Learnings (and Mistakes) that Have Shaped My Communications Career in Higher Education

With almost 20 years on the marketing and communications side of higher education, I’ve learned a great deal from key stakeholders and my brilliant teams. But I’ve learned from myself and my mistakes, too. It’s amazing what can grow from a few blunders, helping you lead a more productive, informed and fulfilling career.

Following are six of the biggest lessons I learned from my own failures:

Communicate with everyone.

During my early years in higher-ed communications, I would communicate with one audience at a time. My approach was not as inclusive; and, I sometimes left out key audiences that needed to be informed.

Lesson learned! As higher-ed marketing experts, identify every possible communication channel to disseminate updates through a mix of university websites, videos, email, newsletters and live discussions, as well as through external media, social media, community partners and education outlets. Different audiences receive information from a variety of sources, so accessibility is important – accommodating the way they are informed. Transparency helps reach key audiences; so they are not only informed, but so they feel part of the conversation.

Delegate, delegate, delegate.

During my first job out of college, I tried to do it all. I wanted to prove to myself and others that I was capable and effective.  So I took on more work than I should, and, eventually, I started missing details – and I was not being very effective (and didn’t feel very capable). While I had good intentions, I was missing deadlines, making mistakes and feeling overwhelmed.

Delegation is important to a successful outcome. Your team is just that… a team, and delegation empowers all team mates to have a role and to feel involved in project success. When the right mix is involved, work gets done more efficiently and successfully. Delegation is a great way to coach and mentor, as well.

Give back – and Get Back.

In my early career, prior to getting involved in higher education, I was stuck, frustrated and not learning very much in my job. I was craving professional development and new challenges, and I made a mistake by waiting too long to satisfy this craving.

Then, I got involved with the American Cancer Society as a volunteer. With the sole intention of giving back to the community, I actually “got back” so much more from this experience.  Volunteering gave me the professional development I needed, while enhancing my communication and leadership skills.  Most importantly, I met a board member from Metropolitan State University of Denver (MSU Denver), and that introduction led me to higher education and long-term communications role at my current organization. So, expand your community, and more will come.

Course Correct.

We’re familiar with the expression, “Life is what happens while we are busy planning it.”  Well, the same holds true with our careers. I wrote a plan for a previous president, and then I got so focused on sticking to the communications plan — and then I missed a few opportunities.

While it’s important to have a plan, I also learned that it’s helpful to step back, evaluate, adjust and course correct when new opportunities develop – and challenges occur. I now accept that plans often need to be adjusted, and that’s a good thing.

Listen to All Stakeholders.

It’s easy to isolate yourself and your team in your work. I’ve done that many times, and learned the hard way about isolated thinking. Big mistake!

Learn from stakeholders from all sides — from students to donors to staff members to the community, as they all have something to teach you. They wear different hats and can collaborate and add perspective to university outreach and strategies.

Model and Mentor.

In my early years, I wanted to show my bosses and leaders that I could figure it out by myself.  While sometimes I could, I also found that I made some mistakes along the way and that I could have benefited from some extra guidance.

Eventually, I started working with a mentor who taught me new leadership skills. In return, I mentor students and professionals, to help them grow in their careers and foster new partnerships. After all, higher education is about teaching others, and it’s important to mentor and model throughout your career.

We can learn from so many teachers and leaders in higher education, including ourselves.  So embrace the blunders, and celebrate the lessons. There’s plenty to learn from our slip-ups!

About the Author

As the Chief of Staff and Vice President of Strategy for Metropolitan State University of Denver (MSU Denver), Catherine B. Lucas, APR, redefined MSU Denver’s brand in the higher education marketplace; spearheaded the legislative approval process to offer master’s degrees; and led the name-change transition from “college” to “university.”  She has earned a reputation for brand and reputation management, collaborative decision making and community engagement. 

Five Trends That Are Encouraging the Adoption of Tech in Higher Education

In recent years, technology has vastly transformed the higher education scene. Colleges across the country have implemented various innovative methods to advance learning spaces, remodel their libraries and bolster campus security. 2017, in particular, has seen laptops, tablets, ebook readers and fitness trackers become must-have accessories for many college students. Even virtual reality has found a place in enhancing the teaching of certain concepts in the classroom.

As manufacturers and developers continue to prioritize higher education, the impact of technology in colleges and universities is poised to become even more significant in the future. Below are five trends that are spearheading the adoption of technology in the institutions of today and tomorrow.

1. Virtual Reality, Augmented Reality, and Mixed Reality

The world is on the verge of major changes regarding how we all interact with our computing devices. Tech giants like Google, Apple, and Microsoft have been consistently investing in new forms of human-computer interaction (HCI) – notably VR, AR and MR – and products like the Microsoft HoloLens are already influencing the types of hardware and software that are in use in colleges.

