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Who Manages The Relationship With Area Employers? Hint: It’s Not Always Career Services

In our previous post in the series – “Closing The Perception Gap: Are Students Trained to Put Theory Into Practice?”- we briefly touched on the importance of advancing communications and partnerships with employers to improve the general perception about a college or universities ability to deliver on career preparation. The focus was primarily on strategies that enable students to put theory into practice. When you consider developing partnerships at the executive level, doors can open that lead to true innovation.

While internships, hands-on training and job placement opportunities are vitally important to hiring rates and alumnae career trajectories, this aspect of the employer to institution relationship is largely handled in career services departments and is almost entirely student-focused. If this is the only way the institution is engaging employers, it’s likely that significant longer-term growth strategies have been missed.

Especially important to regional public universities and small private colleges are the following questions. What local or regional challenges exist that your graduates may be highly qualified to resolve? Will they be able to develop specific skills or knowledge that give them the competitive advantage in the hiring process?

Put Market Research To Work

The Melior Group worked with a quasi-urban school district in helping them to develop and enhance partnerships with universities who, with some tweaking, could develop programs that would deliver top-notch teachers who were ready to step-in and work in the type of environment where the district is located. A true partnership, the school district worked directly with faculty to make a direct and significant positive impact on area schools.

Along the way, The Melior Group made an informed pivot in their research design and adjusted geographic parameters to discover that there were nearby rural area school districts that could also benefit greatly from the same innovative techniques. The graduates, armed with the know-how to handle challenges perceived to be urban would also be well suited to assist specific rural populations.

Original Innovation Serves A Second Purpose

Universities that are new to this type of partnership development will want to re-examine the relationships they currently have with area employers by proactively asking insightful questions. What are these employers looking for from a partnership with a university? What unique quality can the university offer an employer to make the relationship valuable?

Buy-in from the top of the administration – with accountability and responsibility at the Vice Presidential level – to develop healthy relationships with employers can significantly increase hiring rates, elevate the school’s image as an innovative partner and substantially improve the longer-term vitality of the community.

The Melior Group works with large research institutions, regional public universities and small private colleges to improve the perception of their schools’ effectiveness by discovering where gaps in perception exist and drilling into what strategic mix of programmatic, communication and partnership initiatives can allow institutions to more easily deliver on expectations.


To learn more about our work with colleges and universities, visit our Education page or please contact Elizabeth Foley at efoley@meliorgroup.com / 215-545-0054 x111 or Linda McAleer at lmcaleer@meliorgroup.com / 215-545-0054 x104.

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Are Students Trained To Put Theory Into Practice?

How to improve perceptions and deliver on the promise of a valuable college education is a hot topic in higher education today. Through our experience working with employers and educational institutions, The Melior Group has learned that perceptions around this topic are often off the mark. At the crux of the research, The Melior Group has become aware of what could be called “An Exploration Gap.” In Part 2 of our series we explore the need for schools to help students put theory into practice.

Heavy Dose Of Real World Experience
We have learned that employers prefer candidates who can hit the ground running in their first professional job. What knowledge, abilities and experiences do employers expect this student to possess?

  • Ability to tie classroom knowledge to the professional environment
  • Have developed hard and soft skills such as such as project management, independent problem solving, clear writing and communications.
  • Diverse internship experience(s) working in a range of different areas of their desired industry.

Round Out An Individual’s Value To The Organization

With an increasingly competitive hiring environment and more cross-functional roles, employers want candidates who have been given meaningful opportunities for learning and growth. Academically strong students who have not applied classroom knowledge to the real world are at a disadvantage. Employers expect universities to assist students in obtaining internships and skill sets that help them:

  • Learn the basics of being a part of the workforce.
  • Understand how people problem-solve in a professional setting.
  • Use critical thinking skills that will contribute to their value in an organization.

Approach a new employer with a unique point of view (e.g. having interned with a competitor, a funding source, a client or a vendor.)

