Home Marketing Higher Education Marketing as a Gainful Employment Resource
Higher Education Marketing as a Gainful Employment Resource

Higher Education Marketing as a Gainful Employment Resource


By Richard McCulloch, Vice-President of Client Services, Tribeca Marketing Group

As we all know, the only thing consistent in life is change; and adapting your approach and assets to meet and exceed new goals are the first steps in navigating change. As many institutions nestle into the operational and outcome-based reality of the gainful employment regulations, conscientious administrators are strategizing about how to enhance their operations and resources to satisfy these layers of accountability.

Higher education institutions directly affected by the implementation of gainful employment regulations have a lot to consider and address in order to remain compliant and Title IV eligible. In addition to the variety of daily operational issues that have to be managed in order to effectively run these institutions, administrators must also dedicate appropriate assets to ensure the achievement of gainful employment benchmarks.

Despite some of the debatable formulas associated with the regulations, and other concerns that were addressed during negotiated rulemaking, the fundamental purpose of gainful employment is to ensure an important outcome for any investment of time and financial resources – value.

With a continued national discourse about climbing student debt and a documented decline in higher education enrollments, an objective analysis of the postsecondary landscape requires that the question be asked; “Is the value proposition of pursuing higher education being effectively realized?”

Optimizing debt-to-earnings ratios as well as minimizing program cohort default rates (pCDR’s) represent a new era of regulatory priorities affecting most for-profit programs and certificate programs at private non-profit and public institutions. Though many of these institutions utilize an outsourced or in-house marketing resource for the recruitment of students, there is an opportunity to redeploy some of these marketing resources to support institutional efforts for the purpose of meeting and exceeding gainful employment outcome thresholds. Just as enrollment-focused marketing is a proactive tool for student recruitment, outcome-focused marketing can be a proactive tool used to facilitate career placement and default management efforts.

Here are just a few examples of how marketing assets can be redeployed to facilitate your institution’s compliance with gainful employment.

Market researchGainful Employment

As a former higher education administrator and present-day higher education marketing specialist, I have a special place in my heart for this quote by W. Edwards Deming: “In God we trust, all others bring data.” In this new gainful employment landscape, data will be the key to driving the outcomes that allow affected institutions to realize the required data thresholds.

With the term “gainful employment” directly related to the labor market conditions that exist within the service areas of institutions that must comply with the regulations, analyzing data on program-specific labor demand and earnings is an important part of maximizing graduate placement outcomes. To put it plainly; Are your programs conducive to meeting the gainful employment debt-to-earnings ratios?

Having programs that offer more opportunities for graduate placement is a strong step in the right directions for institutions focused on ensuring that students are being educated for employment in areas that have the demand for their skills. Auditing the labor demand for your current program offerings is just one way in which market research can assist in improving your placement opportunities.

When you review the service area in which most of your graduates are placed, what are the mean earnings that they are receiving? This is another key metric that market research can provide as a baseline standard to properly evaluate the viability of your programs. Though many institutions rely on The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) data to establish a threshold for earning potential, it is in the best interest of all higher education institutions affected by the gainful employment regulations to quantify the real earnings achieved by their graduates within their historic placement service area.

Institutions committed to data-driven graduate employment strategy should consider utilizing sources like Gray & Associates1 which provides valuable market data on current employment statistics, forecast employment and estimated annual job opportunities in a variety of industries. Market research data helps higher education institutions properly evaluate employment trends, which affords these institutions the opportunity to effectively construct and execute graduate placement strategies. In-house or outsourced market research efforts to evaluate program viability and industry employment trends are no longer just optional operational enhancements, but instead a prudent higher education best practice in a postsecondary environment where placement metrics really matter.

Website enhancementsGainful Employment

Your website is a key platform for engagement and digital interaction. We often see them as an information gateway to educate prospective students about institutional attributes, programs, and policies. What if your website was enhanced to better engage potential employers as employment partners, while also providing increased awareness about campus resources available to assist graduates with loan repayment options and default mitigation?

With many of our institutions educating and training students from the much analyzed millennial generation, understanding the financial literacy of this group is an important consideration in the development of a comprehensive default management strategy.

Though student loan repayment is greatly facilitated when graduates actually achieve employment and generate the affiliated earnings that come with working, making regular payments on these loans requires a certain level of financial discipline. Just as we train our students in the skills needed to perform the requisite tasks relevant to successful employment in their programs of study, it is in our best interest to provide them with continuing education in fiscal responsibility. Based on fiscal literacy data, this support is even more urgent with the millennial generation.

