Publications & Products
Volume 4, Issue 10

Market Research Key to Effective Institutional Marketing

A community attitude and awareness survey is one of the best ways that communications and marketing professionals at community colleges can measure the effectiveness of their efforts, says a practitioner.

Courtney Clarke, director of strategic communications at Cuyahoga Community College in Cleveland, Ohio, notes that her institution has been conducting market research in its community periodically since the late 1990s. In particular, the research has been used to gauge community support prior to votes on property tax levies that help fund the institution. In 2009, the institution started conducting community surveys annually to gather even more information.

"You need to sit down with your [advancement] leadership team to determine what kinds of data you need," Clarke says. "You can ask a zillion different questions, and respondents only have the patience to respond to a set number."

Cuyahoga's survey is designed to measure the community's opinion of the institution overall and how its quality relates to other colleges and universities in the area. In addition, the survey also gauges the importance of a college education to the respondents, their interest in taking college classes, what college they might attend and in what types of classes they might have an interest. Finally, the survey inquires where respondents get news and information and asks what kind of advertising copy about the college might boost their impression of it.

"People's attention spans are only so big," Clarke says. "We can't just broadcast everything about the college to everyone. A survey like this can reveal which gaps in the community's perception of the college are most important."

For example, Clarke notes that recent Cuyahoga surveys reveal that many members of the community are concerned about the cost of higher education. She has responded by crafting more marketing messages that emphasize the value of community colleges. Many advertisements and communications about the college now tout that it has the lowest tuition in northeast Ohio. In addition, the college is targeting students from nearby four-year institutions who may wish to fulfill general education credits at a lower cost at the college during their summer break.

Clarke says the Cuyahoga survey costs about $30,000 annually to conduct. The investment is worth the knowledge gained, she says.

"More and more, community colleges and other higher education institutions are being judged by their performance," she says. "Our marketing efforts have to show a return on investment. If you don't know what the market perceptions of your institution are, how can you address them in a realistic fashion?"

To learn more about how to conduct a community attitude and awareness survey, attend the CASE webinar hosted by Clarke and Kathy Severinski, senior partner at the TRIAD Research Group, on May 12, 2015.

This article is from the April 2015 issue of the Community College Advancement News.

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