An ounce of defiance and a play off the old saying “when pigs fly” are among the tools Clark officials are looking at to deal with a $3.6 million budget shortfall that threatens the existence of some academic programs.
College officials last month launched the “Penguins Fly,” an advertising campaign they hope will bring new students to campus for Fall and beyond. The ads also feature a series of Clark graduates and current students boasting about their successes in the face of adversity.
In a conversation with Independent staff members early in May, Vice President of Instruction Tim Cook and Vice President of Administration Bob Williamson both pointed to a drop in enrollment over the past five years as a major contributor to the budget shortfall.
The campaign encourages current students and recent graduates to share their Clark success stories on social media. At the same time Clark is also advertising on both Youtube and basic cable.
As the economy has started to rebound, enrollment has dropped by at least 3,000 full-time equivalent students. That’s since 2011-2012, when enrollment was at its peak of 10,000 students, according Director of Business Services Sabra Sand.
Clark is projecting around 7,000 full-time equivalent students for the upcoming year, according Sand.
A full-time equivalent student — or an FTE — is someone who takes 15 credits per quarter for 3 quarters. The number of FTEs has dropped each year since the economy began its slow recovery, according to data from Planning and Effectiveness.
The new ad-campaign is part of a broader strategic enrollment plan.
“One of the pieces of the plan is to develop programs to recruit older students,” Cook said. He believes that these changes are having a positive effect on enrollment, even if it is hard to tell from the numbers. “The question we will never be able to answer is if we hadn’t done all of this, would our enrollment be much worse.”
Chief Information and Communication Officer Chato Hazelbaker is one of the driving forces behind the ad-campaign, and said he believes Clark can succeed in times of a decent economy.
“There are so many people that would like a better job,” Hazelbaker said.
He pointed to the fact that higher education often leads to higher income as a reason people should continue going to school.
This is not the first ad-campaign that Clark has run. In 2010, Clark spent $234,000 on marketing, even when other colleges in the area curbed their funding, according to an Independent story written in the Spring of 2010.
While Clark continued to advertise, enrollment still dropped.
Hazelbaker hopes that better tracking metrics will lead to a more successful campaign. Hazelbaker is able to track exactly how many people visit the “Penguins Fly” homepage, and how many are looking for more information.
This is vastly different than the 2010 campaign, which Hazelbaker said did not have the metrics to track the website at the time. The “Penguins Fly” website has almost 2,000 views so far, according to Hazelbaker.
Today, the marketing department has one of the smaller budgets of any of the departments on campus, according to Hazelbaker. Hazelbaker said $80,000 to $85,000 was spent on enrollment marketing this year. The ‘Penguins Fly’ campaign cost around $35,000.
Hazelbaker said the budget is much less compared to other colleges in the area. “We’re currently spending $100,000 less than our competitors.” Hazelbaker also compared the marketing budget with those of for-profit colleges, such as the University of Phoenix. “As much as 30 percent of their total budget goes into advertising, while Clark spends around 1 percent of its total budget,” Hazelbaker said.
Because the budget for advertising comes directly from tuition, Hazelbaker wants to see as much as possible going to help students. “Ninety five cents of every dollar better go directly to the classroom.”
Clark Multimedia Specialist Nicholas Bremer Korb produced and directed the “Penguins Fly” campaign videos. The videos show recent Clark graduates telling the audience what they have achieved in a defiant manner.
Bremer Korb likens the Clark slogan to the common saying ‘when pigs fly.’ Bremer Korb wanted the defiant penguin attitude to shine through in the ads. “I’m a Clark student. I’m a little bit defiant,” Bremer Korb said. “We can achieve our dreams no matter what you say.”
Bremer Korb said he believes the key to raising enrollment again is to raise the public’s general awareness of Clark. Bremer Korb compared advertising for Clark with advertising for Coca-Cola.
“Everybody knows about Coca-Cola,” Bremer Korb said. “It is much less introducing people to the product and more about being the product.”
Bremer Korb said he hopes that Clark is the first name that comes to mind when someone thinks of colleges in the area.
The nursing, welding, and automotive programs, as well as the low tuition prices are Clark’s best selling points, according to Bremer Korb. He hopes these programs will help to eventually turn enrollment around.
The campaign is aimed at potential students ages 18-30, as well as adults with no prior college experience. Currently the ads are only running in Southwest Washington and are set to run until at least late June.
While no increase of enrollment can be attributed to the ‘Penguins Fly’ campaign yet, Hazelbaker hopes to see an increase in Fall enrollment numbers. Sixty-four students have looked into applying so far, according to Hazelbaker.
“I feel really good about the efforts we are making to ensure that the marketing dollars we spend will have a high rate of return.”
by: Nathan Taylor