Tuesday, September 23, 2014
YOLO COUNTY NEWS
99 CENTS

A new market for college towns

By
From page A15 | October 27, 2013 |

By John L. Gann, Jr.

The economies of college towns will be increasingly challenged in future years. The growth of distance learning, the cost of college tuition, a shortfall in jobs requiring a degree, and the widespread media coverage of all these developments are already starting to have an effect.

Both colleges and college towns will accordingly do well to look to additional sources of jobs and income. One possibility has been extensively used by colleges — though arguably far below its potential. And it has been tapped hardly at all by the businesses and institutions of most college towns. It’s the alumni.

Why should that be? In a number of ways, alumni are a much better market for colleges and college towns than the current students they focus on.

The advantage of students as a market, of course, is that they’re in town nine months out of the year for four or more years. That’s a lot of pizza sales. But high college costs and online learning are likely to reduce the number of students or the time they spend on campus, especially at the less prestigious schools.

And compared with alumni, students have less money and are accumulating more debt each year they are in school. Their ability to buy or donate will be constrained for years or even decades by student loan repayments. Alums had smaller loans, if any at all, and often have already paid them off.

Many students will drop out or transfer to another school before graduating. That can mean poorer prospects for financial success or at least less loyalty to the school that did not validate them with a degree. Alumni saw the commitment to the school through to the end.

In other ways, alums are also better prospective customers. The college years are often a trying and intense reality that contrasts with the sentimental and idealized memories of the same period in the minds of aging alums. And the marketing appeal of anything associated with one’s lost youth should never be underestimated.

Students’ lifestyles are less settled, their career preferences not yet fully decided. They’re more fickle. Alums are stable and established in their careers with many at their peak earning years.

And, of course, students’ numbers are dwarfed by the numbers of alumni. And every marketer covets college graduates.

Selling to scattered alums

Reaching this market is not hard. Colleges and alumni associations have records of former students that often include current contact information as well as subject matter interests. That’s a valuable database.

But how can college towns as distinct from the colleges themselves sell to alumni? The schools do a good job bringing them back for on-campus football weekends, homecomings and reunions. College town businesses, of course, benefit whenever alums are back in town. But what about the other times, which are, after all, most of the year?

Ways of appealing to scattered alumni that can benefit the college, the local business community and the local government may be limited only by our imagination.

* Civic projects sometimes offer people their names or company names on a paving stone or bench in exchange for a modest donation. How many alums wouldn’t mind being in a small way part of their old campus or college town business district in perpetuity?

* Buffalo, N.Y.; Franklin County, Iowa; and the entire states of Nebraska and South Dakota have marketed themselves to bring back former residents to live. They have astutely concluded that those who already know the place from having lived there are their best prospects. People who spent years in a college town could similarly be a good market for other things associated with the place.

* In what I described in another article as Class Acts, alums lacking the resources to endow a wing, a collection, or a chair on campus could endow a single course.

Memories sell

* Alumni magazines are typically the main way colleges keep in touch with their graduates. For marketing purposes, they are often underutilized.

Psych 101 taught us that we are always more interested in ourselves and our peers than in others. So why don’t schools’ alumni magazines talk more about the accomplishments of the alumni they’re presumably published for? Might not such stories bind graduates more closely to the college and the college town?

Alumni successes, after all, inferentially evidence the value of the education provided, so such accounts could also help sell the school to others. Today prospective students are likely to be more interested in how graduates of a university have made what they learned pay off than in new campus buildings or academic research honors awarded to faculty.

* Memories sell. Why not offer branded memorabilia — coffee or beer mugs, T-shirts, or distinctive mailable menu items — from a favorite student restaurant, hang-out or watering hole? Ditto for a charming used bookstore, co-op or farmers market selling things the campus commissary did not.

* More college towns could do well by selling themselves as special places that are more than just the environs of a campus. Ithaca, N.Y., and Madison, Wis., have done that more than most college towns.

* Banks offer alums credit cards with university branding with some of the proceeds going back to the school. Why couldn’t local businesses that can sell to out-of-towners do the same? Amazon and other Internet sellers have proved you can sell to people no matter where they are.

