Stepping Stones, Not Rocket Ships

In the last year we have seen more community colleges aim to serve folks focused on their careers than ever before. 3fold’s own client work has reflected this shift in thought: community colleges are where you can get long term, sustainable careers with a certificate. This is mostly thanks to increased funding that looks at workforce development outcomes of the community college system. The funding, and its supporters, have aimed to make community colleges the next rocket ship to catapult students to a career.

Recently, though, 3fold and our research partner interviewed and studied cohorts of parents, high school counselors, students, employers, and adults all with some shared interest in community college. And despite the consistent repositioning of community colleges toward being a career building block, all audiences ranked the highest benefit of community college being one thing: transferability.

Transferability isn’t a new concept, though it’s certainly been given more room to breathe in the last several years with increased matriculation agreements between prominent schools and the community college system. Because of COVID, however, its marketing and advertising has sat on the shelf tucked neatly behind Promise programs, student support programs, and Career Technical Education (CTE).

Now that the wheels of the economy and our social circles have begun to turn faster again, we believe its time to take transfers down from the shelf and reintroduce it to students as a better way to learn who you are and what you like without spending crazy amounts of money. Now is the time to position your community college as a stepping stone: a safe playground for learning and discovery that teaches students how to learn before they begin making life-altering investments in higher education and their career.

Here are some considerations to note when building marketing for your transfer programs.

Start with the end in mind.

The only thing worse than wanting something and not getting it is wanting something and being promised you’ll get it, only to learn it doesn’t exist. If transfer opportunities are what your students are looking for, be sure the agreements are safely in place for students to tap into once they’ve enrolled. Marketing the ease of transfer, including the snugly fitting processes and procedures to do so will ensure your program has a better chance of enrollment than a nearby competitor whose systems are clunkier and agreements are shoddier.

Get in front of what transfer students will want.

Our favorite question to ask of our clients is, “well, why?” If your transfer students are starting to raise their hands and make suggestions or inquire about new products or services, ask your team, and mostly importantly your students why. Has there been a change in mindset in their social group? Are parents using new phrases or reasoning to talk about transfer opportunities? Is the economy making a shift toward different career paths? How have tuition hikes affected interest? By learning about your transfer students’ ecosystem, their “why” will become increasingly clear, and your positioning opportunity increasingly competitive.

Don’t be afraid to try something new.

Transfer opportunities are in high demand among folks who know what community colleges actually do. This means there is an entire segment of people you can tap with your transfer opportunities: the people who don’t know what you offer. Get in front of people who are unaware of your offerings by giving them something new and interesting to chew on. Reintroducing transfer opportunities to people who already know you? Try different tactics to see what sticks. And measure that stickiness in inquiries – form submissions, PDF downloads, calls to your call center, event registrations, to help guide your progress.

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