Today’s entry-level workforce needs a combination of softer project management skills, harder field-related skills and applied industry knowledge — and employers expect universities to deliver graduates with this combination.

Close The Gap With Communication and Partnership
Many colleges are perceived by employers to be missing the mark in preparing students for these challenges post-graduation. But, the good news is that employers welcome opportunities to learn more and discuss how graduates are being prepared for the workforce.  

In approaching employers, colleges need to demonstrate that internship programs offered are sufficient to meet the needs of both students and prospective employers. As well, the messages they’re delivering to prospective employers should showcase student internship success stories and the programs being offered (industry-relevant) and the successful outcomes from those programs.

Human Resource departments go to great expense but are often unable to find qualified talent that meets their needs. Employers actively seek to forge relationships with schools who are interested to develop students who can fulfill these roles. Colleges and Universities can take steps to develop partnerships that may include guest speakers, internship, training and job placement opportunities. Ongoing communications with employers are critical towards closing the perception gap.


The Melior Group works with large research institutions, regional public universities and small private colleges to improve the perception of their schools’ effectiveness by discovering where gaps in perception exist and drilling into what strategic mix of programmatic, communication and partnership initiatives can allow institutions to more easily deliver on expectations.

To learn more about our work with colleges and universities, visit our Education page or please contact Elizabeth Foley at efoley@meliorgroup.com / 215-545-0054 x111 or Linda McAleer at lmcaleer@meliorgroup.com / 215-545-0054 x104.

Do Colleges Deliver On Career Preparation?

How to improve perceptions and deliver on the promise of a valuable college education is one of the biggest debates in higher education today. A recent article in The Chronicle of Higher Education, In An Evolving Career Landscape, How Should Colleges Prepare Students? (see notes section below for full article,) has prompted The Melior Group to take a deeper look at this recurring and multi-layered topic.

“Closing the Perception Gap,” looks at several improvement scenarios that involve a strategic mix of programmatic, communication and partnership initiatives that will allow institutions to deliver on a series of pre-set expectations.

Through our experience working with employers and educational institutions, The Melior Group has learned that perceptions around this topic are often off the mark. That is to say, while it’s true that there is a gap between graduate preparedness and employer needs, this gap is not always as big as has been often stated in the media and there are ways to improve perceptions. While there is no single solution, The Melior Group has identified several key focus areas that can assist colleges and universities to improve the perception that an investment in higher education will in fact support a successful career.


Part 1: Messaging and Expectations: What Signals Are Being Sent Out?
In our previous blog posts and articles published nationally (see notes section below), The Melior Group has discussed work that has helped clients discover implementation strategies to close this perceived gap and improve communications about the overall value of a college education.

Included here are several of the many recent efforts that clients have taken to successfully use research to improve their reputation of delivering on the promises they make to constituents.


Track success and talk about it
Many schools do not meaningfully track graduate successes or they fail to act on the limited information they do track. While there are standardized alumnae surveys that track career type, salary and promotions at the 5-year mark post graduation, this is merely a good first step. The next step is to communicate successes to area employers, prospective students, parents and the community at large.

Additional measures to explore include:

  • Are employers pleased with the caliber of the graduates hired?
  • Are alumni sufficiently satisfied with their experiences such that they will recommend their alma mater?
  • What resources, workshops or internship programs directly contribute to hires?

Deliver a consistent brand message but focus on segmented priorities
A high-level brand message needs to consistently cross all channels and segments, but building action-oriented communications typically requires a different strategy for each audience. Understanding what each group is looking for and effectively implementing and can go a long way to closing the perception gap.

Questions to consider in developing a strategy include:

  • How, when and what is being communicated to the public and to what end?
  • Is there a disconnect between the messaging to parents/students/employers? How can this be addressed?
  • Are communications about the caliber of graduates effective? Where and how should information be shared about graduation rates to trigger more applicants?
  • Are alumnae needs supported and is an effort in place to transform them into ambassadors that will help promote the institution?
  • Is evidence of workforce preparedness clearly communicated to prospects?

