Millennials are motivated differently than generations past. They don’t want to earn a degree as a means to get a job. They want to do meaningful work, serve others, and make the world a better place. For years, Georgia College has been an incubator for students who want to learn more about serving others, more so than any other university in the Southeast, and maybe the country. The problem was, they weren’t “owning” the one thing that made them unique. As a result, they weren’t attracting or retaining the right students. That’s where we came in.
It’s understandable. When you’re so closely involved in day-to-day operations of a college or university, it’s difficult to see yourself as those on the outside see you. It’s easy to overlook your greatest strength — the one thing that makes you different than all other schools.
Georgia College didn’t know who they were or the kind of students they wanted to attract. And because they weren’t attracting the right students, they weren’t retaining them. For years, retention of first-year students had plateaued at 46%. One of the five year goals was to grow retention to 60%.
current retention rate
target retention rate
No one would deny Georgia College its rich history and Southern culture. The beautiful 600 acre campus is fronted by a row of red brick edifices, adorned with white corinthian pillars. But does that really matter to prospective college students who want to change the world? That’s what we wanted to know.
When we help an organization like Georgia College discover what makes it unique, we start with a blank canvas. But after two full days of focus groups, in-person interviews and online surveys, we began to see a common theme emerging. Administrators, faculty, staff, alumni and especially students told us about a rich tradition of volunteering in the community and incorporating service into the educational curriculum. While community service isn’t unique in higher education, the sheer scale and coordinated organization of Georgia College’s Give Center dwarfed other programs in Georgia, even at schools twice as big. We checked and double-checked. We’d found what differentiates Georgia College from its competitors.
When you discover your unique brand — something you know will make you different in the eyes of prospective students and their parents, you can’t wait to share it. After nearly a year of planning, creating, writing, and development, we built a comprehensive plan to roll out their new brand to to the world.
The first thing we did was to develop content around the pillars of the brand. We wanted to show what it felt like to “learn to make a difference.” Working closely with the University’s staff photographer, we developed a new “look” for all photography that focused mostly on stories of students learning in and outside the classroom.
We also developed a voice for the brand that introduced Georgia College and Milledgeville to new prospective students as a safe, comfortable, and welcoming place to learn.
In stark contrast to the previous Georgia College website, which catered to a mostly internal audience and to fellow academics, we made a conscious effort to focus messaging and content 100% on the needs of current and future students. They want to know what it’s like to be a student at Georgia College, what student organizations they can get involved in, where they will eat and sleep. When students and their parents come to the website, engage on social channels, or come to visit, we want them to see and feel the student experience.
As part of the brand rollout, we developed an online advertising campaign to create brand awareness and position Georgia College as a liberal arts college where you could learn how to make a difference in the world.
— John Hachtel, Director
Marketing & Communications, Georgia College