Student Success Affirmed as College's Best Marketing Tool

Published 02.03.2015

President News
Faculty & Staff

In the afterglow of Pennsylvania College of Technology’s yearlong Centennial, a spectacular celebration matched by a successful scholarship campaign, President Davie Jane Gilmour belatedly opened the Spring 2015 semester with an affirmative all-college speech to faculty and staff. “We know what to do, we know how to do it, and we do it every day very well,” she said in Tuesday afternoon's snow-delayed address, noting that student achievement remains the best barometer of  the college community's success. "'Degrees that work' is not just a slogan for us. We are transforming lives for our students – they are getting incredible jobs, beginning careers – we do much more than teach a skill. Penn College graduates are well-rounded, involved, successful young people with enviable futures. They are athletes, volunteers, inventors, creative, hardworking, and dedicated to their mission and purpose. Our graduates are the spark for the future; a successful graduate is our best marketing.”

The following is drawn from President Gilmour’s remarks at a Feb. 3 employee get-together in the Klump Academic Center Auditorium:

Happy New Year!

I would like to begin today with some announcements.

There will be a snow makeup day on Monday, April 6.

A reminder that Governance nominations are open until Wednesday. I encourage you to nominate yourself or someone to participate.

The grant-writing workshop canceled in November has been rescheduled for Thursday, Feb. 12. McAllister & Quinn representatives will provide an informative session on the advantages of being involved in grant work, as well as providing tips for how to proceed. Participants can register through Professional Development.

While the Centennial Colloquia Series presentations were completed in 2014, the spirit of the Colloquium continues. There will be a panel presentation by the six Penn College faculty who took part during 2014. The committee met recently to make plans for continuing the series in the next academic year. I am very pleased to announce that the series will be known as the Dan Doyle Science, Technology and Society Colloquia Series. Dan is a Master Teacher, is one of the original STS faculty members and part of the team that led the Centennial Series. I am thrilled he has agreed to allow his name to be linked to the future events.

Academic Review at the conclusion of the fall semester further underscored our work to improve retention. The low number of students in academic distress and the high number receiving accolades (Dean’s List or Good Job in first-semester letters) speaks to the excellent work our faculty and staff do in helping students succeed. This is a continuation of the years of work addressing retention and the implementation of the Foundations of Excellence recommendations. It is important to keep those efforts always in mind. Please continue to use MAP-Works, to use the recommendations to excellent advising, and to perhaps consider teaching a First Year Experience course next year.

The newest component of our Event Management System has gone live. We are in the process of transitioning from the old Campus Calendar of Events to the new Master Calendar system. Employees and students can find a link to Master Calendar on the portal page, and a public link will be available shortly on the college website.

That concludes the announcements.

2015 – the beginning of our next 100 years. Some of you may be here for that next celebration; I will not. For me, I think we best look at our future in decades. What will transpire at Penn College over the next 10 years? In 2025, what will we be doing? Will we have left our mark? And will we be true to our mission? We can determine that future; each and every one of us will. I like what George Burns says: “I look to the future because that is where I am going to spend the rest of my life.” More on that topic in a bit.

There is no question our Centennial Celebration was a success. The Centennial Scholarship Campaign exceeded our most ambitious expectations. Scholarship support is an important component in our efforts to assure accessibility of a college education to our students. The availability of scholarship support assists in the recruitment and retention of students by providing much-needed assistance with the financial challenge of paying for a college education.

When we began our planning in 2011 for our Centennial celebration in 2014, we believed this was a fantastic opportunity, at the right time, to conduct a scholarship campaign to increase support for our students. The Penn College Scholarship Campaign quietly kicked off in late 2011 and was publicly announced in 2013.

I am pleased to tell you that the campaign has raised more than $6.4 million in new scholarship support for our students. Support came in the form of gifts, pledges and planned gifts.

We have received very generous contributions from you, our employees, as well as retirees, alumni, business and industry, board members, and friends. Our employees have contributed $1,101,786, while alumni – including those who work at the college – contributed $948,489.

A special initiative through the Penn College Foundation, the Next Centennial Scholarship, was supported by 184 new alumni donors.

We had a total of 1,988 donors, and the funds raised in this effort have more than doubled the amount of scholarship support for students.

Employee generosity does not stop with your contributions to the scholarship campaign. When we launched the 2014-15 Penn College Fund campaign in April of last year, we challenged 100 of you to either increase your gift to the Penn College Fund or become a new donor. I am happy to report that 80 met that challenge: 58 increased your annual support this year and 22 became first-time donors to the college. I am confident we will reach our goal of 100 new or increased donors by the end of this fiscal year.

I extend my sincere thanks to all of you who have participated in both of these successful campaigns. Your support has truly made a positive impact on our students’ ability to earn a Penn College degree. Thank you. A big “Thank you” to Barry Stiger, Debbie Miller, Robb Dietrich and Valerie Fessler.

