As a fan of Discovery Channel’s Deadliest Catch, I’ve come to relate the world of higher education with the rough waters of the Bering Sea. Enrollments can be as elusive as the prized Opilio crab. Different crab (Opilio, Alaskan King, Bairdi) react to different baits and locations, just as there are differences between Generation Z, Millennials, Generation X and Boomers. There are veteran captains on the show just as there are veteran marketers in the UPCEA community. There are also the new deckhands, who might be our digital marketers. Ultimately, the boats are successful because of good leadership, staffing, and planning, as well as having the right gear.  Successful boats also adapt to harsh conditions and use analytics, coupled with experience in planning.

Higher education is faced with turbulence in the form of economic transformation, degree saturation, high tuition, changing demographics, competition and new credentialing. Higher education marketers are faced with new marketing technologies and tools while operating in an often slow moving and bureaucratic process when it comes to making marketing investments. Despite these challenges, there are opportunities for professional, continuing and online (PCO) units and their marketers, to succeed in the marketplace.

PCO education units are at the forefront of educational opportunity. While traditional, campus-based education struggles, PCO units and their leaders are asked to find new streams of revenue and enrollments for the institution. Once found, marketers often need to use newer marketing techniques, such as marketing automation, content marketing and social media tactics, to chum the waters and attract Millennial decision-makers and the newly identified species of Generation Z. Once in the net or pot, new messaging, technologies and efficient, high-yield conversion and enrollment management processes take effect. 

Marketing has become more complex and knowing what staff to have in-house or to outsource are important decisions for PCO units. In my August 2, 2019 blog posting, I talked about the importance and profile of the PCO marketing leader. On average, the marketing leader manages 6.1 staff. Decisions need to be made as to who these individuals are.  Are they marketing managers or coordinators? Analysts? Digital or social media specialists? While these decisions are being made, are there short-term solutions through outsourcing or long-term outsourcing due to inconsistent need of certain competencies or not needing a specific competency on staff.

The UPCEA Marketing Survey (see infographic below) identified that most PCO units have staff leading, managing or coordinating marketing efforts (96%) and when they do, they have 2.96 full-time equivalents (FTEs). Just under two-thirds (64%) have someone in digital marketing and when they do, they have 1.19 FTEs.  Interestingly, with the evolution of marketing, the number of creative staff has declined from 3.7 FTEs in both 1999 and 2006 to 1.4 in 2018. 

The bottom chart on the infographic shows that despite the smaller numbers of creative staff, approximately half of PCO marketing departments say they have high competency in copywriting (49%) and print ad development (48%). Other high areas of competency include email communication, strategic marketing, branding, social media marketing and web development. The chart also shows lower or basic competency for market research, search engine optimization, videography, and CRM and analytics. 

In an effort to gain competencies more quickly or efficiently, many PCO marketing departments have chosen the route of outsourcing some functions, to the tune of $78,369 on average or 10% of the unit marketing budget (or 14% of the media budget). Eighty percent of PCO marketing departments reported some level of outsourcing, mostly in online and social media or buying some other form of media or in videography or market research. Gaining external expertise or an outside perspective, especially in market research, can be important to accelerate decision-making with new program development and marketing planning. Given the potential complexities of digital marketing, such as paid search, content marketing or social media marketing, using an outside agency may yield better results through greater external expertise or efficiencies. These factors are important considerations when deciding to outsource rather than building the competency in-house.

In addition to the challenges that higher education will face, PCO marketers may struggle with new marketing technologies or tools; continued fragmentation of the market; improving enrollment management, conversion and retention; being able to leverage analytics competitively; and communicating the need for appropriate resources for marketing. Progressive institutions or those with sophisticated enrollment management systems, understand or can easily calculate the return on marketing investment. As the infographic suggests, analytic, CRM or enrollment management competencies or staffing may be lacking due to poor budget situations or lack of perceived value. Being able to show the marketing return on investment for every dollar spent, as well as conversion rates by program and media channels, can help create optimal marketing budgets. Good metrics will also help to identify what marketing tools may be better suited for strategic outsourcing.

Like Deadliest Catch, a complete or integrated approach is needed for long-term sustainability. Having strong marketing leadership, good staff, proper tools, efficient processes, success metrics and good planning should yield a positive return on investment with crab pots full of enrollments.


