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Jennifer Papadakis, Wright State University

Jennifer Papadakis.jpgAs institutions of higher education face increased budget cuts and reduced state support, academic departments are forced to become increasingly self-supported.  Department-level academic advising offices must evolve and compete for support while serving the ever-changing needs of their students. While geography once determined enrollment, globalization has given students myriad options and they have come to expect a new level of service (Brown, 2004). The Psychology Department at Wright State University in Dayton, Ohio offers a model for implementing marketing efforts at the department level that serve to increase visibility and student retention while fostering departmental growth in a time of fiscal tightening.

Marketing and branding functions are often performed at the highest levels within an institution; however, intentional marketing can and should be done at the departmental level. Departmental academic advising offices can create marketing plans that fit within the university’s strategic plan but are tailored for the students in the major they serve (Brown, 2004). While marketing efforts were once considered taboo in academia, increased competition has forced strategic planning at all levels (Constantinides & Zinck Stagno, 2011).  In addition, marketing efforts such as branding, program outreach, and social media programming create necessary cohesion, unified efforts, and a sense of belonging for students.

Branding

Departments are unique ecosystems within their institutions, each with their own culture surrounding their subject areas. The act of branding engages a department in identifying key pedagogies, learning outcomes, and characteristics that form an overarching identity for the faculty, staff, and students. The brand solidifies the goals and mission of the team and gives each academic advisor a charge within their daily work and a cemented sense of belonging to the team. Branding can also serve as a sort of built-in quality control, as all academic advisors are expected to represent the brand and adopt the values of the department within their own pedagogy (Waeraas & Solbakk, 2009, 450).

Branding requires departments to have a well-rounded profile of their students. This knowledge of the demographic served by academic advisors in a given department allows for tailored marketing as well as tailored curriculum and support services. When possible, department-level academic advisors should gather statistics on their student body regarding at-risk factors, rate of transfer and stop-out rates and probation.

Branding uniquely serves students as well. Interactions with the department academic advising office are more unified and the student benefits from a broader sense of community and belonging. Research shows that a student’s sense of belonging to their learning institution is fundamental to success and the academic department serves as the entry-level arena for such relationship building (Brewer, von Hippel & Gooden, 1999). 

Program Promotion

In an ever competitive market, academic programs must learn to highlight their strengths and sell them to students. Financial models based on program enrollment are becoming more common and make smart marketing of academic programs mandatory. At the departmental level, such marketing starts with brainstorming the assets of the curriculum and how it might cater to other students on campus.

Academic departments might consider promotional activities to support increased enrollment in minor or certificate programs. Communicating across colleges ensures that a department stays informed of cross-listed courses and in turn, what students would be served by dual-major promotions or email notification of a new special topics course. Such program promotion need not be aggressive or intrusive to other departments but allows academic advisors to ensure student satisfaction through tailored curriculums.

A surprising benefit of program promotion is increased visibility among students. The Psychology Undergraduate Program office at WSU sets up informational tables a few times a semester where students can get more information on minors, the psychology program and concentration options. While a number of new students visit the tables, many students currently enrolled in the major take the opportunity to reconnect with their academic advisor or ask specific questions of the student representatives. Offering regular connections with academic advisors outside of the office setting is a powerful student success practice, and involvement in the campus community can work to serve a dual purpose of student success and marketing goals (Cannon, 2013).

Social Media

Departmental Facebook™ pages are becoming increasingly popular but are not always expertly managed.  Such platforms should be updated regularly and consistently—ideally, by the same person with the same voice and style – and should be used as modes of two-way communication rather than editable billboards (Constantinides & Zinck Stagno, 2011).

The PUP Office at WSU has had success posting videos to this website as well as student testimonies and content that is easily shareable. Dynamic, informative content serves to solidify the brand of the department while giving students a feeling of belonging that lends itself to retention.

Helpful Tips

All marketing decisions should be data-driven and created in response to student’s needs (Brown, 2004, 52). In this way, marketing at the departmental level is beneficial for students as academic advisors are armed with a thorough understanding of their student population and make informed, purposeful curriculum and process decisions. In addition, an academic advisor that has a thorough student profile can compete more easily for limited university resources. The PUP office at WSU has welcomed graduate teaching assistants from local higher education graduate programs to serve as research and data collectors as well as social media marketing interns. To meet the demands of comprehensive marketing efforts, advisors and directors must creatively problem solve and utilize various resources.

Marketing at the department level is evolving quickly in response to a changing climate in higher education. Academic advising programs can utilize marketing practices to increase student success while supporting department enrollment and retention. Marketing practices demand that academic advisor remain aware and supportive of their brand that represents the unique curriculum and pedagogies offered within their department. While marketing practices remain relatively new in academe, an expanding and diversified market calls for innovative approaches to program growth and development.

Jennifer Papadakis
Academic Advisor
Department of Psychology
Wright State University
Jennifer.papadakis@wright.edu

References

Anctil, E.J.  (2008). Marketing and advertising higher education.  ASHE Higher Education Report (34)2, 19-30. Academic Search Complete.

Brewer, M.B., von Hippel, W., & Gooden, M.P. (1999). Diversity and organizational identity: The problem of entree' after entry.  In D. Prentice & D. Miller (Eds.), Cultural divides: Understanding & Overcoming Group Conflict, 337-363.  New York: Russell Sage Foundation.

Brown, J.A.  (2004). Marketing and retention strategies for adult degree programs. New Directions For Adult & Continuing Education 103: 51-60. Academic Search Complete.

Cannon, J. (2013, Mar). Intrusive advising 101: How to be intrusive without intruding. Academic Advising Today (36)1.  Retrieved from https://www.nacada.ksu.edu/Resources/Academic-Advising-Today/View-Articles/Intrusive-Advising-101-How-to-be-Intrusive-Without-Intruding.aspx

Constantinides, E., & Zinck Stagno, M.C. (2011).  Potential of the social media as instruments of higher education marketing: A segmentation study." Journal of Marketing For Higher Education (21)1. 7-24. Academic Search Complete.

Drake, J.K. (2011). "The role of academic advising in student retention and persistence. About Campus (16)3. 8-12. Academic Search Complete.

Wæraas, A., & Solbakk, M. (2009). Defining the essence of a university: Lessons from higher hducation branding.  Higher Education (57)4, 449-462. Academic Search Complete.

Cite this article using APA style as: Papadakis, J. (2013, June). Increasing visibility and student retention: Marketing within a departmental academic advising office. Academic Advising Today, 36(2). Retrieved from [insert url here]
Posted in: 2013 June 36:2

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