And then there were our activities. Many remember our nachos kickoff in January and our picnic in May, the displays in the Madigan Gallery, the guest speakers, and the special Centennial diploma and pin all graduates received in 2014. Our “welcome back to campus event” in July and our donor concert with Home Free in November. Our books, written by Elaine Lambert; the most recent, “Working Class – 100 Years of Hands-On Education.” Outstanding work for which we are most grateful. The documentary premiered Jan. 8 – wasn’t it amazing? Elaine Lambert, Chris Leigh and Tom Speicher are to be commended for their vision and talent to bring our story to life. We have one final activity, our time capsule, to be filled and sealed this spring, and one final publication. Cindy Meixel and our other photographers created an incredible array of creative and artistic photographs to capture the year in pictures. We will publish one final book – a scrapbook, if you will – of the memories we can share as a result of their eye and talent.

Along with our Centennial celebration and its milestones, we continued pursuing our mission; revised our strategic plan; updated our vision; and continued to provide hands-on, applied technology education in a world that needs to embrace more of what we do for the economic development of Pennsylvania and the country.

The world outside our walls is filled with challenges. We see fighting across the world and in our own communities. I want to ask you a favor. Penn College Police are a vital part of our world. They provide assistance to each of us, are important for our safety and security, and, most important, to our students. When you see our officers across campus, take time to thank them for their service. We are most fortunate to have officers that care and are a valued part of our community. We cannot and should not take them for granted. I offer my thanks for a job well done on behalf of all of us.

Some of you are aware that we have contracted with a marketing firm to leverage national exposure. First, let me be clear: We are very pleased with our staff and the work in our own Public Relations & Marketing department. We are looking for this outside group to get us exposure in different “national” ways. I spent time with them in New York City in December speaking to a variety of news and media outlets. More of that will continue as they implement a plan to get our name national exposure complementary to what we do through our own marketing and media outreach.

I caught up on some reading this holiday break. I read a document put together by Heidi Mack on academic marketing strategies. I am confident the schools are familiar with this document. I wanted to share a piece of that for all of us to consider – seven things we can do to support marketing at Penn College. (Heidi, forgive me, but I took some license with the title for my use today.)

1. Offer the best possible product. For some of us, that is instruction; for others, that is service to students and the public. To be the best, we have to live up to our promise. Quality in our work is fundamentally critical. For all of us.

2. Make the most out of every opportunity to interact with prospective students who visit campus, by phone, in person, by email or social media. Can you say that you do that every day? Are you voluntarily helpful, providing assistance to the public, as well as possible students?

3. Assess all majors in terms of value and differentiation. I will generalize that by saying, be prepared to have an explanation of what makes Penn College special: our degrees; our faculty; our labs; a hands-on, applied technology education with a full collegiate experience.

4. Focus on outcomes when planning activities, events or advertising. What is the purpose of the event or activity? Are you including Admissions in the planning and communication? Do you have the right materials for the guests? What is the outcome? Do you have an assessment tool? Remember – while the guests today may not be prospective students, tomorrow they could be great contacts for WDCE, corporate relations or alumni? Did you ask?

5. Highlight our success? Do you read PCToday daily? Can you talk about our successful students and alumni? Do you know our placement rate? Our five-year average is 94 percent. What was our highest starting salary this past year? $135,000 for an automotive technology baccalaureate degree student. If you don’t know our points of pride, who should?

6. Pay close attention to your department website. Is it up-to-date? Does it tell the news and current activities? Don’t make it like a catalog or print piece – is it visually fun? Do you have good information on the page?

7. Are you sharing information with Public Relations & Marketing – awards, success in your department or school? Student work, individual and group accomplishments? If you hear from former students, do you inform Alumni Relations? Do you follow up or do you forget and put that aside?

Great list – important for all of us to continue to put this in front of ourselves on a regular basis. We all need reminders. Simple things – I wear Penn College attire when I travel and, when I can, in off-hours. Amazing how many people stop and talk to me – students who have no clue who I am. I hear great stories and, yes, some complaints, but far more stories. Try it and you, too, will be amazed.

Robert Moore wrote an article for the Council for Advancement and Support of Education (commonly called CASE) titled, “Does your marketing deliver?” He wrote the article not from the position of a 30-year marketing veteran, but from a father with a daughter on the road for college admission. A fascinating article worth a read, but some highlights: The daughter and friends scoured websites – third-party websites – to get the real scoop on the colleges. College Prowler, College Confidential, RateMyProfessors, just to name a few. Why? They wanted to hear from students. Not suits, students. And we know from our own research the student-to-student interaction is key, as is interaction with faculty. Today’s teens are “media savvy,” as Moore notes. They can see outdated pictures on websites as evidenced by out-of-style clothing. They don’t buy words like “diversity” and “student-centered;” as he notes, they say, “Prove it.”

When it comes to connections with a college, that connection, or I say “communication,” must be consistent and regular – they don’t tolerate long absences; they want current information. Moore notes you need to capture and retain their interest. When I finished reading the article, I started to ask myself a series of questions. Do we engage our applicants enough? Do we celebrate their acceptance, or, as Moore notes, is it a business transaction?

