$1M to boost your college’s brand


Lumina Foundation wants to help community colleges refine their branding in order to raise their profiles in the communities they serve.
Through its Million Dollar Community College Challenge launched today, Lumina will award $1 million to one selected winner and $100,000 each to nine other colleges.
“The Million Dollar Community College Challenge is about finding colleges who have been working on the student experience and providing them with the support needed to tell their communities about it,” said Shauna Davis, strategy director for community college participation at Lumina.

When it comes to education, branding matters, Davis said. Four-year institutions have for years focused on building a strong brand and marketing it, she said. But community colleges historically have not had the resources to launch sophisticated brand building and marketing to make stronger campus and community connections, she added.
Lumina is seeking colleges that are engaged in getting their brand across more broadly and accurately, Davis said. It’s looking at how colleges encompass and share their successes on campus and in the community, she said. The grant application, for example, asks about a college’s staffing, campus outreach and enrollment management efforts, to name a few.

Sharing their stories

Changes in education delivery, use of technology, student services and supports, business and industry partnerships, and work skills have all changed over the years. So communities may not be aware of how their local community colleges have developed, Davis said. They have also made strides in improving student success rates and providing various access opportunities to students, whether they are full-time learners seeking a degree or part-time students who want to earn an industry credential or to upgrade their skills.
Lumina is not looking for colleges that want to launch a one-off marketing campaign, though they will have wide latitude on how to use the grants, Davis said. The foundation is seeking colleges that can articulate what makes their college and the experience of attending the college great.

The $1 million top prize and the $100,000 finalist awards are substantial.

“We wanted an amount that would really help a college do something that they couldn’t otherwise do,” Davis said.

Lumina has been working on research around community college brand perception, which is how the idea for the challenge originated, Davis said. It has interviewed colleges to gauge how they perceive their brand and surveyed area residents — people who are not students but have an interest in attending the college — to see how they view their local community college. The results will be shared later this year.

Davis noted that the goal of the project also dovetails into one of Lumina’s key goals: to ensure at least 60% of Americans attain a credential after high school. Community colleges are vital partners to reach that goal, she said.

The details

The initial application deadline is March 15. Lumina will hold informational webinars on Feb. 22 and 23 to address any questions. A team of reviewers comprising brand, marketing and higher education professionals will announce 10 finalists in late April, according to Mary Laphen, strategy officer for participation at Lumina.

The selected colleges will receive some virtual training on messaging and marketing, Laphen said. The teams then will submit a brief video that creatively illustrates their college brand. The winner will be named in August and will receive $1 million. The nine other finalists will receive $100,000 each, in addition to technical assistance.

While Lumina will offer grants to only 10 colleges, it plans to share resources related to the project with other community colleges, Laphen said.

“We look forward to telling your stories and sharing with the field what we’ve learned about creative outputs and campaign outcomes,” she said.

Reaching rurals, too

Lumina encourage all types of community colleges to apply, including small and rural colleges that historically don’t have the resources to compete for grants against larger colleges.

“We were intentional about asking questions that help us understand the context and opportunities for each college,” said Tracy Chen, Lumina’s director of media strategy. “We are looking for great ideas. And we ask colleges in the application to tell us how they would use the funds to transform their efforts. Any college can have great ideas.” 

About the Author

Matthew Dembicki
Matthew Dembicki edits Community College Daily and serves as associate vice president of communications for the American Association of Community Colleges.
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