The Melior Group works with large research institutions, regional public universities and small private colleges to improve the perception of their schools’ effectiveness by discovering where gaps in perception exist and drilling into how promises are perceived.

For more information or to request a proposal:
Please contact Elizabeth Foley at efoley@meliorgroup.com or (215) 545-0054

NOTES:
Referenced Article: Chronicle of Higher Education Article
In An Evolving Career Landscape, How Should Colleges Prepare Students

Melior Article: Many points made by The Melior Group President and Founder, Linda McAleer, in her article published in University Business is still relevant today.
Meeting Today’s Workforce Needs

Recent and Relevant Melior Blog post:
Can Traditional Higher Education models survive 21st Century Expectations

Can Traditional Higher Education Models Survive 21st Century Expectations?

Without the status of the Ivy League or a top 10 rank, institutions of higher learning are finally taking a hard look at the traditional higher educational model and asking; how will we survive? As many institutions struggle to reconcile finances with the decreases in federal and state funding, the search is underway for creative solutions that will sustain legacies for decades to come.

Among the many strategies considered is how to successfully integrate an online learning component. Through research done with large public and non-profit universities in the Mid-Atlantic and New England regions, The Melior Group has found that there is a great need to reconcile traditional education models with the rapidly evolving expectations of students, alumni and employers.

Students today expect both online and traditional learning opportunities as part of their program of study. While it is still rare to find non-profit state sponsored colleges offering exclusively online coursework, universities exploring alternative revenue streams are finding online courses significantly more profitable than traditional models. Many are examining how to do more than just offer existing class work online and are considering strategies that integrate the old with the new, while still preparing students for the challenges of the workforce.

DEMOGRAPHICS HAVE CHANGED OVER THE PAST DECADE

One reason why online components are now an expectation: the demographics of college students have changed over the past decade. The rising numbers of non-traditional students attending college, combined with changes in student aid and considerations for how to pay for a college education, has pushed the topic of online education to the forefront. College students are older (over the age of 23), are often working at least part-time to help fund their education and don’t necessarily live on campus. Their needs are simply different compared to the typical college student of the past. In research we’ve done with this non-traditional student segment, we’ve learned that they expect the schools to be accommodating to their schedules, not vice versa. An online component to education is especially attractive to these students because it allows the student to fit schooling around their lives, rather than having to fit their life around a rigid school schedule.

MOOCs REPRESENT A SUCCESSFUL ONLINE MODEL

The success of MOOCs (Massive Open Online Courses) have finally shown universities that a successful online learning model is possible and the opportunities that arise from offering online curriculum (as part of a degree or free) can bolster an institution’s image, enhance the educational experience for students, and even encourage alumni engagement. [See the link for Colgate’s model below.]

There are now a number of institutions that have easily integrated online coursework in many academic disciplines. Yet, we recognize that the road to get there many have been a bit bumpy. Securing buy-in from key constituents (trustees, administrators, faculty, alumni), developing the technology, adjusting curriculum and teaching methods are just some of the bumps experienced. Understanding where potential sources of pushback may erupt can greatly reduce unexpected threats posed by administrators, faculty and alums who are resistant to change.

ACT FROM A SOLID KNOWLEDGE BASE

Armed with the right information, an institution can consider the factors that are likely to have the greatest impact on successfully implementing online offerings. Asking the right questions of key target audiences, and understanding how student expectations can impact program offerings before and during a reconstruction period, can bolster confidence in decision-making and support optimal use of resources.

For universities looking to reconcile a traditional education model with 21st century expectations, an investment in MOOCs may provide a competitive advantage. Upon initial consideration of an integrated program, it is critical to investigate internal boundaries, student expectations and employer preferences. This knowledge will provide a solid base from which to make the hard decisions and to craft a roadmap that fits the unique circumstances for each institution. With knowledge of the top factors that may present internal and external roadblocks, an implementation plan can include steps to cultivate internal buy-in as well as solve programmatic and logistical challenges along the way.

