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In this report, Legend Labs leveraged Meltwater, a digital and social media listening technology, to analyze online conversations around higher education in AY 22-23. As conversation around the industry shifts in response to contemporary events, topics that preoccupied campus leaders in previous semesters — COVID-19, monuments, social justice protests — receded in proportion to other key topics.

Many of the conversations analyzed came back to questions of value and questions of values. Do universities reflect American principles? Do they provide taxpayers and students with enough return on investment? From admissions to AI, higher education discussions cluster around these concerns, made all the more pressing by technological change, economic anxiety and political rancor.


What it all means

Communications and marketing leaders in higher education need to be able to answer the following questions to navigate an increasingly complex reputation management landscape. Together, they represent key inputs for an effective brand strategy that puts the right stories and messages in front of the right people, at the right time — in ways that are authentic and proactive.

  1. Who are our key stakeholders? (prospective students, current students, alumni, faculty, etc.)
  2. What do they value most — or not value — in their relationship with our institution? (personally, professionally, experientially, etc.)
  3. What values drive their decision-making? (equitable access, accountability, academic freedom, institutional autonomy, social responsibility, etc.)
  4. Where/how do they get they news and information?
  5. When they consume news and information are they seeing/engaging with content about our institution that aligns to their values and what they value?


Trending Topics

Five topics, Admissions, DEI, Free Speech, Tenure, and Labor Relations, saw notable increases in conversation volume compared to the previous academic year. In this report, we explore each of them in depth.

Media Bias

In addition to monitoring online conversation, this report analyzes media coverage through the prism of political bias. Using the AllSides media bias chart as a framework (albeit an imperfect one) we identified nearly 26,500 higher education articles, written across the political spectrum that reference at least one of our five trending topics.

Key Takeaways

  1. Politicians are increasingly driving conversation and scrutiny around higher education
  2. Higher education remains a battlefront in the culture wars
  3. Left and Right media drive interest in the same topics at different times and for different reasons
  4. Hot topic combinations are greater than the sum of their parts
  5. Negative media coverage and political scrutiny are likely fueling a decline in public confidence in higher education

Predictions for AY 23-24

  1. Value to march further into the center of higher education conversation
  2. College rankings to become less relevant, further muddying the waters around value
  3. AI set to become a trending topic
  4. A great emphasis on first-generation student stories… at the expense of DEI messaging
  5. Political theater on campus to reach fever pitch as electoral candidates jockey for position
  6. College Presidencies to remain Hobbesian: nasty, brutish and short
  7. NIL 2.0 will catch everyone by surprise