The 25 Best Higher Education Marketing Conferences to Attend in 2021

With Covid-caused lockdowns continuing to upend the school year, conferences and conventions have moved online in the near term but hope to return to in-person gatherings by the end of the year.

By: Jillian Ashley Blair Ivey 
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Nobody expected that, more than a year after the novel coronavirus that causes Covid-19 first arrived in America, we’d still be conducting school—and school-related business—mostly online, but here we are.

Since March 2020, conferences have been canceled, postponed, or pushed online, and that trend continues in 2021. With vaccine roll-outs, some are optimistic that in-person events will return by late this year, but many organizers are committed to virtual-only events until at least 2022.

Still, moving online and adopting alternative formats has its perks. Not only are these events safer, but they also allow 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 we hope optimistic organizers are correct and we will see those kinds of gatherings resume before the year is out.

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 2021.

2021 Higher Education Marketing Conferences

Content Ed

Originally scheduled for mid-June 2020, then pushed to December in hopes it would be safe to gather in person by that time, the Content Ed organizers ultimately decided to push their annual conference to February 2021, and take it fully online. 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 include noted UX designer and public speaker Regine Gilbert and anthropologist and author Alice Roberts.

CUPRAP Professional Development Series

In lieu of its annual conference, this year CUPRAP is hosting a series of professional development sessions this spring, available to members only. The organization plans to return to its annual conference format with a 2022 conference in Lancaster, Pennsylvania. More information about next year’s event has not yet been 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. Now virtual, the 2021 event brings together experts in professional, continuing, and online education to discuss some of the most pressing issues in higher education today. Opening remarks will be delivered by Michael J. Sorrell, Ed.D., president of Paul Quinn College in Dallas and Fortune 50 World’s Greatest Leader, and the closing speaker is Harvard professor, behavioral scientist, and author Francesca Gino.

CASE Social Media and Community

There still are not 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, virtually as the 2020 conference was, or at all. We will update as information is made available.

AACRAO Annual Meeting

After canceling its 2020 Annual Meeting due to the pandemic, AACRAO initially planned to make a big splash with its 2021 return before ultimately deciding to keep the event online. Noted author and academic Dr. Ibram X. Kendi, as well humorist Joel Zeff and Dream Academy founder and CEO Wintley Phipps, will be featured as keynote speakers.

NAGAP 2021 Graduate Enrollment Management Summit

  • Website: https://nagap.org/events/2021-graduate-enrollment-management-summit
  • When: April 28-May 1, 2021
  • Where: Virtual
  • Cost: $450 for members, $550 for non-members by March 1; $550 for members, $650 for non-members thereafter. A pre-summit institute will also be offered to members for $225 and to non-members for $275. A limited number of fellowships are available.

The Graduate Enrollment Management Summit from NAGAP, The Association for Graduate Enrollment Management, features presentations and discussions about such topics as admissions processes, graduate student outreach, and career development. Authors Kathy Perry and Bert Gervais will deliver the opening and keynotes, respectively. NAGAP is still seeking volunteer moderators and recorders for education sessions during the conference; contact the organization before March 22 to apply.

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.

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 in-person dates for 2021. Organizers have since moved the conference online for safety, meaning there’s no need to travel to learn from design systems advocate Jina Anne, startup founder and business coach Jeff Sauer, Being Boss podcast hosts Kathleen Shannon and Emily Thompson, or software development expert Anjuan Simmons, among other speakers.

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 have decided to keep the event, which sells out every year, virtual for 2021. Virtual Confab will offer a three-day live broadcast and an on-demand video library. Attendees will still have the opportunity to connect with one another during small-group discussions throughout the event and through an exclusive Slack workplace. Presenters include The New Yorker’s senior UX writer, Sophie Tahran; Netflix content design lead Jen Schaefer; and Lending Tree senior content strategist Jonathan McFadden.

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 is scheduled.

