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By: Jillian Ashley Blair Ivey 

25 Higher Education Marketing Conferences for 2020–2021

With Covid-caused lockdowns upending the schedule, conferences and conventions look a lot different in the pandemic age.

Marketing & Branding /
By: Jillian Ashley Blair Ivey 

14 minutes

You probably don’t want to go to a higher ed marketing conference every other week, but you could. At least, in most years that’s possible.

The 2020 higher ed marketing conference season kicked off in National Harbor, MD, in mid-February with DREAM2020, the 16th annual Achieving the Dream conference focused on success strategies in community and tribal colleges. Just a few days later and an hour away, CASE—The Council for Advancement and Support of Education—held its District II Conference in Baltimore, bringing together engagement and advancement staff from institutions throughout the Mid-Atlantic region.

But then March came, and, well, we all know what happened. One full-blown pandemic later, conferences—and most every other kind of gathering—all over the world have been canceled or moved to virtual formats…or optimistically postponed. 

Now, with the new school year at hand and so much confusion as to what, exactly, that will look like, one thing has become clear: It’s going to be a while before we are once again able to go to a conference together, in person. But that doesn’t mean we have to abandon professional development for the foreseeable future. Moving conferences online and adopting alternative formats not only makes them safer, but also allows for maximum access and engagement. That doesn’t make up for the lost opportunities to have informal conversations with old colleagues and Twitter friends, or to meet up over drinks, but it will have to do for now.

So with all that said, here is our guide to  the college marketing conferences that typically dot the higher education professional development calendar, with a breakdown of their current plans for how they will be held for the remainder of 2020 and into 2021.

2020 Higher Education Marketing Conferences

NACAC Virtual Conference

For 2020, the NACAC Annual Conference has become the NACAC Virtual Conference, featuring educational content and a virtual expo for college and university admissions professionals. Included in the conference will be a series of “Super Sessions” featuring college presidents discussing how their institutions are grappling with the pandemic, as well as authors, journalists, and other experts exploring the current conversation around race and how these discussions are affecting admissions. Speakers have not yet been announced; look for more information soon.

CASE 2020 Global Leadership Forum

CASE’s first-ever Global Leadership Forum will convene leaders and aspiring leaders in advancement from colleges and universities in the US and Europe. Topics covered will include innovation, impact, and leadership development. Nadja West, Army Surgeon General and Former Commanding General, US Army Medical Command, will deliver a keynote address on Leading through Uncertainty.

Leadership in Higher Education Virtual Conference

No, that’s not a typo. Due to the move to virtual, the organizers of the Leadership in Higher Education Conference are taking a different approach to online conferences, opening up content as of October 1 that will be available on demand for two full months, until December 31. Only pre-conference workshops will happen live online. The program, which was originally scheduled to happen in person October 1–2, will include effective teaching metrics, online education, equity, and leadership. 

HighEdWeb

  • Website: https://highedweb.org/
  • When: October 19–20, 2020
  • Where: Online
  • Cost: Sessions will be broadcast live for free; on demand access is $25 for students and $195 for professionals

Originally set for Little Rock Arkansas, the annual HighEdWeb conference was moved online due to the coronavirus pandemic. This event, for digital professionals in higher education, will cover topics including data tracking and reporting during a pandemic; the possible comeback of HTML; social media strategy; designing for accessibility; and more. Dr. Gabe Willis, dean of students at Southeastern Louisiana University, will keynote.

AACRAO SEM Meeting

The optimists at the American association of Collegiate Registrars and Admissions Officers are quick to point out that the move to digital for their annual SEM meeting means more people can participate. This year’s timely theme, Crises as Catalysts for Transformation, means you can expect sessions about on-campus social justice issues, the impact of online learning on accessibility and equity, management challenges throughout the pandemic, and even how to manage self-care.

AAC&U 2020 Transforming STEM Higher Education

Although organizers at the Association of American Colleges & Universities initially thought their November date would mean they could hold their annual STEM conference in Arlington, VA, the event is now officially happening online. That’s not the only way the AAC&U is adapting its program to 2020: speakers will not shy away from the effects of the pandemic, civil unrest, the current political climate, or other current-but-potentially controversial subjects, all in the context of STEM education. Full programming details have not yet been announced, as the call for proposals remains open through mid-September.

