CECU 2018: Student Success Takes Center Stage

This op-ed is written by Joe Laskowski, Managing Partner and Chief Marketing Officer of Higher Ed Growth, a full-service agency that specializes in the post-secondary education industry and CECU member. Laskowski was a CECU 2018 speaker.

The 2018 CECU Convention & Exposition was held in Orlando in early June, encapsulating everything that the organization does best: bringing together top Higher Education institutions and sector leaders in a thoughtful forum to exchange expert insights and best practices. As a longstanding sponsor, Higher Ed Growth helped lead conversations around the next generation of EDU marketing, attended inspiring keynotes and connected with colleagues. Based on these important talks, here our top takeaways from CECU 2018.

There is renewed focus on vocational schools and technical programs. The conference saw a groundswell of support for trade schools as one of the most effective solutions to the growing skills gap.

Keynote Speaker Seth Mattison, a renowned expert on workforce trends and generational dynamics, spoke to the connection between the future of work and this next generation of students. Institutions hold a valuable piece of the puzzle. It’s important for the industry to have a willingness to rethink degree programs — even education as a whole — to meet quickly changing student and employer needs. Vocational programs, in particular, are uniquely positioned to rectify a shortage of skilled trade and specialized workers and reshape entire industries. Mattison underscored that the time to act is now.

Offering vocational insight from a military perspective, Congressman Brian Mast gave another inspiring CECU 2018 Keynote. Mast spoke to his 12 years of duty in the United States Army and a life-changing event in Afghanistan. He also covered what came next after his decorated military career, and that was education.

Mast is a modern-day student success story and shining example of what can happen when institutions offer alternative pathways and tailor programs toward adult learners, veterans and those with other “non-traditional” qualities. Mast earned his bachelor’s degree at Harvard Extension School while volunteering with the Israel Defense Forces, declaring candidacy for US Congress in Florida’s Eighteenth District, and raising a family. Harvard Extension School is a fully accredited Harvard institution that focuses on affordability and flexibility; it offers open enrollment and a wide range of self-paced programs from four-year online degrees to skill-specific certificates. Such options are invaluable to vets — as are other flexible trade and technical programs. In his CECU 2018 speech, Mast thanked the vocational school sector for providing so many relevant job opportunities to military veterans through training and education.

Innovative industry partnerships have the opportunity to amplify student success rates — especially in such vocational programs.

There were many discussions with leaders of marketing, service companies and CECU member institutions on how to best leverage resources to create mutually beneficial partnerships. From apprenticeships to coding boot camps, there are myriad career education models gaining traction.

Apprenticeships are one model taking the spotlight and may soon evolve beyond traditional trades and take a foothold into industries like law and health care. With the current administration calling for the expansion of apprenticeships over the next five years, this important conversation is sure to continue and develop. The specifics around new federal initiatives and potential legislative reforms set forth by the Department of Labor Apprenticeship Task Force have yet to be unveiled; the EDU industry and private sector can begin to take the lead on shaping the structure of such partnerships and strategies. Identify business goals and align programs to drive the development of a next generation, highly skilled workforce.

Success in new EDU models all starts with enrollment marketing. Schools must develop the right student base for successful outcomes, especially in new degree programs and postsecondary learning models.

With ever-changing lead generation tools and enrollment marketing best practices, these topic sessions were certainly well-attended at CECU 2018.

More than 46 million new workers are needed by 2025; the ever-present question is how to reach and market the right programs to the students who will become the future workforce. Social media, for one, was highlighted a great deal as it continues to be a strong platform for driving awareness and reaching target audiences. In fact, there was an overall increase in social media lead volume and conversions in 2017. However, the channels and rules of engagement continue to change year after year. Social marketing strategies, as a result, must be nimble and data-driven.

Data-based decision-making was a common thread in all marketing discussions — from determining student intent to conversion metrics. It’s clear that third-party partners will continue to play an important role, filling gaps in marketing needs with new technology and analytics products.

Rounding out the marketing conversation was a review on student success from a marketing compliance perspective in the EDU Lead Gen — The Next Gen CECU session. Interpreting the regulatory environment can be difficult and is an important step in developing strong marketing programs. The last few years have been filled with change, speculation and consolidation for both education and lead generation.

From the regulatory landscape to emerging new trends, there’s a great deal that can happen between now and CECU 2019 in New Orleans. More importantly, there’s a great deal that industry leadership can do to shape the future of postsecondary career education when we all come together.