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How to Sell a University

The Assembly

Pam Kelley and Melanie Sill
January 5, 2023
On a Sunday morning in August, after bagpipers performed and before a bald eagle made two swooping passes over the crowd, President Nido Qubein stepped to the front of the stage in High Point University’s arena to address the opening convocation of the largest first-year class in school history.
Against a backdrop of eight American flags, the white-haired president, dressed in a purple academic robe, delivered one of his favorite lines: “Choose to be extraordinary.”
“This isn’t some advertising slogan we picked up,” he declared. “This is a deep-seated belief. That every student on this campus can and should be extraordinary.”
Qubein, a man known for grand gestures, such as flying in an eagle from a Missouri bird sanctuary for a cameo appearance, happens to be a motivational speaker and marketing wizard. That morning, both skills were on full display.
The packed audience, including 1,600 new students and their families, listened as he promised that High Point University, which brands itself as the “Premier Life Skills University,” would do all it could to ensure students received a great education. Parents chuckled when he told them to go home so they could “earn more money to pay for the spring semester.”
And the crowd roared approval when he outlined the university’s core beliefs—faith in “God Almighty,” patriotism, respect for the flag, appreciation of private enterprise, democracy, and justice for all. “I know that’s not in vogue to say all those things,” Qubein told the crowd, “but there; I said them.”
Audience members didn’t need to look far to see Qubein’s impact. They were seated in the Nido and Mariana Qubein Arena and Conference Center, one of more than 100 buildings constructed on his watch. Some had spent the previous night in the attached boutique hotel, where pillows are embroidered with another favorite Qubein slogan: “God. Family. Country.”
Beyond the arena was a campus that had expanded since 2005 from 91 to 520 acres, expertly landscaped into a Disney-esque mini city with fountains and heated swimming pools, a high-end steak house, and a concierge service—“literally a resort,” one enthusiastic student quipped in a recent YouTube video, “an all-inclusive vacation with a side of homework.”
Qubein, an HPU alum, is both the architect and face of this brand. At the convocation, a video, complete with soaring music and reminders of his many books and awards, introduced him as “the leader who transformed High Point University into one of the finest and most unique in the nation.”
The school has seen more than $2 billion in investments since Qubein arrived, not just in buildings but in new academic programs, services, and expansive marketing that draws a student body mostly from out of state.
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