotypes students already have about community colleges.

We know that community colleges are unique as the students and communities they serve. Our campuses are diverse hubs where many students are engaged in interesting projects and preparing for challenging, in-demand careers. Don’t surrender to the narrative that community colleges are a last resort.

Are you being consistent?

Prospective students are researching your school in so many more ways than they ever were before. They’ll visit your social media pages, check out your website, pick up brochures, receive a mailing, sign up for texts, download an app – and the list goes on.

The good news is that this all means that colleges have unprecedented access to prospective students. It also means that without clear and consistent branding it’s easy for your marketing message to become confused. Your college may have many people, or even different offices, tasked with various aspects of your print and digital marketing campaigns.

Still, it’s important to coordinate all web and print materials so that students encounter a recognizable and authoritative brand. Make sure that your taglines, theme colors, and brand story are unified across all channels.

Are you paying attention to the research?

Some community colleges can’t afford to conduct their own research, or to hire an outside firm to conduct surveys, run focus groups, and do other tests. Still, as much as possible marketing campaigns should be fact-based, drawing from reliable sources of information.

These sources come in many forms, and they don’t all require six-figure budgets. Industry leaders, politicians, alumni and engaged community members can offer informal but useful assessments of the college brand. By cultivating relationships with the community, college presidents can get important feedback on their marketing.

Are you needlessly discouraged?

David H. Kalsbeek and Brian Zucker note in their paper “Markets and Market Niches” that, even though trustees, presidents and provosts often talk about how to brand or position a school differently, it isn’t easy execute (99). A college brand already exists in the mind of key audiences, who’ve made judgements about the relative value of the school.

Significantly advancing a college’s market position may require a very focused effort on enrollment management and marketing. This can take time, and it’s easy to become discouraged about the process.

However, there are some things that you can do to see immediate results, like launching a strong, well-executed content marketing campaign.  If you need your enrollment numbers to change right now, this is a proven solution for every college.

When is it time to call in the professionals?

If none of your marketing efforts seem to be showing a return on investment; if you feel like you’re not reaching the right demographic; or if you think it’s time for a whole new approach, then maybe you should reach out to the marketing professionals. We all can benefit from an outside perspective sometimes.

That’s where Aperture Content Marketing can help. We can share our demographic research, analyze how your marketing performs, and improve your outreach. We also offer the tools to quickly assemble multi-channel content marketing campaigns. From print to social media, we know how to promote your institution, and we can work with every budget. Contact us today for a demonstration of our services.


Kalsbeek, David H. and Brian Zucker. “Markets and Market Niches.” ed. Don Hossler and Bob Bontrager. Handbook of Strategic Enrollment Management. vol. first edition, San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass, 2015