Number 1 Community College: The Discovery of a Fifty-Year Story in the Making

By Lisa Marinelli on January 30, 2017
Higher Education Discovery Enrollment Marketing

Santa Fe was always meant to be the top Community College in the nation. It was a story 50 years in the making, and Parisleaf is proud to have helped tell it. Brand storytelling is the often used term for getting to know the real faces and stories behind a higher education institution and bringing them to life across their messaging.

For Santa Fe College, as we did with Unity College, we uncovered the real narratives lying below people’s surface-level perceptions of these institutions. The voices of smaller schools are often muffled by the boom of larger universities. A top pain point for Santa Fe dealt with the industry-wide stigma around the concept of “community” college. This impacted their ability to recruit top-level talent, despite the consistently high caliber of students and graduates who have led brilliant careers.

Rather than accept the stigma, Santa Fe flipped it and focused on becoming the “Community’s College.” They consulted local industries and businesses, then developed specific educational programs to produce the well-trained workforce these companies needed. They created a program to help women, including battered women who have been out of the workforce, attain the skills they require to get back to work. There’s a food bank on campus for students and families who need the extra assistance. Most impressive is the partnership the college has developed with the University of Florida, which is also located in Gainesville. Working together they’ve instituted a number of mutually beneficial programs that range from fast tracking students from Santa Fe into UF, to offering specific degree programs at Santa Fe that aren’t available at the university, to both of them expanding their respective nursing schools to meet the local demand.

Every higher education institution from large to small is dedicated to the same goals: reach prospective students, help them harness their passions and guide them toward professional success. At Parisleaf, we put our own passion for education to work by helping Santa Fe College articulate their unique value and show it in ways that attracted bright students. We were engaged by the college to promote their 50th anniversary and encourage endowments from alumni while also increasing enrollment through the introduction of seven new Baccalaureate degrees. This simultaneous dual approach is a rare task for a branding agency, as enrollment and endowment are usually treated as separate initiatives.

The college’s 50th anniversary embodied more than a triumph of age. In its milestone year, Santa Fe was named the number one community college in the nation and was awarded the prestigious Aspen Prize for excellence. This announcement was a very big deal for the college and we immediately responded by pivoting from our existing campaign to one that now focused on the message of “50 Years to First.”   The institution has experienced phenomenal growth and success in recent years.
Over the years Santa Fe has harnessed its role as an economic development engine for greater Gainesville, but the school did not capitalize on that value as well as they would have liked.

How did we go deeper to tell a story worth fifty years of excellence?

The body of work we created was centered around the college’s milestone anniversary, their new Baccalaureate Degrees and their Career and Technical Education program, for which we created a separate campaign by immersing ourselves into the CTE experience. We delved into our discovery process with our heads and our hearts to carefully craft a voice, tone and message. Instead of highlighting student life or academics, we focused on how students felt the programs at Santa Fe College served as extensions of their passions and careers. Our research told us this is what prospective students want to know when considering their college options.

In our discovery process, we combined our skills as directors, designers, videographers and writers to the people and the places that helped reveal the stories, impacts and perspectives surrounding Santa Fe College. We listened to the stories more than 60 people including leadership, students, staff, advisors, local policymakers and faculty members. We had the privilege of speaking with one of the founders, whose purpose was to est a progressive college ed for everyone. This thought tradition continues today, as the school is seen as an open opportunity for everyone. We sought unique and diverse perspectives and asked them to share their stories and their experience surrounding the institution. We got fully immersed. We sat in class. We took tours. We explored the various campuses and locations that make up the Santa Fe College infrastructure. This helped identify the landscape, environment and experience. Discovery was a foundation that served as a road map for both our teams on how we identified opportunities and challenges.

Our solution included:

  • 50 Year brand & rollout campaign
  • 50 Year celebration story
  • Streamlined ideation workshop
  • Personalized campaign strategy
  • Adaptable collateral including signage, brochures, stationery and more
  • Tailored messaging
  • Student-oriented, engaging microsite

The college reported that the 50th year anniversary campaign brought in just over five million dollars in endowment scholarships, which was twice the projected goal. Other results included a 5% increase in student enrollment and a 65% graduation rate, giving Santa Fe College the highest graduation and transfer rate in the State of Florida.

Our commitment to the people with whom we work connected us to the roots of the Santa Fe community and its positive impacts. The Santa Fe College story shared the college’s 50-year history, built on passion for their students, through the voices of people served by the Santa Fe community.

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About Lisa Marinelli

Lisa Marinelli is a third-year Advertising major at the University of Florida and is currently interning with the Pariseaf content marketing team. Drawn to unexplored turf, she absorbs her surroundings like a sponge. She finds the perfect background music for every moment of her day.

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