This trend is even more compelling when we think about combining VR, AR, and MR with other HCI technologies like cognitive computing and artificial intelligence. As HCI continues to gain traction in higher institutions of learning, the future may see the development of more devices and platforms that combine AI with VR/AR/MR for a more comprehensive experience. Holograms could replace physical bodies in classrooms, and students will perhaps be able to pick their preferred learning setting, such as studying by a brook, or in a virtual Starbucks.

2. Simulation-based Learning

Educators are increasingly employing simulation techniques to facilitate active learning through repetitive and thought-provoking practice in safe, life-like environments. These virtual worlds provide to students a unique opportunity to apply knowledge and make critical decisions while incorporating some immediate feedback or reward system, which makes it easier to grasp hard sciences like biology, anatomy, geology, and astronomy.

Drexel University, for example, has collaborated with Tata Interactive Systems to provide a simulation-based learning system for their online forensic students, where they can conduct clinical assessments in the aftermath of a violent crime. A 3D virtual crime scene, complete with clues and continuous feedback, makes forensics fun and exciting.

3. Internet of Things

Although IoT technologies are primarily focusing on the consumer field, higher education holds a lot of untapped potential for the concept. Smart cities and smart campuses, for instance, are areas of keen interest among tech developers. Some systems in colleges, such as light controls, sprinklers, parking space monitors and building alarms are already internet connected and are significantly improving operations. Future iterations of IoT will likely be more intelligent, requiring less human interaction.

The Internet of Things could also motivate higher learning institutions to create IoT degrees and certificates that meet the changing job market. The “new intelligent things” such as drones and robots are expected to motivate the creation of more than 100,000 jobs by 2025. This will likely drive institutions to introduce new programs, similar to the way hacking has presently driven cyber-security degrees.

The Unmanned Vehicle University is among the few institutions addressing the market by offering programs in Unmanned Systems Engineering. With IoT steadily growing its impact on our world, however, it won’t take long for others to follow suit.

4. Digital Literacy

While previous generations of learners first experienced technology at school, today’s students first interact with technology for entertainment and social communication. This path has put  strains on institutions to incorporate college-friendly devices into their education systems.

Because smartphones and computers now feel as natural to students as pens and books, colleges and universities are looking into lessons that encourage them to solve real-world problems using modern technology. In some schools, an English composition course includes creating a blog and reading web scripting, while in others, history students learn how to visualize and map information digitally.

The intent of this approach is to create self-directed learners, who know how to put together the technologies they’re already familiar with to find up-to-date information and create new solutions.

5. Blockchain and Credentialing

Blockchain may not seem relevant to institutions of higher learning until we discuss it around the aspects of badging and credentialing. In essence, Blockchain is shaping up to become the technology that enables students and young professionals to maintain lifelong, cloud-based learner profiles, which can accumulate qualifications and badges based on courses and programs. Employers would then use these profiles to identify their future employees.

Microsoft’s purchase of LinkedIn last year, which had itself acquired Lynda.com in 2015, is proof that learner credentialing via blockchain could take off in the coming years. Now, if a student takes a course at Lynda.com, their LinkedIn profile reflects it.

The push into artificial intelligence by Microsoft and other major companies could play into creating a marketplace where employers easily find qualified and competent employees online. Institutions of higher learning will likely be among the main contributors of data into these profiles.

Final Words

Recent advances in technology, coupled with the escalating demand for quality education are forcing greater scrutiny on the value that institutions provide to students. Consequently, educators are changing the way they teach, strategically incorporating a variety of innovations and team-based methods of delivering content.

If the trends above continue to gain ground, the near future may see even more disruptions to traditional learning experience, with more institutions experimenting and embracing new strategies.

Vigilance Chari currently covers tech news and gadgets at LaptopNinja. She is an International presenter and published author. When not writing, she spends her time as an enthusiastic professional party planner and part-time painter.

The Seven Attributes of Highly Effective Online Degrees

In 1989, Stephen Covey published The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People. The book was a huge success, selling over 25 million copies and spawning several follow-ups. The core message is that success doesn’t just happen; rather, we make concerted decisions that positively impact our lives. The book’s popularity and longevity stem from tapping into our innate hunger for success.

Leaders at colleges and universities are similarly hungry to understand the keys to successful online degrees, hoping to boost enrollments (and revenue), broaden their offerings, and at least remain competitive if not, in fact, gain a competitive edge. As with our personal lives, successful online programs don’t just happen; they require forethought, research, planning, orchestration, cooperation, and effort. I find that many institutions want to simply “online-ify” their ground degrees, slapping PDFs and a few videos up on the LMS. Those days, if they ever existed, are over.

