community colleges can learn from Entrepreneurs
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What Community Colleges Can Learn from Entrepreneurs

Being in the business of education

Since most community colleges are nonprofit institutions, we don’t always think of them as businesses. After all, community colleges exist to give students a life-changing education regardless of the bottom-line. Affordable tuition rates, Pell Grants, and low-interest student loans, make an education possible for everyone.

Still, the bottom-line does matter. As enrollment drops and state budgets get slashed, some community colleges are fighting to survive. Here are a few entrepreneurial strategies that can improve student enrollment and raise your academic profile.

Identify Your Strategic Resources

A successful business knows how to identify the assets that make it stand out from the competition. These can be human capital, organizational processes, or physical assets. Once the business has identified its key strategic resources, it knows the most valuable things it has to offer potential customers and shareholders. This means that the business can focus on effectively delivering these valuable resources to consumers.

For a business this might mean promoting an especially effective worker or marketing a successful product. In a university it means sending prospective students to visit the class of a particularly charismatic professor or streamlining your school’s financial aid processes. It’s unlikely that any school or business is superior to the competition in every way but highlighting what makes you stand out is the key to market appeal.

What’s your Absorptive Capacity?

Businesses that succeed have a particularly high absorptive capacity. A company’s absorptive capacity is its ability to recognize and assimilate new and valuable information. For instance, an IT department must learn to predict technical malfunctions and security threats, or a marketing firm must understand the purchasing patterns of each successive generation.

Community colleges can also improve their absorptive capacity. Whether it’s understanding why certain students aren’t finishing their degrees or predicting what majors will be most popular for the next few years, community colleges need to quickly assimilate important information.

Can your staff innovate?

Sometimes the best ideas come from rank-and-file employees, and smart businesses take advantage of this. For instance, Google encourages its employees to spend 20% of their time at work exploring side projects. It’s thanks to the twenty-percent rule that the world has AdSense, Gmail, Google Maps, and Google News, which all started as employee passion projects.

Even in an academic institution, employees can be invaluable resources. For instance, the person who redirects students fifty times a day probably knows what signage is confusing, and a concerned professor can usually name the students who need some additional help. Employees should be encouraged to innovate and suggest changes that will help the school succeed in its broader mission.

Are you competitive with other community colleges?

Unlike businesses which are directly competing with one another for market share, community colleges usually serve a specific local community and do not compete with their sister institutions. However, this does not mean that community colleges shouldn’t spend time differentiating themselves from other colleges. A strong school identity is an important selling point.

If there are a few community colleges and technical schools in your area, your marketing department should emphasize what makes your school stand out. If your print and web materials show nothing unique or distinctive, your school will be forgettable to prospective students. Offer a glimpse of what makes your community college special, different, or even better than the alternatives.

Do you have a marketing strategy?

Particularly at small community colleges, marketing departments are tasked with doing a multitude of tasks on a limited budget. With so much to do and so few resources it’s not surprising that schools often have trouble coming up with a broad marketing strategy. But how can you tell whether your marketing budget has been optimized?

Sometimes it’s time to call in an expert, and that’s where we come in. We know how to support college marketing departments in creating smart and effective campaigns that deliver real results. With print and digital strategies that are keeping pace with the 21st century, we will work with your marketing department to create a comprehensive strategy that reaches prospective students.

So, if you need help with a marketing strategy that will boost your profits like a company’s, reach out to us for a demonstration today. By combining your heart for education and our head for business, community colleges can keep transforming lives for generations.


Herman, Adam. “Strategic Thinking Enrollment Organizations.” ed. Don Hossler and Bob Bontrager. Handbook of Strategic Enrollment Management. vol. first edition, San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass, 2015