Higher education faces challenges as schools prepare to open (and after)

Issue:

An article in the Wall Street Journal explains the calculations and considerations that go into bringing people back to campus, moving toward more online coursework, and heaven forbid, how a school should respond to a resurgence of Coronavirus once the school year is underway.

Opportunity/Idea:

Colleges and universities are likely to face a variety of challenges and rapidly changing conditions for the foreseeable future. For example, how can the school justify little or no adjustment to tuition even thought much of their curriculum has moved online? Beyond attracting last year's student body back to campus, how do you recruit this year's new students and freshmen? There will be a lot of questions, and answering them will require skilled communication. They need you now more than ever.

Remember, also, that the demand for school is evolving. Millions of Americans found themselves out of work due to the pandemic, and research suggests that many of those jobs are gone for good (see this story from USA Today). That means a lot of people will need to re-tool, and that often means heading back to school.

As you approach this category, know that not all schools will be in a position to spend; this NBC News story explains that a large number of colleges are financially distressed. But it's still a category worth prospecting, as some schools are getting aggressive—and creative—about the way they "go to market." Examples are found in this edition of The Hechinger Report.

Ways you might use this issue to gain an appointment:

  • Share a link to the WSJ article, and suggest that while the school may have direct contact information for current and former students, you're in a position to help build smart communication plans for future and prospective students.
  • Let them know that CMG Custom Research has studied consumer sentiment in your market through the Covid Benchmark Study, and that you can help shed light on some important issues.
  • Explore your local Scarborough or Marshall Marketing qualitative data to understand how you reach people who may have worked in tourism, hospitality, food service, or other fields that were heavily impacted by pandemic-related job losses.
  • Suggest that, "We have the kinds of resources to both understand and respond to the communication needs of your school and your students. A meeting [next week] would be a smart use of time."

Using this issue in a Needs Analysis:

  • Share the USA Today article to help frame the question, "A substantial number of laid-off workers don't believe they will be going back to the same job, or even the same career. Do you expect a re-tooling of the workforce that might help drive demand for college enrollment in our market?"
  • Share a copy of the Wall Street Journal story to help frame the question: "Do you have fluid plans to expand online coursework in the event of a second wave of Coronavirus, and if so, how are you explaining to prospective students who might otherwise be reluctant to enroll right now?"
  • What kinds of financial aid programs are available to prospective students that may be in the market for classes because of a job loss?
  • Make sure you ask the school about structural changes to the MBA programs. As this story from the Wall Street Journal explains, this once-lucrative set of programs is under pressure because of restrictions to in-person participation (when part of the value of an MBA program, even more than in other courses, comes from interaction with professors and networking with fellow students).

Sources:

https://www.wsj.com/articles/college-reopening-plans-include-how-many-coronavirus-cases-would-close-them-again-11596533400

https://www.usatoday.com/story/money/2020/07/29/almost-half-of-all-jobs-lost-during-coronavirus-may-be-gone-permanently/112446072/

https://www.nbcnews.com/news/education/crisis-looming-u-s-colleges-not-just-because-pandemic-n1235338

https://hechingerreport.org/some-colleges-seek-radical-solutions-to-survive/

https://www.usatoday.com/story/money/2020/08/10/coronavirus-half-college-students-plan-return-campus-fall/3301787001/

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