It’s like a crossover episode of your favorite TV show; that party you threw attempting to merge the disparate friend groups that somehow worked out; or the first time you tried a fish taco. Sometimes trying to force these puzzle pieces together is awkward and straight-up fruitless — but other times, everything clicks and you are awarded a fleeting moment of clarity.
Working with mission-driven organizations, we see more than a few of these full-circle moments across our clients. Lately, a number of our projects have been related to different aspects of education. All of these clients have unique goals, visions, and target audiences. But, at the end of the day, they’re all really wishing on the same star: to expand equitable access to a high-quality education and, therefore, expand future opportunities for students.
Across these groups, we’ve seen a pretty compelling circle of life when it comes to all of the different tools necessary for building a functioning ecosystem of educational equity. And what an intricate, circular ecosystem it truly is.
First, the start of the circle. (Is there really a start of a circle, though? Okay. We won’t go there.) Working with organizations like Educational Child Care Center and the Early Childhood Investment Corporation, we’ve seen how it’s essential to lay the foundation for educational opportunities pre-kindergarten. Inadequate access to child care can cause a ripple effect across a student’s educational journey. These organizations help the youngest students and their families start off on the right foot, setting the stage for a lifetime.
Moving into K-12, the Michigan Alliance for Student Opportunity shows how this foundation extends to school districts with the greatest educational needs. Then, saving for postsecondary education comes into play. With the Michigan Children’s Savings Account Network (overseen by CEDAM), we’ve learned how economic inclusion can spark an intense psychological impact when it comes to outlining future aspirations. In short, it’s not about the amount saved for college, but the dreams that saving itself represents.
Speaking of dreams, look who it is! The Michigan College Access Network. When it comes to connecting different aspects of the educational equity puzzle, especially at the high school level, MCAN is like one of those old-timey telephone switchboards with hundreds of cords overlapping each other and tying numbers to other numbers. There’s college advising, supporting counselors, financial aid education, convening agents of change, gathering data, dispersing grants, advocating to legislators, and — lest we forget — making cute and catchy swag items. MCAN is an ecosystem in itself, but working with this organization has demonstrated just how multifaceted the K-12 and postsecondary education space is.
Making our way around the circle, higher education institutions lay yet another essential foundation. Alongside clients at Michigan State University like the Spartan Experience Record and the Broad College of Business, we’ve had the opportunity to see first-hand how colleges, departments, and programs keep the whole of a student in mind, not only educating students but introducing them to formative opportunities for personal growth. We’ve learned that a holistic education isn’t about teaching a student how to work hard, but, moreover, teaching a student how to think critically.
And if you thought the fun ended after higher education, think again! With the MSU Alumni Office, we’ve seen how opportunities for service, continued education, and networking exist long after graduation. Even more importantly, we’ve witnessed the role higher education plays as an agent of socialization, linking graduates to a lifelong support system that will help shape their identity and grow alongside them.
As saccharine and corny as this sounds (truly, my fingers are attempting to go on strike to avoid typing this, but I’m forcing them against their will), it’s a magical thing when you see the ripple effects of the different aspects of your work align. In the same way that it’s never “just marketing,” it’s never just one aspect of the educational experience. Moving the needle for one part of the ecosystem ends up boosting rates that will uplift another, helping yet another group achieve their goal. And the cycle continues.
The world of mission-driven educational organizations is a complex place, with a certain interdependency that can’t be ignored. But there’s something beautiful about the symmetry of it all. When one of us wins, we all win. And as marketers in this space, we’re grateful to play a role.