What I Wish I Knew: Tips for Promoting CFLE Approved Programs
I recently returned from a professional meeting where I had been invited to participate in a panel discussion titled "What I Wish I Knew: Successful Faculty Share Advice for Aspiring and Early Career Faculty." Sitting here exhausted but professionally satisfied at the end of the academic year, I have been considering what I wish I had known several years ago about how to promote our newly approved Certified Family Life Educator-approved curriculum. Receiving NCFR curriculum approval offers opportunities for novel, exciting, and renewed efforts to promote your program on campus, in the community, and to prospective students. However, designing creative and attractive promotional activities and materials requires time, financial resources, and forethought. Drawing on our endeavors at Longwood University, I offer ideas and tips for how to effectively, efficiently, and relatively inexpensively promote your newly approved CFLE curriculum.
Plan Well in Advance
Everyone must begin thinking about how to promote their CFLE curriculum when writing their Academic Program Review (APR) proposal. The APR guidelines suggest that the proposal contain "narrative describing how the institution will promote availability of [the] CFLE credential through the Abbreviated Application process…." As the last item in a long series of items necessary in the APR proposal, it might be tempting to quickly jot down some simple ideas, knowing that there is time after the proposal is submitted to think through promotional efforts more seriously. I caution against this approach. Instead, capitalize on the energy and momentum of the proposal development process, and begin brainstorming with colleagues about creative ways to showcase the program when it's approved. Include many different types of people in promotional planning discussions. Senior faculty and staff members can help provide important insight from experience and institutional wisdom; they can give excellent advice about who on campus can be most helpful in marketing the program and what has worked well, and not so well, in the past. Junior faculty and staff members can bring new ideas and perspectives, and are less likely to be as inhibited by fear of institutional obstacles. Contact people in offices across campus who can provide talent, expertise, information, and advice on how to promote the program. Those who work Public Relations, Admissions, Printing Services, and Web Design may be able to suggest creative and unique ways to showcase the program when it is approved.
As a part of the planning process, it is important to consider allocation of two most essential resources: time and money. Think about who will be responsible for developing promotional materials and activities and the time commitment involved. Many faculty must submit work plans for their anticipated teaching, scholarship, and service in advance of the academic year. Determining in advance what needs to be done to promote the new program allows faculty members to plan their workload to allocate time to fulfill those responsibilities. Additionally, developing specific ideas to promote the program allows departments to budget money to pay for related expenses.
In our APR proposal, we outlined a variety of strategies to promote our program, including (1) making announcements in the local and student newspapers, on our web site, and through social media; (2) developing promotional materials with the Admissions Office to market our program to prospective students, and (3) hosting a reception to announce our approved curriculum to the campus and local community agencies. While these activities appear to be relatively quick and easy to accomplish, developing promotional materials and organizing a reception should begin at least 6 months in advance. Designing and selecting marketing materials, reserving reception venues, planning catering, assembling guest lists and invitations all require significant advance planning. Our program received approval in August of 2014. Although we were able to make timely announcements in print and electronic media, we were not able to develop promotional materials and host the reception until the next academic year. I wish I had known to begin working on those endeavors while we were completing the proposal and awaiting NCFR approval.
Draw On Student Talent
Students provide a wealth of talent, energy, and enthusiasm that can be invaluable in developing and identifying creative ways to promote your program. Harnessing student talent is a win, win, win option. Most importantly, students gain experience and develop skills that will help them in future employment. Additionally, university administrators like to highlight faculty-student collaboration, and in doing so provide further promotion of the program. Lastly, students can provide exceptional ideas and labor at virtually no cost.
We drew upon student talent in several ways. We began by working with a team of students in our Graphic Design major to develop a marketing logo for our program. I met with the design team (a group of three students assigned by their art faculty to our job) several times throughout one semester. Initially, the students gathered information about our program, Family Life Education, and the CFLE credential (the materials on the NCFR web site were extremely helpful in this regard). The students then developed several different logo ideas, allowing me to select the aspects of each idea that best fit our program. By the end of the semester they had created a logo that attractively and succinctly visually conveyed our program's mission to educate students about and prepare students to work with families. Using text that I provided, the graphic design students also developed a brochure describing what family life education is, what a Certified Family Life Educator is, and how our program helps students enter family life education career fields and offers an abbreviated track to becoming a CFLE.
