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June 10

More Than Just Words: How Your Marketing Strategy Can Promote Equity


Is it possible that education marketing could accomplish something even grander than higher enrollment numbers? Peter Ashley of Hanover College talks to us about how their marketing efforts are increasing equity on their campus.

Lots of private colleges and universities are seeking to diversify their student body and faculty. But Hanover College, based in pristine southern Indiana, has been approaching this important challenge through the lens of their marketing strategy.

Hanover is Indiana’s oldest college. At the time of this blog post, it’s 194 years old!

Yet despite it’s old traditions and established place among higher education institutions, Hanover is seeking ways to celebrate its strengths and improve on its weaknesses.

In our conversation with VP of Enrollment and Marketing, Peter Ashley, on The Higher Ed Marketer podcast, Peter shared:

We are a very passionate campus that’s committed to social justice, although we have a history that is not always perfect in that area. 

So we try to look very candidly at what we do well, and where we still need to grow. 

We live in a part of the state that’s not particularly diverse, so we have to really focus on bringing diversity here, making people feel welcome and included. [We have to make] some cultural changes on our campus, and even in our community, to help make sure that happens. 

So we’re in the process of launching a Equity and Diversity and Inclusion plan that includes a number of process changes, activities, training, all kinds of things to help really improve that and drive home that campus culture of inclusivity.

For me, it’s refreshing to see how an old institution like Hanover can find a way to continue shaping itself for the future.

That kind of honesty can lead to real innovations like the ones they’ve implemented on the Hanover campus.

An MLK Experience at Hanover

One of the events Hanover is putting on to promote diversity among their student body and staff is an MLK Roundtable, as well as other events around Martin Luther King, Jr. Day.

We had a number of sessions where we invited guest speakers. We had something called the “MLK Roundtable” where we had guest lectures kind of walk everyone through what MLK’s life was about and what he focused on. [During the event, we also discussed] what we can learn from him today. It’s just a matter of letting all the voices be heard. 

What I found fascinating about this event is that Hanover isn’t waiting for the student demographic to change to begin celebrating diversity.

This promotes an atmosphere of inclusion that can make new students of different backgrounds feel welcome.

Listening to student voices.

One of the bravest things Hanover is doing is allowing differing opinions to be heard on the campus.

The current president and the staff are really leading the way to allow students to express themselves and vocalize their opinion on what’s happening in the world.

We want to hear that feedback. Part of what helps is rather than just running around throwing terms around like “equity” and “justice,” we should allow people to have their say and really embrace those different opinions. 

Do it in a way that’s humble, accepting any kind of responsibility, while also looking forward to how we can solve some of these problems, not just get mired in frustration.

Marketing can play a role in this listening process by taking note of the dialogue happening on the campus.

  • What is important to the current student body?
  • How does that reflect what is important to prospective students?
  • Are these perspectives representative of future generations of students?
  • How can we optimize our messaging to reflect these diverse perspectives?

Diversity hiring practices.

Another way Hanover is promoting diversity and inclusion is through changes to their hiring practices to change the ethnic outlook of their staff.

This in itself will go a long way to promoting diversity in all marketing messages as the names and faces of those involved with future content will naturally reflect diverse backgrounds.

Our plan lays out changes in our recruiting strategy for employees (to attract and retain more diverse candidates), additional recruiting activities for our students, and implementing a need-based approach to financial aid. 

So we’re looking at our student success model to determine how we can better retain first generation students. We’re taking practical steps to ensure we’re actually a more equitable campus as opposed to just saying that we want to be more equitable.

Synergy between Enrollment and Marketing

An interesting thing I want to highlight from our conversation is how Hanover is bringing their enrollment and marketing departments together.

In a move that sounds like what Christine Harper and Julie Balog of the University of Kentucky are doing, Hanover understands the synergetic power of an enrollment-focused marketing team.

My role used to be just overseeing marketing. Recently, as enrollment has been added to that, the synergies I see between those two departments is tremendous. 

Almost everything we should be doing as a marketing organization in higher ed is to attract more students!

I have been a big promoter of enrollment-focused marketing strategies for years.

It’s exciting to see this trend catching on!

Be yourself. Relax!

To end our conversation, Peter gave us some sage advice about leveraging your greatest competitive advantage.

Every college has their own secret sauce. Don’t be afraid to have a little fun with some of your messaging or marketing. 

I think we higher ed marketers can be sometimes very uptight. And I think you should just try something different that’s fun with a video or a message – especially on social media. 

It’ll either go great, or people will ignore it. As long as it’s not offensive, go for something a little funny or clever. 

I think that’s great advice because your school’s personality, no matter how quirky, is a lot more interesting than you think. 😉

Discover more when you listen to the podcast!

Like all of our blog post reviews of The Higher Ed Marketer podcasts, there’s so much more to learn in the podcasts themselves.

Listen to our interview with Peter Ashley to get even more insights into:

  • How Hanover responded to the pandemic.
  • How the marketing department addressed social justice.
  • Hanover’s process for making marketing videos and the results.
  • Tips for more relatable, entertaining, and educational video content.

Looking for Enrollment Marketing Content that Works?

You’re in luck! We’ve curated 25 awesome ideas inspired by top higher ed institutions across the country and put them in one handy guide: 25 Ideas for Great Admissions Content.

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    • 25 enrollment marketing content ideas you might never have considered before
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    • Brief discussion on why they work to help you sell these ideas to your team

Get inspired.
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Featured image via hanover.edu

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