3 Key Takeaways for Higher Ed Marketers from the 2016 ASU GSV Summit

April 27, 2016

This year’s annual ASU GSV Summit took place in sunny San Diego, California from April 18 - 20th. The purpose of the Summit was to bring together decision makers, innovators, and investors within the Education community to discuss the rapid change taking place within the education sector, and to also discuss big ideas that will shape the future of education globally. The event was also packed with valuable insights specifically for leaders within the higher education sector. The event was held outside of Phoenix for the first time due to the surging growth in demand from attendees, and the sold out occasion with 3,700+ registrants marked the increasing popularity of the continued intersection between technology, education, and innovation.  

The star-studded event featured the “who’s who” of the education technology and higher education sectors, attracting luminary speakers such as Bill Gates, Sal Khan, and Michael Crow. LinkedIn was fortunate to partner with the event organizers and we attended many customer meetings, speaker sessions, and round tables. Throughout the conference, several clear themes emerged relating to the marketing of higher education.

Here are the three trends that LinkedIn believes matter most for the higher ed marketer going forward:

1. Traditional Signals of “Accomplishment” and “Potential” Are Being Supplanted

The traditional signals of current and projected success, GPA and the attainment of a four year degree, are increasingly being crowded out by alternative and increasingly quantifiable measures around grit, perseverance, and passion LinkedIn’s Brendan Browne, VP of Talent Acquisition, spoke on a panel discussing how GPA is not predictive of workplace performance, along with the body of research behind these findings.  

More importantly than GPA, fostering a growth mindset allows prospective education seekers to excel. In a new world where educational access is increasingly being afforded to anyone with a computer and internet connection, the marketing implication is clear. Education marketers need to measure the quality of leads beyond merely enrollment & GPA statistics, and are increasingly being empowered to do so with new tools and technologies. With these new abilities, education marketers can deliver students that will achieve both positive educational outcomes for themselves along with positive lifetime value for their institutions.

2. Partnerships Are Making Data Driven Marketing the “New Normal”

Gone are the days where only a few leading schools had the talent, capital, and other resources needed to deploy innovative marketing strategies & launch successful online educational programs.  Due to the tremendous proliferation of Online Program Management companies (“OPMs”) such as Pearson, 2U, and Wiley, any educational institution can now take their traditional programs online and attract a global student base. At the conference this year, we were constantly struck by the sheer number of OPMs in attendance. Several of us remarked that the selection process for an “up and coming” school regarding which OPM to choose must be daunting these days.   

What these partnerships represent for higher education institutions, though, is something transformational. Any school who previously believed they did not have the capital necessary to create an online program, let alone attract the talent that possessed the “growth marketing” mindset to scale these programs, now have the ability to truly create data driven marketing strategies to transform their institutions. Data-driven marketing strategies are no longer a nice-to-have. Rather, they are a must-have for nearly all universities. The importance of finding a partner that aligns with schools goals and mission is the clearest way to find a successful partnership that will allow schools to successfully reach new students going forward.   

3. Disruption is Happening Most Quickly in the Adult Learner Segment

Ted Mitchell, the U.S. Under Secretary for Education, noted in his Fireside Chat that “The typical college student is no longer the 18 year-old being dropped off at State U. The typical college student is the 24 year old returning vet, the 30 year-old single mom who is working, or the displaced worker looking to re-skill in an emerging industry. We can’t reach those students by doing things the old way.”  

The innovations surrounding access to education have been transformational. An interested learner only needs access to an internet connection and a computer (mobile, tablet, or otherwise) to gain new knowledge and skills. The next major set of challenges and areas of innovation revolve around 1) affordability and 2) the tangible demonstration of skills/efficacy. While online learning in the 1990’s solved much of the problem around access, the next wave of innovations will be largely different. Education marketers will need to focus on new consumer value propositions, such as showing measurable returns on learning, clear paths to gaining “knowledge worker based” skills (e.g. critical thinking, innovation, compassionate leadership). The implication for higher ed marketers is that we are entering an unprecedented period of innovation within the sector at large, and the marketing must also follow this wave. Testing of new messages, value propositions, and user experiences will be more important than ever.  

Looking Ahead to the Future

After last week’s inspiring thought leadership, we left San Diego excited for what the future holds for the higher education sector. The level of investment, focus, and innovation within the sector has never been higher. LinkedIn looks forward to ASU GSV Summit 2017 and we hope to see you there.

Higher Education marketing is more complicated than ever. Stay ahead of the curve and truly understand your prospects with Connecting with Today’s Prospective Students: How Higher Education Decisions are Made in the Digital Age.