Additionally, I requested and was assigned a student intern—one of our majors who is planning to pursue CFLE certification upon graduation—to help plan and organize our reception and promote the CFLE curriculum with local agencies in our community and on campus. She also developed a web page devoted to our Family Studies program that helps explain the field of Family Life Education and the CFLE credential. Interns obviously provide valuable time-saving labor, but more importantly interns can provide insight into how to market to students. Images and text that faculty find appealing aren't always what attract student interest. My intern, for example, developed a poster promoting our reception to students that was designed to look like an Instagram page; it was clever and got students' attention, and was an approach I never would have considered.
Finally, students in our Sociology Club volunteered to promote our newly recognized CFLE curriculum by designing and selling t-shirts that featured our new logo. This promotional idea was entirely driven by student enthusiasm and required little faculty time or effort, but offers vast exposure of our program even beyond our campus and community.
Celebrate to Communicate
Being designated by the NCFR as an approved CFLE curriculum is exciting and noteworthy! Celebrate this recognition with a public event to inform the campus and community about your program and the opportunity that this new distinction provides to students. A reception or mealtime event gives you the opportunity to inform a broad audience about your program, the benefits it provides, and about the Certified Family Life Educator credential. Invite staff at area family agencies and organizations to attend. Often local agencies are unaware of the valuable skills your students can provide as interns or employees. Identify offices and people who are valuable campus partners. Faculty in other departments often work with students who are struggling to find the right major; it is important to make them aware of the potential your major offers. Deans, even those from other colleges, and the Provost are important administrators to include in your event. Other campus partners you might want to include are the Career Center, the Advising Center, Academic Support Services, Athletic Support Services, Admissions, Public Relations, and Alumni Relations. Of course, you will want to invite students as well, both majors and non-majors.
We scheduled our reception in February to coincide with Family Life Education Month. After allowing time for guests to mingle, we provided a half-hour presentation in which we introduced our faculty and then explained what Family Life Education is, what a CFLE is, how to become a CFLE, and the importance of our curriculum receiving NCFR approval as a designated abbreviated path to the certification. We also included two students in our presentation. One of the students geared her remarks to the community partners in attendance, explaining how our curriculum prepares graduates to work in family career fields. The other student tailored her remarks to students, describing the kinds of classes and interesting opportunities our major provides. We officially revealed our new program logo, and publicly recognized the students on the design team who developed it.
Recognize That Promotion Is an Ongoing Process
Acknowledging the initial designation of your program as a CFLE approved curriculum through press releases, social media posts, and celebratory events is important, but is only the beginning of the continuous process of promotion. Media attention quickly fades. Staff at local agencies change, new faculty are hired, and new students come to the university so it is essential to engage in on-going promotion of your major. Review marketing materials on an annual basis to ensure accuracy of information and to maintain fresh, crisp language and images. Regularly update your department web page to reflect any curricular changes, highlight interesting departmental activities, and showcase alumni who have recently received provisional CFLE status. Meet with Admissions Office staff intermittently to determine how they are informing prospective students about your major and the CFLE abbreviated track. Participate in open-house events for prospective students and campus events that target undeclared majors. Be sure that all faculty in the department understand the process students must go through to apply for provisional CFLE status. Build in a standard time each semester that students planning to pursue certification can meet to discuss their progress and ask questions and/or encourage all academic advisors to discuss the CFLE curriculum and process with their advisees during their appointments. Before you know it, 5 years will have gone by and the program will have been renewed, providing yet another opportunity to host a celebratory promotional event.
With planning and foresight, patience and energy, promoting your CFLE curriculum can provide opportunities for student recruiting, community connections, interdisciplinary collaboration, and program growth. As a newly approved program, we have done much in the past year to promote the CFLE designation, but we could have saved much time and energy if we had known in advance how to plan for all that we wanted to do. That's not all I wish I had known…. I wish I had known how much fun and professional growth I would have experienced in the process of promoting our CFLE program.
Lee Millar Bidwell, Ph.D., CFLE, is a Professor of Sociology at Longwood University in Farmville, Virginia. She currently serves on the NCFR's Academic Program Review Committee.
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