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  • Writer's pictureDave Burke

The Four C's to Combat the "Prove It!" Problem

Updated: Feb 10

We have a "Prove it" problem in higher education. Even though recent political administrations and the media have cranked up both the heat and the spotlight on colleges and universities, demanding more transparency and effectiveness related to student outcomes, institutional ability to tell that story well is severely lacking.

What I have observed over the years from dozens of campus assessments, visits and consulting engagements is that precious few of our private institutions are doing the disciplined work of supporting their value proposition with a comprehensive promotional package surrounding outcomes. This is particularly true when we fly lower than 10,000 feet in terms of institutional story-telling and get into the program-by-program details that provide compelling evidence to interested students. In an increasingly competitive environment where the commoditization of a college degree is on the rise, those who "sell specifically" to a new generation of savvy prospects (and their influencers) are bound to win and pull marketshare from those who can't find their voice.

So what are the secrets to a robust and effective outcomes culture then?

Think about the Four Cs:

  • Commitment: This is not complex work, but it takes discipline and determination.

  • Collaboration: Who needs to be involved? Who is leading the charge and herding the cats? Who are your value proposition standard-bearers?

  • Consitency: Not episodic, but systematic in nature to stay relevant and compelling.

  • Communication: What does promotion look like? How do we appeal to various types of individuals who absorb information differently? What is worthy of multi-channel repetition to ensure the message gets out?

I'll dig into each of these components in future Legacy Lessons, but let me offer some food for thought. Many have often heard the phrase in higher education circles "If student retention is everyone's job, it really is no one's job." Well, let me challenge us to think about value proposition and ourcomes work the same way. We can assemble a task force, or form a committee, to lay out a strategic direction and even manage a few wins along the way. But, if no one is laying their head on their pillow at night feeling responsible for moving the institution forward in an aggressive way along these promotional lines, the work is likely to find the same fate as the seed in Mark 4 that fell along the path, devoured by birds (i.e. other priorities, plans and purposes from our primary responsibilities) and forgotten.

Is this specific endeavor worth the attention of a full-time position on your campus? I think it merits at least a serious conversation within institutional leadership circles, and on most campuses I can't imagine a personnel development with more opportunity for impact on enrollment.

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