Higher Ed Marketing: Marching Onward

For those tracking the tectonic shift among major college football affiliations, last week’s announcement that Notre Dame University would leave the Big East and join (reluctantly?) the Atlantic Coast Conference amounted to the last big rock falling. What’s any of it have to do with higher ed marketing?

While it’s easy to dismiss these front page courtships and betrayals in college football as a pure money grab, they shed light on a larger question: do we work from a narrow and outdated model of competition/cooperation in higher education broadly, and in higher ed marketing specifically?

If Notre Dame and Clemson suddenly share a vague geographic claim to the Atlantic seaboard, then maybe the two schools have more to offer their representative student bodies than just a weekend road trip. And what about the higher ed marketing teams for these and other affiliated schools? Can they put down their cost-per-click metrics long enough to see new collaborative possibilities?

Can Notre Dame sustainable MBA students learn something from a Clemson University physics professor working with carbon nanomaterials for energy storage? And can higher ed marketing folks think beyond another predictable, chest-thumping halftime video?

While higher education has historically organized itself into precise tiers and segments — acutely aware of endowment, prestige, rankings, etc. — some have already seen beyond those imposed boundaries. While the Annapolis Group may not want to court every member of the Council of Independent Colleges, it may be that those symbolic gestures and slights have already become less important if not irrelevant.

Media scholar Henry Jenkins predicted a different future several years back in his article in the Chronicle of Higher Education. As someone who works in higher ed marketing across many types of colleges, my thinking was forever changed by the observations Jenkins makes. His thesis is simple — let the walls between colleges come down and allow students and faculty to form a new, neural network of affiliations and shared interests.

So what if West Virginia and Oklahoma — both in a new 10-member Big-12 alliance — confound Rand McNally. Look past the obvious and you start to see that in programmatic and research areas like oil and gas development and environmental enforcement, students from these schools (and higher ed marketing teams) might come together to shape a better tomorrow.