HAVE A QUESTION? Reach out to The Melior Group here for an answer at efoley@meliorgroup.com

Take a look at Colgate’s Model here.

Consider Cultural, Family and Individual Needs When Recruiting International Students

On the heels of President Obama’s recent announcement to extend OPT (Optional Practical Training); we are seeing the number of international students rise. While the fastest growing populations are from China and India, countries like Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and Brazil now offer government sponsored scholarships specifically for US study. Increased global interest in a US based education opens new opportunities for international recruitment from a pool of applicants whose values, habits and cultures often conflict.

Effectively marketing to a more complex applicant pool requires an approach that can address the diverse set of needs. A Melior study in 2013 of 500 international students from Southeast Asia, China, India and Africa shows schools that are successfully attracting international students are paying attention to complex touch points and multifaceted messaging. The study identified three areas that are critical to effective recruitment and long-term success for international alumni.

  1. Remove Educational Barriers

Educational support is needed beyond traditional subject matter. International students often face a language barrier as they prepare for standardized tests like TOEFL, SAT, GRE, and GMAT. Many foreign students look to a credential evaluation service to understand the equivalent value of their native education.

  1. Consider The Entire Family

Family units are often much larger and more intimately connected than we typically see in the US. The family unit is more than just parents; it includes extended family like siblings, aunts, uncles, grandparents and more. They all play major roles in the decision-making process, especially in first generation college students. While the student may champion a certain university, it is often the larger family who is paying for the education and making the ultimate decision.

  1. Build Relationships With Foreign Academic Communities

Forge relationships with primary and secondary administrators, college fair promoters and educational support providers.

FINDINGS AND MARKETING OPPORTUNITIES

Findings suggest that knowing the market you are going into and directing efforts to consider the country, extended family and student needs is critical as you retool your offerings and messaging. Take the long view of cultivating your brand as one that helps students throughout a longer life-cycle.

Get Specific With Your Messaging

Understand the cultural values as well as the needs of the student and their extended family. One client who provides a single gender undergraduate education for women proved very attractive for parents from Muslim countries. They want their daughters to get an excellent education but not in a multi-gender environment. 

Process Made Easy

Attract more students by creating materials and checklists that help students get through confusing application processes. Direct applicants to reputable credential evaluation services. Make paperwork easy by providing instructions in various languages. Provide critical steps in applying for a student visa. One client helped applicants by simplifying the testing and application process into 6 easy steps.

Provide Advisory Support

Some families are sending their children to US high schools for easier access to US colleges and universities. As many families are starting to think about a US education earlier and earlier, provide advisors during pre-teen years. Understand some applicants have never been away from home in countries where travel is not as common as it is in Europe and the US. Focusing on family support with non-academic issues will help the student be more successful when they arrive.

Find The Best International Fit For Your College Or University

Foreign students represent a desirable market for many institutions. They are valued for the unique perspectives they bring to the classroom and the ability to pay the full cost of their education. Which target market is the best fit for your institution and how can you support them over time? Chinese nationals are the largest growing international student population relative to all others, with India a close second. Do you understand why your institution might be the right fit for them? Should you place your emphasis on developing programs internally or focus more on building relationships with their home country academic communities?

The Melior Group has successfully supported institutions that want to retool their selection criteria, programming, strategic marketing communications and advisory offerings to improve recruitment and sustain long-term student success. When you understand the complex needs of your top target applicants and align them with existing programs/services you can satisfy those needs according to country culture, family concerns and individual student needs. You will find more qualified applications and greater longer-term success for international alumnae.

Millennials: Where will they go?

By Sharon Hackenbracht

As I noted previously in my earlier blog entry the life choices that are being made by millennials are significantly influenced by their parents.