AMA Symposium for the Marketing of Higher Education

For more than 30 years, the American Marketing Association has hosted its annual Symposium for the Marketing of Higher Education as an opportunity for higher ed marketing professionals to bond over challenges and share best practices relating to their work. This year the conference moves online, featuring interactive and on-demand content covering brand and marketing strategy, content creation, audience development, and more. The symposium also features a virtual exhibit hall to connect attendees with vendors and service providers who create tools that drive bigger impact.

2020–2021 Higher Ed Social Media Conference 

Held online every year, pandemic or not, there will be few changes to how this year’s Higher Ed Social Media Conference is run. Sessions and speakers for the event, which will focus on institutional implementation of social media strategy, have yet to be announced; the call for proposals is expected later this month.

Content Ed

  • Website: http://contentedlive.com/
  • When: December 7–8, 2020
  • Where: Bristol, UK or online
  • Cost: Starting at £649 (approx. $850)

Originally scheduled for mid-June, the 2020 Content Ed has been pushed to December of this year in hopes that it will be safe to gather in person by that time. (Organizers promise that if it’s not, they’ll take the event virtual.) With a focus on (you guessed it!) content for educational institutions, Content Ed will feature talks from content strategists based out of universities and consultancies on both sides of the pond. Keynote speakers are still being confirmed.

2021 Higher Education Marketing Conferences

DREAM2021

Often excluded or pushed aside at other higher ed conferences, issues central to community and tribal colleges take center stage in this annual event. Held in person in 2020, the conference included panels on disaster preparedness on community college campuses; transitioning to eight-week split semesters; challenges of rural campuses; and focusing on so-called “invisible” students. Details for the 2021 event have not yet been finalized, but organizers currently plan to hold the event in person.

CASE All-District Virtual Conference

  • Website: More information will be available soon on https://www.case.org/
  • When: February 16–18, 2021
  • Where: TBD
  • Cost: TBD

Choosing to see the pandemic as an opportunity rather than a threat, CASE is taking advantage of the digital conference trend. The organization will be convening members from all of its regional districts under one virtual roof to replace its eight in-person annual events. Few details have been released at this time, but expect conversation about topics like alumni engagement, fundraising, and leadership. We’ll update as additional information is released.

2021 UPCEA Annual Conference

The 2020 UPCEA Annual Conference was scheduled for the very week that most pandemic lockdowns began, so organizers had very little recourse but to cancel the event entirely and hope for the best in 2021. Currently planned as an in-person gathering, the 2021 event brings together experts in professional, continuing, and online education to discuss some of the most pressing issues in higher education today. Further information about the conference is yet to be made available.

CASE Social Media and Community

There are no firm plans yet for what CASE’s Social Media and Community conference will look like in 2021, and whether it will be held in-person, or virtually as the 2020 conference was. We will update as information is made available.

AACRAO Annual Meeting

After canceling its 2020 Annual Meeting due to the pandemic, AACRAO is planning on making a big splash with its 2021 return, with a closing keynote by noted author and academic Dr. Ibram X. Kendi as well as an opening general session with humorist Joel Zeff. Proposals for other sessions and panels are still open.

NAGAP Annual Conference

There’s no word yet on what, if anything, NAGAP, The Association for Graduate Enrollment Management, is planning for its 2021 annual conference, but past years have seen presentations and discussions about such topics as admissions processes, graduate student outreach, and career development. We will update with more information once it’s available.

Higher Ed Content Conference

The Higher Ed Content Conference takes place online every year, so there was very little that needed to change for the 2020 event. All 12 10-minute training sessions from that conference are now available on demand. Speakers at the conference were all content or communications leads at universities across the country, covering topics including TikTok in higher ed, storytelling, omnichannel content planning, and more. An exact date has not yet been set for 2021, but plan for April. A call for speakers will go out in January.

University Of Illinois Web Con

Almost as soon as the organizers of the annual Web Con had to cancel their 2020 event, they announced the dates for 2021. No additional information about next year’s conference for designers, developers, and marketers is available at this time, but the plan still appears to convene in person.

