jewish community studies

If You Ask, We Answer: Part 1 – Higher Education

When people ask us what we do, one of the things we often say is, “we answer questions for our clients.”  And inevitably, we’re then asked, “What kinds of questions?  Why are the asking this of you?”

Frankly, this is why we’re in business.  Our daily challenge is to assist our clients in taking the management issues they regularly wrestle with, and shaping them into questions that we can then use in our research.  We gather information, with these questions as a backdrop.  The answers are enlightening and provide clear paths to follow with strategic next steps.

Let’s look at the higher education sector as an example.  We’re asked to solve issues involving admissions, enrollment, programming, curriculum, and community relationships.  Here are just some of the questions our clients have asked us to help answer through our work.

If we build it, will they enroll?
It can cost hundreds of thousands of dollars to build and launch a new program, and administrators want to know what they’ll need to do to make it successful before they invest the time and money into its creation.

How will workforce trends impact our programming/curriculum?
More colleges and universities seek to offer programs that teach students skills for jobs that are available in the local and regional market.  This may lead to offering more non-credit and certificate courses.

How can we better serve our surrounding community?
Most universities have moved past the traditional “town and gown relations” model and have started to really take a look at what programs and services could be provided to make their institutions an asset to the local community.

Why didn’t students enroll?
Knowing why an institution didn’t make the final cut is as important as understanding what put the institution in the initial consideration set.

What’s the best way to deliver our courses?
Full time, part time, online, in person, and hybrids are all successful ways to deliver courses.  Clients often ask what the right mix is for their students.

Will changes to our curriculum be viewed positively by prospective employers of our students?
We’re proponents of understanding how employers perceive recent graduates… and we often provide insights about what’s lacking in today’s graduates.  We now know that soft skills, such as work ethic, emotional intelligence, and communications skills are highly important.  Educators want to know how to build curricula to prepare students for today’s workforce.

How do we manage our brand reputation (especially) after a crisis?
After an institution receives unflattering headlines in the (social) media, savvy institutions look to measure the impact on an institution’s brand to prepare to take the steps that will help fix the situation. 

What is the value of a college degree to prospective students and their parents?
In the past, quality learning, being prepared for the future, and “getting a job” have all been touted as the value of a college education.  But times are changing, as are the many reasons why a college degree is important.

Should we be offering interdisciplinary programs and courses?
As consultants, we just want to emphatically say “yes”!  But, the value of research is to understand what’s important to the market (prospective students, employers) and leverage what we learn to help build a valuable interdisciplinary focus.

What’s the best way to partner with community colleges as a funnel for admissions to four year institutions?
One community college in our area took a controversial approach to funneling students to a four year college – and we even wrote a blog post about it.

Our research can help higher education clients explore all of these questions and more.  Give us a call or shoot us an email and let us know what management issues your institution faces.

In future posts, we’ll explore the questions that clients in our other sectors (healthcare, mission-based/non-profit) have asked us to answer – stay tuned!

To learn more about our work with colleges and universities, please contact Elizabeth Foley [email protected] / 215-545-0054 x111 or Linda McAleer [email protected] / 215-545-0054 x104.


community college - boxing gloves

Community College & Parent University: What’s the Optimal Relationship?

Just a few weeks ago, reported that Rowan College at Burlington County (RCBC), a community college, would no longer permit on its campus any advertising, display of logos, or collateral materials from colleges/universities other than Rowan-branded institutions.  This angered and disappointed 4-year college presidents and administrators across the region.  [See link below at bottom of our post]

The article, and this issue, piqued an interest in The Melior Group’s research consultants, as Melior often works with colleges and universities on initiatives including strategic directions, recruitment efforts, and marketing and communications.

Members of the Melior team had a difference of opinion after reading this article. Vice Presidents Elizabeth Foley and Liz Cohen, both of whom provide strategic vision, branding, and development in the education sector, decided to square off in a point/counterpoint in response to this issue. It’s time for a battle of Elizabethan proportion!

Point: It’s about time colleges started to address the issue of competition in order to survive (Elizabeth Foley)

Community colleges are traditionally a pipeline to move students into a 4-year school.  So, it baffles me that anyone is surprised that a Rowan-branded community college would want to encourage its students to go to Rowan to complete a 4-year degree.  From a business perspective this makes a lot of sense.  If you can offer your customers (i.e., students) what they want, why send them elsewhere or promote other institutions when first and foremost you want them to consider your university?  That would be tantamount to walking into the New Balance store on Walnut Street for sneakers and the sales clerk offering directions to a Nike or Adidas store as additional shopping options.

While it was nice that RCBC allowed many different 4-year colleges to present information to its students via advertising and college fairs in the past, it’s the times they are a changin’ (thank you Nobel Laureate Bob Dylan).  Higher ed is facing a number of long term challenges, which we’ve discussed in other blog posts [see links below].

