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Improving Diversity Marketing in Higher Education

Posted by Jake Solyst | October 30, 2017 | 11:37am

Recently Rebecca Darmoc, a Marketing Director at Rush University College of Nursing, wrote for Inside Higher Ed’s Call to Action blog. She tackled the topic of diversity marketing within higher education, which she rightfully claims can be done better.

In the blog, Darmoc references a 2013 study on the student diversity rate of schools versus what their marketing materials actually portrayed. Not surprisingly, the study revealed schools weren’t as diverse as their viewbooks lead on. But does that make the schools dishonest?

Promoting diversity has always been a tricky matter. Marketers want to be authentic, but they also want to attract a range of potential students. The easiest way is to simply give students from various races a visual presence on the website, in viewbooks and in any other promotional material.

The easiest way. But not the best way.

Darmoc argues that a better way to reach a more diverse population of prospective students is by looking beyond race, ethnicity, or sexual background. Instead, celebrate their personal traits, passions and interests.

For example, let’s say a minority student is considering a school where a small percentage of the student base are minorities. While that student may be encouraged to see someone who looks like her on the cover of a student viewbook, she may be even more encouraged to see a student with the same interests or values as her — such as  family, music and science. This type of representation is not only more compelling, but it treats minority students as more dynamic individuals with identities that transcend race and ethnicity.

By focusing on these deeper personal traits and stories —and not just images — marketing materials can engage a wider range of students and unite them, despite their differences. Considering race and gender are more obvious/visible, how can marketers show the overarching values and interests of students?

  1. Create content that tells relatable student stories. This video created by Clemson University, for example, features a woman of color, but makes the story about her drive, passion, goals, and the role Clemson University played in guiding her. The story is relatable beyond race and gender, making it more effective in connecting with audiences.
  2. Write inclusive web and print copy. idfive’s copywriter Ben Johnson believes marketing copy can reflect an institution’s level of inclusiveness. Language, styles, and word choice have subtle coding attached to them — such as the decision to use gendered or non-gendered pronouns, refraining from the use of  “they” or “those people” to describe ethnic groups, etc. If you want to promote diversity, especially for younger generations who have vocabularies and sensibilities that have been tuned over the years to respond to inclusivity, be conscious of your word choice.
  3. Implement practical web functions. A simple language translation feature on your website can make the process of getting to know your school far easier for families with non-English speaking parents or guardians. Complying with website accessibility standards is also important so that you can ensure you’re not alienating any students or parents with certain disabilities.

These approaches don’t just improve the way we communicate to minority students, they improve the way we communicate to all students.

Content that focuses on the person and their story is more relatable and engaging than just a picture or a statistic. Likewise, inclusive writing and practical web functions geared towards non-English speakers and those with accessibility issues let students know that your school appreciates and is committed to people of all backgrounds.

This might not be the easy way to do things. But it’s the right way.