A mass exodus of workers dubbed the Great Resignation is upon us. Is this only an issue for employers? I think not. Education marketing professionals ought to be paying attention.

I’m not talking about taking steps to retain talent on your marketing team, though that is a concern

More broadly, I think there are issues at play here that don’t just affect workers. 

Learners and their families have many of the same concerns. They are making decisions about where to enroll based on how well educational institutions align with their values and goals.

They’re not interested in going into educational debt just to get a “traditional” job that will undervalue and overwork them.

What they will gladly invest in is an educational experience they believe will align with their broader career goals:

  • Sufficient income with the potential for advancement and personal growth.
  • Positive, healthy working environment.
  • Personal fulfillment and meaningful life.

Let’s get into what’s driving the Great Resignation, how higher education marketing is responding, and what you can do to send the right message to your prospects.

What’s Driving the “Great Resignation?”

The short answer is that the pandemic sent millions of workers home, giving them plenty of time to rethink their careers.

Many were laid off, and many others (presumably with college degrees) were sent home to work remotely. Everyone began to wonder whether going back to the way things were was the best idea.

As Phillip Kane, CEO of management consulting firm Grace Ocean put it:

“Whether due to a fear for personal safety, a lack of fair treatment, having to deal with a horrible boss, or an inequitable work-life balance, those fleeing what might be viewed as perfectly good jobs are simply choosing to put themselves first for a change.”

This is happening among workers, who are offered pay for their labor. It’s not hard to imagine that learners, who are considering paying a substantial sum just to get into the labor force, might also be thinking twice about the status quo.

We’re not (necessarily) talking about reality here. This is a perception problem.

Despite plenty of evidence that a college degree will translate into higher earnings, said Ashley Finley, vice president of research for the Association of American Colleges and Universities,

“There is this persistent public narrative out there that it’s too expensive — ‘you’re [still] going to flip burgers at McDonald’s, you’re going to end up at Starbucks’ … Never before has higher education been faced with the narrative that higher education isn’t valued, that it’s not worth the time and the money.”

So it certainly appears that the Great Resignation is about more than dissatisfied workers. This phenomenon also affects learners who are wondering how they can avoid the same fate.

How Higher Ed Is Responding

Many institutions are focusing on empowering dissatisfied workers to get promotions, transition to other opportunities, or start their own businesses.

They’re beefing up their online programs for adult undergrad and graduate students. This makes sense, considering that as few as 16 percent of today’s college students are considered “traditional” (young adults, full-time students, living on campus, etc.). 

In addition to full degree programs for nontraditional students, universities are designing short modules that offer certificates in specific skill areas. These include credentials in the areas of cybersecurity, data analytics, digital marketing, robotics, and many others.

Western Governors University is a prime example, an institution that has long been highly focused on serving working adults. They’ve begun to offer micro-credential programs that can be completed in a few weeks, depending on how long it takes the student to demonstrate competency.

To demonstrate the value of their competency-based programs, WGU puts inspirational stories at the core of its education marketing efforts. These stories tie the flexibility of the programming directly to the outcomes all learners desire: economic security, personal growth, and even that “dream job.”

What You Can Do in Education Marketing

Your institution may or may not be developing credential programs, converting in-person courses to online ones, or engaging in other efforts to engage more adult learners. What if your charge is primarily to drive (high-cost) traditional enrollment?

If that’s the case, there are still many Great Resignation lessons you can apply to messaging. As Ray Schroeder, senior fellow of the University Professional and Continuing Education Association wrote, you have other stories to tell:

“Over the past two years, we have seen again and again that an empathetic and supportive working culture is valued highly by employees. The pandemic has advanced the importance of well-being, inclusiveness, innovation and entrepreneurship. We should be sure to model these practices in the delivery of all programs.” (emphasis added)

Whether traditional or nontraditional, recent high school grad or working adult, every student wants these same things out of their learning and working environments.

Seek out stories within your institution of administrators, faculty and staff empowering students in the ways they want to be empowered as workers:

  • Supporting them as they advance or change career direction.
  • Making them feel like valued contributors.
  • Encouraging their economic well-being (financial aid stories).
  • Giving them the tools to forge their own paths.

And of course, capture as many stories as you can of graduates thriving in their careers thanks in part to the help your institution provided along the way.

At its best, education marketing can help prevent another Great Resignation.

You’ve got the stories. All you might need is some help packaging them and getting them to the right audience.

That’s where we come in.

If you’d like to learn about how Caylor Solutions helps education marketing teams tell the stories that inspire prospects to enroll and donors to give, let’s talk.


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