Why your college should start a podcast

Marie Hulett (second from left), executive director of institutional advancement at Oregon's Chemeketa Community College, produces the college's podcast “Chatting with Chemeketa.”

Podcasts are not a new medium, dating back to the early 2000s, and they’re incredibly popular. As of early 2023, 75% of Americans 12 and older said they listened to online audio in the past month, according to the Pew Research Center.

They’re also an effective way for two-year colleges to reach a range of audiences, from current and prospective students to donors, community members and stakeholders – if you put the resources and energy into the project.

This article is part of a monthly series provided by the National Council for Marketing & Public Relations (NCMPR), an affiliated council of the American Association of Community Colleges.

What equipment do I need to start a podcast?

Believe it or not, if you have a smartphone, you already have the equipment. Smartphones have a surprisingly good microphone, editing software and the ability to connect to the internet and distribute your podcast. The same is true with a good laptop. This is all you really need to capture your stories and share them with your college community. 

But if you have a budget, you can invest in some equipment that will improve the audio quality of your podcast. There are numerous podcast-specific mics at affordable prices, such as the Yeti USB Microphone, which requires no additional equipment. You may also want to consider: 

  • Foam panels for soundproofing your recording space
  • A laptop with editing software
  • Microphone stands and windscreens
  • An audio interface
  • Some studio-quality headphones 

Ask your IT team and liberal arts department, especially if you have a mass communications program, before you make your purchases. If you’re lucky enough to have a college radio station on campus and a willing faculty member, you’re in luck because the equipment and expertise you need is already on hand.

What should we talk about?

The range of possible topics is as broad as you can imagine. At Harper College in Illinois, the “Harper Talks” podcast is geared toward Harper alumni, students and community members and is a partnership between alumni relations and the mass communications program. 

A “Harper Talks” promo

The college is always looking for ways to share alumni stories, and a podcast seemed like a great way to do so, says Shannon Hynes, producer of “Harper Talks,” who works with host Brian Shelton, associate professor of liberal arts and the advisor WHCM, Harper’s FM radio station.

“Alumni share how Harper College and other education and career experiences have impacted them along the way, as well as what lessons they’ve learned that they can pass along to the next generation of alumni,” says Hynes, Harper’s director of alumni relations and affinity groups. 

“Harper Talks” – which has a conversational, one-to-one format – also helps the college celebrate alumni and showcase the amazing things they’re doing. 

Chatting with Chemeketa,” the podcast at Chemeketa Community College in Oregon, spotlights college programming for the community; however, its producer, Marie Hulett, has traced listeners all around the globe. Guests range from students and employees from every department and academic program, all going in-depth about how programs impact students and the community.

“We do a lot of storytelling,” says Hulett, who is also Chemeketa’s executive director of institutional advancement. “The main thing we do is try to make it listenable. We don’t want stilted talking heads spouting out dull information. We want lively and engaging conversation with laughter.”

Amanda Thomas and Mark W. Brown of Green River College co-host the “Fresh Perspectives” podcast.

Meanwhile, “Fresh Perspectives,” the podcast at Green River College in Washington, spotlights race-related experiences at the college. After George Floyd’s murder, Green River’s Black Caucus, comprised of college employees, developed campus programming to educate about Black culture, says Mark W. Brown, Green River’s director of learning and innovation and cohost for “Fresh Perspectives.” 

In its first season, the podcast served as a continuation of an educational series centered on Black history, Black voices, and Black excellence, which was created by Amanda Thomas, podcast co-host and director of workforce education. In season 2, “Fresh Perspectives” expanded to include other minority groups.

“Our audience appreciates the candor in our discussions and how we openly share personal experiences and address issues relevant to our college, communities and the broader context of higher education,” Brown says.

Who should be involved?

As these examples show, podcast producers, hosts and guests can come from nearly any area of the college. A little radio experience won’t hurt, but what’s really required is a willingness to learn – and to be a little vulnerable. In podcasting, there’s an inherent demand for a higher level of vulnerability, Brown says.

“Starting a podcast entails sharing a significant part of oneself, requiring confidence in expressing thoughts and emotions to an unknown audience,” he adds.

But is it worth the effort?

Hynes says she hears from alumni and non-alumni both who say they related to something from an episode of “Harper Talks” or learned something about the college. The format – alumni sharing stories – helps students see themselves and visualize their futures at Harper.

Hulett, too, hears from listeners who say they’d never heard about various Chemeketa offerings until the podcast.

“Honestly, much of what a college does goes unnoticed, even with the best marketing,” she says. “But if you spend a half hour talking about the programs and services and how important they are, people start relating and seeing themselves – or their kids – in those programs.”

About the Author

Jeff Julian
Jeff Julian is chief of staff and vice president of external affairs at Harper College in Illinois. He is NCMPR’s 2023-24 president and a 2023-24 Aspen Institute Rising Presidents Fellow. He also hosted NCMPR’s podcast for 3½ years.
The owner of this website has made a commitment to accessibility and inclusion, please report any problems that you encounter using the contact form on this website. This site uses the WP ADA Compliance Check plugin to enhance accessibility.