Monday, March 28, 2016


A Delicate Marketing Challenge

I had a chance to speak to a community group recently, and was quickly reminded that community college serves many purposes.  Several of the members were very interested in community college as a fallback option for a grandkid who partied a little too hard in his freshman year at Nameless University.

“Reverse transfer” has two meanings.  

The one we like to talk about, and which has become popular in the last few years, is the student who does a bunch of credits at the community college but transfers without actually graduating.  In that context, reverse transfer refers to sending back some credits from the four year school to pick up the associate’s along the way.  It’s a kind of insurance policy in case life happens during the junior or senior year: instead of walking away as a dropout, you walk away as an associate’s graduate.  

But then there’s the other kind, which presents a bit of a marketing challenge.

The other kind is the student who started at a four-year school, ran aground in some form, and came home.  Sometimes the issues are financial -- parental job loss or medical crisis -- but often they’re some version of “failure to thrive” in a dorm setting.  That may mean too much partying, or too much distraction, or too much culture shock.  

For a student like that, a retreat-and-regroup can be just the thing.  Stay at home, take small classes at low cost, and get back on track.  When you’ve recovered, then take another shot at a bachelor’s, if that still holds appeal.  Even if it doesn’t, at least you’re leaving with something to show for your efforts, and with some skills beyond what you got in high school.

I heard multiple versions of that story, both biographical and autobiographical.  The second-chance setting of a community college allowed someone who made some youthful mistakes an opportunity to recover.  There’s real value in that.

But it’s a tricky thing to publicize.  College-as-rehab or college-as-purgatory isn’t the image we really want to put forward, even though we welcome students who might need exactly that.  It’s the kind of message best sent through word-of-mouth, particularly via parents and grandparents.

It’s also well below the radar of policymakers, except when they talk about their own families.  In the gap between policy and family life lay the challenge.

Wise and worldly readers, have you seen a community college do a reasonably good public presentation on this kind of reverse transfer?  If so, what did it look like?

It's something like the right college at the right time...

What 'right' means will depend on the student.... So, something like 'the next right step' --- Wpuld be effective. My college isn't anyplace close to right on this one..
I don't see that "getting a second chance" is such a hard thing to market. It can be a student who dropped out of college, or one who decided not to go to college and later regrets the decision, or even one who discovered that they chose the wrong major in college. All your re-entry students would respond to "getting a second chance", not just the partied-too-hard kids.
I've seen it written between the lines of "example student archetype testimonials" ("I got lost at a big school, and couldn't find a support system so far from home") as a reasonably effective PR piece. Right alongside "mother returning after kids are in school" and "precocious dual enrollment frugal smartkid" CC archetypes.
I want to say, up front, that "reverse transfer" had, to me, always described that situation, where the transfer was from university to community college. Those students, or ones who found themselves at junior standing but without the courses necessary for a STEM major, have always made up a substantial part of my "majors" physics classes. The current meaning only became relevant recently, when Policy Makers decided we should be punished for helping students transfer early, without an AA, as if that was a bad thing just because they had decided not to measure it.

I've always wondered if the university ends up getting full credit for an FTIC enrollee who graduates in 6 years that includes classes at a CC or even a year at a CC. We get NO credit for them, even if they earn an AA.

On your question:

My college did a very good job publicizing that role via first person accounts from respected people in the community. We never ran an advertisement featuring them, but they did appear on the local news as part of press conferences that featured successful people with the typical invisible AA degree from my CC. (I think it was promoting alumni giving, but could also be appropriate at a decade anniversary.) Several were reverse transfers.

What made it a win-win for us was that the reverse transfers usually said what was special about us (small classes, knowing your professor, individual attention, all things they didn't get at the university) while also crediting us with turning their lives around. Very moving stuff, irresitible on local TV, when it comes from a 50-something who is well-known in the community. Also very effective when it is a 20-something vet who just graduated from a nearby university.
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