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

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.


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.


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.


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 [email protected]

Take a look at Colgate’s Model here.

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?

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

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