Virtuous Marketing in Higher Education

Susquehanna University President Jonathan D. Green highlights the value of thoughtful marketing in higher education and shares the qualities he looks for when hiring marketing staff.

By: Jonathan Green

Editor's Note: The decision to launch Volt was predicated on the belief that if higher ed isn’t currently broken, it’s breaking, and that we as a community have the opportunity to collectively fix it. This article, written by Jonathan Green, President of Susquehanna University, is emblematic of the type of content that we originally envisioned that would help our audience to think differently on how to approach the sometimes taboo topic of marketing.

Often, I think members of the academy don’t recognize that good marketing is merely purposefully persuasive communication, a skill we strive to foster in our students. Faculty and staff often mistake marketing as necessarily trite and glib rather than recognizing its power to provide clarity of message and to illuminate the fundamental value of our enterprise.

I know that no one ever enrolled at, nor made a gift to an institution where I taught because I write reference books for conductors.

Some resistance is jealousy from individuals whose work will not be the focus of an institution’s marketing efforts. I know that no one ever enrolled at, nor made a gift to an institution where I taught because I write reference books for conductors. It is difficult for many to recognize that their valuable work may not be the ideal vehicle to promote an institution to seventeen-year-olds, their families, or donors.

When I was Dean at Sweet Briar, we had a very effective integrated recruitment campaign. The tagline, “Think is for Girls,” was not initially popular among faculty and staff, but we tested it with prospective students and it resonated. The materials prompted rich conversations about the life of the mind and campus opportunities between prospective students and our admissions staff. Most importantly, enrollment, revenue, and the academic profile of the student body all improved. Marketing helps the uninitiated to recognize the strengths of an institution.

I have been delighted that there is a widespread appetite verging on a hunger for bold marketing at Susquehanna among faculty, staff, alumni, and trustees. There is a palpable “high-tides-lift-all-boats” understanding and a student-centered philosophy on our campus. This has promoted a desire among all constituencies to help students who would benefit from the transformational education available at Susquehanna to recognize and seize that opportunity. That requires effective marketing.

We renamed the University Communications Office, “Marketing and Communications.” The order matters.

Shortly after I arrived at Susquehanna, we renamed the University Communications Office, “Marketing and Communications.” The order matters. We have hired a new VP, and a marketing strategy is an integral part of our strategic planning. As we have engaged in that work, I have been reflecting on the qualities I most hope to see in the marketing colleagues we recruit to our staff. These include:

  • Good listeners: To effectively promote the story of the University, staff members need to internalize the student experience and the work of the faculty and staff. Messages need to be authentic. I want talented students to come to Susquehanna and thrive, which requires encountering what we offered them.
  • Elegant writers: Marketing materials need to be clearly and engagingly written, and they have to reflect an intellectual environment. Eloquent and compelling win the day.
  • Commitment to Liberal Education: Staff members have to believe passionately in what we are offering. Sadly, many of the loudest voices in the media and the public square are systematically undermining the public’s understanding and value of higher education, especially the liberal arts. We are fighting for the future of civilization, which requires a convert’s zeal.
  • Able to think outside of higher education: Most prospective students and their families don’t live on university campuses, and even parents who are college graduates don’t have the same native fluency of collegiate life as those of us who spend our careers in higher education. We need to promote the strengths of a Susquehanna education authentically, but also meaningfully for our audience.
  • Systematic in testing messages: I was involved in a recruiting effort that used a series of brief print pieces. We had tested the initial piece with first- and second-year students, and they loved it. One colleague shared it with her high-school daughter and her friends, they didn’t get it. One semester’s experience on a campus made the message magical for our current students, and a lack of that experience made it meaningless to the very population we were hoping to reach.
  • Strategic: An effective marketing effort requires an integration of messaging for a broad range of constituents: prospective and current students, families, alumni, employees, the surrounding community, and funders. Each group needs to be engaged, and all the spokes of the wheel must have cohesion.

Our Mission Statement reads: Susquehanna University educates students for productive, creative and reflective lives of achievement, leadership, and service in a diverse, dynamic and interdependent world.

I regularly state that the world needs Susquehanna graduates now more than ever. A bold and thoughtful marketing effort will help ensure that we have the students and the resources to boldly fulfill our mission in perpetuity.

Jonathan Green

Jonathan Green

President, Susquehanna University

Jonathan D. Green is the president of Susquehanna University. Previously, he served as Provost at Illinois Wesleyan University and Dean of the College at Sweet Briar College.

He is an award-winning composer of over 150 musical works and the author of eight reference books. He has conducted a wide variety of collegiate and church choirs and collegiate and regional orchestras.

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Joyce Brennan
Joyce Brennan
3 years ago

Thank you for this article. As the Vice President of the renamed Marketing & Communications department at Bristol Community College, I agree with all of your points, especially, “A bold and thoughtful marketing effort will help ensure that we have the students and the resources to boldly fulfill our mission in perpetuity.” I would also like to point out that marketing cannot be successful without the support of a savvy president who understands that a good marketing strategy must be engrained in every aspect of the organization. I am very lucky to have a president who is knowledgeable and respectful… Read more »

John Rehm
John Rehm
3 years ago

Susquehanna has a history of publishing false outcome and ranking claims on its website. President Green’s tactics, like his predecessor, is to trick students (particularly 1st-generation) by using words like “ranked among” when on the list it’s ranked in the lowest 10 percentile. They also published false salary data that wasn’t changed until a complaint was submitted a few months ago after repeated phone calls and emails with no response. There are claims that it’s affordable to 1st-generation college students when in reality that demographic end up accruing $70,000+ in student debt (more than the national average). President Green and… Read more »

John Rehm
John Rehm
3 years ago

Susquehanna University & President Green are not prime examples of transparent nor ethical marketing tactics. It wasn’t until multiple complaints that they removed false salary data (that students made more than 54% than the national average) to made $54k 10-years after graduation. It wasn’t until a month ago that Susquehanna even had a formal student complaint page making its’ website. None of the rankings were backed by a legitimate sources and they continue to mislead 1st-generation college students into thinking they’re receiving a “good deal”. Ethical marketing tactics in higher education need to be as transparent as possible. Not focusing… Read more »

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