Institutions are failing to communicate public impact, leading to lower perceptions
- Some scientists are taking blame for the recent downturn in public perception of higher ed, saying they're not doing enough to communicate the value of their work.
- Eric Isaacs, vice president for research, innovation and national laboratories at the University of Chicago, told Inside Higher Ed that researchers have just "assumed" people understood the public impact of their work, but admitted that higher ed as a whole has failed to articulate just how much value they add to the broader community.
- In some cases, research has been hidden behind inaccessible jargon that doesn't register with the general public, and in others, or an emphasis on journal publication and disdain for publication in traditional public media has completely hidden the information — though in other cases, it is simply a lack of effort to make information publicly known, as many institution communications departments are both understaffed and, often, unaware of faculty activities.
Southern University System Assistant to the President for Institutional Advancement William Broussard spoke to an audience of higher ed communications professionals about the importance of branding the institution Wednesday at the HBCU Executive Media Training Institute in Washington. Broussard asked attendees to identify five things their institution does better than any institution in the country, five things better than schools in their state, and one thing they do better than peer institutions, then pointed out to participants, who were struggling to answer, that if the communications directors can't quickly point out an institution's competitive advantage, neither can prospective students, the general public or prospective donors.
Leveraging research as part of the institutional brand, even in an era that seems to de-value facts, is extremely important. Not only does it help demonstrate the college or university's benefit to the public to help make the case for funding, it can quiet some of the murmuring around the continued relevance of the enterprise. "If we don't grow and develop our brands, we have no control over shifting public perceptions" of higher education, Broussard said. And with a recent Pew survey indicating that public perception of higher education is on the decline, it is incumbent upon college and university leaders to hop on the offensive, rather than always being in response mode, and take back the narrative.
- Inside Higher Ed Science's Communication Problem
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