Colleges and universities looking to go online or grow their online footprint need to consider the desires/challenges/schedules/lives of their future online learners and view online degrees as an opportunity to shift the paradigm. Instead of forcing students into an institutional box (three 16-week semesters per year, intakes in Fall/Spring/Summer), I suggest that they flip the box entirely and adapt online degrees to meet the needs of online adult learners. This article includes seven ways the box should be flipped to find success. I’m delighted to share the seven attributes of highly effective online degrees to help inform institutions looking to go/grow online.

Here are the seven attributes of highly effective online degrees:


A 2014 survey of online students found that “tuition and fees” is the second most important factor in choosing an online program. (What’s #1? Overall reputation of the college/university.) Adult learners earning a degree online want a good education, at a reasonable cost, that offers the promise of a strong return on their investment via post-graduation career mobility.

“Reasonable” as a description of cost leaves much room for interpretation. I propose that a competitive program should fall within a 10-15% range of its main competitors. Outliers on the very cheap end of the spectrum are suspect. For instance, there are several online MBAs for around $20,000, but are they accredited by AACSB? Is an MBA from these institutions respected in the corporate world? On the other end of the cost spectrum, there are online MBAs and EMBAs that exceed $100,000. Few can afford this without extensive employer support, so while the institutional pedigree may be unquestioned, are they really viable for the majority of online learners? Is the ROI on $100,000 in tuition and fees worth it?

An important factor in pricing online degrees is the relationship with tuition for the institution’s on-ground programs (if they exist). As the online degree marketplace has matured and the number of competitors has increased, institutions are less able to charge more for an online degree than for its on-ground counterpart. In the past, some institutions did just that, as a sort of convenience fee for the luxury of studying online. I believe that the days of charging more for online delivery are over.

I’m often asked about charging less for the online version of, say, a Master of Science in Criminal Justice. While the notion is compelling, there’s one giant reason not to: charging less for a comparable online version of an existing ground degree might foster the notion—still held by many—that online higher education is not as good or rigorous.

As with many of the seven attributes of highly effective online degrees, market research is a necessity to inform costs. I find that most online MBAs fall between $35,000-$60,000, but an analysis of the institutions with which you compete—or hope to compete—is a worthwhile investment to ensure that your online degrees are priced competitively.


As with cost, the number of credit hours required to earn a degree is extremely important to adult learners with busy, complicated lives. I call this TTDC: Time to Degree Completion, and it should be comparable to other online degrees. If one institution requires 36 credit hours and the same degree at a competitor is 45 credit hours, prospective students will be confused.

My research shows a range of required credit hours for online graduate degrees, including just a few examples below:

  • Doctor of Nursing Practice: closely clustered between 46-48 credit hours
  • MBA: wide range, from 30-51 credit hours
  • MS in Forensic Science: 32-36 credit hours
  • Master of Social Work: 60-78 credit hours

There are often mitigating factors governing the required number of credit hours for an online graduate degree. For instance, some program-specific accrediting bodies heavily regulate the number of credit hours required for a degree. Some institutions require more pre-requisite courses than others. Some institutions will accept transfer credits while others do not.

There is often a debate between TTDC and academic quality. In my experience, online students want a combination of affordability, academic quality, and the ability to complete their degree as quickly as possible. I appreciate the contradictions herein, but I also advise my clients that if their online degree requires significantly more credit hours than the competition, they will struggle to enroll students.

With this in mind, I encourage universities to remain keenly aware of the motivations of online learners and strike a balance between TTDC and academic quality. Careful research, of peer/aspirant institutions as well as any externally driven regulations, is of paramount importance when determining the length of an online degree.


The easy answer to the question “how long should each course last?” is to match the on-ground version. However, I suggest that online degrees should last approximately eight weeks, not the typical 16 weeks of most ground courses. Here’s why:

Online adult learners lead busy lives, and the ability to complete a three-credit course in eight weeks may help improve completion and persistence rates. This is an admittedly subjective statement, but I often hear from adult learners that completing one course in eight weeks, or two sequential courses over the typical 16-week semester, is preferable to taking two concurrent courses that both take 16 weeks to complete.

There are two notable challenges to implementing eight-week terms:

  1. Systems and Technology: The institution’s systems must be configured to allow for eight-week terms, which impacts nearly every student-facing function: registrar, admissions, financial aid, bursar, and others. This is neither easy nor simple to execute, but the numerous institutions offering eight-week online courses show that it is doable. (In fact, many institutions offer five-week courses for their online adult learners.) And while the short-term challenge of updating systems is likely to be difficult, once it is done, there is an administrative framework upon which to build an entire portfolio of online degrees.
  1. Some faculty members, accustomed to and comfortable with the traditional 16-week semester, are loath to change. Deans cite challenges with hiring faculty to teach shorter courses, collective bargaining agreement issues, and the assertion that good pedagogy is not compatible with shorter courses. While the former concerns may be entirely valid, I’m skeptical of the oft-cited concern that “we simply can’t teach this in eight weeks and maintain academic quality.”