Welcome to the third installment in our monthly public policy primer, Policy Matters. Each issue has the latest updates and actionable items in public policy for adult and nontraditional education stakeholders.  Please note that you must sign up with this form in order to receive these emails.

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Artificial intelligence is recognizing and responding to human emotions, oftentimes better than many humans.

As a long-time professor of communication, I am fascinated with the cognitive characteristics of artificial intelligence as they relate to human communication. Image processing, computer vision, speech recognition, and pattern recognition are parts of the sophisticated processes in artificial intelligence communicating with humans. But at the superficial level these comprise only part of the communication process.

One of the challenges in person-to-person communication is recognizing and responding to subtle verbal and non-verbal expressions of emotion. Too often, we fail to pick up one the importance of inflections; word choices; word emphases; and body language that reveal emotions, depth of feelings, and less obvious intent. I have known many of my colleagues who were insensitive to the cues; they often missed nonverbal cues that were obvious to other more perceptive people.

Kendra Cherry from Verywell notes that, “…research has identified several different types of nonverbal communication. In many cases, we communicate information in nonverbal ways using groups of behaviors. For example, we might combine a frown with crossed arms and unblinking eye gaze to indicate disapproval.”

And, that brings me to just how artificial intelligence may soon enhance communication between and among students and instructors. AI in many fields now apply affective communication algorithms that help to respond to humans.  Customer service chat boxes can sense when a client is angry or upset; advertising research can use AI to measure emotion responses of viewers; and a mental health app can measure nuances of voice to identify anxiety and mood changes over the phone. “Machines are very good at analyzing large amounts of data,” explained MIT Sloan professor Erik Brynjolfsson. “They can listen to voice inflections and start to recognize when those inflections correlate with stress or anger. Machines can analyze images and pick up subtleties in micro-expressions on humans’ faces that might happen even too fast for a person to recognize.”

Too often we fail to put ourselves in the position of others in order to understand motivations, concerns, and responses. Mikko Alasaarela posits that humans are bad at our current emotional intellgence reasonings: “We don’t try to understand their reasoning if it goes against our worldview. We don’t want to challenge our biases or prejudices. Online, the situation is much worse. We draw hasty and often mistaken conclusions from comments by people we don’t know at all, and lash at them if we believe their point goes against our biases.”

That can be a significant challenge in online classes.  Too often, I fear, we miss the true intent, the real motivation, the true meaning of posts in discussion boards and synchronous voice and video discussions. The ability of AI algorithms to tease out these motivations and meanings could provide a much greater depth of understanding (and misunderstanding) in the communication of learners.

Sophie Kleber writes in Harvard Business Review, “In January of 2018, Annette Zimmermann, vice president of research at Gartner, proclaimed: “By 2022, your personal device will know more about your emotional state than your own family.” Just two months later, a landmark study from the University of Ohio claimed that their algorithm was now better at detecting emotions than people are…. Emotional inputs will create a shift from data-driven IQ-heavy interactions to deep EQ-guided experiences, giving brands the opportunity to connect to customers on a much deeper, more personal level.”

With AI mediating our communication, we can look to a future of deeper communication that acknowledges human feelings and emotions. This will be able to enhance our communication in online classes even beyond the quality of face-to-face communication in campus-based classes. Algorithms that enable better “reading” of emotions behind written, auditory and visual communication are already at work in other industries. It will not be long before these will available to enhance our communication in online classes.

Are faculty considering how they might best use this added knowledge? Are you preparing faculty members for this prospect? Is your university prepared to consider the privacy considerations that this technology raises?


This article originally appeared in Inside Higher Ed’s Inside Digital Learning Blog. 

Visioning is an essential, active process, requiring daily attention.

We have both the good fortune and bothersome misfortune to live in a time of rapid change in online higher education. Technologies, pedagogies, practices and competition are in flux. Choosing among the options is a critical task of the online learning administrator. The stakes are very high — if a university commits to the broad implementation of a technology or strategy or practice that fails, thousands of students are impacted, programs are closed, reputations are damaged and millions of dollars go down the drain.

We have seen this time and again in nonprofit and particularly in for-profit ventures. Miscalculating the future, creating a flawed vision of how to proceed, bending decisions based on hype for short-term gains rather than long-term stability has resulted in the ruination of students’ lives, putting them in lifetime of debt for a degree that never was completed. While the headlines capture the grand-scale losses, there are many more individual programs and initiatives that are terminated due to miscalculations.