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 had planned to pick up where they left off—right down to the same location. Unfortunately, with COVID protocols still in place in New York, the organizers have made a slight schedule adjustment and are presenting what they call “The Unconference, Part Deux.” The conference focuses on innovation in higher ed and how advancements in technology and out-of-the-box thinkers have helped to transform education and will include two days of virtual learning, networking, brainstorming and reimagining, in a virtual environment. Further information should be available in March.

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 13–15, 2021
  • Where: Virtual
  • Cost: Starting at $264.27 CAD (approx. $209 USD)

After moving their 2020 conference online, organizers of #PSEWEB, Canada’s college and university digital marketing conference, had hoped that by next July, an in-person convening would be possible. Unfortunately, they have made the decision to keep the event virtual for one more year; fortunately, that means you don’t need a passport to attend. 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. Speaker applications are open through March 28.

eduWeb Digital Summit

At the forefront of eduWeb’s 2021 Spring, Innovation Showcase is the theme of “higher education’s most creative ideas and solutions during a year of disruption.” Still offering their bite-sized presentations, this two-day online event features panelists and speakers sharing their knowledge and best practices about topics, including how to position your brand, social media, and content creation.

NACAC Virtual Conference

After going fully virtual in 2020, The National Association for College Admission Counseling hopes that by September 2021, it will once again be safe to host in-person conferences. However, with the understanding that many people will still feel unsafe traveling, 2021 will mark the first hybrid (in-person and online) NCAC annual conference. Organizers are also prepared to shift the event fully online if they deem an IRL gathering to be too risky. The conference, which traditionally features college presidents, authors, journalists, and other experts exploring the current issues that are affecting admissions, does not yet have any speakers or sessions booked on the schedule. A call for proposals and facilitators is open through May 7.

CASE 2021 Global Leadership Forum

CASE held its first-ever Global Leadership Forum, convening leaders and aspiring leaders in advancement from colleges and universities in the US and Europe, in the fall of 2020. Topics covered included innovation, impact, and leadership development. No word yet whether CASE plans to hold the event a second time; we will update as we receive information.

Leadership in Higher Education Virtual Conference

Understanding that many people will be unwilling or unable to travel to Baltimore for their in-person event, the organizers of the Leadership in Higher Education Conference are posting all conference events online on October 11; it will be available on demand through December 31. Only pre-conference workshops will happen live online. The program, which usually covers topics including effective teaching metrics, online education, equity, and leadership, is not yet finalized; a call for proposals is open through March 15.

HighEdWeb

The annual HighEdWeb conference was moved online in 2020 due to the coronavirus pandemic, but organizers are hopeful they can return to an in-person format by this fall. This event, for digital professionals in higher education, has in the past covered topics including data tracking and reporting; programming languages; social media strategy; designing for accessibility; and more. No further information is available as of publication; we will update when we receive more details.

AACRAO SEM Meeting

The optimists at the American Association of Collegiate Registrars and Admissions Officers plan to gather in person for their annual Strategic Enrollment Management (SEM) Conference in 2021. No additional information is available at this time.

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 2020 event in person, the event was forced to move online. Organizers are now keeping their fingers crossed for an in-person gathering in late 2021. Full programming details have not yet been announced.

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. In 2020, the conference moved online, featuring interactive and on-demand content covering brand and marketing strategy, content creation, audience development, and more. Information for 2021 has not yet been made available.

2020–2021 Higher Ed Social Media Conference 

Sessions and speakers for the Higher Ed Social Media Conference, which has always been offered online, will likely focus on institutional implementation of social media strategy. Specific details have yet to be announced.

Higher Education Marketing Conferences to Watch for in 2022

DREAM2022

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 shifted online in 2021. Details for 2022 are not yet available.

CASE All-District Virtual Conference

Choosing to see the pandemic as an opportunity rather than a threat, CASE took advantage of the digital conference trend and held its 2021 event online. The organization convened members from all of its regional districts under one virtual roof to replace its eight in-person annual events. Details about whether or when CASE will have this conference in 2022 have not yet been announced.

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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