Universities are big businesses.
Whether they make budget or a profit is irrelevant. Their product can cost upwards of $60,000 a year, and that price has increased more than any other product in any other sector. The largest public university, Arizona State, has 76,000 students, about the same as Apple has employees. Additionally, many university presidents, team coaches, and endowment fund managers are paid salaries and bonuses that are on par with those of big business executives.
Furthermore, these organizations often spend record sums on the same things as major businesses—new products, better services, beautiful facilities, and star faculty.
However, the issue is not how higher education arrived at this point, but rather how schools can compete in a sector that has become commoditized due to high costs and indistinguishable offerings, and where there’s immense pressure to maintain or grow current enrollment and build their endowments.
Working with outside communications professionals has played an important role in helping our college and university clients differentiate their brands and support specific business objectives.
The effort for Miami University and its business school has focused on building a distinct identity to attract out-of-state students. In the case of Drexel University, the emphasis has been on generating exposure that will draw support for the president’s economic development and urban revitalization vision to enhance and grow the university.
Each of these institutions understands that offering “a good education” is no longer enough, and that they need to differentiate their brands to achieve their goals.
The bottom line is that in a sector that’s become increasingly commoditized, it’s critical for universities to build effective public relations and marketing initiatives that will communicate a distinct identity and in turn support specific business objectives.
– George Sopko