Higher Education Branding

by Brad VanAuken, BrandForward, Inc.

While higher education is a very crowded market, there are some colleges and universities that have differentiated themselves in highly compelling ways. Here are some of my favorite examples of this:

Naropa University: Transform Yourself, Transform the World
The Naropa Experience: Perform in an Indian classical music ensemble. Write a thesis on creativity and social action. Take yoga for credit. Volunteer in a community garden. Study Tibetan. Spend the weekend at a meditation retreat. Intern at the Peace Jam Foundation. Conduct research on the nature of consciousness.

American University: What’s KNOW spelled backwards? WONK
“The term can apply to anyone because it’s a smart person who is incredibly passionate about what they do,” said Nate Beeler, SOC/BA ’02, a self-described journalism wonk. “D.C. attracts that kind of thing, and AU is the perfect place for it.”

St. John’s College: The following teachers will return to St. John’s next year… HOMER, EUCLID, CHAUCER, EINSTEIN, DU BOIS, VIRGIL, AGUSTINE, AROSOTLE, WASHINGTON, WOOLF, PLATO, TOCQUEVILLE, AUSTEN, NEWTON, CERVANTES, DARWIN, MOZART, GALILEO, TOLSTOY, DESCARTE, FREUD
There is no other college quite like St. John’s. Through sustained engagement with the works of great thinkers and through genuine discussion with peers, students at St. John’s College cultivate habits of mind that will last a lifetime.

Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute: Why not change the world?®
A history and future of changing the world through technological creativity.
Alumni inventions: baking powder, sun screen, Ferris wheel, television, computer, pocket calculator, e-mail, digital camera, etc.

Paul Smith’s College: THE COLLEGE OF THE ADIRONDACKS
The website visuals include a mountain lake, fall foliage, cross-country skiing, lean-tos, tree climbing, a class in a forest, conducing an environmental test on a boat on a wilderness lake, etc.

With the proliferation of liberal arts colleges, community colleges, public universities, vocational schools, professional schools and other forms of higher education, it is heartening to encounter colleges and universities that are unique with unique sets of values.

Naropa University is focused on personal spiritual practice and transformation. American University celebrates its proximity to the inner workings of our federal government. St. John’s College revels in training the mind through the study of the classics. Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute challenges its students to change the world through technological creativity. And Paul Smith’s College emphasizes its location in the Adirondack Mountains to set it apart from other schools. You can imagine how each of these schools would attract a unique set of students whose interests and values align with the school’s unique values and emphasis.

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