• Issue #1

Where do we go from here?

Metal-plated number 1 sign against a concrete background.

Welcome to the first edition of Higher Ed Hot Takes!

This weekly series will allow us (the folks at Bravery) to provide our thoughts on the most pressing issues affecting Higher Ed Marketers today.

We will all share something we found exciting and add our unique “takes.”

This week, the draining talent pool, complexities on the definition of “free,” and shifting Gen Z search habits.

Thanks for being here.

Higher Ed Marketers Have Had Enough

We’ve all seen how marketing offices are losing staff left and right, and it’s no secret that they feel overworked and underpaid. But I’m not sure that better salaries and flexible work options will be enough to refill that talent pool.

I keep returning to this question: do institutions legitimately need the staff they’re losing?

If those talented individuals will do incredible things someplace outside of Higher Ed for more money and a better work-life balance, why not rethink marketing operations entirely?

I’ll be the first to acknowledge that I might sound a bit callous about this. But I genuinely want everyone to be happy in the work they do. Higher Ed wouldn’t be feeling the squeeze if employers hadn’t taken advantage of these folks for so long.

The powers that be should’ve recognized the cost of talent earlier and discussed internally whether those positions were strategically important. Perhaps decades-old employment structures could use some modernizing. Similar to how technical debt can build up in websites and software, staffing debt can become a drain on resources elsewhere in your organization.

As a result of that hesitance to modernize, I fear that some of us (me included) who were young and didn’t know any better spent too much time in jobs where we weren’t valued enough. And now here we are.

Employers, whether universities, agencies, or big corporations, have a duty to create good jobs. And unfortunately, a lot of us stuck it out in lousy gigs for years, waiting for our employers to hold up their end of the bargain.

Campus leaders shouldn’t hire for a position just because they’ve always had it filled. They need to do what they can to make it a good role. Otherwise, they’re just dooming someone else to a low-wage, undervalued, underfunded, disrespected work-life.

I’d love to know what you think.

Check out my video on the subject and join the conversation happening on Twitter.

- Joel Goodman

To “Free” or Not to Free?

At Inside Higher Ed, Matt Reid writes amusingly and prolifically about several topics facing higher education. Anything from how to avoid hiring jerks to how to reach a livable compromise on the student loan crisis. (Note: His compromise is similar to the one I’ve personally been advocating for as long as I can remember: cancel the interest! Seriously, I would love to buy Matt Reid a drink. Why is this option not on the table?)

This week, he wrote about a trend in grant-making: qualified, free tuition programs. Depending on where you live, you may know these programs as “last dollar in,” though Reid’s umbrella may cover a larger group of grant-making activities. He means the grants that sound like “FREE TUITION” and actually mean “Free tuition… with some fine print.”

In his explainer, he lays out the arguments with the thoughtful taxpayer on one side and the disillusioned student on the other. He advocates for actual free tuition programs without all the hoops to jump through to get a portion shaved off a tuition bill.

Here’s my take: If taxpayers knew the salaried time it takes to administrate, communicate, and audit these programs effectively, they’d see the responsible thing would be to side with the actual free tuition program too. Start with designing and building the technical solutions and internal workflows from scratch for securely collecting, reviewing, and storing sensitive personal documentation.

Then think about the hours spent training staff on the review, acceptance, and denial process, plus ensuring students and their families can appeal and that the appeal process is thorough and dignified. And don’t even get me started on the reports, auditors, or edge cases.

Meanwhile, there are opportunity costs at every turn. Each staff member could be working on other programs, solving other problems, or fixing a different, broken system. But, they have to be here, figuring this all out, for what often amounts to small increments of additional funds to Pell-eligible students who already have most of their tuition covered and whose needs are more basic: covering the costs of their housing, food, books, and student fees.

Sometimes, students who were pre-vetted based on data from their FAFSA share their privately distributed applications on Reddit, and the financial aid office is inundated with review requests. Sometimes, before the program even opens, families will see the announcement for an upcoming program and start petitioning student services on their worthiness. These administrative costs deplete institutional resources and add to the academic bloat many are already deeply concerned with.

By trying to limit the access to “free tuition” programs to only the students needing or deserving of them, not only do you, as Reid points out, create resentments and frustrations while reducing their effectiveness, but also you drive up the cost on the administrative side to the point where you might not be saving the money you think you are.

- Kristin Van Dorn

OK Google, Open TikTok

I was born in 1986, which means I have powerful feelings about the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle remakes (hint: they suck), am familiar with the T.G.I.F. lineup of family programming, and perhaps most relevant to this textual blurb, I use Google for search.

But according to the Googlers themselves, it seems that particular preference is shifting along demographic lines. Earlier in the summer, one of their VPs stated that according to their internal research, “something like 40% of young people (ages 18-24) are using TikTok for search.“

I didn’t believe it until I came across this focus group held by Adrienne Sheares, where she chatted with members of Gen Z about their TikTok usage for search. Adrienne found that these folks thought ”TikTok provided a more relevant result FASTER than Google" and that they love how well the algorithm ”gets them.” Watch her full recap video on LinkedIn.

It’s very telling about where things are headed.

So what does this mean for Higher Ed Marketers?

1. Well, for starters, we must come to terms with the fact that TikTok is here to stay and fully embrace the platform as a recruitment tool.

2. If you haven’t already, work with your MarCom team to create an account so you can start to understand what prospective students might already be saying or asking about your institution.

3. Begin creating content that answers those questions, and don’t neglect any insights you might gain from Gen Z members of your staff.

Pro Tip: You can participate in popular trends AND utilize TikTok advertising by switching back and forth between Personal and Business accounts.

Embracing change can be difficult, but if you keep an open mind, who knows? You might just find yourself with a campus full of engaged students, and easy access to the world’s greatest recipe for grilled cheese.

- Carl Gratiot