While the recession compelled many millennials to live at home with their parents, a recent study projects that millennials – the largest and most diverse generation in history – will create up to 24 million new households in the next ten years. The Chicago Tribune reports that half of adults between the ages of 18 and 34 report that they plan to ask their parents, and even their grandparents, to help them come up with the down payment needed to purchase a home (as cited by www.trulia.com, 2014).

Where will these households be? How will millennials choose to live? And what furnishings will they decide they need? How will their choices differ from those of their parents, and what, if any, influence will their parents still wield on these choices?

 

Understand Millennials by talking to their parents.

Want to understand Millennials? Talk to their parents.

By Sharon Hackenbracht & Elisa Foster

There is an overwhelming amount of research about the Millennial Generation (also known as Generation Y).  And now that they’ve entered adulthood, ranging between the ages of 18 and 34, Millennials are a hot topic among those studying trends in higher education, financial services, workforce development and how young adults are faring in the current economy.  However, getting a sense of the Millennial mindset is tougher than you may think. Depending on who you ask, Millennials are everything from lazy and spoiled to confident and open-minded.

In our work with educational institutions, we’ve learned that a key to understanding Millennials is to look at one of the biggest influencers in their lives: Parents. 

In order to understand the behavior of young adults, it is vital to also understand the behavior of parents who are providing financial and other assistance to their children. The last decade has seen a drastic increase in the number of adults between 18 and 34 who still live at home and rely on financial help from their parents. This not surprising news given that 16% of Millennials are unemployed and they are graduating from college with an average student loan debt of $29,000.

Parents of children who are in high school, college and in their twenties are becoming an increasingly important, though largely untapped, research segment.  Increasingly, many are providing financial support, housing, career guidance, funding for education, health insurance and rent or mortgage payments.  Some parents are even taking their kids to job interviews.

The implication is that if parents are providing support to their children as they become adults, it means that they have a good deal of influence over many aspects of their children’s lives: what kind of car they buy, what college they attend, what kind of bank accounts they hold, how much they are spending on travel and entertainment, etc.

In the course of our research at Melior, we’ve learned that parents often play a major role in such important considerations as what field of study to pursue at college.  For instance, we’ve observed parents debating with their children about whether the child would major in business or liberal arts.  It was apparent through these discussions that parents most often win the debate.

Ultimately, to understand the Millennial Generation, you also have to understand their parents’ perspectives and the dynamics of parent/child relationships that influence behavior and choices.

Are you a Millennial or the parent of a Millennial? Do you think Millennials depend on their parents more than previous generations?  Please share your stories and opinions in the comments section below!

 

Meeting Today’s Workforce Needs

Workforce needs

College administrators need to make strategic decisions to ensure that students’ educational experiences sync with employer and industry expectations.  Head over to University Business to read Melior’s recent article about preparing students for ‘real world’ careers.

When you’re finished reading, join the conversation by commenting below!  Do you think young graduates in your industry are prepared to enter the workforce?

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Beyond Traditional Metrics: Measures for College Marketing

By Elizabeth Foley

In the last few years, one of the biggest trends among communications and marketing professionals has been to predict the rapid growth of university and college marketing.  For example, University Business published an article five years ago highlighting the importance for college marketers to measure the success of their future marketing campaigns.  At Melior, higher education market research has been one of the fastest growing segments of our business in recent years.

So, now that marketing research is an established industry practice in higher education, we think it’s time to take another look at common research techniques.  Traditionally, top-of-mind awareness is used as a metric of success to understand where various colleges rank in the minds of prospective students and parents.

However, in a market where there’s so much noise and colleges are really stepping up their marketing initiatives, we realized that the traditional measures can no longer tell the whole story.  There are other measures that colleges need to pay more attention to when creating their marketing strategies, including:

• Likelihood to visit

• Interest in applying

• Likelihood to recommend

• Web/social media activities

• Alumni giving/engagement

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