Your Hidden Strengths

Posted by Howard, Ignition Officer

“In 2014 we’re adding a new science building with the newest in digital innovation.”

“There are plans right now of adding a student union to campus soon.”

“We will add a collection of 1st Edition Dr. Seuss books to our library in the future.”

In higher ed we encounter this kind of language all the time. For some reason there seems to be an overemphasis on what’s happening in the future and what we’re hoping or planning to get instead of appreciating and embracing what we have. I’m not saying that looking to the future or looking forward to the next step is bad, but I do think that you could be missing out on appreciating some of your hidden strengths.

Your prospective students notice these future oriented statements. It often makes your institution seem inadequate. Imagine meeting a new person you were trying to judge. Let’s call him Guy. Guy says to you statements like, “In 2011, I’m going to lose 30 pounds!” or “I’m hoping to have a perfect lawn someday.” What Guy says about his future is interesting in the sense that you get a feel for what he’s striving for, but you’re also left thinking…and? What about now? An overemphasis on future plans leaves a perception that what you currently have isn’t enough. If you don’t think it is, do you think the prospective students will?

An innumerable amount of other institutions students are looking at have similar future goalsĀ  and have things like “small class sizes where you’re not another number.” Still, given those facts, no two universities are exactly alike are they? Those are your “hidden strengths.”

Last fall I visited Winthrop University and I saw a student with a shirt that said, “Winthrop Football…still undefeated.” The joke? They don’t have a football team. Students have actually come to embrace the fact they don’t have football. There are passionate students like Eagle Man who cheer on the Eagles with pride. It speaks to the culture of their university. Will Winthrop embrace football if they get it? Probably, but the students don’t seem to mind not having it.

These hidden strengths often may be hinted at or mentioned in passing during preview days, but I think they’re often glazed over as nothing more than ancillary details, when really those small details are what some potential students fall in love with. I can name several students that immediately knew my alma mater was the right fit for them when they learned that our library architect designed it with no right angles so that students could think differently and creatively.

I think it’s time to shift “in the future we’ll have…” thinking to “this what we have and this is why we rock.” The small things, that when you consider it really help contribute to your institution’s identity.

Own it, be proud of it, and spread the word. Your future students will notice.

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