According to a study2 by PriceWaterhouseCooper, “Among the overall population, Millennials are the age group with the lowest level of financial literacy.” To be more specific, the study presented two statistics about millennials that may directly affect default management and loan repayment:

  • Only 24 percent demonstrated basic financial literacy
  • Only 8 percent demonstrated high financial literacy

For higher education institutions servicing a significant population of millennials, providing digital resources for these students is another tool that can be supported by your marketing providers. Though traditionally financial aid presence on websites has been focused on information for new and continuing students, mitigating cohort default rates can be facilitated by supplementing your website with resources and interactive features that promote fiscal literacy and continuing graduate connections with campus financial aid personnel.

Marketing to cultivate strategic alliancesGainful Employment

In higher education marketing, we have traditionally formulated campaigns and content with a focused “call to action” encouraging prospective students to fill out inquiry forms, schedule campus visits or apply. Today’s higher education landscape requires campaigns and content that serve as interactive catalysts between our institutions and employers.

Just as marketing assets are deployed to motivate enrollment activity, a focused strategy which helps to cultivate strategic alliances with companies is an outcome-focused effort that can yield a multitude of institutional benefits.

With all the moving parts that need to be managed on the campus level, you may question the value of deploying resources in an effort to establish these corporate strategic alliances. The data shows, that there is a lot to gain.

As noted in a survey of academic and business industry leaders by the IBM Institute for Business Value referenced in the Harvard Business Review3, “… 51 percent of respondents believe that the current higher education system fails to meet the needs of students, and nearly 60 percent believe it fails to meet the needs of industry.” The correlation between this data and employability should be self-evident. The benefits of college-corporate relationships are just as clear.

In the Tech Republic article 10 ways businesses and academia are benefiting through collaboration4, many of the 10 benefits had universal higher education relevance and clear value as a strategy that should be supported through supplemental marketing efforts:

  • Curriculum development: Institutions of higher learning are now attempting to overhaul their curricula so they are more in alignment with the jobs that students will be applying for when they graduate.
  • Relationships with student placement services: Enterprises seeking young talent stay in touch with university placement service directors.
  • Internships and field work: By using internships of six to eight weeks, businesses can often determine the skillsets and aptitudes that individual students offer. They use the internship as a tryout to decide whether they want to hire a student fulltime after graduation.
  • Job market needs: In formulating their curricula, universities often have limited insights into the specific needs and job forecasts industry has. An enterprise can become a welcome business partner by sharing information on skills and job shortfalls with university program directors.
  • Board and committee participation: Colleges and universities constantly seek out managers and experts from industry to serve on their advisory boards and committees.

Call center supportGainful Employment

Even in the largest institutions, resources are finite. In private institutions especially, the deployment of educational resources along with revenue generating efforts represent the main priorities to which in-house assets are usually dedicated. With gainful employment regulations focused on graduates and how they fare in terms of earnings and loan repayments, staying connected with recent graduates and reconnecting with past graduates needs to be a priority. The larger the institution, the more graduates need to be serviced. This is where scaling of resources becomes an important tool for enhancing institutional outcomes. Outsourcing batches of graduate contact information to a properly trained call center will increase your institutional reach without levying additional stress on your in-house resources. Having call center agents transfer unplaced graduates or those on the brink of student loan delinquency to your campus professionals will provide supplemental opportunities to help these graduates maximize their educational investment and avoid financial hardships.

Though the new regulations were not necessarily met with open arms and a warm embrace, they are now a reality. With gainful employment positioned as a barometer for measuring institutional performance, adapting resources already in play for student recruitment is a strategy that can provide measureable results while preserving internal assets. A creative redefinition of your comprehensive marketing strategy is an opportunity to improve the outcomes for your institution, not only because of the gainful employment regulations, but as a means to elevate the value proposition of attending your institution.

For more information on this topic and other higher education marketing strategies please contact Richard McCulloch at 954-495-0932 or rm@tribecamarketinggroup.com.


  1. https://www.grayassociates.com
  2. http://www.pwc.com/us/en/about-us/corporate-responsibility/assets/pwc-millennials-and-financial-literacy.pdf
  3. https://hbr.org/2015/07/why-higher-ed-and-business-need-to-work-together
  4. http://www.techrepublic.com/blog/10-things/10-ways-businesses-and-academia-are-benefiting-through-collaboration/

Richard McCulloch

Richard McCulloch is a Postsecondary Education Specialist with over 20 years of experience in the private higher education sector. His career started in the Admissions/Student Recruitment side of Higher Ed, and quickly evolved into Retention Management and Student Development. He has specialized in fostering a Student Development platform of Roots, Resources and Reinforcement to enhance an institution’s ability to yield higher metrics in Retention and Referrals. With practical experience in campus operations, his role as Vice-President of Client Services at Tribeca Marketing Group has allowed him to service our valued clients with hands-on support and proven marketing strategies which increase institutional profiles and improve enrollment opportunities.

Contact Information: Richard McCulloch // Vice-President of Client Services // Tribeca Marketing Group // 954-495-0932 // rm@rolongroup.com // www.rolongroup.com



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