Emsi Case Study (See Full Archive)
The Kansas Independent College Association (KICA) is made up of 16 four-year nonprofit private colleges and universities and two primarily two-year colleges. Among these, a medium-sized school is only about 900 students, making it difficult to stay visible in the eyes of legislative members, regional stakeholders, and the public. So the association needed help communicating—with one collective voice—how independent colleges improve the economic and cultural vibrancy of the state.
KICA found the help it needed in Emsi’s Economic Impact Study, which provided a variety of data for use in marketing and public relations efforts, including that the 18 institutions collectively generate $981 million per year in new income for Kansas (which, as KICA’s clever marketing materials will tell you, is how much would be generated if Kansas hosted the Super Bowl nine times).
First off, KICA needed to decide how to make use of the study’s marketing potential. How could KICA share the results in a way that substantially increased the visibility of Kansas’ independent colleges and universities, even on a national scale? And how could it sustain momentum and media interest in a way that prolonged the value of the data, sharing the story over several months?
And, since several of the individual institutions commissioned their own studies, how could the association find a balance between attracting attention for both the statewide and institutional economic impact data?
Scheduling a Strategic Release
KICA timed its study so that the announcement fit well into “the rhythm of life for higher ed,” said KICA President Matt Lindsey. To do this, the association planned a two-phase release, targeting specific audiences when the information would have the most impact. This strategy helped prevent the institutional studies and the statewide story from overshadowing each other in local media outlets and sustained an ongoing conversation about the value of private colleges and universities to Kansas.
“We were able to focus first on the statewide piece, which really gave us some power and got picked up even on national news… which was really kind of exciting and surprising for us,” Lindsey said. “And then we were able to tie the institutional-level local media pieces right to the timing of when college kids were moving in for the fall semester, which is when a lot of local media was talking about college.”
Timing was also important for sharing the statewide results. “The political winds were shifting in the state of Kansas,” Lindsey said. “We realized that to make the case about the power and value of small private colleges in Kansas, we would need this rigorous tool in our toolbox.”
Remaining Visible Throughout the Legislative Session
After the initial press release, KICA made certain that its economic impact would continue to be a topic of conversation. To do that, the data needed to be put into a format that people could understand, remember, and share.
So the association created an infographic that provided context for the big dollar amounts that would otherwise be incomprehensible to most audiences. For example, what does it mean to have a $981 million impact? Well, that could buy an entire year of groceries for 109,000 families of four.
(Check out our blog post for more about KICA’s infographic, or click on the image above to view the full image).
Then, each Monday during the state legislative session, Lindsey would send a quick, one-factoid email to KICA’s legislative allies and other local opinion leaders, often featuring data from the study and a cropped image from the infographic. KICA also tweeted key data points about its economic impact, purposefully choosing a social media network popular among legislative members and opinion leaders.
Driving Community Engagement
In addition to showing local officials (many of whom also serve at the state level) why it is important to have an independent college in their area, the results of the studies have helped college presidents start conversations with businesses and community members about potential partnerships—thereby driving community engagement.
“We’re really narrowing impact to just the new money and the new growth that is generated by these colleges. That gave us, me and the 18 presidents in particular, more confidence that we could use that number … in everything we do.”—Matt Lindsey, KICA
For example, President Ed Leonard of Bethany College (in Lindsborg, Kansas) followed the release of the school’s institutional results by hosting a coffee hour to chat about the impact data and other campus affairs. Initially intended for local media, the coffee hour also attracted leaders from the local chamber of commerce, the hospital board, and other community and business leaders who were eager to hear more about the college.
Lindsey emphasized that an understanding of Emsi’s economic impact methodology was especially important to college presidents, giving them the confidence to share the data and believe with conviction that the measurements were accurate. “[The studies have] paid off in part because of the rigor…. This is removing substitution effects; this isn’t about churn. We’re really narrowing [impact] to just the new money and the new growth that is generated by these colleges,” said Lindsey. “That gave us, me and the 18 presidents in particular, more confidence that we could use that number, or those numbers, in everything we do.”
The partnerships that result from those conversations are critical to the ongoing success of the colleges and the economic prosperity of the communities they serve. “How can we take this $981 million impact, and how can we make it grow? It’s not something just done by the colleges—it takes multi-entity partnerships to do so,” Lindsey emphasized.
If you’d like to learn more about how Emsi’s Economic Impact Study can help your institution make a difference, or if you’ve already had a study done and would like to talk about how you can put it to work, contact Aaron Olanie or read this blog post.