Featured from Marketing
Boar's Head Weekend (Alumni Networking Weekend)
University of North Georgia
James T. Palmer, Commandant
The University of North Georgia identified the fact that many of our graduating senior cadets will need jobs after graduation. Although we will commission more than 80% of our current senior class this year, more than 50 seniors will need jobs. (This includes approximately 30 students who will commission into the Georgia Army National Guard or the U.S. Army Reserve.)
Therefore, in close collaboration with our military alumni group known as the North Georgia Corps of Cadets Association (NGCCA), we designed a program that focused on getting jobs for our graduating seniors.
Phase I of the program includes our alumni speaking to the new freshmen immediately after they finish their first week of military orientation in the freshman year. Alumni explain to them the importance of completing college, living by the Honor Code, and identifying with the institution over time. Distinguished alumni, including military commanders, war heroes, and successful business owners tell the freshmen how the Corps of Cadets affected their lives, leading to success in the Army or in the public and private sectors. Phase I merely plants the seed, causing the new freshmen to think about the future and put their current situation in context. The message is hang on; don't quit; the Corps experience will help you develop tangible skills that lead to a credible job after you graduate.
Phase II of the program includes special, short talks from alumni to graduating seniors. These talks last no longer than 90 minutes, include a nice dinner, and take place in the Spring of each academic year. During the talks to seniors, distinguished UNG alumni, both military and civilian, answer questions, conduct networking sessions and make pledges to help seniors with job placement. In some cases, alumni will adopt several seniors and work with them in the short term to help them find jobs. Some alumni allow seniors to shadow them at work; others promise them at least one interview prior to graduation; a few alumni who own businesses may actually offer jobs to seniors (in cases where the alumni met the senior previously in Phase I talks or other professional settings).
Phase III of the program is known as Boar's Head weekend, taking place on a fall weekend on the historic Dahlonega campus in the height of the leaf season. This weekend features food, a banquet for Distinguished Military Graduates, and 8-10 formal networking sessions between alumni and cadets of all classes and ranks. The NEWORKING sessions are the most important aspect of the program. Cadets are broken down into several groups: freshmen, sophomores, juniors, seniors, commissioning, not commissioning, academic majors (5-6 key ones) and special groups (graduates who seek law, medical, or dental degrees, etc). The bottom line is that 8-10 groups of cadets meet with alumni who have achieved success in their given fields of endeavor, both civilian and military. Finally, after the networking sessions take place, our alumni adopt 3-4 underclassmen and track them throughout their college experience. They will see them again next year during the Phase III/ Boar's Head Weekend, and they will develop a rapport with them in the effort to help them enter their preferred career field.
Our program at UNG is brand new. We have completed only our first annual cycle. The after action surveys from our Phase I,II,and III events were very positive, and our UNG Office of Career Services is thrilled that we are taking specific steps to find jobs for our graduating cadets. Finally, a new member of the Commandant's Staff has been assigned the task to improve the process for the next academic year.
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The best schools, military or otherwise, effectively market their unique characteristics in a clear and concise way that enables prospective students and their families to rapidly assess and react to those characteristics, so that they can visit the campus or ask for further information, if the school is a good fit for that individual student.
Is your marketing plan effective?
There are many ways to assess your marketing plan and, as we'll see later in this chapter, an outside perspective can be helpful in making that assessment. Internal methods include qualitative and quantitative comparisons of the current student body with: 1) historical norms for the school, 2) Board-stated goals for enrollment, and 3) physical plant/staffing limitations. It does little good to pursue an enrollment level your campus and staff cannot adequately educate and care for. What will you do if the students actually show up? What if the now larger student body is made up of students who are a poor fit for your mission?
Resolve in the first instance to obtain genuine agreement between the Board and the head of school on the appropriate goal for your marketing efforts and then move out to define that plan in terms all can understand and execute.
What makes a strong marketing plan?
A strong plan is a comprehensive set of techniques designed to use available channels (Internet (including, but not limited to: social media outlets, blogs, and other venues that specifically appeal to today's student audience), print media, word of mouth, radio, television, and other outlets) to make the public aware of what your school offers. The most effective plans develop detailed intelligence about the locations where prospective families might be found and what the demographics of those families are. This enables targeted advertising of the school's characteristics to those who, based on a number of demographic facts, are likely to be favorably disposed to utilize that information to learn more the school and, ultimately, to enroll students there.
Like so many other areas of military school administration, marketing should be the primary responsibility of a single senior staff member with the authority to plan and execute and effective marketing campaign that is consistent with the school's mission and its heritage. Reporting directly to the head of the school, this senior staff member must be resourced with sufficient staff and budget to reach, influence, process, and admit the right number and quality of students. Determining this level of staffing and funding is not an easy task and industry standards are of little help, given the myriad circumstances that combine to make each school unique.
When funds are available, the head of school should hire an outside consultant to evaluate the marketing effort and provide fact-based recommendations on the staffing and budgetary requirements to attain the school's stated enrollment goals. There are a host of firms and more than a few individuals who offer this service and their prices can vary widely, as can the ways in which they conduct their data gathering and analysis.
Who are we?
Central to this marketing effort must be a dedicated effort to clearly state the school's identity. Yes, you're a military school...but why? Yes, you're a college prep school...so what? These things are givens on some level, but what do they say about your institution and what it will deliver to families about to part with hard-earned dollars in an effort to prepare their children for a bright future?
Devote a block of time to an internal staff discussion to refine who you are as an educational institution and why you provide a unique value to your students. This isn't a "pie in the sky" aspirational discussion - who you are determines, for good or ill, what benefits you can reasonably expect to provide to your students. Those benefits are what parents truly seek when they opt to pay for a private school education.
Compare your internally-perceived image with your public documents (your Bylaws, your Strategic Plan, those glossy magazines mailed out to alumni/ae, your local town's impression of the school, and more). When you are confident you have the genuine character and values of your school in mind, discuss these things with your Board to ensure they see things in the same way and normalize any disconnects. With these things in hand, you can begin to craft (or re-craft) marketing efforts that let the public know, "If THIS is what you're looking for, WE are your school!"
Accrediting bodies, consultants, fellow heads of schools, and others can help you think through next steps as you align your now-current vision of the school with the vehicles you've established to convey that image to those who might soon select you to educate their children.
Where are the other resources?
Beyond the excellent background and research AMCSUS provides, you can glean a remarkable amount of marketing intel and guidance from the National Association of Independent School's (NAIS) online databases and the materials provided by The Association of Boarding Schools (TABS). Of particular utility are the demographics you can obtain through the use of the NAIS database found at http://dasl.nais.org/.
Membership (and access to these materials) is not inexpensive, but provides a wealth of insight into all aspects of administering and marketing an effective private school, as well as superb treatment of important topics like governance, safety, discipline, health guidelines, employment law, management of physical assets, among others.
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