Just last week, I was with a client seeking advice about which online degrees have the best chance for success. In a presentation to the provost, deans, department chairs, and faculty, I heard a rousing chorus of “oh no, we could never do that” when I suggested that online courses should be eight weeks. This is a typical response, but in rebuttal, I noted that many institutions have found a way to teach the requisite subject matter in eight weeks with no apparent degradation to quality. And their online degrees are a success.


The course carousel lets institutions offer courses in a measured way that allows for multiple intakes per year. Essentially, the carousel offers the pre-requisite course every start, with new courses introduced in subsequent terms. The course carousel means that students will always have the prerequisite course and at least one additional course available in every term.

Carousel benefits include the following:

  • Offering the introductory course every start allows for six intakes/year
  • The institution can offer fewer courses per term while still meeting the needs of new and continuing students
  • The institution can more effectively plan for its faculty hiring needs, as the carousel offers a set schedule of course offerings
  • Courses can be developed over time–not every course needs to be ready at the launch of the program (saving time, money, frustration, and allowing lessons learned to inform future course development)
  • Courses can similarly be refreshed over time, without a wholesale overhaul at any one time
  • Persistence and completion rates may rise because students will always have at least one available course that they need to continue without stopping out to wait for a required, but unavailable, course

An important attribute of successful online degrees is having six entry points per year, or one every eight weeks. Enrolling a new class every eight weeks may present initial challenges, but the ability for new adult learners to start their program no more than eight weeks after being accepted will improve application-to-start metrics. Here’s a scenario that illustrates why:

 Maude is a 38-year-old program manager who works full time, has two kids, a busy spouse, and limited free time. Motivated by her mentor and driven by the awareness that a graduate degree is becoming de rigueur, she finally decided to pursue her MBA. Her busy schedule necessitated that it would have to be fully online.

Maude got recommendations from friends and Googled “online MBA good value” to find options. She completed inquiry forms for three different programs and was immediately inundated with calls and emails. She ultimately decided to apply to the online MBA at XYZ University. As XYZ’s admissions counselor talked her through the application process, Maude began to question herself: applying for the program already felt like a full-time job, requiring an application, letters of recommendation, transcripts from all undergraduate institutions she attended, and writing the dreaded essay. How would she ever have time to pursue an MBA? At least there was no GMAT required; that would’ve been a deal breaker.

But she persevered. She had a heart-to-heart with her spouse about how to pay for the MBA; even with a possible scholarship from XYZ and her firm’s tuition reimbursement program, she would have to borrow tens of thousands of dollars. More form filling and data gathering ensued as she completed her first FAFSA in 15 years. Eventually, she completed her online application. Then…she waited. And waited. And waited.

But all of her hard work paid off: on February 14th, she was accepted to XYZ’s online MBA! It was a true Valentine. Delighted (and exhausted), she breathed a sigh of relief until she learned that the next intake was in June. Four months away. That’s four months to second-guess her decision, realizing just how swamped she’d be with year-end budgeting at work, finding camp for the kids, planning their annual trip to the beach, and second-guessing the ROI of a $60,000 MBA.

Four months.

16 weeks.

Ample time to question if this was the right time to leap into a time- and money-intensive venture that would take two years, countless hours away from the kids, reading articles, writing papers, and all of the other things she’d dreaded all along. In May, her cold feet iced over and she opted not to pursue her MBA.

This cautionary tale is no dystopian horror story; it happens every day. XYZ University spent thousand of dollars “acquiring” Maude as a new student, and it was all for nothing. Chances are good that Maude may never pursue her MBA—at XYZ or anywhere. There will always be work obligations, vacations to plan, issues with her kids, etc. However, with six starts/year, Maude would never have to wait more than eight weeks to start from the moment she got accepted to XYZ, which might have made all the difference for her and for the University.


Asynchronous is defined as “not occurring at the same time.” In the context of online educational delivery, asynchronous courses are those that do not require the student to be at the computer at the same time a lecture is being delivered. For adult learners with careers, spouses, children, soccer practice, international business trips, and other elements of daily life, being at a computer at a given date/time for a class is at best an inconvenience. More likely, it is an impossibility. Furthermore, requiring a student to be online at a given time essentially undermines one of online higher education’s greatest promises: the freedom and convenience that come from being untethered.

