5 Tips to Celebrating — and Selling — the Value of the Humanities

5 Tips to Celebrating — and Selling — the Value of the HumanitiesThe value of a humanities degree is a topic that hits close to home. I’ve lived it (BFA in Dramatic Arts, MA in English) and preached it — especially to my own four children when I see the public school system nudging them towards more “lucrative” fields.

“Study what you love,” I tell them. “Look at me and your father. We have four humanities degrees between us and we’ve been able to support you.” (Think about that!)

But the battle rages beyond my household, as those in higher education know. Students and families are influenced by a variety of factors: the lingering recession, unemployment rates, job forecasts, and (of course) the cost of higher education. It is a topic of ongoing discussion in academia as the humanities and liberal arts become harder and harder to sell.

But here is a new and useful take on the problem: Inside Higher Education reports on a team of professors, administrators, and employers who recently met to strategize. Paula Krebs, dean of the College of Humanities and Social Sciences at Bridgewater State University, writes:

“We need only two things to convince our communities, public officials, local employers, and parents of students and prospective students about the value of a degree in the humanities: stories and data.”

Krebs and her team are right on: human success stories tied to data show the value “in action” — through the lives and careers of humanities graduates. This is classic content marketing and it is fundamentally under-utilized in higher education.

How can a marketing and enrollment team get started?

  1. Arm yourself with data. Start by cultivating strong selling points from existing studies. While Kreb’s group is cultivating new regional data by including local employers in the group, enough information exists to launch a content marketing campaign.

    The Association of American Colleges and Universities 2014 report includes information that will challenge the general assumption — especially when combined with real-life stories. My personal favorite: Liberal arts majors earn more than professional majors at peak earnings ages. This is likely due to the skills we know and value, but struggle to tout: critical thinking, interpersonal, written and oral communications, etc.
  2. Capture stories. Talk to the winners, your successful liberal arts and humanities alumni. Hear the stories of their careers and match it to the data points.
  3. Interview professionals. Internship supervisors (to develop content about your students’ strengths and contributions) and hiring managers at companies who hire your alumni (to ascertain what they value). Remember to look beyond the obvious: almost all businesses have offices run by humanities majors (marketing, advertising, community relations, etc.)
  4. Create a content marketing campaign that blends forms (blog posts, narratives, testimonials, video, print, digital) and reaches all segments of your student body, from prospective to graduate.
  5. Jump in on the conversation. Kreb’s group, which is reconvening in May, is asking readers to participate: “If you’re working on humanities student success initiatives, what tactics are you trying? With whom are you working? Are you getting any traction in your institution or region?”

Ride the wave as she and her colleagues work to launch the nation’s first “Humanities Success Zone.”

Content marketing is key to both owning and promoting your institution’s messages. If I were to promote my alma mater, I’d tell the story of two drama majors who went on to build careers in higher education and theater while raising and caring for a large family. Just like the AAC&U study says.

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