For The Atlantic’s education page, I wrote about the confluence of factors giving rise to a “marketing moment” for conservative colleges. Colleges of all sizes are struggling right now, and experts predict that the closure rate will accelerate in the next few years. The branding experts I interviewed told me that universities can no longer be all things to all people. Instead, they should play to their strengths, and in 2017, that strength might be a conservative atmosphere.
One reason is political. Liberty University’s president, Jerry Falwell Jr., endorsed Trump last year, and in return for his gesture of support, was invited by the Trump administration to sit on a Department of Education committee. With the GOP now in control of the White House, both houses of Congress, 33 governor’s mansions, and 32 state legislatures, the country is seeing big power shift to the right.
Other reasons are cultural. For example, a higher percentage of Millennials identify as conservative than both Gen Xers and Boomers did at the same stage in their lives. So there are plenty of conservatives to cater to. Additionally, the nation has watched as public and elite private universities moved to the left on many issues, with debates over trigger warnings and safe spaces. There are also concerns about whether evangelical groups are welcome on certain campuses.
The marketing experts I interviewed said there’s a clear opportunity for conservative branding. As Harvard Business School professor Jill Avery told me:
“Colleges that are politicizing themselves are going to enable students to self-select into organizations that share their political beliefs. If there is a group of prospective college students who feel disenfranchised by the mainstream college-admissions messaging, which, at most universities, leans liberal, then there may be an opportunity to attract them with more conservative messaging.”