Higher Education: Branding is a Strategy, and Your Strategy Brands It

When we think of higher education, some of the first things we think of are professors, students and learning. Business tactics and profit usually aren’t at the forefront of our minds concerning this subject. However, any institution has to have business at its core. Without profit, there is no university; and to make a profit, the university has to have some type of brand identity that people can associate with. This brand identity may begin with a university’s mission statement, but that is unlikely to reveal the entire story. For example, a mission statement most likely won’t mention the university’s football team, even if that might be a significant part of their identity.

As state funding lessens year by year, administrators are forced to find new ways to make a profit that is consistent with the university’s identity. Teresa Sullivan, the president of The University of Virginia, experienced this pressure first hand, when she was ousted from her position as president and then abruptly reinstated two weeks later. Her strategies when considering long term prospects for delivery and funding not only relied heavily on donors, but also in recruitment. She had to ensure that UVA maintained every ounce of prestige that came along with Thomas Jefferson being the founding father of the university. The initial removal of Sullivan was shrouded in mystery because she was not given a reason for her dismissal. It makes the reader wonder if the decision was brought upon by personal biases or if the board really just wasn’t satisfied with her ability to make a profit. Either way, the reaction to her removal from the community was characterized by confusion and malcontent.

What is interesting to note is that the entire board is made up of wealthy individuals who shared a universal vision that the university should be run like a Fortune 500 company. Some may argue that Sullivan’s dismissal was a result of these differences in vision. The controversial decision to fire and then reinstate her could change the perceived identity of the school and drive their prospective “customers” away. Just like any other kind of business, higher education is all about competition. Every move is strategic and every person hired is there to contribute to the success of the brand. There is no school that does not have an equal or better competitor. The real struggle though, is to find a way to stand out. This is where creating a captivating brand is vital.

When we think about The University of North Carolina at Wilmington, it is an institution that does not have a very diverse past. Some may say this serves as a disadvantage, but UNCW has recently put forth great efforts to diversify the campus and create an atmosphere that all people can be comfortable in. UNCW has selected September to be “Hispanic Heritage Month” in which there will be an array of events to educate and celebrate the Hispanic culture. Along with “Hispanic Heritage Month,” UNCW will also celebrate other diverse groups in the same fashion in months to come. While schools like UVA or Harvard have the pioneer and brand-name advantage, UNCW has built, and continues to improve upon, a rich reputation among existing and prospective students alike.

Lucy Rojo, Sierra Scellato, Shauna Seaver, Nicole Betterbid, Rachel Betterbid