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Catholic colleges renew marketing efforts

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Friday, August 21, 2009

By Eileen Connelly, OSU

ARCHDIOCESE — The current economic crisis may make a college education seem out of reach for many families. In response, area Catholic institutions of higher learning are placing a renewed focus on marketing themselves and reaching out to parents and students to demonstrate that it is feasible.

“Private education is expensive in any economy,” said Kathy Kelly, director of student administrative services at the College of Mount St. Joseph. “We’re always trying to market on our values and the things that make us distinct. Financial aid is one aspect of that.”

Students pose on the Xavier University campus. (Courtesy photo)

The college took some specific measures earlier this year to address family concerns, Kelly explained, including expanded appointments to assist them with filing for financial aid and ensuring they are aware of all available resources, among them private or alternative loans.

“We’ve been working through the summer to help folks find financing,” she said. ”We’re also making sure families are aware of the special circumstances forms they can file. In the event of a loss of employment or income, we can make adjustments for them or see if additional dollars are available to get them through the year.”

Kelly said her office has seen an increase in the receipt of these forms in the past year.

In another effort to assist prospective students and their families, Kelly said the college has revamped its website to make financial aid information more visible and easier to access, from a qualification chart to an estimator for both scholarships and need-based financial aid.

From a marketing standpoint, Donna Hemberger, associate director of admission at MSJ, said the college is “trying to get the message of affordability out there as soon as possible.”

“We’ve started campaigns to younger students and have even held middle school career fairs,” she said. “We’re trying to help families plan for college well in advance.”

“A lot of our marketing materials have a financial aid spin to them,” Hemberger added. “The big picture we’re trying to get in front of students is the net cost versus tuition. So often families exclude small private colleges for financial reasons, but once they get the financial aid package and compare us to a larger institution, they find the dollar amount isn’t all that different.”

One initiative MSJ is beginning to market is its ethical leadership program, Hemberger noted. The college plans to hire a program director and students will be able to obtain credentials in ethical leadership along with their major or minor.

”We have some really good leaders coming through our doors, and we want to give them an edge up on their competitors,” she said. “Having those ethical and spiritual-minded leaders going out into the work force will only make the community better.”

At the University of Dayton, the focus has been on the “way we market our message and tell the story of who we are as a Catholic Marianist institution,” said Rob Durkle, assistant vice president and dean of admissions. “We’ve been communicating the message in various ways and not so much with flashy brochures. Prospective students are looking for the deeper meaning of education and families are much more astute about what they’re looking for. We’ve been using our publications and website, along with Twitter and Facebook, to tell our story as an institution to help students.”

While strong academic programs continue to be a priority for prospective students, also important to them are opportunities for service leadership, campus ministry, internships, cooperative education and campus activities, from intramural sports to student government, said Durkle.

He said the university has “cast a wider net” in its marketing efforts in recent years, becoming a more national institution with 936 members of the incoming freshman class coming from out state, compared to 779 in 2008. UD has also seen an increase in its number of international students, drawing from countries such as China and India who find the school’s quality of programming and curriculum appealing.

For domestic students the “values and mission” of the institution are particularly significant, Durkle said. “Many students want to continue their activities in community service and campus ministry. They find our values are in line with theirs.”

In all of UD’s marketing materials, the emphasis is on the things that are of value to families, he said — academic excellence, a sense off community and the university’s Marianist tradition. “We want students to come here and be future leaders,” Durkle said. “What separates our students is that they that leave here as professionals, as better people who are interested in human rights and who want to give back to society in a way that makes it better. That’s want employers are looking for . . . not just people who are competent in their fields, but also upstanding citizens who will represent their company in a positive way.”

The current economy has resulted in what Aaron Meis, dean of admissions at Xavier University, describes as a “renewed marketing effort.”

“The main thing we’re trying to do is push to the forefront the success our students have after leaving Xavier to demonstrate to families that, despite the price tag, our students are succeeding — getting into graduate school, passing professional exams, getting good jobs,” Meis explained. “We’re just being more open about it on our website, in our publications and talking to families about it more. We want parents and students to know that they’re getting something more at Xavier — values, spirituality and faith, in and out of the classroom. That’s not something they’ll get at a public institution.”

As examples of student success, Meis said, XU has a 100 percent placement rate for its accounting, education and nursing students, and four out of five of its pre-med students are accepted into medical school on their first try.

The unversity’s renewed approach is the result of president Jesuit Father Michael Graham’s encouragement to develop an integrative marketing strategy involving the marketing, admission and web service departments, Meis said.

“As a group we met every week to come up with ideas and implement them,” he explained. “The culture is in place at XU that it’s everyone’s job to increase enrollment. The entire XU community is invested in the process due to Father Graham’s leadership.”

“We have ads in the newspaper and have a new website that reflect a true integrative marketing approach,” Meis added. “Our website is now more focused on academics and we’ve added opportunities for students to visit campus. We want to emphasize what they’re getting for their money at XU. Our emphasis is on academics, student success and the fact that Xavier can be affordable.”

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