That having been said, there are online courses that require synchronous sessions periodically—either weekly or several times throughout the course. While not ideal, most students can accommodate this requirement if given advance warning. Faculty members should take this into consideration when creating the course syllabus so that students have ample warning and can plan accordingly. However, the majority of the course should be asynchronous so that students can access lectures when it works for them.


Undergirding these attributes of highly effective online degrees is the need to truly understand the marketplace in which you hope to compete. The only way to do this is through a combination of secondary and primary market research.

Secondary research entails gathering existing data from other sources. It’s a time- and labor-intensive effort, but the results are invaluable when planning an online degree. For instance, an unbiased competitive analysis will reveal what your competitors are doing—or not doing—and help set the stage for how to build your online degrees across all of the seven attributes explained above. Government data on labor market projections, which the Bureau of Labor Statistics currently forecasts through 2022, is also important. Will the demand for forensics specialists or cyber security experts in 2022 justify launching an online degree in 2016? Other than guessing, the only way to make informed decisions is by culling and studying external data.

Primary market research, conversely, is institution specific. I recommend a combination of qualitative research (focus groups, interviews) and quantitative research (online surveys) with key stakeholders to assess demand for online degrees. There are many examples of institutions launching an online degree only to enroll a handful of students. This costly and embarrassing mistake can be prevented by studying the landscape and applying the simple law of supply and demand. Paraphrasing a famous line from the movie Field of Dreams, just because you build an online degree doesn’t mean students will enroll.

Conducting research to help inform your institution’s online degrees is a worthwhile investment, whether you do it in-house or outsource to a professional market researcher who understands online higher education and adult learners. With solid planning and an emphasis on the seven attributes of highly effective online degrees, your institution will be well prepared to compete and meet the needs of adult learners.


Scott Levine is the Founder and CEO of Higher Education Research Consultants. His research focuses on enrollment and marketing across academe, with a strong emphasis on online degrees. He has managed online degrees at leading institutions including the Universities of Delaware, Florida, North Carolina, and Tennessee and Boston, Howard, and Pepperdine Universities. He researched and wrote the groundbreaking Eduventures Market Guide to Online Program Management. And he rocks a black turtleneck. For more information, visit the longest URL in the free world at www.higheredresearchconsultants.com.

PPC in Higher Education: The Potential Benefits of Pinterest & Promoted Pins

At the beginning of 2015, Pinterest made their promoted pins accessible to all advertisers, and now digital marketers are scrambling to figure out the benefits this service can provide to their clients. Like we have seen with suggested posts on Facebook, Promoted Pins are a pay-per click form of advertising, and with the introduction of this feature, Pinterest is poised to unlock the doors to a new frontier within one of the most used social platforms. But is this enticing offer ready to stand up to the needs of higher education marketers?

The potential benefits seem vast when one considers the massive audience that Pinterest has accrued, but the platform has yet to display that it can compete with the complex targeting capabilities of competitors like Facebook or LinkedIn ads. Nate Elliott, Vice President & Principal Analyst at Forrester Research, recently published an article on Forbes.com (read “The Pinterest Conundrum“) stating that: “Marketers can’t tap into most of Pinterest’s fantastic user data … Pinterest’s marketing value lies more in the future than in the present.”

I’m inclined to agree. Without a niche target audience, how can you have faith that your promoted pins will reach your desired demographic? From a pay-per-click (and budget-balancing) perspective, there is a lot of non-relevant traffic and, even worse, the prospect of wasted spend. Here are some similar responses from Twitter:

Although promoted pins have been shown to yield an increase in both impressions as well as traffic, neither of these promising metrics can guarantee the conversion rate implicit of a viable marketing strategy…yet. That’s why, in an effort to bring to fruition their continued rise in the paid social sphere, Pinterest has recently acquired the ad tech startup Kosei, a data firm which specializes in data science and recommendation engines.

So far I’ve come across nothing quite newsworthy on what specific targeting features are on the brink for Pinterest Ads, but Twitter is alight with references to the recent acquisition of Kosei, and promises of a bright future are in the wake of Promoted Pins’ woeful introduction.

While we await these enhanced targeting features, higher education marketers should not forget that Pinterest can be an outstanding tool for humanizing higher education to prospective students. In one of my favorite articles I came across during my research for Pinterest’s potential for Higher Education (“Why Pinterest in Higher Education Can Work“), Sheri Lehman writes: “I like to think of it as a retention tool, not a recruitment tool.”

For the time being, my recommendation is to use Pinterest itself (minus the ads) to work toward establishing a relatable online presence and to wait and see what promoted pins have to offer next. Promoted Pins still have an enormous amount of room to grow in order to merit significant investment, but I will continue to provide updates as we see these enhanced targeting features take shape.