Having been secure economically for so many years, colleges and the college towns they largely influence are not always entrepreneurial or as strong on commerce as other places. “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” is often the implicit economic paradigm. With looming changes in higher education prompted by economics and technology, that may not be the best guidance for the future.

— John L. Gann Jr., consults, trains and writes on marketing places for economic growth. He is the author of “The Third Lifetime Place: A New Economic Opportunity for College Towns.” Reach him at citykid@uwalumni.com

Comments

comments

Special to The Enterprise

  • Recent Posts

  • Enter your email address to subscribe to this newspaper and receive notifications of new articles by email.

  • .

    News

    UC joins U.N.-supported Principles for Responsible Investment

    By Special to The Enterprise | From Page: A1

     
    Nature’s beauty is in our own back yard

    By Charlotte Orr | From Page: A1 | Gallery

    Jury finds Dixon man guilty of mortgage fraud

    By Enterprise staff | From Page: A1

     
     
    U.S., Arab allies hit Islamists in Syria, Iraq

    By The Associated Press | From Page: A2 | Gallery

    Bob Dunning: These are the tanks we get

    By Bob Dunning | From Page: A2 | Gallery

     
    Wind threatens firefighting effort

    By The Associated Press | From Page: A2

    Harmony Award nominations sought

    By Enterprise staff | From Page: A3

     
    Unscheduled landing

    By Enterprise staff | From Page: A4 | Gallery

    Free community yard sale Saturday

    By Enterprise staff | From Page: A4

     
    Street Food Rodeo rolls into West Davis

    By Enterprise staff | From Page: A4

    Wolk kicks off ‘Morning with the Mayor’

    By Enterprise staff | From Page: A4

     
    So you want to be an entomologist?

    By Kathy Keatley Garvey | From Page: A4

    Sheriff’s Office honored for safe-driving initiative

    By Special to The Enterprise | From Page: A4

     
    Baha’is celebrate 50th anniversary in Davis

    By Special to The Enterprise | From Page: A4

    Downtown gift cards get a new perk

    By Enterprise staff | From Page: A4

     
    Pets of the week

    By Enterprise staff | From Page: A5 | Gallery

     
    Forum will answer questions about new license law

    By Enterprise staff | From Page: A5

    Applications open for Biberstein grants

    By Special to The Enterprise | From Page: A10

     
    .

    Forum

    Brother’s drinking out of control

    By Creators Syndicate | From Page: B5

     
    Daughter has her own opinions

    By Creators Syndicate | From Page: B5

    We must not stand for perpetual war

    By Special to The Enterprise | From Page: A6

     
    Don’t cut all the trees

    By Letters to the Editor | From Page: A6

    A great Day in the Country

    By Letters to the Editor | From Page: A6

     
    Donors support school matinees

    By Letters to the Editor | From Page: A6

    A big Explorit thanks!

    By Letters to the Editor | From Page: A6

     
    Teacher tenure becomes key campaign issue

    By Tom Elias | From Page: A6

    Tom Meyer cartoon

    By Debbie Davis | From Page: A6

     
    .

    Sports

    Running game powered Devils in first football win

    By Thomas Oide | From Page: B1 | Gallery

     
    Davis field hockey team rights ship at Lassen

    By Enterprise staff | From Page: B1

    Devil golfers soar past Sheldon

    By Enterprise staff | From Page: B1

     
    Blue Devils bounce back against Pleasant Grove

    By Evan Ream | From Page: B1 | Gallery

    UCD roundup: Aggie women reach finals of East/West golf tourney

    By Enterprise staff | From Page: B2Comments are off for this post | Gallery

     
    U11s get a win in an eventful weekend of youth football

    By Enterprise staff | From Page: B3 | Gallery

    A’s support Samardzija in a win over Angels

    By The Associated Press | From Page: B8

     
    .

    Features

    .

    Business

    .

    Obituaries

    Carol L. Walsh

    By Special to The Enterprise | From Page: A4

     
    .

    Comics

    Comics: Tuesday, September 23, 2014 (set 1)

    By Creator | From Page: B5

     
    Comics: Tuesday, September 23, 2014 (set 2)

    By Creator | From Page: B7