Defining the “new normal” for Career Education in Southern California

A combined pandemic and statewide stay-at-home order threatened to derail the progress of more than 20,000 southern San Diego County students in achieving their career goals. What do you do when everything about your product—and the world—changes overnight?

Southwestern College Case Study Image
Southwestern College Case Study Image
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The Challenge

For Southwestern College (SWC), their product changed overnight.

Courses not designed for a digital environment had to go 100 percent online. Technology and virtual learning platforms had to be identified and become mainstream without the usual long-term vetting and development process. And faculty with varying levels of remote teaching experience had to find ways to deliver engaging, valuable learning and student support services from their living rooms.

For their students, the learning experience they had come to value and expect was now entirely virtual.

Unexpected needs for personal computers, high-speed internet access, and unfamiliar learning platforms compounded with general fears and uncertainty around the pandemic, new family obligations, and, often, changes to household income.

In this environment, how does a community college pivot their student recruitment and engagement strategies to maintain student trust and demonstrate the continued value of their product in this “new normal”?

Our approach

Southwestern College Case Study Image


Establish a roadmap.

01. Empathy drives strategy.
In a time of uncertainty and fear for what comes next, we knew SWC had to be a supportive port in the storm for its students. This meant ensuring the school’s outreach ream not only deeply understood who their students were, but also what new struggles they were facing in their lives. Being able to understand their students’ emotional and real-world and challenges was key to connecting and engaging with them throughout the crisis.

02. Position for the crisis.
When the world was confusing, SWC would deliver clarity. When the world was chaotic, SWC would provide structure. When the world was scary, SWC would be there to support.

03. Center on a single message.
Everything SWC communicated, promoted, and delivered during this time focused on one key message: “we are here to help no matter what.”


Focus on high-value programs for pandemic-proof careers.

When talking about programs, we identified and refocused efforts on the programs best positioned to outlive the pandemic and offering the most opportunities for family-sustaining careers in the future.


Reinvigorate lower-performing programs.

By highlighting COVID-resistant jobs and future-proof direct-to-career pathways, we were also able to proactively identify which programs needed strategies in this new environment. This allowed us to work with Southwestern to shift how we talked to students about them and identify new value and benefits for promotion.


Streamline the remote partnership.

To be successful, 3fold and SWC had to take our own remote working relationship to the next level. This meant creating student-centric content, building faster, more nimble feedback loops, identifying new opportunities for new media placements, re-negotiating existing media, and using on-the-move testing and performance tracking for quick redirections.


While schools around the country saw a drop in overall student interest, enrollment, and engagement, we were able to boost program awareness and interest for SWC during the height of the COVID-19 outbreak.

Using real-time data to optimize messaging, media placements, and content development, we were able to provide quick-turn analysis and recommendations, ensuring SWC’s high-value programs continued to connect with current and future students.

About Southwestern College

As the only public institution for higher education in southern San Diego County, Southwestern College provides essential, accessible education to a diverse community of students. SWC focuses on developing career pathways that promote their students’ long-term economic security, personal satisfaction, and access to opportunity.

3fold has been a proud partner for Southwestern College since 2017.

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