The weight of responsibility is felt by online learning administrators for making the right recommendations; envisioning the proper course of practices; preparing alternatives “just in case” one or another element of the initiative fails; and providing an acceptable level of security for students, staff and the institution. So how does one go about making the right decisions, taking the correct course of action in this time when technology turns on a dime and competition springs up seemingly out of nowhere?

There is no single path to assured security, but there is an array of steps that can be taken to help to assure success. They are a scaffold to creating a vision. Too often in meeting with online program leaders on campus visits, at conferences, and in “second-opinion” calls, I find colleagues have no clear vision beyond keeping within budget and maintaining the status quo with modest growth. That is not the recipe for success in this environment of expanding competition and changing best practices.

Successful visioning for those in our field includes much information gathering:

  1. First and foremost, leaders must be well informed, fully and deeply up-to-date on the latest technologies, trends, regulations and practices. This involves daily vigilance. Checking for updates once a month or once a week is not enough. Inside Higher Ed provides five excellent updates a week covering the breadth of higher ed. That is a great foundation, and yet more information can be gathered. Social media offers the fire hose of information that must be sorted and assimilated daily. Find credible, quality sources that are relevant to your institution to check each and every day. Do your due diligence to know the existing technologies, the emerging technologies, the best practices, the current regulations and the trends in all of these areas.
  2. Know your competitors, what they are doing, what new initiatives are being launched, where they are marketing and which of their programs are succeeding and which are floundering. Some of this information is gleaned from social and the traditional media. More of this information comes from attending conferences and networking and going to sessions.
  3. Know your institution inside and out. Which campus programs are thriving — which are not? Know each of the deans, and if possible, all of the department chairs and directors. Touch base often to plumb their programmatic desires and needs.
  4. Know your administration’s priorities and goals, and know your institutional marketing plans and initiatives. Know what is driving their priorities: the board of the institution, state mandates, federal regulations, alumni desires, regional corporate learning needs, etc.
  5. Assemble a corporate advisory board including small businesses along with the larger employers. Listen carefully and often to their needs. What learning do they need for employees and prospective employees? What new technologies are emerging for which there is a shortage of trained or certified workers? How can your institution help through online or self-paced programs for which there is an emerging market?
  6. Engage your staff in the information gathering and sharing. Tap their wisdom to collaborate with you in decision making. This is important to create a cohesive unit with a shared vision. Sharing these perspectives makes the team stronger and creates a smoother path to succession.

Assemble all of these sources of information and engagement practices to shape a vision of the future of online learning at your institution. The vision should include incremental steps out to three or four years. It should be revisited at least twice a year — more often when significant changes appear on your radar.

Are you doing the due diligence enumerated above? Which of your competitors do you believe are doing that kind of horizon scanning and planning? How might you do a better job in each of the areas?

This article originally appeared August 7, 2019 in Inside Higher Ed’s Inside Digital Learning blog

I went out of my way to go to Burger King to try their Incredible Whopper.  It wasn’t bad, but it got me reflecting on “where did this come from and why?”

After one of my presentations on Generation Z a few years ago, a higher education administrator said to me, “You can’t compare education with a retail product or service, especially food.”  Yes, you can and it has never been more clear with Generation Z and Millennials and their eating habits and preferences.  Many higher education leaders believe that despite the fact that the taxi cab has now become an endangered species, malls are empty except for Planet Fitness people, and you can rent a room out of a total stranger’s house, higher education is immune to effects of a new economy. In my opinion, food is the answer to many of life’s problems.
Read on for how it relates to the potential woes and challenges for higher education.

By SmartBrief Editors

This post is produced in partnership with UPCEA

It’s no secret that hackers are getting more sophisticated and that no businesses or organizations are immune. A reported 60% of large businesses and more than 50% of high-income charities have experienced cyber security breaches in the last year and a small business is hacked every 19 seconds.

Higher education and other professional learning institutions are hot targets for cyber criminals. Student data, financial information, proprietary information from academic research and intellectual property are all valuable assets to hackers — and they are growing bolder in their pursuits.

Most recently, the US Department of Education backtracked on the impact of a prior alert regarding a security vulnerability of a popular college and university software but the message remains strong: colleges, universities and other learning institutions are targets, too.