Andrew is an analytics and paid search expert that researches, plans, and manages Circa Interactive‘s client PPC campaigns. He is a graduate of the University of California, Santa Barbara, and is both Google Adwords and Analytics Certified. 

Circa Interactive is the premier digital marketing agency in higher education. Since opening in 2009, Circa Interactive has helped more than 60 university programs increase lead flow, build brand awareness, and generate more students. By combining creative and analytical solutions, Circa Interactive provides services in SEO, paid search, digital PR, content marketing, social media, and analytics. 
For more information, visit www.circainteractiveseo.com. (Circa Interactive: Generate. Search. Convert.) 

Higher Ed Marketing Journal Year in Review – 2014

2014 is coming to an end and what a year it has been.  Through the many Google algorithm updates and new challenges around every turn in the world of higher education marketing, the Circa Interactive team here at the Higher Ed Marketing Journal has covered many of the issues, tips, and best practices to help guide you through the many twists and turns.  We’ve put together a six of our favorites in case you missed them – please share and enjoy!


1) Joseph Lapin discusses how, through structured and faculty-centered storytelling, higher ed marketers can build content that the best publications in the country will want to publish in order to build links and increase program visibility.


2) In this three part series, Robert Lee, Circa Interactive’s co-founder and CEO, discusses the use of landing pages and the best practices for conversion optimization in higher education.


3) Caroline Khalili, Circa Interactive’s Digital PR and Marketing Specialist, outlines the five essential social media tools your marketing team should be leveraging to take your visual content to the next level.


4) Scott Levine, Circa Interactive’s VP of Research digs deep into the importance of instructional design and well-conceived, content-rich courses can pay big dividends in attracting new students, engaging current students, and possibly helping improve retention as well.


5) Circa Interactive’s lead designer and social media expert Jordan Opel offers you his five tips for maximizing the effectiveness of your marketing efforts on Twitter.


6) Clayton Dean, Circa Interactive’s co-founder and managing director will show you in this post how you to can increase your lead flow to all new levels through the implementation of a well-rounded digital marketing strategy.


Happy Holidays and New Year from the team at Circa Interactive.  See you in 2015!

Using Google Analytics in Higher Education to Influence Marketing Decisions








By: Linda Watson, Rollins College

I recently presented a session on Google Analytics at the Hannon Hill, Cascade Server conference. In the short survey I conducted, 100% of the Higher Ed attendees had Google Analytics incorporated on their sites, but fewer than 10% were using analytics to make “marketing” decisions.

This static was very surprising, especially considering how powerful the data gathered through Google Analytics can be for measuring and dictating future marketing efforts. Those who aren’t taking advantage of the power of GA are missing out on a huge competitive opportunity and are only making the job of a higher education marketer that much tougher.

Here at Rollins College, marketing decisions take into account both a technical component and a reporting component, which includes strategies in setting up our tracking code, our views (profiles), link tracking, and reports created each month for our Marketing department, Advancement Services, and the Board of Trustees.

Data gathered from Google Analytics for each department, as you’ll see below, is chopped many different ways to enable our decision makers to gage performance from many different angles. This allows our University to be proactive in our response to changes in the market and ensure we’re delivering the best experience as possible for our visitors.

From setting up our tracking codes to reporting, I’ll provide you with a brief overview of our Analytics strategy and how analytics played a role in our move to a responsive website design.

Tracking Code:

With the help of Circa Interactive, we have two accounts set up and Rollins tracks both accounts on every page.  Having two tracking codes will allow us to expand the number of views (profiles) we set up in the future.  I also modified the tracking code at the start of 2014 so Rollins can now track demographic information such as age and gender.


Measuring KPIs (Key Performance Indictors):

Our web marketing team struggled for a couple of months on what KPIs to track.  Often, institutions can get caught up in all the data available and lose sight of the big picture.  Listed are the major KPI’s Rollins currently tracks and, in addition, we track conversions on applications and social media KPIs.


We have set up filters in the views, (profiles) to track all traffic to the Rollins site, internal traffic and external traffic.   The most valuable KPI’s we track come from the external traffic visitors to the Rollins site and, most importantly, the mobile traffic.

Year over year of data shows that the Rollins internal traffic is decreasing while the external mobile traffic is increasing.  I surmise that our students are using their tablets/phones on campus and accessing the Rollins pages using their personal ISP’s and Google Analytics now tracks their visits as external visits.

The substantial increase in overall mobile traffic provided the data to the Board of Trustee’s to move forward with the additional expense of a responsive website.

Responsive Website:

Early in 2013, in preparation of the responsive site, we added event tracking to all the links on the current Rollins site (now the old site).  Link tracking added another layer of valuable information as to what our users were clicking on within the page and on the menus. Using the data taken from the event link information, we could justify which links should appear on the home page.