Confab

Confab folded its dedicated higher ed conference—as well as other, smaller industry-specific conferences—into one main event back in 2018, but its value for higher ed content creators still remains high. After a move online in 2020 in response to the coronavirus pandemic, Confab organizers are cautiously optimistic about being able to hold their event in Minneapolis next year. No additional information is available for the 2021 conference, but the format will likely hew to the past few years’ content, featuring dozens of speakers and presenters covering topics content creators from any field could learn from, including accessibility, collaboration, and user research.

UBTech Conference

After canceling the 2020 event due to the pandemic, UBTechconference organizers have not released any plans for 2021, and the conference website currently redirects to another event produced by the same group, the Academic Esports Conference and Expo. We will update if a 2021 event takes place.

CASE Conference on Marketing and Branding

Focused on helping institutions develop, grow, and sustain their brands, the CASE’s Annual Conference on Marketing and Branding shifted online in 2020 so higher ed marketers would still benefit from content including staying on trend in digital engagement; how education marketing looked and functioned in light of widespread campus closures; using data to make a case for marketing with institutional leadership; and more. Information about the2021  event—which generally includes speakers from colleges and universities across the country, as well as marketing consultants who work with these institutions—is not yet available.

SUNYCUAD Conference

After canceling their event  in 2020. the SUNYCUAD conference organizers plan on picking up where they left off—right down to the same location. The conference focuses on innovation in higher ed and how advancements in technology and out-of-the-box thinkers have helped to transform education. Further information is forthcoming.

GMAC Annual Conference

GMAC moved its 2020 annual conference online and offered attendees a discounted registration fee as a result. Otherwise, everything proceeded as planned at this gathering of graduate school admissions professionals. No details have been released for 2021 at this time but we will update as we are able.

CASE Summit for Leaders in Advancement

  • Website: http://www.case.org/
  • When: TBD, but previous events have taken place in mid-June.
  • Where: TBD
  • Cost: TBD

The 2020 Summit for Leaders in Advancement was folded into CASE’s Global Leadership Forum, and there’s no word yet on whether that will be the plan for 2021 as well. We will update when we learn more.

#PSEWEB 2021

  • Website: https://pseweb.ca/
  • When: July 2021, exact date TBD
  • Where: Montreal, Canada
  • Cost: TBD

Few details are currently available about next year’s plans for #PSEWEB, Canada’s college and university digital marketing conference, but organizers hope that by next July, an in-person convening will be possible. (The 2020 event took place online.) The conference, which has previously attracted speakers and attendees from across Canada, the US, the UK, and India, is led by and programmed for the people behind the online brand of prominent institutions, and covers issues central to digital marketing, including strategy, analytics, design, and more. We will update as more information is available.

eduWeb Digital Summit

  • Website: http://eduwebconf.com/
  • When: TBD, but the event is usually held in early August.
  • Where: Online
  • Cost: TBD

Responding to Zoom fatigue and the limitations of virtual interaction, eduWeb changed the format of its 2020 Digital Summit by shortening each session into a 15-minute “Ted Talk”-style presentation, and each day of the conference to only 3–4 hours in length, with frequent breaks. Nearly ninety speakers and presenters from institutions, agencies, and tech companies shared their knowledge and best practices about topics including web content, social media, creating memorable content, and how virtual reality might work as we await the all-clear to return to campus. No word yet on plans for 2021 but we’ll update when we receive additional information.

Did we miss any higher ed conferences? Have any of these been updated already? Let us know on Twitter @volthighered.

Jillian Ashley Blair Ivey 

Jillian Ashley Blair Ivey 

Freelance writer

Writer, editor, and communications strategist Jillian Ashley Blair Ivey has published in DAME Magazine, The Frisky, Philly Love Notes, and Curiosity Magazine, amongst other publications.

Jillian has an MFA in creative writing from Rutgers University Camden campus and a BA in English Literature/Creative Writing from the University of Pennsylvania. She lives in Philadelphia with her husband and their pets. Follow her on Twitter: @jillianivey.

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