College of DuPage is a community school, but officials want its message to prospective students, donors and residents to be much more.
COD is spending $290,000 on a consultant to help develop a "brand" for the school as part of an overall effort to increase its profile from simply a community college to what President Robert Breuder calls a "hybrid" institution.
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"I know it is a community college even though we don't have 'community' in the name," Breuder said. "But I'd like it to have hybrid status -- that clearly we are above and beyond anyone else in the community college realm, and very similar to anyone in the college or university community.
"I can't see why we can't be spoken of in the same breath as the University of Illinois and Northern Illinois University without intimating that we are something less than," Breuder said.
Officials from Ologie, a branding and marketing firm in Columbus, Ohio, have started conducting interviews with current and prospective students, employees, community leaders and taxpayers of District 502 in order to gauge their perceptions of COD.
One goal of the project is to better align those perceptions "with the reality that is COD," said Joe Moore, the college's vice president of marketing and communications.
Moore said the consultant is able to develop polling research and branding reports that the college's marketing staff couldn't do in-house.
He also said the consultant's fee is an "appropriate amount of money to spend in order to maximize our ability to tell our story."
The consultant will create "positive messaging about the college," officials wrote in the board of trustees February information packet.
"When used consistently (it) will help increase enrollment, recruit and retain high-caliber students, increase the positive community perception of the college, recruit and retain world-class faculty and staff, reinforce internal pride in the institution (and) motivate alumni and donors to invest in the college," officials said.
Headlines over the past two years have been about COD's entrenched legal battle with the village of Glen Ellyn over jurisdictional control, and the internal fight between administrators and faculty over a new contract.
But Breuder said no organization is without challenges, and he hears "overwhelming positive" responses about COD from community leaders.
"I don't think people focus on the reality of tuition increases today or the solving of a long-standing issue with Glen Ellyn. They see College of DuPage as an institution that has transformed itself immensely in the last four years and looks like a real college," he said.
The college is nearing completion on roughly $500 million in new construction and renovation projects across campus -- facilities that are comparable to what is on a college or university campus, Breuder said.
The branding project is the latest initiative the college has used to market itself. Later this summer, officials plan to unveil an 8-foot bronze statue of a chaparral -- the college's mascot. Officials have said the statue, as well as imagery of the chaparral across campus and on athletic team uniforms, is meant to create a unifying spirit on campus and help in the school's marketing efforts.
Breuder said the branding initiative will allow COD to distinguish itself and "give us the viability we need to be competitive in a very competitive business."
"We don't want to run with the pack," he said. "We want to run at the head of the pack," he said.
The branding project is expected to be complete by October.