The ethos of higher education is rooted in academic discourse, so it’s only natural that colleges and universities have turned to podcasts to further that sharing of ideas. Of course, the best higher education podcasts are also a great form of branded content, and those produced by colleges and universities range from localized information aimed at alumni and other narrow audiences to broader news sources for the world at large.
Schools that take advantage of this back-to-the-future form of storytelling aren’t a moment too soon: According to an April 2020 round-up by Podcast Insights, 50 percent of all homes in the United States are podcast fans, 24 percent (that’s 68 million people) listen to podcasts weekly, and 16 million people categorize themselves as avid listeners. A whopping 80 percent of podcast listeners listen to all or most of each episode, and when we look at demographics, people ages 12-34 (prime recruitment age for both undergraduate and graduate students) account for 48 percent of monthly podcast listening. For college and university marketers, it just makes sense to be part of that community.
So, while higher education may be notoriously slow to adapt to change, there is a growing audience of people regularly interacting with college and university podcasts and there has been an increasing number of podcasts created to meet that demand. To help you find your interests, we zeroed in on 11 schools using podcasting in varied and creative ways. What follows is an updated list (the original version of this story was published in 2018, and you can find the list of podcasts we originally highlighted at the bottom of this page) of colleges and universities creating distinct podcasts worthy of hitting ‘subscribe.’
Who it’s for: Professional communicators, communications students.
What’s it about: Hosts Gary Sheffer and Mike Fernandez produce a series that looks at big media stories and how they are handled in PR, journalism, and business. Both professors are PR veterans and frequently bring in high-profile communications professionals to offer their expertise.
Why we love it: While general information podcasts are interesting and their subject matter is varied and attention-grabbing, we love a deep dive into a narrower area of expertise as explored by faculty and business experts. Additionally, there is value to the greater population in knowing how the communications sausage is made — it’s a misunderstood craft — and being more media-savvy benefits critical thinking for all audiences.
Who’s it for: Those interested in Bowling Green State University and also in social issues.
What it’s about: Dr. Jolie Sheffer, Director of the Institute for the Study of Culture and Society (ICS), hosts scholars, artists, activists, and others in order to spotlight their work for the common good. The team behind the podcast hopes that it inspires listeners to learn more about the university’s initiatives.
Why we love it: This interdisciplinary effort—the Institute for the Study of Culture and Society and the School of Media and Communication—is shared, researched, written, edited, and sound engineered by students, interns, and graduate assistants.
Who’s it for:The greater California community college community as well as those interested in community college challenges.
What it’s about: This ongoing series of podcasts by Chancellor Eloy Ortiz Oakley offers new perspectives on the two-year college community and the issues that it faces.
Why we love it: Community colleges are a focal point in the discussion of increasing equity in higher education – and, as such, a constant presence in the news cycle. This has been highlighted most recently in the push for tuition-free college and in the response to the COVID-19 pandemic. As educators fighting to end the stigma often associated with a community college education, and as leaders in the call for greater inclusion in higher education, the perspectives offered here make Oakley’s podcast an essential follow for anyone staying abreast of these issues.
Who’s it for: Medical professionals and anyone else interested in the medicinal field.
What it’s about: Northwestern University’s Feinberg School of Medicine is research-driven and dedicated to transforming the medical field and human health. As you can imagine, 2020’s episodes have been largely dominated by COVID-19 updates, both for physical and mental health. Beyond that, you will find three years’ worth of episodes dedicated to a host of medical issues and breakthroughs.
Why we love it: Not only is this extremely timely with the world in the middle of a pandemic, but participants can claim Continuing Medical Education (CME) credits as part of their professional development. This amazing professional service augments the community education that the podcast offers.
Who it’s for: The podcast bills itself as “casual conversations for the intellectually curious” and posits that good conversation is enhanced with brunch and wine.
What it’s about: This bi-weekly podcast invites interesting creators and professionals to talk about their work. It differs from a traditional interview in that the host and subject have this conversation over an actual brunch, creating an informal feel. The podcast also features a monthly live series called Research Uncorked that also features informal interviews at a local wine bar. Both versions are hosted by Ted Fox, produced by the Office of the Provost, and can also be heard in South Bend on radio station WSND.
Why we love it: Each episode features wildly varying topics, bound together by the simple fact that they are interesting and the guests are passionate about their topics. Podcast guests are often from the Notre Dame community, but aren’t limited to that pool. Recent episodes covered such disparate topics as the DeLorean, reindeer herders, and Mohammad Ali. Don’t miss checking out the “sides” section; as complementary to the episodes as sides are to brunch.
