Big Ideas Higher Education Marketing

The Post-COVID Higher Education Marketing Saga

Colgate campus

By Sean Carton \ December 7, 2020

What does the future hold for communications in Higher Education?

As we’re sure you know, that’s not an easy question to answer. If a year ago someone had told us that colleges and universities all over the world would have to switch to online learning almost instantaneously, what would we have thought? Or that faculty and staff would work from home, students would feel uncertain about their education, and prospective students would question whether they should go to college at all? We would have thought they were alarmist at best and absolutely nuts at worst.

Welcome to the “new normal.”

By now, it’s clear that things aren’t going back to the way they used to be any time soon — if ever — no matter how much we wish they would. Too much has changed. And communications must change with it.

If there’s one word that encapsulates the past year, it’s “disruption.” The pandemic disrupted the grand narrative of our lives. With disruption comes uncertainty, and one of the first casualties of uncertainty is trust. 

Students used to trust that college was a worthwhile investment. Today, when they’re forced to learn in an environment that bears little resemblance to the “college experience” they expected, that trust is diminished.  Prospective students who’ve had their high school lives turned upside down or their work and home lives made unrecognizable are reconsidering their educational plans altogether. As recent studies show, adult learners increasingly don’t see a clear path forward anymore. That lack of clarity causes them to lose faith that more education will lead to a better career and a better life. Add to that an increasingly tenuous economic situation, and it’s no wonder that people are taking a “wait-and-see” attitude about higher education.

In times like these, communications take on increased importance. When people are confused, communication must be clear. When people feel disconnected, effective communication can help draw them together, both to each other and to the institutions they want to connect with. When people are unsure if they’re being told the truth, transparency can reassure them. And when they don’t know where to go, communication that educates and informs can show the path forward.

What’s there to do about it?

Crafting  successful communications for uncertain  times takes a mindset that says, “we’re listening to you.” It means putting aside preconceived ideas and taking the time to hear what your audiences are saying. It starts with understanding their thoughts and feelings, empathy about their situations, and the clarity to align that understanding with your institutional goals. 

At idfive, we’ve built our business around these ideals. Rather than assuming we know best, we were founded on the idea that listening to our clients and our audiences is the key to creating communications that work. It’s always been true, but it’s truer than ever in today’s world.

We can’t tell you where things will go, but we can help you get there. 

Sean Carton
Chief Strategist
Sean Carton
Chief Strategist

Sean leads our Discover360 engagements, gathering data and research to develop the insights necessary for crafting effective strategies for our clients. He has a perfectly varied background for our higher education and nonprofit partners: He’s served as everything from a dean to an adjunct professor to the co-director of a high school cybersecurity summer camp to the leader of a university 3D printing lab. Sean also has an uncanny talent for creating the perfect meme faster than you can search for one.