Community colleges enroll 40 percent of all U.S. undergraduates, but too many people are unfamiliar with who they are and what they offer. While four-year colleges and universities have been engaged in a brand positioning race for years, due to historic underfunding, community colleges haven’t had the resources to launch sophisticated brand-building or marketing efforts that make vital campus-to-community connections.  

Lumina Foundation believes community colleges are a central part of higher education and vital to reaching our goal of ensuring that 60 percent of Americans earn a credential of value after high school. We want to promote brand-building and marketing efforts at America’s community colleges by launching a new grant opportunity—The Million Dollar Community College Challenge. 

The Million Dollar Community College Challenge will award 1.9 million in grants and technical assistance directly to community colleges, with one college receiving $1 million dollars and nine colleges receiving $100,000 each. 

We’re accepting applications now through March 15, and you can learn more about The Million Dollar Community College Challenge or register for one of our informational webinars by visiting  

You don’t have to be a brand or marketing expert to win. We understand that not every college is equipped with brand-building and marketing know-how. We’re looking for colleges that know it takes more than throwing money at marketing to yield results—colleges that think strategically about shaping, improving, and amplifying their college’s brand. 

Why focus on brand building?

A strong brand is memorable. It evokes emotion. It can make us think about quality, price, social impact, and prestige. We choose brands in all areas of lifeeven when choosing higher education.  

A college’s brand is its reputation. It stems largely from the student experience. The timeliness of communication, ease of enrollment, availability of support services, campus culture, positive interactions with faculty, and employment opportunities for graduates are just a few ways students interact with a college’s brand. And when students have formed an opinion, they engage—and tell others about it.  

But it’s not just students who experience a college’s brand. Community partners and even employers have formed their own brand perceptions. Employers flock to recruit students and form partnerships based on a college’s reputation. Community organizations and businesses want to align with thriving campus communities. 

And while there’s lots of great work being done around student success initiatives, policy, and the removal of barriers to educationwe need to pay more attention to how community colleges are positioning their brand and marketing efforts to gain the attention of adults who have competing life demandsand could benefit from what they have to offer. 

Simply put, brands matter.  

To learn more about The Million Dollar Community College Challenge or to attend an informational webinar, visit

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