All questions that our enrollment management team is answering every day as they work to increase our results in recruiting students. The job is not theirs alone; we all are responsible for our interaction and for making connections.

Social media is a huge area for us and for our continued expansion. A PEW Research Center Internet Project survey conducted in January 2014 provides the most accurate numbers for social media adoption. How many of you have a Facebook page? A Twitter account? The age group of 18-29, our key demographic, shows 89 percent use Facebook and 35 percent use Twitter. The college’s main Facebook page has approximately 12,800 followers, a number that is up 34 percent from January 2014. Social media is here to stay, and there are countless ways for us to engage current and prospective students. Part of our responsibility for current students is to help them understand the need to filter when it comes to an online presence. From a Career Development standpoint, we are aware – and studies show – that employers are looking online prior to hiring people. I was speaking with a regional employer who told me that the social media presence of a top applicant was the determining factor for not hiring an executive. Filter, an important message for us all.

Engaging employees in the advancement of the college’s mission and vision is one of the institutional priorities to which we have committed through our Strategic Plan. To accomplish this goal, we need to make sure that all of us are knowledgeable about the college – our programs, our services, our resources – and most importantly, what is distinctive about the Penn College experience.  In a time when “the value” of a college degree is being questioned, we want to be ready to both articulate and demonstrate to prospective students and interested partners what we know to be the value of a Penn College degree.  To raise awareness collegewide, an informational campaign about the college will soon be shared via the portal.  The first few messages of the series will review a new list of “Points of Distinctions” about the college.  If you were asked to sum up the Penn College experience in eight words to someone, what words would you suggest?  Watch the portal for more information.  And, then I ask that you talk with your colleagues, family, neighbors, friends, and, of course, with students who express an interest in Penn College about the difference that a Penn College degree can make for a student’s future.

David Starr Jordan said, “Wisdom is knowing what to do next, skill is knowing how to do it and virtue is doing it.”

We know what to do, we know how to do it, and we do it every day very well. “Degrees that work” is not just a slogan for us. We are transforming lives for our students – they are getting incredible jobs, beginning careers – we do much more than teach a skill. Penn College graduates are well-rounded, college-educated, involved, successful young people with enviable futures. They are athletes, volunteers, inventors, creative, hardworking, and dedicated to their mission and purpose. Our graduates are the spark for the future; a successful graduate is our best marketing.

So, back to the beginning. We celebrated 100 years; let’s all begin today to write the next chapter in our story. What is on the horizon for us through 2025? Growth: The world needs our graduates – all majors – all are fundamental to our state and country’s success. It is time we walk the walk and talk the talk about “Made in America.” We are all about it, now let’s shout it: Our graduates are the backbone of what makes America great. John Gardner says it in a way I can’t: “The society which scorns excellence in plumbing as a humble activity, and tolerates shoddiness in philosophy because it is an exalted activity, will have neither good plumbing nor good philosophy: neither its pipes nor will its theories hold water.” We do both excellent plumbing and philosophy; you can add any major into that sentence. Our majors are foundational and fundamental to the world’s success.

What we do is critical to the American success story. We need to offer a continuum of education: associate and bachelor’s degrees, followed by a path of lifelong learning through the offerings of Workforce Development & Continuing Education. Learners will want flexibility, they will want hands-on education, they will want to keep coming back to learn more as the pace quickens and their learning needs change with it.

Efficiency and increased effectiveness will also be a hallmark of our next 10 years. It has to be. The public is demanding it, funding sources are expecting it; we have to be creative and do it better. We are in a great position to do so; we understand and embrace technology. That gives us a big head start. Students today want immediate information, they search for what they want via the Internet, they want interaction and they want it immediately.

Funding is a challenge, we need to keep tuition as low as possible and focus our budget in such a way that our academic mission guides us. At the same time, we need to identify creative funding to allow continued support of our related activities and focus. That well-rounded student is an important piece of our distinction.

We need to make our message clear: Pennsylvania College of Technology, a college where you get a hands-on, applied technology education with the full collegiate experience. You gain a career, learn about the world in which we live, and you get a job. As a graduate, you are ready to make a difference in the world, and perhaps most of all, in communities all across the country.

Daily, I read a blog by Seth Godin. The Jan. 7 entry captured my attention. Logo vs. Brand. “Spend 10,000 times as much time and money on your brand as you spend on your logo. Your logo is a referent, a symbol, a reminder of your brand. But your brand is a story, a set of emotions and expectations and a stand-in for how we think and feel about what you do. Nike spent $35 to buy a swoosh. The Nike brand, the sum total of what we think and believe and feel about what this company makes, it’s now worth billions.”

We have a great logo, but our brand is key. We hold a priceless place in the education world: hands-on, applied technology education with a full collegiate experience for our students.

Our vision is sound, our message is strong, our mission is vital. For the best of the next 100 years, we need to believe it, live it and achieve it. No longer will we be the best-kept secret, no longer will we defend our right as a real college. We are a college of technology; get on board with us and hold on tight. The sky is the limit and we are in for a great ride. As Peter Drucker said, “The best way to predict the future is to create it.”