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Messaging Strategies for Increasing Student Diversity

Laura Nicholas – a communications consultant for IBM – provided remarks at the National Convergence Technology Center’s (CTC) recent two-day “Diversity Summit” workshop. Specifically, Laura talked to the attendees (ten teams comprised of a faculty member, an administrator, and a counselor) about messaging as it relates to improving their programs’ student diversity.

Here are select highlights from her presentation, which you can view in its entirety here:

Three goals – To address classroom and program diversity, Laura proposes that any messaging strategy must…

  • Inform – Communication should raise awareness of the program curriculum and then link that to career opportunities. Make prospective students aware of both the program and what it can mean to their future.
  • Challenge – The messaging should upend old, engrained thinking that may be full of cultural barriers and stereotypes. It’s essential that students can envision themselves in your classroom and in that career. This means offering plenty of role models that mirror the kinds of diverse populations a program is pursuing (i.e. don’t use marketing materials with white men to attract African-American women).
  • Inspire – The communication should encourage the prospective student to take action somehow, whether that’s visiting a web site or attending an orientation event.

Four best practices – Building on the three goals above, a successful diversity messaging strategy should…

  • Avoid cultural/gender stereotypes – Don’t offend your audience.
  • Describe opportunity – Be detailed and specific about the possible career outlook. Use metrics or testimonials as evidence. It might also help to provide details about earning potential.
  • Feature role models – Visualization is key. Students must be able to see themselves in the program and in that career. In addition to using student and faculty as role models (i.e. women to attract female students), there may also be a way to employ local professionals in your messaging or more widely-known leaders in the field.
  • Use imagery that appeals to a target audience – Understand your prospective students and what will appeal best.

One social media suggestion – Use existing resources for messaging inspiration. Laura cited the following organizations and used examples of ways to repurpose their content, especially on social media. You don’t have to always create material from scratch.

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