Choosing a college on the strength of its brand

2012-09-14T12:24:00Z 2013-03-11T14:42:07Z Choosing a college on the strength of its brandBy Jane Bokun Special Sections Contributor
September 14, 2012 12:24 pm  • 

Intense competition has forced schools to stay ahead of the curve by clearly defining their academic offerings. In the business world, it’s a concept known as branding.

What does the college specialize in? What is their ranking for that specialty? These are real issues when deciding the best school for your major. Students want to know exactly what makes up a school and how it is different and special. For schools, never has it been more important to clearly define their values and vision. They need and want to understand their students.

At Calumet College, located in Whiting, the emphasis has been on criminal justice, but now the focus also may be moving to science and health

“For us, it’s not so much the general education programs, [it’s the support within the] programs, “says Dr. Daniel Lowery, chancellor of the school.

“What really distinguishes us is a highly supportive environment.”

The school has differentiated itself from other locations because its classes are sequenced (meaning that they build on each other), according to Lowery.

“It’s not like a cafeteria system where you pick and choose,” he says.

“We use rubrics and link the classes and make it much more likely for students to succeed. It’s very unusual for a college, but it’s needed to guarantee success. It’s a different strategy and we’ve seen dramatic increases in retention.”

At Calumet College, it’s locally known that criminal justice is huge. The campus also has an emphasis on its English Department and is heavily involved in general education. Aside from that, Lowery says, exercise sports medicine is turning out to be a popular major. There is a science program with three new labs and four concentrations of forensics and criminal justice. The new science labs will open on the third floor of the campus’ building on September 20.

At Indiana University Northwest (IUN), Public Relations Director Chris Sheid said for his school, branding is key. IUN does a lot of advertising, he says. “We’ve revamped our website with visual identity.” To cement its branding, school representatives go to recruitment events at local high schools to keep IUN in the public eye.

“Our fine arts program has been around since the 70s,” Sheid says.

The concept of branding at schools can even apply to their classes. Pat Kremer, who co-owns Big Splash PR in Lansing, knows school branding first hand. She teaches public relations at Columbia College in Chicago and often has to brand her own public relations courses.

“I teach in the Intro to PR in the communications department,” Kremer explains. “We deal a lot with crisis management - what is in the news everyday.” Kremer says she sees her course as transitional.

“It’s the third course in public relations and usually at that point students have to make a decision: ‘Do I really want to stay with pr?’” She says a lot of students come into her course thinking it’s like Sex in the City. “I have to make that clear that it really is behind the scenes,” Kremer says, “We’re responsible for a company’s brand and image.”

Another school that highly involved in branding itself is Ivy Tech Community College. Under the direction of Chancellor J. Guadalupe Valtierra, staff at Ivy Tech are always seeking cutting-edge technologies.

But, what they are most well known for, according to Executive Marketing and Communications Director Karen Williams, is a successful nursing program.

“Our students have very high scores when they take their boards for nursing,” Williams says.

In fact, Ivy Tech’s Valparaiso campus recently got a 100 percent graduate pass on the Certified Surgical Technologist (CST) from the National Board of Surgical Technology and Surgical Assisting – an honor which is highly lauded.

Williams explains healthcare is one of the school’s big areas. Another one, she says, is technology.

Ivy Tech, which has 23 campuses across the state, has classes that can really mean the key to success in today’s highly specialized society. There is advanced manufacturing and industrial maintenance including robotics. Students here are learning how to use process control and do manufacturing while they are school.

The school costs about $111.15 per credit hour for Indiana residents and its credits transfer to many four year institutions. Ivy Tech also has one of the most affordable education packages in Indiana, less than half the cost of other colleges and universities. All instructors also have masters degrees and above.

Best of all for this two year college is that it sticks with students throughout the school year and beyond. After college, students are not just left to their own devices to find employment.

“Ivy Tech has partnerships with companies such as Arcelor Mittal and NIPSCO,” Williams stresses. “Our students get to know people in their fields while they are still in school.”

Some Ivy Tech students have internships with select companies and then many are hired as employees. “With Baby Boomers ready to retire, companies are looking to hire new employees,” Williams says.

Recent Indiana University graduate Lauren Grkinich hopes that sentiment is true.

“I picked my college because I knew they had exactly the kinds of classes I needed for my nutrition science degree,” Grkinich says.

School branding came into effect because she also knew through years of attending its football games that Indiana University was a Big Ten school which was one of her major requirements. The Big Ten Conference is a college athletic conference and is headquartered in Park Ridge, Illinois.

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