Creating Online Institutional Brands within State University Systems

Topics: Online Education, Academic Affairs, Curriculum Development, Academic Planning

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Online offerings from multiple state institutions, particularly those with state university names, create brand confusion among prospective students and risk program cannibalism. This report examines brand differentiation among flagship campus offerings and online-only campus offerings within state systems. It includes information on scope of offerings within contacts’ systems, policies and practices to reduce brand confusion and program cannibalism, and outcomes of brand differentiation efforts.

  • Key observations from our research:

    1. State or system-level policies to control academic program development reduce program cannibalization by institutions' online programs.

    2. Policies that govern use of state university name minimize brand confusion between flagship universities and states' online-only institutions.

    3. Flagship universities' academic quality and ability to provide traditional student experiences distinguish their online offerings from online-only competitors.

    4. Deans adapt online programs to target niche audiences and minimize competition among similar programs at multiple state institutions.

    5. Monthly meetings to coordinate marketing efforts within flagship universities and among state system institutions reduce brand confusion.

    6. Online education directors do not measure impacts of competitive programs at other universities within state systems.