Marketing

Overview

Communication is a major component of an effective learn-and-work ecosystem, and marketing is key to an overall effective communications strategy. Marketing’s main goal is to educate and advertise a product, service, idea, or organization. An example is getting the word out about the availability of specific incremental credential programs, especially for students and employers.

Communication focuses on conveying a specific message and is not synonymous with to advertising. The message, for example, maybe “making the case” for the importance of various actions within the learn-and-work ecosystem—raising awareness of new approaches and building support for these approaches.   

One of the challenges in getting the word out about innovations in credentialing is understanding the tensions between traditional postsecondary education and alternatives such as non-degree credential programs. For example, marketing will not be effective if traditional components of the higher education system prefer to market their degrees rather than—or as superior to—other credentials such as microcredentials, badges, and certificates. Some key challenges for effective marketing in higher education are described below. 

Communications/Marketing Challenges

Titling / Descriptions: Titling and describing the array of credentials clearly is essential for effective marketing. Without clear and sufficient information about the credential, learners and employers will not be well served. 

Competing priorities: Non-degree or microcredentials often compete with traditional certificate and degree programs, and various groups at the higher education institution may not be committed to market all credentials equally. This often puts microcredentials on a lower tier for marketing services. 

Attractive content: It’s not always easy to make the content of credentials attractive and compelling to learners and employers through marketing (via social media, websites, newsletters, posters, etc.). Faculty typically aren’t trained to do effective marketing; communications staff are needed to help get the word out. 

Shortages and high turnover of staffStaff shortages and changes in staffing complicate the task of marketing new credentials. 

Quality issues: If learners and employers do not think a type of credential is high quality, all the marketing in the world won’t build trust in the new credentials.

Principles of good practice: Principles of good practice in the marketing of new credentials are seldom identified but are needed to guide efforts to get the word out.

Alternate Terminology

Advertising
Campaigns

Examples

Credential As You Go is an initiative that seeks to transform the nation’s current degree-centric system to an incremental credentialing system. It features three main types of communications and marketing:

  • Through a national campaign, build awareness of the need to transform the current higher education system to an incremental credentialing system. This involves communicating through social media; newsletters and websites; news reports; and presentations and webinars. Research findings must be shared that provide evidence that an incremental credentialing works better for learners, employers, and other stakeholders. 
  • At the state level,  share news about legislative changes and policymakers’ calls for action on this issue; state approval of new programs (typically reported on websites); governors’ speeches and announcements that signal changes in states’ credentialing systems; messages from college and university leaders about trends and changes afoot—all designed to garner widespread attention.
  • At the level of individual credential providers, we must use a variety of messaging and marketing tools. 

  Some avenues for sharing information include:

  • Websites and college catalogs. Credential providers may have multiple websites to use—the all-campus website and/or the program website. They also use their college catalogs—in some cases one catalog for credit-bearing courses and programs and another for non-credit. Providers often include wage information and return-on-investment (ROI) data for various credentials. They describe pathways and courses, including prerequisites and costs. They often feature stories of successful students in credential programs at the website; and may include messages from employers indicating they value certain credentials. 
  • Employers. Larger employers, especially, are important communicators.  They share information with employees through newsletters, intranet emails, and websites. Through these vehicles, they describe education programs. provide information about company tuition assistance plans, and share news of partnerships with colleges, or the availability of apprenticeships and other learn-and-work options.
  • High-level leadership.  Ranking leaders can build credibility for incremental credentials via audio or video messages on program and college websites.
  • Academic Advising and Prior Learning Assessment. These offices provide information directly to learners and assess skills and other types of learning acquired outside the academic classroom.
  • System-level databases/websites. Some credential providers submit their credentials to system-level platforms—that is if they are in a system that consolidates credentials. They may also submit their credentials to national platforms, and/or intermediary websites.
  • Posters and fliers. Credential providers often carry the message about new credentials and credential pathways through messages posted around campus and at employer and community sites. Fliers are also used in direct mail. 
  • Social media. This is an increasingly popular way to get the word out: through Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, blogs, and other social media outlets. 
  • Verification. Verifying and recording credentials sends an important message about their value to learners and employers. Providers can record credentials in the college transcript and work with students to include them in student-owned e-portfolios and resumés.

Websites are especially key in communicating about the learn- and-work ecosystem, especially among credentials and providers.  Some examples:

The SUNY Microcredentials page is a state-level database of credentials that enables marketing and communications about credentials at multiple institutions. When you click the “Find your SUNY Microcredential” link on the homepage, the search feature shown in the accompanying image is displayed.

Wake Tech Community College’s Powerpack shows how credentials are linked to workforce titles.  As students search through the available power pack options, they can see the details of each. The detail includes the intended audience, description, price, outlines, and requirements. A link to register is displayed on the same page.

Mohawk Valley Community College’s Microcredential page lists microcredentials that are offered in specific schools at MVCC – such as the School of Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math. In this case, eight programs are displayed.  

Another page on the MVCC site markets a  stackable credentials path for those who want to learn about remotely piloted aircraft. Students, employers, and others can see the flexible entrance and exit points and three microcredentials that enable students to go right into employment as a drone maintenance technician, drone pilots, or GIS technician. The pathway also enables students to move through these microcredentials with additional coursework and a capstone to the associate degree requirements.

The University at Albany-SUNY markets a badge issued through Credly,  a global open badge platform. 

The University of Colorado-Boulder provides information about new microcredential and digital badge programs on its website.

A third-party provider, AARP, works with MindEdge Learning to offer courses to boost the careers of the 50+ population. Its site provides information about MindEdge Learning certificates that learners can pursue.

The University of Maryland Global Campus uses its website to market services in advising and prior learning assessment—showing how it can turn an industry certification into college credit. 

Unmudl is an intermediary that offers a platform of noncredit and credit short courses from community colleges that participate in Unmudl provides information at its website, including links to registration for courses.

References

Sefcik, Susie. (March 26, 2018). Marketing, Public Relations, Social Media. https://www.directdevelopmentpr.com/understanding-difference-pr-marketing/

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