The population estimates for the coming decades are not pretty:  there will be fewer students entering 4-year institutions as the next decade progresses.  Most colleges are competing for students these days; Rowan is no different.  What better way to matriculate students than to cultivate them right from Rowan-branded community colleges?

Community colleges serve a great purpose.  And the innovations that have come from Rowan University (such as its 3+1 program, which enables students to spend 3 years at one of the two Rowan University-affiliated community colleges and just 1 year at the University as they complete coursework for their bachelor’s degree) in order to attract students to pursue a 4-year degree, in all likelihood were developed knowing that the competition for students will only increase because the prospective college student pool will continue to decrease.

The President of RCBC, Mr. Paul Drayton, censures 4-year colleges in the article for their inability to adapt:

“Drayton accused four-year schools of wanting to maintain a status quo despite a shifting higher education landscape. ‘It’s changed because those same colleges are too expensive. They brought this upon themselves, right? So they, during the worst economic recession in modern history, increased tuition … and so parents and students and others are talking about this.’”

The rising costs of attending college are putting that goal out of reach for many prospective students.  The changing economy is altering the face of higher education as we know it.  Mr. Drayton brings up valid points about the costs to attend some of their former “partner” institutions.  The RCBC-to-Rowan University pipeline makes smart economic sense for students looking to get a 4-year degree at an affordable price.

In the article, some administrators from some of the (former) partner institutions said that the options available to students about transferring to a 4-year school would be limited, implying that students wouldn’t be aware of the other institutions at all.

However, based on Melior’s area research studies, we’ve learned the institutions referred to in this article have some of the highest top of mind awareness ratings in the region.  The idea that students won’t know about those institutions because they’re not allowed to advertise at RCBC is condescending to students – who are savvier and smarter than we’ve seen in decades.  And, I would argue that students who don’t know how to use a search engine in order to research area degree programs shouldn’t yet be attending college.

Ultimately, the concern from the 4-year colleges is misplaced.  Instead of being angered about RCBC’s new policy, perhaps they should be using their own resources and devising innovative programs and creating strategies that will help attract their desired target students to their institutions.

Counterpoint: What was RCBC Thinking? (Liz Cohen)

The barriers that Rowan University has erected to limit other 4-year colleges’ on-campus outreach to RCBC students are unfair, short-sighted, and completely contrary to the spirit and values of public education.

The RCBC mission is as follows:

Rowan College at Burlington County transforms lives by delivering innovative, high-quality and affordable educational experiences in an accessible and diverse environment.

As stated above, RCBC aims to “transform lives.”  For many students, that transformation can happen with a 2-year degree, but some students may aspire to a transformation that requires a 4-year degree or beyond.  In keeping with its mission, RCBC’s first priority should be to support the dreams of its students, and as such, it is obligated to open as many doors, and provide as many opportunities, as it can.

Rowan University counters any criticism of its new restrictions by saying that of course RCBC students are free to explore, and eventually attend, any and all 4-year institutions.  But by not giving other 4-year colleges and universities the opportunity to visit and recruit on the RCBC campus, Rowan is ignoring the reality of many RCBC students, whose lives are filled with classes, part- or full-time employment, and family obligations.  On-campus visits from 4-year colleges and universities can make it just a little more convenient for RCBC’s striving, hard-working students to learn about their options.

Frederick Keating, the President of Rowan College at Gloucester County (RCGC) – a “sister” community college that is also part of Rowan – disagrees with RCBC’s approach.  He states:

“We don’t see any jeopardy, we don’t see any risk, we don’t see any kind of reason to be more restrictive in promoting opportunity…We’re here for [students], so you put everything out, we give them everything we can give them.  They will make the choice.”

Mr. Keating understands that Rowan University needs to take a positive approach to attracting students by offering them the best quality education for the cost – and not by making it more difficult for them to research alternatives.

Who is right?  Comment and let us know your thoughts!

To learn more about our work with higher ed, please contact
Elizabeth Foley at [email protected] / 215-545-0054 x111 or
Liz Cohen at [email protected]/ 215-545-0054 x103. article:

Education-related Melior blog posts:

A mortarboard and book demonstrate the success of higher ed recruitment.

This Higher Ed Recruitment TV Ad Is Spot On

As a part of its We Rise campaign, a for-profit school seems to succeed where many non-profit universities struggle in higher ed recruitment. In a single thirty-second spot, the University of Phoenix addresses the major pain points impacting key demographics of a diverse group of audiences, many of whom institutions of higher learning find hard to reach.