Who it’s for: Anyone with an interest in non-partisan exploration of issues with democracy in our country. The podcast seeks to educate the next generation of democratic citizens.
What it’s about:Democracy Works addresses the question “what does it mean to live in a democracy?” and talks to experts who study democracy and those who work within the mechanisms of democracy. Each episode examines a different issue weekly.
Why we love it: As the United States struggles to balance partisanship, democratic ideals, equity, and civil rights, we need direct and intelligent conversation surrounding democracy in America. Democracy Works has a lofty outlook—that people coming together to build things greater than the sum of their parts is the same engine that fuels democracy. To this end, the podcast features well-informed discussions that highlight exactly what makes democracies function, and includes interdisciplinary collaboration for its research and outreach. Democracy Works is produced by The McCourtney Institute for Democracy at Penn State and is broadcast on WPSU locally.
Who’s it for: The podcast was created for McGill students by the Office of the Dean of Students but it has a larger student success appeal.
What it’s about: Each week, Dean of Students Chris Buddle sits down with McGill University students to talk about his work, the University, and student success.
Why we love it: This is a great way to reach out to students and meet them in media in new ways. It also provides an amazing window into the university, the city of Montreal, and student life for prospective students. With topics ranging from residential life and imposter syndrome to mental health and community development, this podcast brings wide-ranging topics and an authentic approach to concerns students care about in their personal lives.
Who’s it for: Educators, education administrators.
What it’s about: Stanford’s Graduate School of Education produces this podcast, which highlights current issues in teaching. From adapting assessment practices for COVID-19 and supporting students who have survived school shootings, to teaching difficult history lessons and encouraging math success, there is an episode for everything an educational professional may need.
Why we love it: The topics are timely; the layout on its web home is attractive and simple to navigate. This comprehensive library should be a must-subscribe for educators and those who support them.
What it’s about: This is a podcast about higher education. Based in Canada, hosts Santa Ono and Margot Young address universal narratives in the college and university world: mentoring, community support, ivory towers, ecological sustainability, diversity, and research methods.
Why we love it: To be honest, we love it because it’s our own inside-baseball podcast.
Who’s it for: The UConn community at large and anyone with an affinity for the Huskies – and anyone else who just loves fun narratives.
What it’s about:This generalist podcast seeks to find quirky and informative stories, with several bundled into each episode. With topics like the Homecoming goat, effects of trash talking on sports competitions, Benedict Arnold (before that traitor part), and squid anatomy, there certainly is a little something for everyone.
Why we love it: As you can tell from this list, we are suckers for a good university story. Created and hosted by members of the UConn Communications and Marketing team, UConn360 takes a fun look around campus to share entertaining stories that work in an audio medium. With the lofty claim in their inaugural episode that it is the world’s greatest podcast and its encompassing mission to learn, laugh, and grow old together, UConn360 provides a light-hearted and informative series.
Who’s it for: The beauty of higher-ed podcasts is the multiple audiences that they reach. This series is associated with the development office at Oxford, so it also is meant to appeal to philanthropists.
What it’s about: The Futuremakers podcast drills down on a single topic for each entire season. The format is a question-and-answer debate regarding issues for the future of society. Season 1 focused on artificial intelligence. Season 2 focuses on responding to climate change.
Why we love it: The concept of dedicating a season of podcasts to a singular topic is unique and allows for robust, in-depth conversations. Not only do the episodes feature academics, but the exploration also includes politicians, activists, and other key voices. The series is also not afraid to challenge “best practice” lengths of programming in order to fully cover the questions at hand, resulting in a nuanced and complex creation.
Do you have a favorite higher ed podcast that isn’t on our list? Tag us on Twitter @Volthighered to let us know what you’re listening to, and follow us by tuning in to the #HigherEd Podcast.
By the way, Volt has a podcast, too. Check out Higher Voltage’s first episode, where we dove into the strain higher ed social media managers are under during the pandemic and the non-stop cycle of constant crisis comms.
Higher Education Marketing and Communications Leader
Heather G. Dotchel is a higher education professional, based in the greater Philadelphia region, who has most recently led two area colleges as their chief marketing officer. She serves as an executive board member for the PA ACE Women’s Network and on the awards committee for the College and University Public Relations and Related Professionals (CUPRAP).
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