Also, in preparation of the new home page links, we looked at what users were searching for on our current site and the keywords they were using.   I found the library was not only a top page viewed, but also a top searched keyword.  On the responsive site, our new site search allows users to search the entire Rollins site, the library site, or our news site.  Again, Rollins used the information available from Google Analytics to make key decisions on the responsive website to better serve our users.


Key Reports:

Several times a month, I glean the data from Google Analytics and take it into Excel to produce a graphical representation of our traffic.   Each month, the overall traffic, mobile traffic, and the three school’s year over year traffic are compared.  In addition, KPIs that stand out are also added.

On the departmental level, I create KPI reports, which include the standard KPIs listed, but in addition I look at the department top pages (pageviews), bounce rates, time on page, and demographics. I discuss with key departments the possibility of combing pages, updating content, etc.

In Summary:

As a digital marketer, monitoring and tracking the data within Google Analytics is a task that should be a part of your daily routine.  I try to spend 5-6 hours a week on analytics creating the reports, updating or creating new views, code updates, and researching and learning more about Google Analytics.  You’ll find that it’s well worth the extra effort and attention.  At Rollins College we’ve been able to cut costs and save time by making data driven decisions, rather than decisions made on a hunch that often prove to be wasteful and hinder the success of our marketing campaigns.

Linda Watson, Web Technology Manager at Rollins College in Winter Park, Florida. Please feel free to contact me at:  lmwatson@rollins.edu. 

Happy New Year!

Happy New Year from the team at Circa Interactive and the HEMJ!

What you can expect from the Higher Education Marketing Journal in 2014:

– Exclusive whitepapers for subscribers
– Interviews from industry experts
– The most advanced and informative higher education marketing articles on the web, including best practices, tips, case studies,a nd more.

Please feel free to send questions, comments, or blog post requests to team@circainteractiveseo.com.

We’re also going to accept guest blog posts in 2014, so if you’re interested in writing a guest post for us be sure to give us a shout.

The Circa Interactive Top 5 Articles in Higher Education Marketing: October 3 – October 23

Here are your top articles in higher education marketing over the past few weeks from our friends in the higher education world.  Do you have any you’d like to add?  Add them to the comments section below! Enjoy!

1.  Why Higher Education Needs Marketing More Than Ever

[via Adage]


2.  How To Get Your School Started on LinkedIn

[via Higher Education Marketing]


3.  Twitter Chat Recap: Integrating Social Media and Websites (In Higher Ed)

[via CASE]


4.  HighEdWeb Annual Conference Takeaways

[via Meet Content]


5.  Common App glitches frustrate students, expose vulnerabilities in admissions system

[via The Washington Post]

6 Reasons Why Blogging Should Be a Part of your Social Media Strategy in Higher Education









The world of higher education is changing – fast.  Online education is on the rise, incoming students are more connected than ever,  and the way in which we market higher education is becoming increasingly more digital.  Competition is as high as ever, and will only continue to grow.

Gone are the days of sending out some program brochures, buying a billboard or two, or taking out a magazine ad.  Well, those channels can still be effective if utilized as a supplement to your overall marketing efforts, but if they’re your only marketing focus you’re probably starting to figure out you’re in trouble.

How can you remain relevant and competitive?

In today’s world, to stay relevant and competitive in the marketing and recruiting of perspective students you must go digital.  That means shifting focus from the old outdated marketing tactics that have worked in the past, and allocating budgets towards online marketing channels such as SEO, paid search, and social media.

Allocating a budget across the three general areas of online marketing will be largely dependent on the programs being marketed – heavier on the organic and paid search for Masters level programs, and heavier on social media for undergraduate programs.  Most likely I would guess the majority of higher ed marketers are already doing some paid search, and maybe focusing a little on SEO.  I would also bet that a lot of them aren’t utilizing social media to its full advantage – either they lack the resources, the knowledge, or both.

Today, I wanted to specifically focus on the importance of blogging as part of a social media strategy, and provide some reasons why higher ed marketers (or anyone looking to promote a degree program) should start blogging to benefit and grow degree programs.

Blogging in the world of higher education is still relatively new – some are doing it, but most aren’t doing it that well.

In any case, at least they’re doing something.  At this point in time you’re no longer considered “ahead of the game” by utilizing social media and blogging – it’s far too late for that.

If you need some convincing as to why you need to start blogging for the school or degree program you’re marketing or recruiting for, here are my six reasons (in no particular order):

1) Blogging allow you to connect with potential students and build relationships

This holds especially true in the undergraduate world.  It’s really tough to connect with the younger generation through anything but social media and blogs.  Dr. James Nolan, President of Southwestern College, wrote a great op-ed piece about social media and blogging  in higher education.  He discusses his initial struggle to accept and adopt social media, but also discusses the impact it has had on his college since they’ve embraced it.