Higher ed marketers are well aware that the “typical” college student has shifted from middle class teenagers with parents can afford to pay full tuition to include more atypical and diverse sets of student types. Many students are working full-time, have children and are cash strapped or sleep deprived. Others are returning veterans, first generation Americans or are struggling to care for family members in need.

In the ad, “If I Only Had A Brain” from The Wizard of Oz has been adapted for use in the new world of higher education where imagery and lyrics blend to portray the challenges experienced by students of all ages while simultaneously celebrating the characteristics that define success.

For students – the school implies that it values hard-working, resilient and dedicated applicants – and for potential employers – graduates are confident, tough and the type of people you can rely on. It’s a really smart concept.

This single TV ad successfully addresses what many fail to:

  • Multiple types of students: traditional aged, employed, older, veterans, caregivers, parents with kids and more
  • Negative sentiments: from critics who think a degree obtained from a for-profit institution isn’t a “real degree”
  • Employers: by implying that University of Phoenix graduates posses the qualities of success

It is easy to ignore advertising from for-profit institutions. They tend to take a beating in the higher ed world as critics claim the degrees do not hold the same value as those from more traditional not-for-profits.

But tell that to the employers we’ve talked to over the years. Many – admittedly not all – aren’t concerned about for-profit vs. non-profit, but they are concerned about new employees having the skills, experiences and characteristics needed to excel.

Admittedly, we haven’t yet seen the statistics to learn if inquiries have increased or if employers’ perceptions have become more favorable toward the University of Phoenix since this campaign started.  Based on our own research outcomes, employers seek graduates with real life experience who can juggle complexity, get the job done and confidentially handle challenges. We have found that they do indeed seek more than brains.

More Than Brains –


To learn more about our work with colleges and universities, please visit our Education page or contact Elizabeth Foley [email protected] / 215-545-0054 x111 or Linda McAleer [email protected] / 215-545-0054 x104.

Trends and observations in higher ed

Trends and Challenges Impacting Higher Education

We recently spoke to the board of trustees of a university client about some of the trends and challenges impacting the education industry.  We talked about some of the marketing insights we’ve developed recently through our work with university clients and partners, and gave our observations of what’s been happening in the market.

Your competition has stepped up its marketing communications efforts…and those efforts can be seen in a variety of places. 

  • In the Philadelphia region, we’ve certainly seen the trend move from a simmer to a low boil in terms of marketing and advertising, not just from local institutions, but from up and down the East Coast. In fact, our recent edition of the Philadelphia Business Journal arrived with a gift — a glossy 100+ page “magazine” from High Point University in North Carolina touting its graduates and the academic features of the university.
  • Universities are looking for multiple ways to get the word out to prospective students, and we’re seeing not just overall branding efforts changing, but targeted marketing of specific programs (it’s not just the MBA anymore) and towards specific markets – both geographic and demographic.

Higher education audiences are savvier than ever.

  • We’ve learned that prospective students want to see outcomes (not data because they don’t understand how to interpret it) — stories they can see themselves in, specific examples of their possible future.
  • Prospective students and their parents want to know that their college education will lead to a “good job” after graduation. It’s incumbent on colleges to show this in stories and in data.
  • Information about colleges is coming to prospects from many sources, both traditional and non-traditional… and social media is changing the face of information delivery.

Social media continues to grow (and dominate)… and it’s not just Facebook.

  • Smart college marketers are meeting students “where they live” – online via a range of social media sites. A social media marketing strategy that includes your web presence is just as critical as a strategy for producing your print materials.  It’s time to find out what messages students want to hear about you on social media.
  • Mobile devices use to access college information continues to grow and includes video. Think about it:  the trends of screen sizes of our mobile devices over the past few years are actually getting bigger – and that’s to accommodate video.  One of our agency partners is convinced that within 5 years, everything on college websites will include video.

Branding is the buzzword dujour when higher ed professionals talk about marketing their institutions these days.

  • Remember that your “brand” is not your logo, the font or the color. And it’s not what you say about yourself.  IT’S WHAT PEOPLE THINK AND SAY ABOUT YOU.  Knowing what each of your target audiences (prospective students, faculty, key stakeholders) think and say about you now, will help you to craft future messages that are honest and truthful and attractive.
  • Brand differentiation is becoming more important – what makes the experience at your college distinctive and worth considering? If you sound like everyone else, why enroll at your institution over another?


To learn more about our work with colleges and universities, visit our Education page or please contact Elizabeth Foley [email protected] / 215-545-0054 x111 or Linda McAleer [email protected] / 215-545-0054 x104.

College marketing logo

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 [email protected] / 215-545-0054 x111 or Linda McAleer at [email protected] / 215-545-0054 x104.


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 [email protected] / 215-545-0054 x111 or Linda McAleer at [email protected] / 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 [email protected] or (215) 545-0054

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

College marketing logo

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