If you think about a college’s brand as their reputation—how people experience the college, their perceptions—and what they say about a college, then we know that brand perception matters a great deal in education.
When we started this journey two years ago, we set out to better understand what adults thought about the brand of community college. From there, we developed a national challenge to support two-year colleges in raising the profile of their institutions and in developing meaningful ways to connect with the millions of Americans who could benefit from education beyond high school.
We initially launched The Million Dollar Community College Challenge with the intention of helping 10 colleges jump-start that brand transformation. And then something amazing happened.
Hundreds of colleges reached out and shared their visions for transforming their brands, and we realized – 10 was not enough. We continued to fund colleges that were deeply interested in doing the work and invested in deepening their connection, service, and support of their communities. This resulted in 26 grants worth more than $6 million in direct college assistance and technical support.
These colleges are working on everything from improving the physical environment of the campus and creating a visceral sense of belonging to investing in student-centered websites, deepening mobile optimization and accessibility for students, and improving external messages and college experiences.
While 26 grants are a start, it’s not the end of the work. Community colleges are a vital part of the higher education ecosystem, and yet – even with the rising costs of higher education and national conversations on student debt, these access-oriented and affordable institutions are not receiving a mass influx of students.
There are many reasons that influence a person’s decision to enroll in college. Some of those reasons are outside of the control of a college, and others are right within their sphere of influence. There’s never been a more important time for people of all ages to know that workforce training and education beyond high school is not only necessary but possible. And not only possible, but rewarding and achievable.
This work requires energy, creativity, and commitment. We know community colleges are up to the challenge.