One comment stuck out to me: “Nowadays, visiting prospective students almost invariably tell me that they have read our blog, that they are a member of our Facebook group, that they follow us on Pinterest, and so on.”

Don’t miss out on this opportunity with your prospective students – get blogging!

2) Blogging can help to establish your program as a thought leader in your niche or industry

Be your own publisher.  Don’t wait months for a journal (if you can make it through all of the rejection first) to publish your article.  Share your thoughts, ideas, and opinions on industry related topics right now, and receive feedback immediately.

Not only can you quickly connect with an endless number of people who are interested in what you and your program have to say, but you can also quickly get a gauge on what content your audience likes.  Once you’ve figured this out, rinse, repeat and see where else you can plug these topics into other online channels (whitepapers, Tweets, ad content, etc.).

For marketers and PR people, this is one of the most cost effective ways to build credibility around your program’s brand and get on the radar of potential future students who otherwise may have not even thought twice about your program.

3) Blogging can help to increase search rankings and visibility

This part is huge.  I mentioned the competition in higher education – this is where you can get a step ahead.  Blogging is one of the more effective ways to keep Google happy and influence your rankings.

– produces fresh content
– results in more indexed pages
– enhances internal linking
– creates link bait opportunities
– can help you to eat up additional search engine real estate
– can help strengthen your target domain

Take a step back, truly understand your audience, and create content (500+ words per post) that they would be interested in.  Don’t write just for SEO – rather, write for your prospective students.  What do they want to read or learn more about?

Write quality posts, share them on your social networks, and watch the magic happen.

4) Blogging Increases web traffic

Even though SEO will influence this, the real magic is in the long-tailed keyword opportunities.   Blogging will help you to capture individuals at various stages of the buying process, and allow you to get on the radar of prospective students who are searching for programmatic terms that you may not currently rank for.

As a result, you’ll have the ability to generate relevant traffic and not have to rely so heavily on trying to rank for keywords that may be too competitive to match.

5) Blogging can help create conversation or buzz around your program

Blogging is one of the best ways to get your audience talking about you and what you offer.  Invite comments on blog posts and promote the sharing of your blog posts through Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Tumblr, etc.

6) Blogging is cost effective

Not only does blogging work, but it’s also cheap.  Aside from the man hours required to write the posts and maybe a few stock images here or there, blogging is free.

If you’re just getting started with blogging in the higher ed world, here are some things I’ve learned along the way:

– establish one manager of the blog
– utilize social share buttons on each post so content is easily sharable
– setup a content calendar (Google Calendar works well for this)
– post daily or as much as possible (whatever your resources will allow)
– blog for visitors, not links
– don’t just publish updates on the program – publish content that prospective students will benefit from.
– ensure your blog has some type of CTA – you’re driving traffic there, why not generate some leads as well?
– Don’t know what to write about?
-checkout alltop.com / google trends / Google Keyword Planner / Twitter
– write about hot industry topics, current news events – whatever people are consuming or searching for
– create the blog off of your existing .edu domain – either as an internal page or sub-domain
– lacking the time or resources to produce blog posts?  Offer an internship, higher graduate assistants, or ask some top students to help out.

Looking for some good examples of how blogs are effectively utilized in higher education?  Check these out:

http://onlineuniversityrankings.org/2009/top-50-official-university-blogs/ – full list of blogs
http://admissions.vanderbilt.edu/vandybloggers/ – Vanderbilt’s Admissions blog

The Circa Interactive Top 5 Articles in Higher Education Marketing: September 14 – October 2


1)How LinkedIn University Pages Can Benefit Your School

Noelle Schuck discusses LinkedIn’s “University Pages” and how to make effective use of them.

[via .eduGuru]

2) Reputation management in higher education: a list of website where are all the kids go

Ever think about reputation management in higher education?  Well, these days it can play an important role for higher education as well – especially as the most connected classes incoming classes of students make their way to campus.

[via uofadmissionsmarketing.com]

3) Public or Private College.  Is the Outcome Any Different?

Not a marketing article, but an interesting higher education article nonetheless.  Higher education is becoming increasingly more expensive and the choice between public or private colleges can be the difference in thousands.

[via Forbes]

4) CRM in higher education: the secret guide

CRM’s are crucial for marketing success, yet many colleges and universities don’t even use them.  Learn more about CRMs here and why you  need a formalized contingency plan.  If you haven’t read parts I, II, and III be sure to do so!

[via uofadmissionsmarketing.com]

5) SEO for #higher ed: Practical Tips from Joshua Dodson

Great resource for colleges and universities looking to increase search engine visibility and web traffic.

[via collegewebeditor.com]