These attacks are not relegated to the US, of course. A recent survey from Dell EMC and VMware found that UK research programs are worth an average of $2.7 million USD. In August 2018, Iranian cyber attacks targeted 76 universities in 21 countries, including those located in the US, UK, China, Canada and Switzerland. Other entities were also hit, including the US Department of Labor and the United Nations. Those attacks centered on phishing scams through the email of personnel.

The FBI reports that phishing is still the most popular way for cybercriminals to access data and other sensitive information, costing US businesses $1.6 billion in damages in just two years. In total, 16 domains have been used by the threat actors to host over 300 spoofed websites, including university login pages and online libraries.

It’s clear that the higher education landscape is a lucrative place for hackers to set their focus — and it is not limited to traditional colleges and universities. All professional learning spaces should be aware of the types of cyber attacks and more importantly, prep to avoid them by:

  • Prioritizing safety and security. In other words, put the money behind the initiatives for staff training, student awareness and the actual software and device-safety programs.
  • Implementing and maintaining the most updated security software and secure IT infrastructures. These are not luxury, nice-to-have items that are considered if there is enough money left in the budget; the protection of operations and student data from hackers and other cyber criminals should be a priority for every college, university and professional learning organization.
  • Empowering staff with the knowledge base to avoid common cyberattacks that most often start with phishing scams. Employees must understand that security is not just the job of the IT departments; it is the responsibility of every staff member.

As cybersecurity initiatives evolve, so will the criminals, making strong security measures a permanent priority for colleges, universities and other professional learning spaces.

Advertising and marketing should never be confused. There are many types of marketers in the workplace and hiring the wrong one or not retaining the right one impacts enrollment success. Tomorrow’s marketer needs to understand strategy, competition, metrics, customer relationship management (CRM) systems, and digital and social media and positioning. They also need to manage above to leadership, across to peers, down to staff and they also need to be effective internal communicators. Therefore, the perfect marketer is a rare and precious commodity.

Furthermore, with enrollments declining nationally as a result of increased competition, new educational pathways such as alternative credentialing and a changing economy, the role of marketing a professional, continuing and online (PCO) educational portfolio is critical for institutional success. PCO units need to make strategic choices around marketing infrastructure, and personnel and budgets. Marketers need to know what position to create, whom to hire and when to hire. They also need to know how to set a marketing budget, as well as work with outside partners.

The ability to mass market is practically nonexistent in higher education marketing. Target markets are becoming more and more fractured and segmented. Digital and social media channels continue to evolve and become more complex. Therefore, reaching the target market has become more complex and costly. Creating a cutting-edge marketing department can be a challenge and having the right marketing personnel or outside partner in place is critical for an institution to hit its enrollment goals, reach new markets and launch new programs.

Stephanie Platteter, Executive Director of Marketing and Enrollment Management at the University of Minnesota College of Continuing and Professional Studies, says, “Unlike traditional undergraduate admissions, marketing in professional, continuing, and online education needs to play a key role beyond promotion and recruitment. We must analyze markets and audiences to help make program decisions and to position our programs successfully. With decreasing budgets, more competition, and an increasingly diverse student body; PCO units are under increasing pressure to contribute revenue to the university with market-driven programs that met the needs of a variety of audiences. Because of this, I see the role of strategic marketing leadership in PCO education growing in importance in the years to come.”

The infographic below shows that the typical UPCEA marketing director or leader tends to have a master’s degree and nearly two decades of marketing expertise. Marketing directors have an average salary of $91,566 within a narrow salary band between the $75,000 and $100,000 quartiles, and with an upper range of $200,000. Their jobs are complex in that they are often tasked with marketing online degrees or courses (96%), credit programs (75%), non-credit programs (71%), as well as other programs. They also supervise an average of 6.1 full-time marketing employees and 0.6 part-time employees. Many are also tasked with working with vendors and partners. Given the complexity of their jobs, they are a critical piece in the professional, continuing and online education organization. An analysis shows that on average, revenue per marketing FTE is at $3,742,949. For smaller PCO units (those with less than $5 million in revenue), the amount is $976,449. Economies of scale are yielded for larger institutions (those with more than $15 million in revenue).

Marketing is complex in today’s world. There are many different types of potential students and many ways to reach them. Internal communication is almost as important as external communication. Knowing about enrollment management and CRM systems is critical. Find your strategic Swiss Army knife marketing professional.  Take care of them. Compensate them. Support them. Keep them. You may otherwise regret it, especially if they are correlated to enrollments and revenue. Marketers matter.