Volume 97 Issue 4 News

Branding study identifies pros and cons of Juniata

by Laura Snyder

Juniata College hired the agency Cognitive Marketing to conduct a branding study from October 2015 to January 2016. This study will reveal the College’s strongest and weakest attributes and strategies for marketing itself to prospective students, donors and organizations.

“The purpose of the study is to help us identify what we do well and maybe not so well by surveying alumni, trustees, students, faculty (and) staff — all  the constituents that we come in contact with,” said Juniata College President James Troha.

It is important to know what Juniata’s brand is because it affects how community members, graduate schools and employers see the students. A college does not have control over its reputation, but it has the power to influence it.

Gabe Welsch, Vice President of Advancement and Marketing, is leading the study. He said, “You don’t own your brand. Your brand is what other people say about you.”

Juniata is viewed positively, but remains relatively unknown among prospective students. The information from the study will help the College expand its influence in the world of higher education. Troha said, “Most people who know about us think about us as being a top liberal arts institution, but they need to hear about us first. The ones who do (hear about us) know what a great school we are and what we are able to do.”

The study is heavily based on student voices. Focus groups of students were asked for their opinions about what they like about Juniata and what they think could be changed.

Student opinions are the most important part of the study because they capture the type of experience that prospective students can look forward to if they choose Juniata. “(The goal is) to understand better what makes us really strong and what makes students not consider Juniata,” said Troha.

Each focus group was based on where the students are from and how they found out about Juniata. Madeline Bennetti, a junior, found out about Juniata through an alumni connection she made in high school. “The session I was in had been all students that were recruited by alumni, so it was mostly local students. They asked us how we heard about Juniata, and we talked about the alumni connections that we had,” said Bennetti.

Joe Forish, a senior, also found out about Juniata through an alumni connection. Forish said, “It was an informal meeting, and we sat down and they asked us what we like, what we think, things that need to change.”

The study has revealed that the POE system makes Juniata stand out from other institutions. “One of the things we know from prospective students is that they like the idea of the POE, even though a lot of them don’t take advantage of the flexibility of the POE system,” said Welsch.

Troha said, “The POE is an attractive platform from which our students earned their degrees because it is flexible and personalized.”

Students who participated in this study agreed with Welsh and Troha about the POE system. Desnor Chigumba, a junior, said, “I definitely like the POE system. I think it is great being able to design my education while still having the FISHN requirements so I can have a wholesome education.”

Bennetti said, “Everyone had a lot to say. It was actually hard to get a word in because everyone was so eager to share their ideas.”

Students also mentioned the natural areas surrounding Juniata, like the cliffs, the Peace Chapel, and Raystown Lake. Bennetti said, “It’s a place where the students are really empowered.”

Chigumba felt it is important for students to be able to voice their opinions on their education in the focus groups. “I think it’s definitely going to make Juniata more attractive, and it might bring out more policy changes. The more we voice our opinions, the more things are changing,” said Chigumba.

Juniata students have the advantage of small class sizes that allow for more one-on-one opportunities with professors. Forish said, “All my professors have been very helpful and they want you to succeed, which is very different from a large school.”

The study will also reveal areas that Juniata needs to improve. Juniata emphasizes diversity, but it must go beyond the student population. Welsch said, “We have a diverse student body, we have a large international population, but we don’t have a terribly diverse faculty.”

The campus was also mentioned as something to be improved because most colleges and universities have designated student buildings. “We don’t have a student center or a place for designated group work. We don’t really have a place to hang out,” said Bennetti.

The branding study will have an impact on students long after they graduate. Troha said, “It helps alumni because the greater awareness that we bring to their alma mater, the better their degree becomes because more people will know about where they graduated from.”

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